Thursday, June 04, 2009

It Takes One To Keep The Other's Mother From Going Insane

Last night as I talked on the phone with a friend of mine, Son kept coming at me with homework that he didn't understand and no matter what I said, he didn't get it. As usual he answered similar problems around it correctly but he just couldn't get one in particular. I didn't want to be frustrated anymore.

"Go to bed. You'll see it differently in the morning," I told him. I went back to my friend on the phone as Son went to bed. He was back a minute later. And kept coming back. Each time with the wrong answer.

"Son, you don't understand and you are not understanding me. I don't want to do this anymore and I don't want to get angry. Go to bed and look at it fresh in the morning."

He left.

Then came back. Repeatedly. Needless to say I was losing it and my friend, who experiences a lot of the same with her stepdaughter, chuckled. "He's back?"

"He won't quit!"

She knew my frustration with trying to figure out how to help without enabling him.

Tonight we found ourselves back on the subject of his homework. I was in my car talking to her after getting home from work, not quite ready to be plunged into homework hell.

"Oh that's right," I told her. "You don't know what the problem was because I was trying not to say too much last night." So I told her the problem he was struggling with at that time.

"The problem said '12 doughnuts make a dozen. You have 2 1/2 dozen doughnuts. How many doughnuts do you have?' " I further explained how he gave multiple answers but his very first answer had been 25. "Because of the 1 from the half, he told me. You know, the 1 from the top of the fraction?"

"He thought it was 25," she repeated.


I heard her silent thinking. "Ohhh," she exclaimed. "He thought it was 1/2 of one doughnut and then half of another doughnut make one!" She laughed at her answer as she insisted that was it.

As I sat in confused silence, she kept laughing. "Girl, where the HECK did your brain just go to," I asked.

"I don't know! But that's how I think!" It's not off the wall. She and Son were both born in March. That little bit of info is not lost on me. She's heard me talk about his drama and she relates because she is dramatic too; we agreed she had drama down pat, but not in a negative way that annoys me. She just shows her emotions in a big way and she is one of the most genuine people I know. Hmm. So is he, when I think about it.

"Why," I asked. "Why did you think that? What does this mean? Why did you go off to some weird detail like that?"

She still couldn't explain it. "Go ask him," she insisted. "See what he says and call me back. I'm telling you that's what he thinks!"

"Fine. I'll call you back."

Never before have I been so enthused by the possibility of dealing with homework I can't effectively explain to him.

He was watching TV when I came in. As usual, homework was "all done except for a couple I need help with." But I was too anxious to deal with the new homework yet. "Did you get the answer to that question today?"

"Yes. My teacher told me."

"But remember you first thought it was 25? Why?"

"Because I thought it was one."


"Well, you know, I thought it was half a doughnut," he explained as he drew half an invisible doughnut in the air. My eyes got big and I could barely talk from laughing.

"Wait. So you mean half a doughnut from one group and half a doughnut from the other group and you put them together and get one?"

"Umm hmm," he replied with a most serious look on his face.

"Oh my goodness," was all I could say.


"My friend understands you." But he had no clue what I meant.

I called her back and told her the story. "He said what YOU said! What the heck am I supposed to do with this way of thinking?!"

"I don't know," she answered, cracking up at her accuracy. We laughed as we talked about just how very different we were and yet she and I understood each other perfectly from day one, which is why we always worked together so well. It gave me hope that I'd see his vision too one day.

So I tested my new understanding with the homework of the night.

"Ben has three pancakes and 2 sisters. He wants to give them each the same amount. How many pancakes do they each get?"

After first telling me that 3 wasn't an even number, with me responding that they absolutely can have an equal amount, he thought and brightened. "They have half?"

"Half? They each get half a pancake?" It wasn't odd that he was on the right track. He's always on the right track then goes wildly in some other direction.

"Nooo, three halfs."

"3/2? That's not the fraction, Son."

"No," he said again. "Three halfs," he explained. I knew it was going to be some skewed version of what was in my head so I waited. "You know, you take a stack of pancakes and cut them in half? Three halves."

All I could do was smile. After two more wrong answers - "Give them each one and I eat the other? Give them each one and throw the other away?" - I decided to draw a mental picture.

"Son, put three pancakes in your hands." He nodded.

"Sit the girls down at the table." He nodded.

"Give them each a pancake." He nodded.

"What's left?"


"Now what do you do?"

"Ohh! Cut it in half."

"What do you have?"

"A whole and a half."

And me? Maybe I get a whole new way to meet him halfway as we look for common ground. Thank God for friends who can help me bridge the gap.


Vérité Parlant said...

Sweet story, Monica. My daughter was easy when it came to homework. My son made me consider drugs. :-)

Grand Pooba said...

What an interesting math lesson for all parties!