Saturday, February 19, 2011

Old Math, New Math, Red Math, Blue Math

Several years ago I was helping my then seven year old daughter with some complicated addition and subtraction. I've never been a math whiz but I figured I could at least handle addition and subtraction. Was I wrong.

She was struggling with triple digit problems. What to do when you've got more numbers than will fit in the one's column? How do I take 7 from 3? And so on. As I worked her through the first few problems I began to notice she didn't know what to do with the extra digit. I told her that she needed to carry it over to the ten's place. "Carry it?" she asked. "What in the blue-blazes is carrying?" She might not have said blue-blazes but I just want to emphasize that she had no idea what I was talking about. "You haven't been taught how to carry?" I asked. "What about borrowing?" And to that she answered "You mean when you borrow something from your neighbor and then you should give it back?" I could tell we were in for a long night.

I then spent the better part of an hour teaching my daughter the wonderful mysteries of borrowing and carrying. Don't forget to carry the one became my mantra for the night. I wanted to write it on her arm in permanent marker so she wouldn't forget. I repeated myself over and over and by gosh, she was starting to get it. But inside I was a little concerned that the school that she had been attending for the last three years hadn't even taught her how to borrow and carry. I mean come on, I know we are underfunded, but borrowing and carrying are staples of second grade math.

Towards the end of the evening when carry-the-one rolled off her tongue as easy as any Hannah Montana song she remarked to me. "Mom, you know this borrowing and carrying are a lot like regrouping. That is what they taught us in school."

Regrouping. Huh. Turns out the powers that be in the last two and half decades since I attended elementary school decided to change the sayings of borrow and carry to regrouping. You don't carry the one. You regroup. You don't borrow from the 7 to subtract the 3. You regroup. My poor daughter. I had filled her head with the cacophony of don't forget to carry the one! When all she needed was being told to regroup. For those of you out there who are not familiar with regrouping it is exactly the same as borrowing and carrying except they call it what? Regrouping. Now they say don't forget to regroup! It just doesn't have the same panache as don't forget to carry the one.

Boompa (Boompa is my stepdad) is helping my son Aidan out with some math this weekend. As I dropped Aidan off at Boompa's he asked what does he need help with. As I showed him the flashcards I had so painstakingly prepared Boompa asked me if Aidan knew how to carry. "They don't call it that anymore," I answered. "It's now regrouping." You should have seen Boompa's face. "Well, who's gosh-darned idea was that!?" I laughed and told him I didn't know. Everyone born before 1990 is basically screwed when it comes to math now. We don't even know how to regroup!

In other math news, my son Alexander is deep in the throws of pre-algebra. One thing I can say about pre-algebra is that it is exactly the same as when I was in it 23 years ago. I think he may even have the same kind of book I had. One night when he was just about to pull his hair out he had a mini-tantrum. "Why do I care what X equals? Why do things change from positive to negative when they cross the equal sign? And how do you even have negative numbers! Nobody ever told me they had negative five apples! You can only have five apples! Not negative! Why do I even have to learn this!" After I got him calmed down a little we continued to work on it and he asked me how I knew algebra. "Well, Alexander, I took pre-algebra, algebra, and then for fun, algebra 2 in school. Pre-algebra is the easy stuff. Just wait." He was none to happy to learn that there was more algebra in his future. He was then quiet for awhile and then he became inquisitive.

"Mom? Have you honestly ever used this? I mean honestly? Have you ever used algebra in your life?" He asked. So I sat back and thought. Hmmm... did I ever use algebra? Did I use it when I tried to figure out how many diapers I needed to get through the week when I had two kids that weren't potty trained? Did I use it to double chocolate chip cookie recipes? Do I even use to balance the check book? The answer to all of these is no. I had to be honest. "No. I have never used anything in my life close to algebra, Alexander. But being a stay-at-home mom doesn't require a lot of complex math."

This answer infuriated him. "Why do I have to learn it then?!" I answered the only thing I could think of.

"Because. You have to learn it because I learned it. Because your dad learned it. Your grandparents learned it. And because someday when you are a parent and you have a 7th grader you will have to help them with their algebra and you won't be much help if you haven't learned it. That is the whole reason." He couldn't argue with that logic. That night he learned that through out history there is a great chain of learning algebra and then never using it. And that night, he was just another link.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love And All That Other Stuff

Today is the day where you tell the one you love how much you love them. Valentine's Day. Because of our circumstances, Matt and I regularly tell each other how much we love, appreciate, miss and cherish each other. Sigh... I know. We are so sweet. Since he already knows the things I love about him, I will tell you.

I love...

Matt's smile. It's perfect (without the help of an orthodontist). It lights up the room.

How he can put anything together or fix anything. He went to install a water heater once in an apartment and I said "Wait. Do you know how to do that?" And he just said "I'll figure it out." And he did.

How we have running jokes just between the two of us that have been going on for over a decade.

How funny he is. Even when he isn't trying to be funny.

That he is such a great dad.

That he never misses an opportunity to go to the school and have lunch with our kids.

That he isn't afraid to stand up for someone or something he believes in.

That he buys me flowers.

How from far away his eyes look brown but when you get up close you realize that they are really gold with green flecks in them.

How he never tries to change the way I feel. 

That he loves to explore as much as I do.

That he will dance in the kitchen with me to Nat King Cole and Dean Martin.

That he will talk in a French accent while we eat French food.

How he never sits back and lets someone do all the work. Matt is usually the first and last one working.

That he worked two jobs and went to school when our kids were little.

How he lets me put my cold feet on his warm feet in bed.

How strong he is.

How he grows a goatee because he knows I love it.

How he wears the argyle sweater I bought him that he doesn't like as much as I do.

If something needs to be repaired around the house, he does it right away. He doesn't procrastinate.

That he holds my hand everywhere we go.

That he also insists on getting my door.

That he doesn't get embarrassed.

How he doesn't question decisions I've made.

That he isn't afraid to express how he feels.

How he will admit when he's wrong.

How he writes me love letters.

How he is exactly the right height for me to rest my head in the crook of his neck and shoulder.

That he makes me my favorite dinner almost every time he comes home.

That he will be silly.

That he will go down a slide backwards to make the kids laugh.

And I especially love that no matter how hard on myself I am, how unattractive I think I am, or how much I think I've messed something up, he is always there to disagree with me.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Down For The Count

I am starting the long road to recovery after a nasty bout of food poisoning. Never in my life have I wished myself dead except when I am worshipping the great porcelain god in my bathroom. But I actually don't want to write about being sick. You've all been sick before. You know how it feels. When you feel like you've been picked up and wrung out. When you've thrown up and everything else (I don't want to mention what "everything else" is, but you know what I mean) for so long you are sure that you are as empty as Lindsay Lohan's bank account. I mean sick. What I want to write about is what it's like when there is only one parent and that parent is down.

As you know, my husband Matt is deployed in the Middle East.  So when I get sick, or break a bone, or have major surgery (all these things have happened) while he's gone things get interesting around here. This latest bout with illness wasn't that bad. I was really only down for about 18 hours. Well, not really down. I was actually up. But I was busy. Let's just say there was a lot of knocking on my door and asking if I was okay and if I was going to come out. Most of the time I responded with a shaky "I'm okay honey. I'll be out in a minute." That was usually followed with the sound of the dry heaves. I know. I said I wasn't going to talk about being sick. It just keeps sneaking in.

One of the worst things about Matt being gone is I have no back up. There is no one to run to the store for ginger ale. There is no one to get up and get the kids ready for school. Or to drive them to school. Or to sign their notes. Or make them dinner. Yes, I do have great friends and neighbors that when it gets really bad I can call. But my three closest neighbors were down too. The first had a fever and hacking cough. The second just broke her wrist. And the third has five small children (having five small children makes you down all the time). I was on my own.

My children actually were pretty good. Ashlenne got herself up and then woke up her brothers. She made breakfast for everybody. She did the dishes. Alexander and Aidan helped out too. But there was no way I was going to ask any of them to run to the store. Alexander volunteered reminding me of the time his dad let him drive in a church parking lot. I told him that my car had enough dents on it from just me driving it. It didn't need anymore. I pulled on my weird knit hat and big coat (same thing I wore to the post office to send Matt his pillow) and dragged myself to Target.

Why Target? Target is the closest store to my house that sells anything that resemble groceries. As I walked through the doors I could feel eyes on me. I knew I was white as a ghost with purple circles under my eyes. I was moving like I was made of glass. Don't touch me! I might break or throw up on you. I selected a few items to purchase and made my way to the cashier. I bought Sprite, ginger ale, Imodium, anti-nausea medication, applesauce, and ibuprofen. She knew exactly what was going on.

But that was yesterday. Today is a new day. I feel pretty good. I may even eat today.

Day to day life on its own is pretty hard with Matt gone. He is missed a lot. Christmas and birthdays especially. But he is more than missed on other days. He is needed. I needed him yesterday. He offered his support over the phone and I knew he felt bad. But what do you do? You power through, alone. You get better, alone. You hope that whatever it is that you have doesn't get passed on to the kids because there is nothing worse than being sick and then having to take care of them, alone. And even though he was needed yesterday, you know that you can manage with him gone. That somehow things will work out. They always do.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Vampires Suck

I just want to warn you. Be careful when you go outside because pigs flew today. And I also let my pre-teen daughter watch, GASP, the movie Twilight. I always said that the two would coincide so there must be flying pigs out there somewhere because my resolve finally broke down.

I have been hearing for two years now that all she needs in this world to make her happy would be to watch this movie. And/Or read the book. Um, nope and nope. I told her the last thing she needed on her then 8-year-old plate was watching movies dealing with the drama of teen love. And not just any teen love. Teen love with a blood sucking creature of the night.

The movie left the theaters and went to video. She asked more. She was, after all, now nine years old. Nine is so much older than eight don't you know. I stayed strong. No, no, no. To which she asked why, why, why. I replied because, because, because.

Then she brought out the big artillery. She started telling me about all the people and small children that she knew who had seen the movie. Her friends had all seen it multiple times and read the books. Her friend's little sister had also seen it. Heck, the four year old down the street saw it. This just intensified my desire to keep my home Twilight free.

I guess my aversion to Twilight began before the movie ever came out. I was at my son's soccer game when a person that is merely an acquaintance informed me that she had just read the best book in the whole wide world!!! I would describe myself as an avid reader so I must say that I was a little interested to hear what the best book in the world was. When she told me it was a book about vampires, I was immediately turned off. I did the whole vampire thing back in the early, early 90's. Interview With A Vampire and The Vampire Lestast books. The vampire movie starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt that my friend Cherity and I snuck Chinese food into. Just a side note. Do not eat ham fried rice while blood is being sprayed across the screen. Not very appetizing. I was way over it. Vampires were a thing of my youth, or at least my early adulthood. I told her no thanks. She took my no as a chance to try and convince me more by telling me how GREAT it was. She wasn't a reader, yet she couldn't put this down. I kept telling her I wasn't interested to which she came back with I just have-have-have to read it! I had to get mean. I informed her I liked to read things with substance. I was in the middle of East Of Eden by John Steinbeck. I had just finished Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I was also reading Ulysses. This person then told me she didn't know any of those books but she would bet they weren't as good as Twilight. I then told her I didn't read crap (which isn't true, I've read a lot of crap). She got the point.

This single event began a period in my life that I will refer to as the "GREAT TWILIGHT PERSUASION". Everyone began telling me that they read this great book and they knew I would love it. I would immediately hold up my hand and say STOP! If the words vampire or Twilight leave your lips I will lose it right here and now (imagine my voice reaching a crescendo). At the beginning I had many who fought the good fight with me. They were as anti-Twilight as I was. But then the worst happened. They began to fall.

I would be on the phone with a friend and the conversation would turn to books and they would whisper they had not only read Twilight, but they had read all four of them and they loved them. Now that it was out of the bag they could openly embrace Twilight in my presence. They put stickers on their cars and phones. They gushed about Jacob's muscles and Edward's chivalry. They dissected the plot and talked about the choices Bella made to which I screamed she didn't make any choices! She's a shallow one-dimensional character! Somehow my friends and I made it through the great divide and we are still speaking to each other. But not about vampires.

Back to present day. My daughter is almost 11 and has been working her little tush off at school and practicing the violin. I decided this deserved a reward and the reward would be giving her what she has built up in her mind to be the pinnacle of her pre-teen years. Watching Twilight.

I saved it on the DVR. I bought popcorn. We got Panda Express takeout. What is it with me and having Chinese food and watching vampire movies? I guess I got it in my head they went together. We popped popcorn and nibbled M&M's. And we watched. Now hold your breath. It wasn't half bad. I'm not talking Oscar worthy or anything but I was entertained. And it was fairly mild for PG-13. After it was over I kept saying that was it? That was what all my mid-30's (and sometimes older) friends got themselves in a tizzy about? Edward wasn't that chivalrous. In fact, he was kind of a jerk. One minute he couldn't stay away from her and the next he's pushing her away saying she isn't good for him. And then in the second one, New Moon, he tells her she's his life and then leaves her! Not very nice Edward.

Ashlenne loved it. She was happy so I was happy. And hey, I think she learned something. Don't fall in love with a vampire. It's nothing but trouble and heartbreak and then they leave you high and dry and depressed. Like I said. Vampires suck, big time.
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