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My Traumatic Near-Math Experience

Our parenting columnist shares how she overcame a severe math impairment in order to help her fifth grader with homework.

As I sat at my desk, working on an editing project, my 10-year-old daughter  tapped my shoulder. “I need help,” she said.

I turned to give her a kiss and ended up accidentally kissing a page of her math homework instead as she waved it in front of my face.  

You know you’re lonely when your child’s math homework provides the only romance in your life.

I studied the page. My eyes had little heart attacks reading the words, “Indicate the exponential form of these numbers.”

Uh oh. It’s been a few decades since I tried to climb Mt. Algebra.

Even the word ‘algebra’ seems foreign and unfriendly. Like a disease. I’ve caught algebra, kids…grab a pen, time to make out the will.

Back when I had a boyfriend, this was his job: Helping with math homework. Now that he’s gone fishing, permanently, I am doomed, doomed, doomed. I am not nearly a good enough actress to pretend I know how to do math.

Everyone who’s ever watched, “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” knows no one over the age of 21 is smarter than a fifth grader. My daughter is a fifth grader. So unfair.

I asked, “Shouldn’t you be listening in class? Don’t you have a book that tells you how to do this?”

She reminded me she was out sick last week — with Scarlet Fever no less. I guess she thinks that qualifies as an excuse.

Apparently, there was no book in her possession that covered this particular concept. “My teacher said you can help me.”

He did? Thank you, Mr. Coffey. You have obviously never met me.

I needed a lifeline. My one friend who is expert in math moved to Mexico, damn his hide.

My daughter became insistent. “Mommmm,” she whined, as if I knew that 33 meant 3 “cubed” or 3 X 3 X 3, not 3 X 3, mind you … no, I re-learned that the hard way.

In my panic, I turned to the only reliable math friend I had: My computer.

My ole buddy Wikipedia told me this: “In mathematics, the exponential function is the function ex, where e is the number (approximately 2.718281828) such that the function ex is its own derivative.”

Thank you, Wikipedia. Could you be more unhelpful? I don’t think so.

I looked to my daughter, now kissing our dog, Murphy McBolt. “Isn’t he cute?” she asked me.

“Yes he is. Maybe he can help us. Did I mention I’m not good at math?”

She looked as though she might start to cry. “It’s okay — don’t worry. We can do this.”

The pressure was on. I had no choice. I turned to every parent’s secret weapon — YouTube, which led me to the slightly boring but nonetheless helpful video (posted above), which explained the whole thing rather nicely.

Whew.

FYI: Before finding the right source, I stumbled upon an even cooler site. While it was completely useless for learning about exponential numbers, I bookmarked it for future unanswerable questions.

Check out Discovery Channel’s Howstuffworks.com, which gives satisfyingly simple explanations to some of the tougher questions kids ask.

Everything from “How lethal injection works” to “What happens if you travel faster than the speed of light?” and “When we run out of oil, what happens then?”

When all else fails and your child asks a question you cannot begin to answer, don’t forget this all-time favorite reply: “I dunno — go Google it.”

paul November 23, 2011 at 03:25 PM
I am glad you got the help you needed. Next time try the Math A Tube (mathatube.com). It is a great math resource for parents.

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