School testing in the early elementary years revealed that my son had profound strengths in math and spatial reasoning. As a writer, I was prepared to raise a budding wordsmith, but gifted math student?
How could I nurture his gifts while, at the same time, camouflage my own math inadequacies?
I was no mathematician. I was overwhelmed.
After much hand-wringing it occurred to me that as a writer, I’d helped others and was always glad to share my talents. Wouldn’t a mathematician feel the same way?
So I started to think about who I knew with a formal math background. Turns out that I had two neighbors with math degrees, one of whom also had a master’s in mathematics. I couldn’t rely on them all the time, but I had my “ace-in-the-hole” if I got stuck. Both of them lived within easy walking distance of our home. With my safety net in place I started to breathe again. I could do this.
Once I embraced the “math advocate” role I discovered that I knew just as much math as many of my young son’s teachers. They were educators, not mathematicians – a difference I would learn to appreciate as we continued on this journey. Then I started to think about the math areas I had conquered. For example, I love geometry even if algebra turns me into a wobbly mess. I can also read a financial statement or balance sheet like seasoned accountant.
My anxiety eased and I grew more confident when I realized how much math played a role in my prior career as a stockbroker and investor relations manager. Why, I used math all the time! I started to talk about math like the old friend it was.
Where I was once loathe to even think about math I now understood that I didn’t have to be a whiz at Trig in order to support and inspire my little math boy. My key role was to find other resources to help him when my own abilities fell short.
That mind shift had a profound impact on our activities as a family. We still read at night but our eyes were opened to the beautiful and precise math surrounding us during the day.
I would point to a neighbor with a decorating business “Did you know that Mrs. So-and-So uses math every day in her work?” I found a math enrichment class that taught fun number games. A friend invited my son over to build Dodecahedron origami one afternoon with her older boys.
Once the word got out that we “liked math” all kinds of opportunities became available. It was like a hidden world suddenly came into focus – it had been there all along, I just hadn’t seen it.
Two weeks ago my son graduated from high school (in the blink of an eye; I’m not kidding) after earning high marks in AP BC Calc and Linear Algebra. In August he’s headed to Johns Hopkins where he plans to study math and physics. I have to believe that if I had thrown up my hands in resignation declaring “I can’t help you with math,” that we might have had a different outcome. Like a voracious reader without a library he could have lost interest and moved on to other things.
As a parent I needed to learn that I didn’t have to have all the answers. I just needed to know where to find them and I had to be certain not to, knowingly or unknowingly, pass along my math anxiety to my child. Learn to let math anxiety go. Find your ace-in-the-hole and embrace the mathematician buried within you.