Sockpants & Super Heroes: Common Core
Thanks to the help of my seventh-grade math teacher, math has always been an extreme source of stress and anxiety for me. Like Caleb, I was not an easy student to teach. I struggled with memorizing times tables, math facts, and worst of all, the order of operations. Pushed to his breaking point, Mr. Fisher finally yelled in utter frustration, “Holly, if you can’t get these basic math concepts, the best you’ll ever do in life is bag groceries at the local supermarket.” I will remember that day for the rest of my life. It was the day I felt like my teacher gave up on me.
Watching Caleb struggle at fifth-grade math has been heartbreaking in large part because I have felt powerless to help him. Every math sheet he has brought home might as well be written in Greek. Just looking through them is enough to give me a raging case of hives. After receiving home yet another graded math quiz with a dismal score of 1.5 out of 16, I realized that doing nothing because I viewed math as the mother of all four-letter words, was not a solid long-term strategy for either of us. One Friday evening this past fall, I poured myself the largest glass of wine I could find, powered on my laptop and googled, “fifth-grade common core math for dummies.” Before I knew it, I was on the road to becoming a Common Core math ninja.
It turns out, with the right Khan Academy instructional video, a little bit of confidence, and a tasty bottle of Bridge Press Merlot; Common Core math isn’t so bad. If these types of resource had been available to me when I was a kid (sans the wine, of course), I could have grown up to become a mathematician. With my new executable plan, Caleb and I rolled up our sleeves bright and early that Saturday morning and embarked on a mission to concur our math insecurities and show Common Core who’s boss. Before long, Caleb and I were showing his two ninth-grade brothers a new thing or two about math, or so they led us believe. Regardless, by Sunday night I felt one of the strongest senses of accomplishments of my entire life. I took one of my life’s biggest insecurities, overcame it and, in the process, helped my son.
The feeling of euphoria didn’t last long. By Monday morning, Caleb had forgotten every single times table, math fact and sequence step we had spent the weekend learning. He went from mastery to a deer in the headlights in the span of eight-hours of sleep. “Where in the heck did it all that knowledge go, Caleb?” Out of sheer frustration and exasperation, I uttered a sentence very similar to the one Mr. Fisher and shouted at me all those years go. As long as I live, I will never forget the look of total and complete defeat that crossed my sons face in those moments. It was like staring into a younger version of myself and seeing the light completely switch off as he turned and ran away from me in tears.
The crappy part about words is that you can’t take them back once they leave your mouth, nor can the feelings that those words invoke inside a person’s heart easily be erased. I sat down on Caleb’s bed, pulled him into my arms and said, “I’m so sorry, Caleb. I wish I were a better mom who was awesome at math and could figure out an easier way for you to learn and remember these math concepts. Just always know that I love you and no matter what; I will never give up on you.” He hugged me and said sweetly, “I don’t want a better mom. I just want you. Even Wonder Woman makes mistakes sometimes.” Smiling, I squeezed him tight. “Oh, buddy. That’s so sweet. I wish I really was Wonder Woman.” Jerking upright in my arms, he looked at me with a puzzled look on his face, “Wait! You’re not actually Wonder Woman?” As our conversation took a distinct detour regarding my true identity, one thing was certain. Like Wonder Woman, I would never give up or admit defeat. I would simply fire up my trusty sidekick companion, Kahn Academy, and watch a new video as I continue to develop a deeper understanding of Common Core Math and an even better next adventure of Sockpants and Super Heroes.
Holly Lytle is the founder of The ISAAC Foundation, a Spokane-based autism non-profit. In her free time, Holly enjoys chronicling her many adventures of motherhood mishaps raising her three biological and one bonus son who joined their family in early 2018. Holly shares these stories in this column and many more hair-raising experiences on her social media pages.