The Mathematics of Parenting
I thought it was a card game. That’s it.
My son spent the weekend looking for a full, 52-card, deck of cards so I could see what he does in school. Mind you, I wasn’t exactly sure why they were playing cards at school, but I was willing to go with it. The most creative teachers are often the best ones.
It was about 2 minutes into the whole process that I realized it was a way to teach math problems.
I’m terrible at math, by the way. I often joke “I went into journalism so I wouldn’t have to do math.” (Problem with that statement: I work with a lot of data, information, and databases. I do more math than I would ever have thought possible as a journalist. Go figure)
Four cards. I had to put four cards, face-up, on the table. I can count to four. That much I can do.
7, 7, Jack (10), and 4.
“Now you make an equation,” my son tells me.
I stared at him.
“You mean, like (x+7) / 10 = 4 ?”
“No . . . ”
Bear in mind the “no” was said with eye-rolling disdain.
“Okay, what do you mean?”
“You have to make an equation with all four numbers with addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication.”
I wrote down 7 + 7 = 10 + 4
“No, you have to have it equal as close to 1 as you can.”
I stared at him.
So I wrote down 7×7 / 10 -4 = .9
“What do you mean no? I got about as close to 1 as you can get!”
“That’s not right,” he tells me.
“You can turn them into fractions.”
“What is wrong?”
“You have to do one addition, one subtraction, one multiplication and one division.”
I stared at the problem.
“So I need to make one of those an addition?”
“No, you need to do one of each.”
“But if I add all these up it will never equal 1 or less.”
“I said, Dad, you can turn them into fractions.”
It was my turn to eye roll my son.
“You’re making this up as you go,” I told him.
“No . . . look if this is too hard for you,” my son informed me.
“You better not finish that sentence,” I informed him.
It was here his brother started chuckling under his breath trying hard not to laugh.
“Laugh it up, furball,” I told him in my best Han Solo.
“What?!” He had the look of someone who just now realized the train was rolling down the track and he was standing in the middle of the bridge.
“Think your Dad can’t do this?”
“NO! I thought you were funny.”
“Funny how,” I asked him.
“No, not funny, like . . . ”
“YOU better not finish that sentence,” I told him.
Their sister, who was home sick all day, had had more than enough.
“Can’t you guys agree Dad’s equation was right?”
“Okay . . . yes,” the instigating son said, “Dad’s equation works, but he still needs to do more equations.”
I spent half an hour trying to get common denominators and reduce fractions and find answers. After a maddeningly annoying period of time it was my son who grew disinterested.
“What are you doing?!”
“I think you’re having too hard a time,” he informed me.
“I got it!”
“Yeah . . . I was just supposed to show you what we were doing at school.”
I suddenly realized, in the throngs of being totally dressed down by my son, that parenting is a lot like this mathematical game. You can put four separate items (kids in my case) in any order and in the end you get as close to one entity as you can. Not one equation fits the formula perfectly. You can postulate how you put the four in some sort of order. You can fractionalize them. You can divide them. You can multiply (say, by getting two kids at once). In the end, though, the answer is always the same. As close to 1 as you’re going to get. 1 family.
In our case, we subtracted . . . by 1. It was a big 1.
With that problem . . . I didn’t give up, either.