Cooking by Numbers

When I was in high school, I was mistakenly placed in an AP math class.  I was already taking a few other AP classes in English and History, but there was no indication that I excelled in mathematical concepts.  In fact, the prior year I got a solid B in Algebra II.  I do not know why this prompted the powers-that-be administrators to feel I needed advanced math classes.  I should have been placed in the next basic class.  Instead, I found myself drowning amongst concepts that I could not comprehend.  Once it was discovered that I was struggling, the teacher and my parents discussed the option of moving me down into the lower level class.  This would have been the best option, but for some reason, everyone decided to let me stay in the advanced class and try my hardest.  Unfortunately, my hardest wasn’t good enough.  My parents had to hire a tutor for me.  And even then, I just couldn’t get it. 


Fortunately for me and my GPA, the teacher took pity on me and was incredibly charitable with her grading.  She knew I was being tutored and that I was trying my absolute hardest to do the best I could.  Because of this, I managed to eke out a C-, when truthfully it should have been much lower, if not failing.  It is the only class I have ever taken that I truly almost did not pass.

The next year, everyone smartened up, and I was placed in the most basic of basic math classes.  And although I was finally in an appropriate setting, I never forgot the feeling of drowning in that one advanced class.  The feeling that I just wasn’t smart enough or capable enough to handle what everyone else around me was easily comprehending.  It was not a feeling I enjoyed or ever wanted to repeat in the future.

Yet somehow, despite my genes, my oldest son is a math genius.  Merely in 2nd grade, he is already appropriately in an advanced math class.  Math is apparently one of his skills.  Where that innate ability with numbers came from is anybody’s guess, because as I’ve established above, it is definitely not from his mother.

The other night, my son was helping with dinner preparation.  This is a task which he routinely enjoys and does without complaint.  We were making stir fry, and one of his jobs was to cut up some of the veggies.

While he was cutting up a head of broccoli into little florets, he made this comment:

Cutting up broccoli is fun because it’s like math.  Because when I cut them in pieces, it’s like doing fractions.  For example, this piece is one-fourth of this broccoli. 

© 2005 David Monniaux

I am 38 years old.  Much like Dana Carvey, I have chopped quite a few heads of broccoli in my day.  But not once did I ever think, “huh, this is just like math.  What fun!”

So, while I am happy for my son and his newfound sense of adventure and learning through cooking, this episode also scared the crap out of me.  I’m looking into the not so distant future, and seeing a time when my son needs help with his math homework.  Oh, say . . . probably sometime next week.  And I know for a fact that I will be absolutely useless in assisting him. 

I mean, if he needs help with English or composition or grammar, I’m your mom!  I am most definitely proficient in those topics.  But with anything math related?  No.  If I don’t have a calculator handy or the answer is more than 10 (the number of fingers on which I have to count), then I will not be solving for X.

These are going to be some long school years.  I mean, how sad is it when a 7-year-old boy is smarter than you at an elementary school subject?  All of a sudden, I am starting to experience that drowning feeling again from many years in the past, when trying to tackle an untenable subject.

In related news, I am going back to the hospital to do some research about any babies born the same day as my son.  If I find one that is really good at reading and writing with brown hair and brown eyes . . . there are going to be some hard-hitting questions, is all I’m saying.


Do your kids have any traits and/or skills that have you wondering where they came from?

54 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. renée a. schuls-jacobson
    May 01, 2013 @ 08:37:39

    I have the SAME kid. I don’t know how he came from my loins. And I think the universe does this on purpose. We don’t get to parent the child who is the embodiment of everything we know, we are given what is supposed to keep us learning and stretching and growing. Yesterday while waiting for the dentist, Tech’s 8th math gave me flashbacks — of high school. I can barely look at it.


  2. She's a Maineiac
    May 01, 2013 @ 08:59:17

    Ditto. My son is a math genius. He’s testing two grades above where he should be. Me? Got straight Cs in math in high school. My husband? Can’t add two plus two. Further proof my son was switched at birth.

    Be prepared because just last night I had to “help” him with long division. So I showed him how I remember dividing and apparently they do it a ‘different way’ now — which is some kind of bizarro new-age-y math they developed in recent years to make me feel like a complete idiot.


    • mistyslaws
      May 10, 2013 @ 10:02:40

      Sadly, I am aware of this “different way” you speak of. I am very frightened. I actually corrected some fractions he did wrong last night (it was super obvious, that’s the only way I knew it, and he was just OVER thinking it), and felt so proud of myself. I’m a terrible person.


  3. thoughtsappear
    May 01, 2013 @ 09:12:01

    My mom helped me with English and History, and my Dad helped with Math and Science.

    Ugh…I hate math….


  4. Don't Quote Lily
    May 01, 2013 @ 09:20:01

    Lol… Yeah, it would be sad if my future kid was smarter than me at that age. Or maybe I’d be proud.
    Nope, definitely sad.


  5. Lisha @ The Lucky Mom
    May 01, 2013 @ 09:38:58

    I have one of these, too! He won the Math Department award in 2nd grade, and came home more excited than I’ve ever seen him after his first physics class in high school. He’s now an Engineering student (who still occasionally calls his mom for help with his Liberal Arts classes).


  6. Go Jules Go
    May 01, 2013 @ 10:25:45

    Uggg, the same thing happened to me when I switched schools in 8th grade – was put into Honors math, but those kids were LIGHT YEARS beyond me. It IS an awful feeling!

    Never mind the math, your 7-year-old can wield a knife in the kitchen without mayhem?!


    • donofalltrades
      May 01, 2013 @ 16:17:03

      Lol, that’s sort of what I was thinking! My 9 year old daughter, maybe, but I don’t think I’ve ever met a boy under 25 I’d trust in the kitchen with a knife!


      • mistyslaws
        May 10, 2013 @ 10:08:35

        Oh ye both of little faith. My son is a careful and studious young man.

        Plus, I watch him like a hawk, and he knows not to wield that towards any living thing, or else. And believe you me, he fears my “or elses.” You should see him do his impression of “mom being stern.” It’s hysterical, but very accurate. He’s a good boy.


  7. Jen
    May 01, 2013 @ 10:55:31

    Both of my boys are ridiculously good at math and science to which I give a resounding “Durrrrr, math iz hard…” I’d question their parentage, but the also have an affinity for 90’s gangsta rap and mad love for all things Taco Bell so deep in my heart of hearts I know they’re mine.


    • mistyslaws
      May 10, 2013 @ 10:09:51

      Oh yeah, those boys are totally all yours. If there was ever any question, you would just have to listen to their smartass responses to questions, and you would know they were of your womb! 😉


  8. Mandi
    May 01, 2013 @ 11:08:31

    I was that kid. My parents flat out told me in 6th grade, “If you need help, find a tutor because we will cause you to fail.” My mom was always really good and proofing and editing my compositions (although she never approved of the subject matter), but math and science? Hell to the nah, yo.


  9. agirlwhogames
    May 01, 2013 @ 12:38:12

    Both of my parents strongly disliked and openly admitted they were not good at non-English subjects, but I’m a whiz at languages – I am fluent in Latin (useful!), Spanish, and Japanese. I used to wander around my house pointing at objects and chatting to an invisible friend about them to practice my homework and my mom would stare at me, sadly shake her head, and wonder who I was switched with at birth.

    I disliked math (still do!), and math homework was torture for me. My dad, who does math for a living and is really good at it – he’s an estimator/project manager/bidder for drywall company, so he’s all about algebra, geometry, and calculus – admitted he hated math when he was my age, too. In fact, he stopped taking math after sophomore year of high school. Apparently, when he realized he wanted to be an estimator, he went back to school and took Geometry and Algebra II in the fall semester, and then took Precalculus and Calculus in the Spring semester. My mother’s best friend (who is a math teacher) tutored him every night, seven days a week, for three hours, just so he’d get a passing grade (C in every subject). And then he got a job in his field and became amazing at math, because he had to do it every day, and eventually he ended up liking math. (Or the Stockholm Syndrome kicked in.)

    The most important thing I learned from my dad’s story (aside from the fact that I should pick a career that didn’t involve multiple simultaneous math classes) was my dad is imperfect. Seriously, my relationship with my dad blossomed after he told me that story, because I saw him as someone who could succeed *in spite of his flaws*, rather than someone who succeeded *because of his talents*. For a kid who was a super perfectionist and gave herself an ulcer by age 13 trying to be amazing at everything, this was an important revelation.

    So I guess I’m saying don’t freak out if you can’t help 7 with his math – you might give him a much better lesson in the long run.


    • mistyslaws
      May 10, 2013 @ 10:15:36

      That was a great story!! I’m so glad you got that bonding moment with your dad.

      But wait, you are fluent in . . . Latin? Wow, I’m sure THAT has really served you well in life. 😉 Actually, I took Latin classes as a kid, and it was somewhat useful in studying other languages, because it was such a basis for so many. But I don’t really remember much of it, and I even went to law school, where arcane Latin phrases abound!


  10. Rosie
    May 01, 2013 @ 13:09:24

    There’s no figuring out family! I am hopeless with numbers, but my brother is a math genius. So, there’s figuring, by him, but no figuring out, by me!


  11. Hippie Cahier
    May 01, 2013 @ 13:13:38

    On the bright side, I see pi in your future.


  12. just another s-a-h-mother
    May 01, 2013 @ 13:37:02

    My BoyGenius tells me he hates school, and he’s bored because “it’s too hard.” His reports are all As and Bs and he tested in the 93rd and 94th percentiles for reading comprehension and maths. Too hard. Right. He has “known” things he could not possibly have known from the time he was about 8 months old. I think he just absorbed things in the womb. We did some maths together last week and he looked at me like I was from another planet, because even my “old school” terminology was all wrong. His biggest problem is “showing his work” because much like his Mama, he feels that if it’s the right answer then who cares how he got there …. because in all likelihood it’s not going to be the way he was taught.


  13. bluzdude
    May 01, 2013 @ 13:58:38

    Obviously you’ll need to divide up homework supervision responsibilities w/ your husband. He takes math, you take English. You can flip a coin for science.

    Math was always a struggle for me too. English, social studies, history, and science (up until I needed math) came easy. Algebra, trig and geometry kicked my ass all over the school yard.

    When I was a kid, it was right at the onset of “the new math,” where the object was to understand what you’re doing, rather than to get the right answer. Dad could show me all kinds of tricks to solve the math problems, but it wasn’t the way we were being taught in school. So when the lessons would build on what I’d already supposedly learned, I was completely lost.

    The one thing I did like about math was that there was a single right answer, and you usually knew it when you got it. Sadly, those times were few and far between.


  14. donofalltrades
    May 01, 2013 @ 16:19:21

    That’s how I felt in college physics. Vectors, tangentials, WTF??? Look, I came here to drink beer and play soccer professor, can’t you find an easier math class for me?? Lol. I shudder every time my 4th grader comes at me with math homework. God bless Google, because my knowledge of rhombus areas or least common denominators is spent.


    • mistyslaws
      May 10, 2013 @ 10:42:45

      I think I took ONE math class in college. Whichever was the least challenging class, but still qualified for the credits needed, was the one my butt was in it!


  15. Nelson - One Old Sage
    May 01, 2013 @ 18:06:42

    Great post. I think you should keep the son you have as he sounds pretty darn good to me. I’m like you when it comes to math and also physics. I don’t care how long it will take or at what time the two trains meet, all I know is that if they’re not on separate tracks there will be a hell of crash! Now, let me loose in chemistry lab and watch out. “Wait what was that noise?”. “Oh Nelson’s in the lab again”


    • mistyslaws
      May 10, 2013 @ 10:44:28

      Yeah, I guess he’s pretty ok. 😉

      Oh yeah, chemistry was FUN. Physics? Um, no. Not so much. The only thing I really remember of that class was the crush I had on my lab partner and the other cute boys in the class (there were a lot of cute boys in that class for some reason), and the video of the swaying back and forth bridge that had something to do with physics. Yeah, that’s all I’ve got.


  16. Valerie
    May 01, 2013 @ 18:49:57

    Oh man! Wait til he’s in 5th grade!! 5th grade math ain’t no joke. I have to use a calculator and the Internet!!




  17. Andrea @ Maybe It's Just Me
    May 01, 2013 @ 20:25:23

    My son aced physics last year when he was in ninth grade (um, I never took it). He is coping with Chemistry (I never took that either). I have no recollection of social studies (he knows that). However, he also knows that I can google like nobody’s business! BTW, they change that math crap every year, the one thing I was good at, so you can just say you learned it different (it will be true). 😉


  18. PigLove
    May 02, 2013 @ 09:30:56

    Momma says that I catch on REALLY fast but I still can’t do math. As far as fractions with broccoli, that’s no go too. BUT, I can make it disappear faster than Houdini 🙂 psstt – also check out my blog later. I’m leaving you something sweet there. XOXO – Bacon


  19. Transformed nonconformist (Brett Minor)
    May 02, 2013 @ 09:49:56

    I Am a math person, but helping a kid with high school math sometimes stumps me. I will remember having seen this particular stuff before, but it has been so long, I just can’t remember what is supposed to be done.

    Anyone who hasn’t been sitting in the same class for the last couple of months will be lost.


  20. Carrie - Cannibalistic Nerd
    May 02, 2013 @ 15:53:50

    I would have this exact problem with any future children. I’m not good at math at all, and worse, I just don’t remember it – so it’s like a double whammy. Tom’s a little better so he can deal with it.


  21. L. Palmer
    May 02, 2013 @ 16:17:50

    My youngest sister is a math person, and it hurts a little every time she complains about her language arts class. However, I can also understand her dislike for her teacher.


  22. Melissa
    May 02, 2013 @ 16:31:33

    At least in grade school a quick skim over the lesson and I can figure stuff out. Now high school Chemistry, which I just tried to help my brother with? Forget it. All I did was find a similar phrase from the problem, point to it in the book, and hope he could figure it out from there.


  23. pegoleg
    May 02, 2013 @ 17:33:14

    If your son needs help with math that you don’t understand, quickly change the subject to some other vegetable – I hear artichokes are fascinating.

    My sister called last night, not sure what to do with her 4th grade daughter. She’s in the advanced classes, just got her midterms and she has a D- going in math and reading. She had been on Ritalin all year and doing well, but they took her off it a couple of months ago because she was having trouble sleeping. Now she’s having trouble concentrating on hard subjects that she doesn’t like. She’s got As going in the classes she likes.

    We talked about switching her out of the advanced classes vs putting her back on Ritalin. You want your kids to live up to their potential but don’t want to pile too much stress on them. It’s a hell of a tough call.


    • mistyslaws
      May 10, 2013 @ 10:51:22

      Yikes, that is tough. I would definitely say take her out of the advanced classes before going back on the drugs, but I am a bit anti-drugs, so I’m biased.

      I really like artichokes.


  24. joeinvegas
    May 02, 2013 @ 19:30:36

    I loved math, my kids all hated it.


  25. thesinglecell
    May 05, 2013 @ 18:15:30

    I suck at math. Got a D in Algebra II after flat-out failing the final. And not because I was a bad student. Every other grade was an A or a B+. Fortunately, my parents had long since accepted that I did not have an aptitude for number-related stuff. But somehow I have survived in life, balanced my checkbook, figured out percentages and measurements, regularly converted Celsius into Fahrenheit and various other things. AND solved for X. My point? We don’t need that crap.

    And I don’t have kids…. and seriously, swear to God, I have always thought that one of the reasons is that I could never help with math homework behind eighth grade.


    • mistyslaws
      May 10, 2013 @ 10:53:22

      Wait, you can convert Celsius to Fahrenheit? I bow to your advanced life math skills!


      • thesinglecell
        May 10, 2013 @ 18:36:39

        Yeah, but only because I have friends in Australia and I have to do it for them when I talk with them. I committed the formula to memory when I was 15. here’s why you should learn: most wine thermometers measure temperatures in Celsius.


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