Monday, November 7, 2011

A Spoonful of Crazy Helps the Math Homework Go Down

"Let Nanny help you. Catch those digits and write them down before they escape! Naughty little numbers!" This is to be read in your best falsetto, bad English accent. This is how math homework gets done around here. My Jaybird does more math homework in grade 2 than I think I did in all of high school. If we don't do a little every day, we end up with the big, buff-colored packet of doom that must be vanquished on Sunday afternoon. In a flurry of broken pencil lead, carried tens and tears, we try to power through.

My little girl has been independent since she was born. Since before she was born. While I was in labor (and labor and labor and labor) with her, my midwife shrugged as my daughter spent hours refusing to crown, swimming around and getting tangled in her cord, pooping in her water and then suddenly launching herself out sideways: "She's just going to do it her way." This pretty much characterizes how her life has gone so far. Whatever preconceived notions I've had about "how things should go" have been pretty much chucked out the window with regards to my little girl. It's one of the things I love best about her, makes me proudest of her, and drives me the most insane. We of the strong female personalities can (gasp!) occasionally push each other's buttons. We are just similar enough to get all up on each other's nerves and just opposite enough to get all up on each other's nerves. Add to that healthy dose of independent spirit a bizarre, almost visceral attachment to each other; and math homework time can get explosive. She wants to do it her way. She wants me to be proud. She wants to succeed, and like her Mama, she has a hard time seeing sometimes how making mistakes are part of success. "Help me, Mama!" quickly turns to "I know how to do this!" and back again until we are both sweating and crying and covered in graphite and pink eraser shavings. Sometime last week I decided I didn't want to do this anymore, but I didn't know how to do it differently. Math homework drama was the subject of many late night, tearful conversations with the Chief Lou. Usually along the lines of "I'm failing completely as a mother because..." and some helpful cluck-cluck, pat-pat, kiss-kiss from the Chief Lou.

I guess my subconscious (or perhaps my alter-ego) had been working on this problem for me. Lou and the Hooligan conveniently disappeared to the library yesterday afternoon to give the Jaybird some space for thinking and doing about 50 pages of Sudoku-style math puzzles. "I'm right here if you need help," I told her and went about my business with my blood pressure already rising. So was hers. I heard a furious scratch scratch, rub rub rub, sighing from the dining table while she worked and I held my breath and waited for the wail. There was no wail, just a quiet sobbing: "Can I just do this later? I have a headache." My heart broke in half and out popped an English nanny.

"Tish tosh, let's look at these silly little numbers!" I bellowed, surprising even myself. She looked up and giggled while the tears were still rolling. "Why, that 3 hasn't enough to subtract 7! She'll have to go next door and borrow a 10. Hallllooooo! Mr. Six!!! May we have a 10 please and thank you very much? There, there, much better. Now subtract!" The Psycho-Nanny plowed on while, through what were now tears of laughter, my little girl worked out the problems. It took us almost an hour and there were still mistakes, still some challenging problems, but it was all smiles and laughs and "Oh my! I believe you've written pee pee! Such naughty words on math homework?! Oh no, those are just some backward nines. Oh my. Nanny needs her hankie." We were just finishing the last problem as Lou and the Hooligan got home. My Jaybird winked at me and whispered "Let's keep Nanny as our secret," before she turned to my husband and said, "Mom is so awesome, but I can't tell you why."

I know for a fact that if I had taken my usual route of being The Mom, patiently trying to explain and encourage, our homework session would have ended in its usual breakdown. Through that strange chemistry of mother-daughter pyrotechnics, it's hard for my little girl to ask me, The Mom, for help. But Nanny? She can help. She can even point out mistakes and convince that little independent soul to "soldier on, dear," when she starts to flag. This all sounds a little insane now that I've typed it out. But I've come to believe that motherhood is, in and of itself, a form of insanity. I would walk through fire for my little girl. What mother wouldn't? But I don't have to do that just yet. Right now, I can let Nanny do it for me.


  1. AWESOME post!! It does not sound insane to me at all, it sounds brilliant. My little one is a couple of years from math but I hope I am as clever when helping her as you are!

    Found you through NaBloPoMo!

  2. Wonderful pays to be creative! BTW - Thanks for popping by my blog. Have a GREAT week.

  3. Thank you, thank you. I am bowled over. The things we do for love, right? It's so exciting to have people stop by and read.


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