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Slices of Life By: Jill Pertler-Helping with homework

September 27, 2013
Northern-Sun Print
I am every parent. Or most parents. Or at least one of the parents who live in my house – which is one of two, or one-half, or 50 percent, but who’s counting? I represent the good folks who live a normal life with numbers serving as a daily, and integral, portion. I can measure liquids and solids, calculate the fabric yardage needed for new kitchen curtains, follow the speed limit and determine the calorie count in a piece of cherry pie, but my kids’ math homework has me stumped. I am doing my best, but I am an old mom with old math skills and an old calculator that couldn’t create a graph or make a flower dance across its screen if its battery power depended on it. My homework assistance skills don’t add up. When you are a mom, quitting is not an option, so I’ve been honing up on vocabulary words like ratios, rates and rational numbers and it’s making me feel anything other than rational. My head aches and my neck feels like it’s stuck in a hypotenuse. My husband is in nearly the same predicament. I say nearly because I do not want to insult his abilities and I need him to install a new kitchen sink next weekend. We do not consider ourselves (or each other) unintelligent. We know stuff. Plenty of stuff. I do soduko and he’s a whiz at the jumble, but middle school math has our integers aching. I remember algebra. I was even good at it back in the day. I understand that in order to determine the exact value of X, it is important for both sides of an equation to remain equal – unless, of course, you are dealing with an inequality. I also remember that when given a long string of numbers in an equation, which numbers you deal with when is key to coming up with the successful solution to the problem. “You start inside the parenthesis and work your way out,” my husband says. My son nods in agreement. “Please excuse my dear aunt Sally,” he says, as though this is relevant. “You don’t have an aunt Sally,” I tell him. “Try to stay focused on math.” He shrugs, like I don’t know anything at all, which in this instance may be true. We proceed to follow the rules of algebra – known in mathematical inner circles as the order of operations: Parenthesis (Please), Exponents (excuse), Multiplication (my), Division (dear), Addition (aunt) and Subtraction (Sally). Throughout our lessons, my husband and I utilize the tried and true techniques we learned in the olden days and our son balks at our methods because they aren’t exactly like the ones taught at his school. I get grouchy, which only multiplies our problems and hinders progress exponentially. Numbers don’t lie and this new math is making me look bad. What mom wants to admit to being a less-than to her child? Today, in preparation for the chapter one test, we had to plot coordinates on a grid to form the outline of a heart; my first attempt resembled a tangled kite. My son found this amusing, and since his heart was decidedly heart-shaped asked if it meant he was smarter than me. I was hoping it would be years yet before he figured out this truth. I guess I should accept my limitations. Not everyone excels at math. One or two of those people live at my house. On the other hand, one must demand credit where credit cards are accepted (but only if one understands how to calculate interest rates). I realize math and numbers are important tools to utilize throughout life and am doing my best to help my kids with homework, even when it requires learning concepts that hadn’t been invented when I went to school. Some days, though, this new math just makes me feel old, and my age is one number I don’t want to exponentiate. Maybe instead of numbers I should stick with something less subjective – like words. Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, playwright and author of “The Do-It-Yourselfer’s Guide to Self-Syndication” You can read more columns at the Slices of Life page on Facebook.

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