Math (and Other Banes of Existence)

7:30 AM

Math has always hated me.

It knows how weak-minded I am, where my defenses are lowest, where my walls can be breached. And it's cruel. It's relentless. It doesn't mind exploiting the fact that numbers get jumbled up in my head. It couldn't care less that I struggle to process equations through the logic machine. It really isn't concerned that it doesn't take much to overload my brain, cause it to shut down and send out emergency lachrymal fluid to bloodshot eyes in torrents.

It just isn't.

Even then, I've found ways to fight back: I befriended my numbers. 2, 4, 6, 8 and the rest of the friendly even numbers have happy, helpful personalities -- perhaps it has something to do with their names, their shapes or, principally, the fact that they're a snap to divide and multiply. (I like to think that they're just naturally my little buddies.) 2 is a feisty little male toddler, 4 a little girl who thinks she's grown up, 6 is a regular madcap, deep-down-tender boy and 8's a gentleman complete with top hat. Everything above that takes on a motherly nature, though the ones with odd numbers in the front, 30's especially, are more of those tuff-love mamas with rolling pins and big warm hugs.

Now, odd numbers are greatly different. They're a quieter bunch, a steelier bunch; they've seen hard times and mental institutions, so we have this subtle connection. 1, 3, 5, 7, 9. 9 is pure evil; I've always hated 9. 7 was once a good character but proved irredeemable -- he's like the Dodger from Oliver! if you understand me. 5, being a relief to work with, was wrongly institutionalized with the oddballs; and 3 and 1 are still locked away in quiet insignificance.

You do realize of course that I never really told anyone about my parade of friends? Some people might think it quite disturbing. But it's not really. Think about it. Math is lonely and nervewracking. When you're forced to work in close quarters with these digits, you're forced to at least get to know each other a little better -- no matter how strong the love/hate relationship.

At one time, math was my favorite subject -- where else do you have the extra graph paper to doodle on for a good hour after thirty insane algebraic questions?

Point One: I am not good at math.

Point Two: I require creativity to function.

Point Three: Public and private school textbooks are evil as well.

Oh. I haven't established that point, have I? Let me explain. When I was back in the stone ages of elementary years, I suffered through hideously boring and sparse textbooks designed to be brought to life by real, smiling teachers. Presumably. (At least that's how I think teachers should be -- lively and smiling, or else so eccentric that their bad qualities pale in comparison.) Well, the only one handling these textbooks was me, and I was a pretty grumpy self-teacher, falling asleep through poor explanations of long division and shedding hot tears over complicated word diagrams.

This was a case for Mother, and thank goodness she was readily available to supply the lively and smiling teacher to the dead and glowering textbooks.

Even then, these textbooks, though designed for private school, were slightly more interesting (to my mind) than those public school textbooks. I always pitied public schoolers, what with the boring math homework I helped my best friend with at age seven (something about pennies and nickels) and their dry-as-dust textbooks they lugged around. Believe me. I tried "helping" a good friend of mine with public school algebra one, and the notes were better than the actual textbook. It never occurred to me that PS learned in a classroom and their textbooks were learned in a classroom, and that I, being a self-learner, did not have the same sort of educational experience.

Long story short, there is a huge difference between textbooks for classrooms, whether public or private, and textbooks for homeschoolers. Homeschoolers used interactive CD-roms and had zany word problems and textbooks that read like a conversation, in place of lively and smiling teachers.

Most homeschoolers, I mean.

Most homeschoolers, I say, until they hit their senior year and discover that Teaching Textbooks, with their cartoons and interactive CDs and brightly-colored books, does not cover consumer math.

So what did I end up studying?

A dry-as-dust private school textbook, suspiciously bland, bereft of creativity, devoid of in-depth explanation because the assumption is that you'd be mostly looking at your lively and smiling consumer math teacher instead of studying the margins of the textbook, hunting for previous students' cheat notes.

In that context, the perfect breeding ground for the homicidal side of math, I fell prey to despair and desolation.

Let me recap for you:

Point One: I am not good at math.

Point Two: I require creativity to function.

Point Three: Public and private school textbooks are evil as well.

Point Four: I am about to lose hair, sleep and sanity over this.

Point Five: I am determined not to.

I run outside, to the swing or to the garden, when mathematical despair chokes me. For me, who struggles to recall the multiplication table and couldn't do mental math to save her life -- not to mention a diehard perfectionist -- it really is a big deal that I can't grasp a concept. It threatens my straight-A reputation. It makes me doubt whether I'll survive the college algebra CLEP test come September. It makes me question whether I was ever smart in the first place.

It's a huge deal, for a drama queen like me. I say it's not, that it's just math, it's just math, Bailey, but it is a big deal. And because I say it's not a big deal, even though I'm choking with hot-teared frustration, I allow myself to give in to my frustration, to my fear of failure, to wrap myself up in a brain-blurring cloud of hysteria.

It never occurred to me that if something steals my joy and my peace, it's a pretty big deal. We make excuses for the little things that annoy us and trip us up, that cause us to snap at someone because we just don't get it or to break down emotionally because we lose our grip. But if those little things are stealing something as huge as my joy, as my focus on Christ's goodness (even in the midst of math), then that needs to be treated as a huge thing.

What do we do with big things? We give them over to God. We pray about them. We try not to let doubt plague us and fear paralyze us. We count these big things as trials -- and we're told to rejoice in those trials.

So this big thing, this monstrously evil mathematical confusion -- I give it over to God. I refuse to let it wreck me to the point of searing frustration, to let go this chance to praise God, to pretend that God is the God of life decisions but not the God of percentage change.

Even if I don't seem to learn much from the dry-as-dust textbook, this I will learn: a life of thanksgiving and joy, starting at the ground level up. Starting with consumer math.

And another thing I'm learning? Humility. Humility to let go of the things I think I can handle -- percentages and polynomials -- and give everything to God. Humility to think that, "Hey -- maybe I get good grades because I've been blessed with a learning environment that matches my style, not because I'm inherently a whiz kid." Humility to thank God like that. To give Him the glory -- always.

That's my pledge this school year. Now back to the books.

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19 impressions

  1. Brava!

    If only I had that perspective when I suffered through three math courses stuffed into one miserable Senior year...

    I love the fact that Christ saturates every aspect of your life. Even consumer math.

    You're my hero!

    Christ's blessings,

  2. Great post Bailey! I actually love math, but I give my numbers the same personality as you do! I thought I was the only one... I love the bigger numbers and you're like "ok, so 16 has twin eights" It's so fun!

    MaKenna DeVore

  3. Before I leave my cup of thought, I have to say I love the little changes you made to BHLW - the new pictures are BEAUTIFUL and the new "commenting guidelines" are cute. :)


    Math. *shudders* I hate that word. To me, that word means big things that little me cannot understand easily. Like it takes a while to cram those big numbers and equations into my 3 lb parietal lobe. When I finally get it, I've got it, but boy, does it take awhile to get there. But, I can do all things through Christ who stregenthens me (Phil. 4:13).

    By the way - Just for the record, Teaching Textbooks it the best mathematics program EVER. ;)


  4. Yep. God is an ever present help in trouble! He knows how to help and hold us. His grace is sufficient with math, a cranky little sister,a charred attempt at cooking and beyond. He's so good.

    Ps. Your new pictures look great! Could you possibly email me one?

  5. Wow, Bailey, this was such an amazing and encouraging post...I just got finished quitting a college algebra practice test, earning another C in consumer math and freaking out over surviving college level work.

    I think God had more work to do on me than a one-time post.

    Shelby! You're back! Please, no mention of "senior" and "math" in the same sentence. It is psychologically offensive. ;o)

    MaKenna, huzzah for fellow slightly-crazy-but-oodles-of-fun math personality people!

    Alexxus, I know. TT should win the homeschool textbook of the millennium.

    Anna, I'd be happy to email you one, dear heart, or two, or three, or four hundred. Just name what you'd like. *hugs*

  6. You have my hugs and my sympathy. I took Consumer Math my last year of high school--and it was the worst ever. My brain felt as though it was filling with a mushy sloosh that could only be remedied by moving on to another subject. Like English. Now that's fun stuff.

    And to be honest? I haven't really used anything from CM since. *shakes head*

    Remembering to give everything in our lives over to God is the best thing we can do--I'm really finding this out more and more lately. Just keep on looking to Him. You'll make it through, I have no doubts. *hugs*

  7. I've been enjoying your posts a great deal... so I thought I had better be nice and comment. :D I know I always love getting comments, and have yet to meet a blogger who doesn't like them. ;)

    Anyways... like you, math is quite possibly the bane of my existence. (isn't that so fun to say, by the way?) The other might possibly be capitalized "I"s. :P

    I totally sympathize with Point Two. :D I am way too creative with math sometimes... I've managed to get several different answers out of one simple problem. o.0

    "So this big thing, this monstrously evil mathematical confusion -- I give it over to God. I refuse to let it wreck me to the point of searing frustration, to let go this chance to praise God, to pretend that God is the God of life decisions but not the God of percentage change."

    Excellent! I, too, have decided to try and like math... this post definitely encouraged me in that decision. :)

    (Even though I'm actually 21 and technically don't NEED to do it anymore...)

    God bless,

  8. I can relate to everything in this post. :) I thankfully opted not to take math in my senior year... and I shouldn't need it for college.

    Loved the number personality thing! I totally used to do that. 2, 5, and 8 were my favorites. The odd numbers are rather sinister, aren't they? To me though, 5 is the gentleman with the top hat - a rather portly one at that.

    Anyhow, I will be praying for you this week as you continue to wade through the numbers. :)

  9. I'm glad you know about Teaching Textbooks; I love them and hope to use them for Geometry this year.
    I actually got to use a dry, rough classroom textbook last year, but I was taking my Algebra 2 at a private school, so I got to have my lively and smiling teacher to help us figure out what we were supposed to extract from all the instruction. ;)
    She _was_ lively, too. She liked to tell us stories from her years of teaching public school. Horror stories, those were.

  10. I can't relate on the hating math thing - just like I can't relate to the loving English thing. :) But numbers have personalities to me, too. Only they are different than yours. I like the odd numbers best. Good for you to praise God and seek his glory even in something you hate. If you really want fun math, check out Life of Fred. If you look it up online, they give you sample chapters. You really should check it out. God bless!

  11. Justine, I love Life of Fred! My mom picked up LOF geometry, and I read through it like a novel. :o)

  12. *groan*
    I don't like math, either. I never have. But this year (drumroll, please!) I don't have to take it!!! YAY, YAY, YAY! (Can you tell that makes me happy? ;-)

    That is so funny! I gave a few numbers personalities, too. I had no idea that anyone else did the same thing!

    To me, 7 was always the evil villain, though I don't really know why. 8 was always my favorite number. He was the good guy. =)

  13. Oggghhhg, Math. Really, Lee dear, did you have to time it so that I came across this post on a Saturday? I really don't need to be reminded.

    Giving numbers personalities happened a long time ago for me - I don't remember exactly how it came about. 1 is a quiet, friendly little guy who rarely makes trouble. 2 is his sweet, amiable older sister. 3 is an aspiring bully, 4 slightly sour, 5 a well-meaning but rascally boy, and 6 a stuck-up but charming young man. 7 is beautiful but malicious, and 8 I somehow came to consider ruthlessly ambitious. 9 is a bland, boring, and middle aged (fat, too).

    I'm all for Teaching Textbooks, if one must choose a math curriculum. I'm using them currently. On good days, the narrator's funny, nasally, friendly voice is amusing (on bad days - ugh!), and the lectures and in-depth instructions are given with clarity and helpfulness. And that's something worth finding.

    Wow, is this post getting to be long-winded ... let my close by saying that this post hit me directly where I needed to be hit, and that I sincerely thank you for it.


  14. You bit about numbers sounds a little like OLP.

    I give numbers personalities, genders, and even little back stories.
    3,8, and 7 are all in cahoots. 8 is the worse. He ruins everything.

    4 and 11 chill. 11 keeps 8 in line.

  15. This is *quite* random; but anyways...I really like your blog's new look. Very nice =) Did Bethany do it?

    And although I don't comment much on here (I think I've done it once before) I really enjoy reading your blog, Bailey!


    (BTW, I'm Amy's younger sister :) )

  16. Bethany did it. I wouldn't waste time doing a half-witted job when I have an amazingly talented sister just hanging around in life waiting to design blogs. ;o)

    Actually, I don't know what design you're looking at...the new Internet Explorer browser makes it absolutely HIDEOUS and MESSED UP. Since I'm old-fashioned and still use the ancient browser, it looks perfectly lovely.

    Thanks for reading! I'm glad you enjoy it at the Big House. :o)

  17. Well, then, I must be using the "ancient browser"...because I think it looks perfectly lovely! Yes, Bethany, does a good job on designing blogs...maybe she'd do mine one day *laughs* I tried once to design my own blog...let's just say, it didn't go as planned!

    Yes, I definitely do enjoy reading your blog. And, I like that I can get your new posts in my in-box :)

  18. Hey Bailey, if you adore graph paper, and doodling after math (I know you're like done with all official school, but you might like this anyway) there is this video playlist on this awesome educational site. She has some deep-seated evolutionary aspects to her, especially when she is talking about Fibonacci numbers, but overall, it is just about doodling with math. It's challenging, but loads of fun!
    Also, here's a link to one of Sal's fractal videos
    It's just a great site for math help and practice. I do 50% of my math work each year here. (Fair warning for anyone that sees this: leave the science alone, particularly biology and astronomy. Extreme evolutionary brainwashing)

  19. Allow me to speak in the defense of mathematics.

    It seems to me that your issue lies with arithmetic and algebra, not mathematics itself. I didn't like "math" either up until calculus, at which point creativity becomes an important part of problem solving. IMO, all of the dry parts of math are actually arithmetic and algebra, mathematics itself is actually fascinating and beautiful.


Hit me with your best thought! I'm very interested in your unique perspective. If you'd like to discuss things in private, feel free to email me! :)