Thursday, April 7, 2011

If a Belle Leaves Wilmington at 4:32 Driving 65 MPH...

I am mathematically retarded.  There’s no nice way to put it.  I am a reasonably intelligent individual, but if you put a row of numbers in front of me, everything runs together and I start banging my very hard head on the table.  Numbers are my Kryptonite. 

Why am I so astronomically crappy at math?  I have a theory.  Over the years, I’ve thought back as to exactly when my numerical disdain reared its ugly head and I keep going back to one point in time:  First grade.  I would love nothing more than to tell you the name of my first grade teacher because she was an absolutely rotten individual in every single way, but alas, my infernal moral compass won’t allow stooping to that level.  Suffice it to say that I can’t imagine that reasoned adults put her in charge of innocent, defenseless children.

Ms. Ratched would assign our math problems and then she would call us up one by one to check our work.  If we got the math wrong, we got a spanking.  That’s a frigging lot of pressure for a little kid (particularly one with a very low pain tolerance like myself) and I can assure you that, if some teacher tried to do that to my Baby Belles, they would never find the body.

At first, my inability to add 1 and 1 together completely vexed my parents.  I don’t really know why—it’s not like mathematical ability is in my genes.  In college, my dad thought he wanted to be an electrical engineer until he showed up for his first class.  The professor came into the classroom and started writing an equation across the front chalk board.  The aforementioned equation continued across to the chalk board on the side of the room, to the chalk board at the back of the room and back up the chalk board on the other side of the room.  Dad immediately got up, walked to the Registrar’s office and said, “Put me in something I can talk my way out of.” 

Math certainly isn’t the favorite subject of my mother, but she can at least use a calculator when push comes to shove.  As for Grandma Willie, it’s possible that she hates math even worse than her granddaughter. 

In spite of my genes, the early stages of my inability to cipher completely vexed my parents.  I went through math tutors like Kleenex.  My math homework was usually turned in with tear stains from my frustrated meltdowns.  If, by some miracle, I figured out an equation or process the night before a test, I would stare at the blank paper that was handed to me the next day and with a mind that was equally blank.

Once the inevitable truth that I was a mathematical lost cause dawned upon my parents they switched their efforts to downplaying my deficiencies for college reviews.  Physics, trigonometry calculus and chemistry were completely avoided and my math curriculum requirements were filled with the easiest possible classes that would qualify.

Unfortunately, nothing could get me out of taking geometry for my sophomore year of high school.  I realize that other mathematically disinclined people state that geometry was actually the one math that they could wrap their heads around.  Not me.  As my luck would have it, there was a standardized geometry test where every student had to complete a geometric proof.  I stared at the page for a while and then wrote “I don’t have to prove it, I trust you.”  Strangely, my tactic was not warmly received.

College?  Well, I quit about halfway through my math placement test at Peace College because I was bound for super remedial dumbass math regardless and there was no point in belaboring the issue.  I managed to survive Algebra, but the dude might as well have been speaking Mongolian in Trigonometry and my dad actually had to talk to the professor to let me out of the class with an Incomplete.  I took statistics in summer school to atone for my sins.  I also made sure to get the economics professor who was famously known for raising grades for no other reason than to get crying females out of his office.  I went ten kinds of tragic and got out with a B+.

Imagine my trepidation and despair when I faced tax law in law school.  Tax law was a requirement and I had to pass if I was interested in validating all of the money borrowed, time spent and blood, sweat and tears sacrificed to get a law degree.  I decided to ruin the summer between my first and second years by taking the class with the intent of focusing all of my energy on getting through to the other side.  There was much crying, wailing, gnashing of teeth and rending of garments as I studied harder than I’d ever studied before to gain at least one iota of comprehension.

Thank God for my wonderful husband who knows how my cloudy mind works and therefore undertook to explain things to me in ways that I had a better chance of understanding.  I got a B in that class and I wish that Campbell sent out actual report cards because I would have framed that sucker and hung it proudly by my law license. 

Today, the people that know and love me have precautions in place for my number oopses.  On the very rare occasion that I have to cipher in my work, my math is checked by at least two people.  Furthermore, I went to school with the manager of my bank and he thoughtfully instructed his tellers to double check anything with my account that involves a column of numbers, be it deposits or withdrawals. 

Furthermore, you probably don’t want me around your children as I make it very clear that, no, they don’t use trig or calculus in their every day adult lives.  Ability beyond addition and subtraction and the most rudimentary multiplication and division may be necessary, but it is nothing that can’t be accomplished with a calculator.  As you can imagine, I’m very popular with the younger set. 

What is my worst case scenario?  There is a Far Side cartoon that has been posted on the fridge for decades at my parents’ house titled A Math Phobic’s Worst Nightmare.  There is a picture of a gentleman arriving at the Pearly Gates.  St. Peter comes down on wings and says to him, “Okay, before we let you in, you have to answer this correctly:  A train leaves from New York at 6:54 AM driving at 200 miles per hour and a train leaves from Chicago at 2:34 AM driving at 198 miles per hour...”

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