Thursday, April 24, 2014

"Can I Go On Out?" And Other Math

I can't be sure when it happened really.  Nor can I figure why it happened.  I just know it did.

A few nights ago I closed my book, shut out the light, got comfy with all my pillows, sighed and thought, this is the best part of my day.  I'd like to say I was offering up a prayer of thanksgiving - a primal evening hymn of gratitude and victory and happy resignation.  I was not.  It was a bitter retort, a childish little rant in which I was the victim.

Maybe I just needed to consider it, to, perhaps learn something from the notion that the end of my day was the best of my day.  Is that an adult theme?  Is it my nature to celebrate the done, the finished, and not savor the yet-to-come?  Have I forgotten the sweetness of tomorrow's dew, seduced by the low, glowing embers in the fire of this day's eve?

But why?

Nicholas, dear Nick, wakes up before six in the morning.  Every morning.  He comes into our room quietly and waits for me to acknowledge him.  He knows I am most likely awake, he can sense it.   I am indeed awake.  We are awake in different ways, however, and the gulf between those ways is profound, telling.

As I lie awake mustering the strength to get things started - muffins, bacon, homework, clothes, backpacks, snacks and a thousand little things that I have to do.  As I consider the great inconveniences and trials of the day ahead, a little man stands before me, waiting for a "good morning," an "I love you," an acknowledgment of his presence, his being.

"Dad, can I go on out?" (Subtext: Dad, I am so glad for this day, so excited to be alive again, still.  Can I get it started?  Can I get going because, well, it's today?  Again!  Isn't that wonderful.)

How on earth have I forgotten this?

Remember the book I closed before I went to bed?  It is a book based on the lectures and writings of Henri Nouwen called Spiritual Direction.  It is difficult, reflective reading that sometimes takes a while to reach my heart.  The last paragraph I read must have echoed through the corridors of my dreams that night.

"One of the main objectives of spiritual direction is to help people discover that they already have something to give. Therefore, the director needs to be a receiver who says, "I see something in you, and I'd like to receive it from you."  In this way, the one who gives discovers his or her talent through the eyes of the one who receives."

What beautiful truth.  As parents we need to be director as receiver, we need to see what the gift is our children hold and we need to be ready and willing to accept it.   In honoring and cherishing these gifts we connect to our child-likeness, our sacredness, our shimmering essential holiness.  And, there's more, in the recognition of the gift given, the child sees the beauty of the gift he gave.  Perfect balance.  Perfect love.

Nick gave me back my morning prayer, my prayer for hope, my prayer for now.

"Dad, can I go out?"

Yes, son, yes... and I am right behind you.

Thank you, Nick.

Over and over again I learn from my sons.   Lessons that would humble the best rabbis, priests, philosophers and poets. Simple profound lessons on love and hope and truth...

...and math.

This is how the problem was presented.  As you can see by the 'check minus' there followed by the ominous word "fix," Nick had some difficulty with this:

This is how I was taught to solve it:

This is how the boys are being taught to solve it:

Yes, well...  When I first started working on this post I had a brilliantly crafted (in my head) rant all ready to go.  It was to cover how I was taught math and Mr. Sharp, my fourth grade math teacher.  In his class we chanted the multiplication table and did problems in chalk on the board and never talked about how we got an answer.  Old school, Mayberry crap.  I had every intention of showing, logically and without a doubt, how my way was the right way.

I tried to show Nick, now in tears, the "simple" way of doing it.  It, uh, didn't go so well.  Fortunately, Nick was a brother in the same grade who, conveniently, has the same math teacher... not Mr. Sharp.  As Nick sniffled and I fumed, a voice from the living room, a voice of authority and clarity, said,"You need to use a number line, Nick."

"What?!" I say, incredulously.  "How on earth are you going to use a "number line" to solve this?  It's simple math."

"Dad," the wise boy went on, "Some kids don't understand your way, but everybody gets this way."

Zack then went to his bookbag and pulled out the same worksheet - he'd gotten a 'check plus' - and showed it to Nick.

"Oh, I get it now," he said as he glanced at Zack's work.

Twenty minutes later the work was done.  It only took me one to realize how very wrong I'd been.  Zack gave me a gift, a gift of understanding, a gift of humility, a gift of empathy.

I see so much in these boys, and, slowly, I am coming to understand that I wish to receive it from them.  And, just as profoundly, they are coming to understand that they can teach me.

From Marci's "...things you don't expect to hear from the backseat..." Facebook Page:

Photo shoot for Peebles & Peebles Used Cars ad campaign

I often begin a post somewhere and end up somewhere else.  Thanks for going along with me, I am glad you could.

Oh, I nearly forgot.  They made cards:

Zack's a used car salesman and, get this, a Micro Biologist.  Sweet...


  1. A thousand years ago when I was still in school my father and I once went to war over how to solve math problems. He could figure out the correct answer (per those listed in the book) but could only solve them the way he had been taught.

    Sadly that wasn't close to how I had been taught and so I told him that his way was wrong and tried to help him learn how to do it my way. He got frustrated because it made no sense and I got frustrated with his not being to help me so we screamed at each other.

    It probably also had something to do with my being a 14 and difficult too.

    Anyway fast forward to the present and I have experienced the same frustration with my children's homework but I am pleased to say I did learn something as a kid and there have been no fights.

    Second comment, I love how excited our kids are about starting the day. It is a great reminder for us.

  2. Bill:

    I think once we're grown and have responsibilities, we're more apt to look at the end of the day as the time we're unhooked from the plow and put to pasture for a rest; our kids, wonderfully, see the day's beginning as a wondrous opportunity for adventure to begin, and the night as the painful waiting period before they get back to adventuring.

    I think the greatest thing about kids is that they can share that with you again.

  3. You're a great teacher, Bill. You and I may never get "new" math, but the simple arithmetic of love in your posts is always easy to follow.

  4. LOVE your translation of "Dad, can I go out?" I had a similar realization some years back and wrote a similar response to it:

  5. Great stuff Bill. Recently I tried to find a way to rant against the new math, so I looked for a video demonstration of a math lesson using this "common core" math. Well, I got schooled. It's not common core math. Common core doesn't dictate curriculum, and this is a curriculum choice. The stuff I saw called it "everyday math." So I watched a video about long division, just waiting for the smoking gun of how awfully stupid it all is.

    But I loved it. It was clever, sensible, and got the right answer while teaching an additional lesson along the way. Including a personal lesson in humility.

  6. Sweet way to think of this. My guess is part of the reason Nick is more enthusiastic is he has had more sleep. It really is essential.
    None the less to have that enthusiasm for a new day is a special thing. If we could all share just some of the wonder that children have, what would our day be like?

  7. Kids teach us from the moment they emerge, don't they. We just have to remember to learn from it, and to love it.

  8. I love this, "we need to see what the gift is our children hold and we need to be ready and willing to accept it". Thanks!