I am a writer, so people are often surprised to learn I skipped a grade in math. Maybe it’s not because I’m a writer that they’re surprised. Maybe it’s because I seem kind of dumb with numbers. In truth, I sort of am. It’s not so much that I’m naturally, intrinsically dumb with them. It’s just that muscles atrophy when you don’t use them. (I know my brain isn’t a muscle, but just go with it.) After two decades of me writing and editing for a living, the math part of my brain looks like this:
Just for reference, here is the writer side of my brain:
So, just to be clear, here is the whole thing:
(Guess where the art center in my brain is located?)
I have not needed my full gamut of math education nearly as much as my math teachers threatened I would—until now. But because of recent experiences in my life, I just want to warn all the little kids out there: YOUR MATH TEACHER IS NOT LYING. YOU REALLY DO NEED TO PAY ATTENTION IN MATH CLASS, BECAUSE YOU REALLY ARE GOING TO NEED IT ALL.
The most important reason to retain it–the teachers don’t tell you this–is so that you will not look stupid when, later in life, your child asks you for homework help. I mean, what are you going to do when your fourth-grader is coming at you with questions like, “Which one of these is a rhombus?” and “Did I get the area of this triangle right?” And there you’ll be, hanging onto your shred of dignity, squinting over a Stove Top Stuffing box as you and your grade-skipping self struggle with mental math to make one-and-a-half times the suggested amount. What? You’re going to sneak over to the iPad and whisper, “OK, Google…how to calculate the area of a triangle” right in front of her? No! You’ve got to prove your salt by knowing as much as she thinks you do. Don’t you know a 10-year-old girl is just one hormone-surge shy of deciding you’re the world’s biggest idiot?
If the math doesn’t kill you, the science will. Because someday, as God is my witness, your 5-year-old is going to demand answers. Like, is Pluto a planet or isn’t it? WELL, IS IT? And when you answer incorrectly, your daughter’s friend from the fourth grade is going to survey you with shriveled brow and an Elvis lip and say, “Um, Pluto used to be a planet.” (I wasn’t sure if she was correcting me or wiping me off her shoe.) God, I actually knew that one! I did! But she caught me off-guard!
But therein lies my point: As a parent, you’ve got to be ready to do things like name the planets, spell Potomac, and define a hypotenuse off the top of your head and even while cleaning pee off the base of the toilet. (Which is what I was doing during the Pluto debacle.) Your teachers are telling you that you need to remember this stuff because you DO. Total recall, people, or you’re going to screw up your children.
Tonight as I was getting my daughter ready for bed, I told her how embarrassed I was at her younger brother’s parent-teacher conference this morning:
“Out of the blue, do you know what he blurted? He said, ‘Someone in my family—I think my mom—said you were wrong about something even though you think you’re right.’”
I told her how I’d explained that he must have overheard a conversation about my daughter’s teacher. I mean, that teacher is the one who changed my daughter’s spelling of blond to blonde, which technically wasn’t correct, given the context and this one weird spelling rule that most people don’t know.
“But, geez, I just sounded ridiculous,” I told my daughter. “Because your brother then pointed at his teacher and said, ‘No, Mom, someone in our family said that about HER.’”
Turns out, it was my daughter. “Sorry, Mom,” she said, “but his teacher had taught him that at the end of the earth there’s something like lava.”
“Honey, she must have meant the center of the earth, which is pretty much like lava,” I said.
“I know, Mom, but she said end of the earth, and anyway, it’s not lava.”
Do you know what I said? I said, “Well, that’s just an easier way for a preschool teacher to explain that stuff to little kids. And I know it’s not lava, but it’s similar. It’s smegma.”
Yes, I seriously said smegma, as if the Earth is one big foreskin. No, I did not realize my mistake right away, not even within a minute. My excuse? This:
On a more serious note: Remember that I’m donating 80 percent of the profits from March sales of my book to the Restoring Hope Transplant House–a home away from home for transplant recipients and their families. Already own one? Recommend it to a friend, or better yet, buy some copies as gifts.