Genetic Strains

My kids are in for serious trouble.

Not the “you are grounded for writing on your sister” kind of trouble.

No, my kids are in for the serious kind of trouble that comes from genius math genes not being passed down to their mother.

It started off well, me washing the dishes as my son sat across the counter doing his homework. His sister was coloring and then took off to torment the cat. Ah bliss.

And then, the dreaded question from my son’s lips. “Mom, can you help?”

I started to sweat. Uh oh.

It was merely a fourth grade math worksheet that resulted in me crouching in a fetal position in a corner, rocking back and forth, pulling out clumps of my hair and chanting “why, why???”

Ok, maybe a bit overly dramatic. No corners. Not so much chanting, either. Maybe a little hair pulling.

Certainly a lot of sweating.

The math sheet seemed simple enough. There were cubes, divided into layers and individual boxes. How many boxes in all? Sounds easy enough right? Maybe for a fourth grader, probably even for a fifth grader.

But it crushed me. I may have gotten my sense of humor and my nose from my dad, but the genetic disposition that made my father a math wizard sadly did not make it into my gene pool.

I stared blankly at this demon cube wondering how on earth my son came up with 125 boxes in all. I couldn’t see it. In fact, I couldn’t see anything. The part of the brain that should be giving me the answer had checked out. Gone to sleep. Left town.

I asked my son how he’d gotten the answer.

“I just counted Mom,” he told me.

Right. So I started count. But I got tripped up by the three-dimensional thing. I knew I was wrong, counting two sides of one block, but I couldn’t help myself. And it wasn’t computing.

Scratch that. I wasn’t computing.

Ok, we’ll come back to this one. Let’s move on.

The next question.

There are 96 bricks. He needed to find out how to stack the bricks (length, width and height) to make a cube.

For the Love of God!

Absolutely nothing popped into my head. I stared at this number and for the life of me, could not figure out what the hell  to do.

More than likely, my father sighed in exasperation up there in Heaven. “This,” he probably said to St. Peter, “is their mother’s fault.”

When I say my father was a math genius, I am not exaggerating. He got math from every possible angle. Algebra to word problems, no problem. He went to a math, science and art high school in New York City. He went to NYU and graduated with an engineering degree. He did acrostic crossword puzzles — the ones where you make up your own grid — for crying out loud!

His children, sadly, did not get a single iota of math comprehension from him.

Fractions weren’t so much of a problem (usually)  and we did okay with arithmetic most of the time. We made it through by the skin of our teeth in geometry. Algebra resulted in slammed books and crying. He was aghast that his children did not understand the Pythagorean Theorem. In a word: nightmare.

We all hated math and that just made it harder for him to teach us. Sure, every once in a while there would be some lightning bolt and thunder boom of understanding on our part. But the hours of trying and buckets of tears shed over not getting it tended to overshadow the times we did.

Oy.

So, back to my son’s fourth grade math worksheet.

The answer was 96 and he just had to find a way to get there. I couldn’t explain it to him, but after almost an hour staring blankly at the number, I did finally come up with the correct equation. I think. And in my frustration I just told him the answer.

I know what you are thinking. First math, then it’s on to me mouthing answers to him at the National Spelling Bee. Of course I would not do that. That would be wrong. And anyway, I’m not that great of a speller without my trusty spell check. Duh.

No, one can only hope:

a) the math comprehension skipped a generation and the kids get the good genes; or
b) Sylvan Learning Center has a family discount

Yikes.

Perhaps what my dad couldn’t do in life for his kids down here he can certainly accomplish in death for his grandkids from up there.

I’m counting on you, Dad.

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