Lost in Suburbia: 2 + 2 = chicken

Tracy Beckerman

I have a friend whose worst fears when her husband travels is that an appliance will die or the dog will run away or the car will break down.

For me, it is the fear that one of my kids will need help with their math homework.

I was not always mathaphobic. There was a very, very short window when I was able to help the kids with their homework confidently and with a high degree of accuracy. Unfortunately this window slammed shut when the kids were in, oh, about fourth grade. That’s when they started to move away from addition, subtraction, multiplication and division to the other stuff. The other stuff would include fractions, geometry, algebra, and all those other math disciplines that cause my eyes to glaze over and my brain to shut down.

It’s not that I’m an idiot. We have already determined that I am a genius because I know when it is time to change an empty roll of toilet paper. Furthermore, I can write a heck of a persuasive essay, and I can hold my own in a conversation with a French toddler. However, when it comes to math, I seem to be frustratingly deficient. I’m pretty sure that when you-know-who was passing out brains for school subjects, I got an extra helping of language arts, but got passed over for math.

This has not been a huge problem for me in life. I have never found myself in a situation where I needed to know if something I was purchasing for my living room was a rhomboid or a trapezoid. I have always managed to balance my checkbook and measure out the ingredients for recipes and get the right size collar for the dog without knowing his mass versus his weight versus the circumference of his neck. Sure, I’m not able to postulate the depth of a black hole, but who the heck needs to know that when they are buying shoes, anyway? And just in case you think I really am that shallow, I do know that the size of a black hole is given by GM/c2, but I have no idea what G, M or c are, or why you have to double them (the c’s, that is). 

This math thing really did not present any problem at all until I had kids. Suddenly I became that parent. The one who can’t help them figure out if 20 people in a factory make 43 shoes in [(3)^.5] / 2 hours, then how many shoes do they make in an eight-hour day?

“As long as they make the shoe I want in a size nine medium, who cares how many they can make in an eight-hour day,” I responded when this question was posed to me by my oldest child.

“I care because if I can’t figure it out, I will get a zero on this assignment,” said my son.

I grumbled something about trapezoids and black holes and then told him to call his father.

Eventually the kids stopped asking me for help with their math altogether. Then they even stopped asking me the time, figuring the mere mention of numbers would set me into a tailspin. Finally, whenever a number came up around me, it was spelled.

“When is dinner?” asked my son.

“Mom said it would be ready in t-e-n minutes,” responded my daughter.

“Hello, I can’t do quadratic equations, but I can spell, you know,” I shouted and stomped out of the room. 

“The kids think I’m an idiot because I can’t do math,” I complained to my husband.

“They don’t think you are an idiot,” he said. “Besides, not everyone can be good at everything. You are a great writer and you are incredibly creative and organized.”

I smiled and kissed him. “Thanks, honey. I appreciate that.”

“No problem.”

“So can you come down for dinner?” I asked as I started to leave the room.

“Sure,” he said brightly. “I’ll be down in f-i-v-e.”

Tracy also blogs for “The Balancing Act” on Lifetime Television. To cast your vote for Tracy for America’s Top Blogger, go to