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“How You Spell Hard, Mom?”

posted Thursday September 13th, 2012

God only gives you what you can handle.

The line popped in my head as I pulled away from the school this morning, and I haven’t been able to get it out all day.

OK, so first of all, as a committed agnostic, I’ve got some issues with the whole concept, right off the bat. But beyond that, if there is in fact a God, he has definitely got me out of my element when it comes to Sophie and math.

Sophie and just about everything else? I’m good with that. Not perfect, by any means, but I can get on the map. No way with math. You’d think that because her math is remedial (which is a nice way of saying she’s in the “low group”) I’d have no trouble doing her homework with her. I certainly thought that would be the case — til I tried it.

Take this morning. The math teacher had blown up the work on the Xerox machine to make it easier to read and circled just a few problems to make it managable, and still, Sophie and I stared at each other across the breakfast table, totally stumped.

“Do you understand this at all?” I asked.

“No,” she said.

We both looked back down at the paper. It was about “arrays” and included two identical problems — 7 X 4 — that you were supposed to solve and and from those, extrapolate the answer to 7 X 8. I tried to explain the most basic part of the problem.

“What’s 4 plus 4?” I asked.

Sophie looked at her fingers for a moment, and looked a little panicked. “Eight!” she said, obviously surprising herself.

Oh fuck, I thought. I looked at the rest of the page — it was all multiplication and division problems. I realized that not only do I not understand newfangled things like “arrays” and “fact families,” I can’t begin to figure out how to teach someone how to multiply and divide — without Schoolhouse Rock playing in the background. 

I did the only thing I could think to do. I pulled up the calculator on my iPhone and slid it across the table.

We plugged in the numbers together and she wrote the answers on the sheet. The higher concepts were forgotten, not to mention any sort of practice, but at least she was working with numbers, I told myself.

That was only half the worksheet. The rest was about word problems and rounding and identifying the 10 million spot in a number. Here’s the thing. Not only do I have no idea how to show Sophie how to do any of this, I have no idea if it matters. I admit that I stopped paying attention in math when I was about her age and aside from the fact that I’m pretty crappy at figuring out the tip on lunch, it hasn’t much impacted my life.

But will it impact Sophie’s? When will it be time to totally abandon math? Years ago, a teacher warned me not to discount math, said it’s vital to brain development. OK, I’ll bite. And I’m not saying Sophie’s brain is any less worthy than anyone else’s but would someone please tell me the truth: How much does math matter in this particular, um, circumstance?

In the meeting we had with Sophie’s team last week, someone mentioned that she really doesn’t enjoy music class much. So they’ve been letting her skip it. “Sometimes you have to pick your battles,” the principal said.

I totally agree. Music, shmusic. But what about when it comes to math? And if we let Sophie sit math out, where will she sit? Like literally, where will they put her during math class? Will she be on a path to the Special Ed room, to a self-contained environment where they send the kids who can’t perform?

So her brain won’t develop and the rest of her will rot. Great, I thought, watching her struggle with the calculator. When she finally finished, I smiled and said, “Good job!”

She smiled back and I thought for the millionth time about what it would feel like to actually believe it when someone told me, “Good job!” I always figure people are just being nice.

I was digging in her folder for the reading homework when Sophie grabbed the pen off the table and picked up her math worksheet again.

“How you spell hard, Mom?” she asked, as she scrawled a note on the top of the paper.

I told her — slowly, a couple times, per her request — then read the message she’d written to her teacher: My maths hard. Without comment, I carefully put the sheet in her math folder.

When we got to school, Sophie’s teacher was coming in from crosswalk duty.

“We had a hard time with the math homework today,” I told her. She promised to take a look. I had an email before lunch. Really, I know I keep saying this teacher is amazing — and she is. Here’s what she wrote:

Thank you for letting me know that last night’s homework was a challenge. We had a quick chat about math and have come up with a plan.

Sophie’s homework will match her IEP goal of mastering basic multiplication facts with the factors zero to five.

In math class, [her aide] will help Sophie use a multiplication chart to solve multiplication and division problems with factors larger than 5. As the group learns the process of multiplying larger numbers in the coming weeks, Sophie will continue to use the chart with [the aide's] support and if needed we’ll modify the problems.

When she meets with [the special ed teacher]  for math they will continue to work on her goal with factors zero to five. She will also use the multiplication chart in resource as needed when multiplying larger numbers.

How does this sound?

It sounds really fucking awesome, I told her. (I left “fucking” out.)

Maybe God (or who/whatever) didn’t give me what I can handle, but at least he/she/it gave Sophie this teacher.

I wish fourth grade could last forever.

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Tags: Filed under: Down syndrome, public school by Amysilverman

5 Responses to ““How You Spell Hard, Mom?””

  1. Oh, Amy. As someone who likes math, here’s what I think: math is useful the way poetry is useful. That is to say, there are people who couldn’t live without it. And there are plenty who don’t ever need it at all. Math is worth studying for the same reasons poetry is worth studying: it’s beautiful and it’s empowering. You may never have seen the beauty, so you’re going to have to trust me on this one, math is an elegant system of logic, it’s this gorgeous architecture of theorems, it’s actually related to the swirls in a pineapple and the sounds in a musical scale…. But it you miss all that? No biggie. As long as Sophie knows that she is getting the right change, and that a $20 off sale is not the same as a 20% off sale, well, then, she’s probably okay. It sounds like you probably missed out on some of the beauty and empowerment of math (so many people do), and you turned out more than fine.

  2. Well I don’t think I can top Elaine’s comment but I will tell you that Sophie’s math teacher singlehandedly redeems the entire human race for me today. I might even have something in my eye – it’s weirdly watery.

    This, of course, presents a new problem. What in the world are you going to gift them at the holidays? The apple mug suddenly seems insufficient.

  3. Wow- I just heard/took in as much from Elaine’s comment as I did your post. As someone who loves looking for the beauty in the unexpected, I think I have now for the first time regretted never finding it in Math. I wish Elaine had been my math teacher and maybe I would see it differently as well- I now want to.

    That and as the parent of a kindergartener whose math homework perplexes the 5 degrees right out of our household I have to say I’m scared of what’s to come. May we all learn along with them.

  4. Ya, that’s fucking awesome (I’m going to leave the fuck in there). I’ll echo the comments about wishing Elaine was around when I was learning math. Kate’s syndrome also predisposes her with some learning issues related to math. So far she is doing ok, but definitely doesn’t love it. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, regardless of their chromosomal makeup. I’ll say this…Kate kicks the ass out of all her friends’ fashion sense.

  5. [...] week my friend Amy posted about struggling through math with her daughter.  To tell you the truth I lost my train of [...]

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