Monday, March 28, 2011


Elena and I are having a thing. It's a math homework issue. She can't "get" money. And I can't "get" that she can't "get" money. It's so incredible frustrating for me, I hear my voice raising to fevered tone. I get all pitchy and whiny. I hate the way I sound. I find myself gesturing, very Italian-like with thumbs and fingers outstretched and spread emphatically to make their mathmatical point. JUST.DOESN'T.GET.IT.

Tonight, we had the frustrating exercise of doing the same problem a couple of times over to practice, repetition being the best way to perfect a skill. Every time was like the first. I could feel the tension rising up my scalp. I could sense the tears ready to spring forth from her ducts...and mine for that matter. And then, looking at her little upturned countenance, I had a flashback. The flashback was to me, in first grade, trying to understand the precursor to multiplication, groups of.

Mom was on her knees beside me on the rust (oh so Seventies) colored carpet of our downstairs playroom. She had the poker chips out and was making little piles of two or three or four. She was grouping chips in piles and then making multiple piles. She was using the term groups of. I did not hear groups of, I hear something else. Here is how it sounded to me...

Mom: "See Kristen, 4 little piles of 3 in each...4 grupsuf 3 equals....................."

Me, whilst staring at her completely blankly: "Um...3? 4? I don't know..."

Mom: No, no...see, pointing gently to the four little piles, "4 GRUPSUF 3"

Me: "What is GRUPSUF???"

I can literally remember the frustration and the knots I had in my stomach as she tried to teach me something I know she thought was simple. I could tell she thought I SHOULD be getting it. I wanted to get it. I was busy freaking out and constructing a large concrete mental block with the word GRUPSUF scribed across it.

Now I know why people hire tutors, so they don't have to have contentious relationships with their children over homework. So that these types of mental blocks are less apt to turn into family power struggles and so that parents can avoid completely freaking out that their kids are completely dense.

Ironically, my mother is now a tutor, dealing with everybody else's frustrated kids.
And, I am in sales and use math every day, although I still cannot say I use "grupsuf" all that often.

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