Lost (in 9th Grade Math)
Haley plopped on the couch next to me with her laptop in her hands and tears in her eyes.
“Dad, can you help me?” she asked.
I was staring into my phone, at a Newsweek’s article headline “The Best Place to Survive Nuclear War in the U.S.”
The full article was paywall protected. An advertisement in bold red letters announced, if I subscribed today, I could immediately unlock the article along with more articles from over 300 publications including WSJ, Time, and People. Fine black letters announced the subscription auto-renews each month for $9.99 a month. I debated the cost of being informed.
I placed my phone on a nearby end table, “Sorry.”
Haley’s eyes were red and watery and I suspected she had been crying in her room and, I presume coming to her dad, an English major, a fan of Shakespeare and metaphors and polysyndeton and an outspoken critic of those nonsensical little things known as numbers, was the last resort.
At the top of the computer screen was an orange heading, ” Understanding Linear Functions.”
Maybe my brain was still trying to find the best place in the U.S. to survive a nuclear war. Maybe the fruited Kansas plains. Maybe somewhere along the Lake Michigan coast. Maybe under the natural protection of the Rocky Mountains. I figured New York to the North and Washington D.C. to the South were prime targets. And I figured that, living in Philadelphia, sandwiched some 100 miles between the prime targets, our air would turn mustard green with nuclear dust and we would have to live hunched in the crawlspace until we died.
After a few long minutes of blinking at the computer screen, I secretly concluded I had no clue what “linear functions” were and why they needed to be solved. In fact, I was pretty sure I had never seen those words together. Ever.
Haley sniffed, “Dad…” then sniffed again, “…I can’t figure out number five.”
Number five was a word problem about a silly, lost man driving South at 47 miles per hour for 15 minutes only to stop, turn around, and drive North at 68 miles per hour for 11 minutes. Number five then asked to select the best answer that correctly displays the man’s motion. Each of the four choices used the words intercept, slope, domain, and independent variable.
I reread the question. I thought about how driving in one direction for fifteen minutes is a long time. Why the sudden stop in direction? Maybe the man left his phone at home? Maybe the road was closed? Maybe it was the leftover sushi he ate for lunch? Or maybe he paid for the Newsweek article while he drove North, discovered the safest place in the U.S. to survive a nuclear attack, stopped, turned around, and drove South?
Haley tossed her hands in the air, “I mean, why is he even lost. Doesn’t his car have GPS?” She began to cry again.
I didn’t say anything for a while and then I said, “It’s ok.”
“I mean if the man’s lost, why wouldn’t he just stop and ask for directions?” she asked.
(A question women have been asking since man stood upright, looked toward the sky, and began to walk.)
Ninth grade math is cruel. With its x=y logic, it disorients innocent children. Provokes tears. Champions powerlessness. Shepherds a “there can only be one right answer” that nettles nuclear war.
I desperately wanted to help my daughter solve the man’s lostness. I also risked being a victim of eye rolling if I lumbered onto my soapbox and told her it’s just fine to be lost. That ninth grade math tricks us into believing everything is solvable. That life is messy. An unsolvable problem. Where lostness is a constant. Where we’re always questioning our directions. Where we’re always questioning ourselves. That admitting our lostness is the first step in finding ourselves. And that I was assured to know the man trapped in the word problem seemed just as lost as I was.
But with bedtime quickly approaching and her math grade hanging in the balance, Haley and I made an intellectual leap together. We talked out the situation. Rationalized the possible answer. Eliminated the choices that seemed wrong until we agreed that choice C was most definitely correct.
Haley clicked C.
The computer politely informed us we were wrong.
I laughed, admitted to my daughter I almost failed high school math and that the next time she needs math help she should ask mom. Haley left the couch without saying a word and I looked at my phone on the end table and thought about buying that Newsweek article.
October Book Promos:
Are you searching for a better version of yourself?
This month I joined literary forces for some best-selling authors to promote our books in the, “Become Inspired. Become You.” book promotion. Check out these awesome titles!
Memoirs, Biographies, Self-help books…oh my!
This month I joined literary forces with some best-selling authors t promote our books in the “Non-fiction Super Sale” book promotion. Checkout these awesome titles!
You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take…
A few months ago, with low expectations, I took a shot and entered “Bedtime Stories for the Living” in the highly regarded, highly competitive international book contest presented by Readers’ Favorite. Readers’ Favorite is an established force in the publishing industry. They have worked withPenguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Harper Collins, and have received the “Best Websites for Authors” and “Honoring Excellence” awards from the Association of Independent Authors.
Anyway, just before I was about to take a midday nap, I was informed that this suburban dad had won…
First Prize, the Gold Medal, in the Non-Fiction/Parenting genre!
The award ceremony is in November and is at Hilton Blue Lagoon in Miami, Florida.
It was totally unexpected. I’m totally honored. And I totally can’t wait for my kids to question my parenting skills so that I can gently remind them I wrote a Gold Medal winning parenting book.
Quote of the Week:
If you would like to share something with others (a photo, a poem, a song, a quote, etc.) that tosses some positive vibes into the world, please send your suggestions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
Are you a reader? Looking for your next good book to read or listen to? Check out my new page “Jay’s Book Shelf” for some book recommendations.
Here’s what I’m currently reading: Slapstick, or Lonesome No More!
If you like this post, you may also like:
Procrastination Comes Home
How to Climb Today’s Mountain
Your Voice is the Most Powerful Thing You Own
A Different Kind of Hope
Jay Armstrong is a writer, speaker, former high school English teacher, and an award-winning author. Despite being diagnosed with a rare neurological disease, that impairs his movement, balance, eyesight, and speech–Jay presses on. The leader of the Philadelphia Ataxia Support Group, he hopes to help you find joy, peace, and meaning in life. For Jay, a good day consists of 5 things:
4. Hearing his three children laugh
5. Hugging his wife
(Bonus points for a dinner with his parents or a drink with his friends)
Jay hasn’t had a bad day in quite a long time.
You can also visit Jay at jayarmstrongwrites.com