Friday, December 3, 2010

Math Anxiety

One morning last week, I was knitting and drinking a cup of coffee before work, and watching "The Wonder Years."  I start many mornings like this, 20 minutes of an old TV show, a few rows knitted and a cup o' joe do wonders for my day.  Most mornings I'm alone in doing so, but this particular morning, Will popped out of bed early on his own and joined me.  Surprisingly, he did not come barrelling into the living room as he usually likes to and attempt a coup to watch a kids show.  Instead, he snuggled up on the couch and started watching with me.

The episode featured Kevin Arnold (played by Fred Savage) and his first day of eighth grade.  He thought it was going to be a great year; everything was going his way, his classes were looking easy, he has his best friend and his best girl and life looks good.  But then it happens:  he walks into.......algebra class.  The teacher is a tough one, and the subject is really hard for Kevin, who is used to pulling good grades with considerable ease.  Kevin contemplates cheating on a test in order to bring up his grade, and the stress is palatable to all involved.  The episode ends with Kevin getting the help he needs and everything is hunky-dory again.

I watched this episode with trepidation, remembering exactly how I felt in the same situation:  helpless.  As the equations were written on the blackboard, I felt mini heart palpitations.  It is nice that the world of television could give little Kevin Arnold a happy ending, though it doesn't always work that way in real life.  I said aloud, "When it comes to all that crazy stuff and the boys need help with their algebra homework, Hubby is going to need to do it."  Will said "What homework?  What are you talking about, Mommy?"

Here's the thing:  I am thirty-three years old.  I am a competent adult functioning in the world.  I can figure out the square footage of a room, calculate the tip at the end of a restaurant meal and compute how big of a roast beef I need to buy to feed my family and guests at Christmas.  (The answer is half a pound per person, so if you're expecting ten people, you should get at least five pounds.  Unless you want leftovers, too.)  I can puzzle out how much yarn I need for a project, and I can figure out at the grocery store if something "on sale" really is a good bargain.   AND as a Property Manager for assisted housing, I'm required to calculate an annual recertification for all forty-six of my tenants regarding their income and assets.  I am absolutely unstoppable with an adding machine!  I had to get certified to do this kind of work, and I passed the test on my first shot.  So why, upon watching this episode, am I feeling anxious about something that I experienced in practically another lifetime! 

And then it hit me.  I'm not so much anxious about the math anxiety that I had back then, I'm dreading the idea of passing it on to my kids.  But how do I avoid passing on my fear of high school math?  They shouldn't carry the thoughts of "I can't do this, this is so difficult!" because their Mom felt that way.   (and apparently still does)  I want them to be clean slates, with no formulated opinion about difficulty level of one subject matter over another.  Wanting this is one thing, making it happen is certainly another. 

As for "Math-Challenged Mama" over here:  that was twenty years ago, and I am no longer that person.  It's time to let it go.  :)


asplashofsunshine said...

Math anxiety has hit in his house, along with reading comprehension, writing assignments and so much more. I'm hoping it is the natural progression of life and learning. It'll happen, just run with it and do what you can.

The Caffeinated Mommy said...

I totally know what you mean! I also feared math and don't want Zoey to struggle with the same problems...we'll have to see how it goes. At least we have a few years before re-living algebra, right??? (Although, I'm not so sure...they seem to want kids to do an AWFUL lot before starting kindergarten these days...)