A few days ago, while practicing the fine art of homeschooling my two children (ages 11 and 12), I had one of those moments that makes me ponder the meaning of life. And then my daughter quickly showed me the meaning by posing a very pointed question. She did this in much the same way the ancient Greek philosophers would, I imagine. “Socrates, what is the meaning of life,” asked Glaucon. “Well, friend,” replied Socrates, “One’s true purpose can only be gleaned when he knows when to hold ’em, knows when to fold ’em, knows when to walk away, knows when to run…” “Socrates,” replied Glaucon, “that is some grade-A horse shit.” Yes, it was one of those days.
As a homeschooled student many years ago I knew the maxim of all great homeschooling families. “Adjust the program to fit the child, not the child to fit the program.” As such, I tell my kids every day that we have never “fallen behind” nor do we “rush ahead” because every day we are doing exactly what I want us to be doing in that moment. I also tell myself that my daddy isn’t dead. He’s just on a farm upstate and he sends me emails from time to time; and that 1:00 is a perfectly acceptable time to consume one’s daily ration of gin.* Such flights of fancy are the right and duty of every father and indeed teacher for as long as man has sought to enlighten himself in this noble undertaking called education. See, there I go again… Education – noble. Heh.
On Monday I decided we should do math. Yes, “do math” as if it were a hard drug and we were heading to a rave. I realized that we had put our focus over the past two weeks on other subjects. And THAT’S OK. I’m teaching them and they’re learning. But I did think it was time we return to Mr. Saxon and his repetitive number-crunching, Canal Street shell game. I scanned through the ten lessons I wanted to “catch up” on and surmised that, due to the material being largely review, we could indeed skim through those lessons in an afternoon. I failed to take into account two things. First, my daughter has a limit as to how much she can absorb in a single setting on a Monday afternoon. She is, after all, 11 and not 43. Second, math sucks. There I said it. Sue me.
We started out stronger than I was two years ago when I was banging out pull-ups like it was my job. That was a reference to me having gained “COVID weight” and “gotten fat” and “become a lardass”. My kids come up with such creative nicknames. Daddy has feelings, you know. The first 9 lessons were all the same. “Multiplying Fractions”. “Multiplying Mix Numbers”. “Multiplying Improper Fractions”. You know the drill. For the record I did not require them to complete ANY of the problem sets. I introduced the lesson, pulled a few examples which we did on the board, and we moved on. Everything was going smoothly.
And then we hit lesson 72: “The Coordinate Plane”. What was this garbage? Lord… OK, Tim, we can do this. By the way, I’ve been writing this blog for 11 years. That’s my real name. Harvey was our family housecat when I was growing up. Tim’s are pretty awesome guys. Our friends rely on us. Our children look up to us. Our wives adore us. We’re funny and as dependable as a Labrador Retriever. Sorry, I keep digressing. Anyway, my young lady was having none of it. She started to take on the persona of a homeschooled kid who’d been force-fed too many math lessons at once. Or like Cardi B. I can’t decide. “Sweetheart, what’s the matter?” I asked. “I don’t understand this!” she said, frustrated. I tried walking her through it to shrieks of “but why is this line ‘X’ and that line ‘Y’? Why not the other way around?” I tried to reassure her that it was simply the way it was and that it might have meaning if we only got through the lesson. Her voice started raising, heaving its way toward me across the table with the force of many men. Like a hungry army of barbarians on the march toward demolishing Rome, her ire tramped closer and closer. I was honestly scared. I may have peed myself a little. Nope, I definitely peed myself.
Finally, I gave her a set of coordinates and pointed to the plane on the page. The coordinates were – and I will never forget this as long as I live and probably halfway through my time in Purgatory – 3 and negative 2 (3, -2). “Look, find 3 on the X axis,” I instructed politely while salivating over that gin and tonic I had mixed in my mind. Her finger begrudgingly traced its way across the axis three ticks. “Good, now find negative 2 on the Y axis.” Rolling her eyes so loudly the US Geological Survey was calling me to get the seismic measurements, she pulled the same finger two lines down the page.
We stared at each other for a moment. It was intense.
Finally I said to her, “Great job! You found the coordinates!” To this my baby girl replied with a simple and almost whispered, “And what do I do now?’ So I told her with an imbecilic grin, “You put a point on it.” At that moment all the fury of hell emerged from her precious face. “That’s IT?! Seriously? Are you kidding me?!?!?! All that to drop a point on the page?! Here, look Daddy, I can put lots of points on this page!” As she said this she was simultaneously slamming her pencil into various, un-coordinated points on the graphing paper. Her frustration unleashed as it was, she began to crack up with laughter. So did I. Her’s was the kind that comes from exuberance after a long-delayed release. Mine was from fear.
We did not do any more crystal math this week. I furthermore instructed my daughter that she could always tell me when she’d had enough. “If you said you were hungry and I force fed you for two hours, you’d probably explode,” I told her in our post-blowup peacemaking session complete with cup of tea. “Likewise, you can tell me when your brain gets full too.”
I think we closed out the school day with a trip to Taco Bell. My life is normal, right?