Sunday, October 21, 2012

In Which I Hate Math

Got an email from Dalton's teacher tonight saying that he's been having trouble with word problems in math, and she thinks I oughtta practice them with him at home.
Those of you who really know me know just how funny that is.  That's like if she asked Charles to work with him on doing things faster.  It's like if she asked Steven Hawking to work with him on his jogging skills.  Math is not just something I hate, it's something I simply cannot do.
I have had this problem since I was a little kid.  I guess nobody noticed it till I got older.  The first big clue was when I in 7th grade math class, and we were learning geometry, and the teacher talked for  a week about parallel planes.  After about the 3rd day, I was wondering why we kept discussing this subject, I thought it was just the same word problem that we'd been going over for days, and, stupidly, I raised my hand.  "Ms. Packard, I just don't get it.  We've been talking about parallel planes for 3 days now, and I mean, really, just how often is it an issue that 2 planes are flying side by side?  Why do we keep talking about this?"  There was a loooonnnng pause and a lot of confused faces as people tried to figure out if I was serious.  Then there was BOOMING laughter, and that was just from the teacher.  I was looking around at everyone as they rolled around in their chairs laughing going "What?  WHAT??!!" mad that they were laughing at me and not understanding why.  Ms. Packard told it in the teacher's lounge, and it became the stuff of legend.  Teachers I barely knew made jokes about it to me.  Sigh.
A few years later, I'm an older teenager, I forget how old, 17 or so, and I'm in the store with my mother. There's something I'm considering buying, and the sign said "5 for a dollar."  I'm staring at it going, "Ok, I know that 4 quarters is a dollar, and each quarter is 25 cents, but if they are 5 for a dollar, how much is one?"  I stood there thinking, trying to picture the math problem in my head, trying to divide....Mom saw the look on my face (gears turning) and said "What?" and I said it, out loud.  Worst mistake EVER.  "Well, these are 5 for a dollar, but I only want one, so how much would one be?"  She's like "Shelly, come ON.  If they're 5 for a dollar, one would be.....???..." and stared at me like it should just "bing" into my head any second.  It didn't.  She finally had to tell me.  I know how much one would be now, but frankly, only because she told that story so many times, the answer got drilled into my brain.  I can't just figure it out like a normal person.
I also can't tell time on a regular clock.  It's related, apparently it's all on the same side of your brain.  Whereas a normal person might see 12:42, for example, I see 3 minutes till 15 minutes till 1.  It's not that I don't KNOW what time it is, it's just that I can't say it.  Unless it's on the quarter hour, in which case I can verbalize it ok.  Otherwise people will ask me "Could you tell me what time it is?"  And I have to stare at my watch going "Ummmm...."  While I figure out how to say 4:26 instead of 4 minutes till 30 minutes after 4. 
There is also my issue with left and right.  And by issue, I mean, I can't tell them apart.  I have to envision myself  "writing" with my "right" hand.  Or hold them up to see which one makes an L for "left."  I'm 41, it's humiliating.
 When I was 19, I stopped to get gas one day.  My family can stop reading now, cuz they've all heard AND told this one a million times!  Anyway, I pulled my car up to the gas pump, and got out.  But when I got out I realized my tank was on the other side.  I got back in my car, started it up, and drove around to the next pump.  I got out, looked for the tank, and realized it was still on the other side.  I got back in my car, started it BACK up, pulled around a couple pumps down and hopped out was STILL on the wrong side!  I was late to get somewhere and I was getting very frustrated!  So I tried AGAIN.  Suffice it to say, this went on for a good solid 3 minutes until finally I was sobbing in frustration and embarrassment, and the gas station attendant came out of the station, crying himself (from laughter, and I am not making this up) and said, through his giggles and tears, while wiping his eyes, "Maam, if you get back in your car, I will direct you around to the pump where the tank will be on the correct side, I promise!"  and he did.  That remains one of my top 5 most embarrassing moments in all of my 41 years of life, and I've done a lot of embarrassing things, so that's really saying something. 
It's just irritating to me, because I think I'm a relatively smart girl, but this math stuff that everyone else can do just fine, my brain just shuts down and CANNOT and WILL NOT do it.  Thank goodness for calculators, is all I can say.
So, anyway, I don't think I'm gonna be helping Dalton with word problems any time soon.  Particularly not if it's a word problem about those pesky parallel flying airplanes! 


  1. And, for those of us who know you, it is a huge question as to why the girl who can REMEMBER everything that happened to her since the day of her birth but can't COMPUTE anything!

    You are the absolute reverse of those savants who can't speak normally or remember to bathe, but who can remember the birthdates of every stranger they ever met, or who can instantly figure out what DAY a birthdate fell on whenever that date occured. My sis has excellent verbal skills, but nonexistent math and spatial skills.

    And you forgot the one where, as a newlywed, you called Mom in a panic because you were trying to double a biscuit recipe & couldn't figure out how to double a half-cup!

    That said, our parents tell this one on me: they were trying to teach me basic math concepts before I went to school. Dad wrote 2-2=? on a big board, and showed me, with some small objects, how the question went. I did fine with the objects, but the way the question was written got me. We went round & round. "But if you TAKE AWAY two, you STILL have the two UP TOP!!!" I kept telling him.

    I remember the frustration & indignation of my five-year-old self. Couldn't he SEE the two at the top of the equation?? There were TWO "2's" in there, so if you got rid of one, another would be left behind!!!

    Brains are funny things. My life would have been far different...and better (WAY more career choices)...if my math skills had been up to par. I always wished I could have found a teacher who could "speak my language" and break through whatever barrier there was.

    Or...we can just laugh at it & go on!

    1. I'm pretty sure it was actually 1/3 cup that I didn't know how to double. 1/2 is an even one you can's those tricky 1/3 and 3/4ths that really get me! Lol! I'm glad you had a similar problem to mine WHEN YOU WERE 5!!! Oh well.

  2. Shelly - once again I have to tell you how much I LOVE your blog. Please don't stop. You are such a breath of fresh air. My Mom was a firm believer in "laughing at yourself". Thank goodness becaue I was the "klutz" in my family.

    1. Well, I'm the klutz too, but that's a whole 'nother blog entry! Lol!

  3. Well at least you can sympathize with the boy and teach him your strategies. The husband and I are both really great at math, but really terrible at teaching it to others. I'm noticing that Alex might have some problems in math...we may need to hire him a tutor because we're both staring at him, not wanting to get angry but thinking "how can you not just know this" and I'm also thinking -I have no idea how to teach this, aside from repeating it over and over again. So glad you mentioned this issue, because this was just last night, and this was a good reminder that even if you're smart, that doesn't mean you "just get" everything, and that doesn't make you dumb if you don't. His teacher recommended a free website that helps with math strategies, maybe it'll help Dalton just have to figure out how to navigate the site...I'm still learning that part :)