Today Hunter moved to the next chapter in his math book. Subtraction. We've done it before so it's nothing new. But you wouldn't have known it by the look on his face. I figured that all arithmetic would be easier from the get go if he could understand the concept of number families that I taught Hannah Jane when she was a wee kindergartner. It goes a little something like, "In all simple arithmetic there will be 2 smalls and a big. If you have 2 smalls, you'll add them up to get the big. If you have a big and a small, you'll subtract small from big to get the other small. If you have a reconfiguration that contains any of the 2 members of the family, the missing family member will always be the answer." Okay, so I didn't explain just like that because if you're reading this, you're not 6 and presumably my kindergarten teacher talk would bore you. But that's the concept. His book doesn't cover it, but I think it's key for putting it all together. I'm a whole to part to whole again kind of teacher!

Anyway, after we'd talked it over and done several examples, I let him proceed with his workbook work, which went a little something like, "If you give away 6 marbles from a pile of 10 marbles, how many marbles do you have left?" He perfectly wrote out 10-6= 4. Yay! So I asked, "If 10 minus 6 is 4, what then would 10 minus 4 be?" He looked at me, wrinkled up his forehead, and said, "2?" Garh!!!! (I kept the gar on the inside for the sake of his ego) I asked, "Why do you say 2? How did you come up with that?" He had no idea. He was hoping random might serve him well. Bummer.

I pulled out the cuisinaire rods and showed him how the 3 rod was the same length as the 2 rod and the 1 rod pushed together. Then we took away the 2 rod and had the 1 left. Repeated by taking away the 1 and had the 2 left. He said he got it. I went back to "Okay, then. If we know 10 minus 6 is 4, what must 10 minus 4 be?" He waited. I waited. "4?" Double Gar (again on the inside)!

"There are three numbers in that family. What are they?" He listed them. "So which family member of the 10,6, and 4 family is missing when we say 10 minus 4?" He says, "10?" I left the room, went downstairs, let the Gars out of my system in private, and returned. Calmly. Calmly is now relative to, oh...say a freight train. Yes. I was calmer than a freight train.

"No, you see? The 10 is right here and the 4 is right here, so they aren't missing. Which one of 10...4...and 6 is not in the problem 10 minus 4 yet? Do you see one that is not there? Please? Please see which one is not there. Please, for the love of all that is good in this world, just speak the name of the number that is not there." Yeah. I said all of that out loud. Not my best moment. Hannah Jane put down her pencil where she was supposed to be working on her biology project but was obviously simultaneously entertained by and concerned about the math situation taking place, and came over to rub my back, offering silent support in my most frustrating math teaching moment ever. How else on earth could I make this point?

"6?" He said it! He said 6! I squealed a delighted, relieved squeal of a freight train that had narrowly avoided derailment. Hannah Jane danced in circles around the table, Haven jumped up and down yelling how smart his brother was. Hunter, in true Hunter fashion, covered his ears and smiled while telling us all to be quiet. Ha! That's Hunter for ya!

His next questions had to do with having 8 crayons and giving 3 to his sister. He wrote out 8-3=5. Nice! But now the real test. "So if we know that 8 minus 3 is 5, then what must 8 minus 5 be?" He got it. Again, the party rocked the dining room table and this time Hunter left the room, saying, "I'll come back when you're quiet. But I am brilliant, aren't I?"

All of this reminded me of a sermon that my mom liked so much when I was a kid, that she bought the cassette tape of it in the church bookstore and made us listen to it on family trips. The title of the sermon was "Problem, Prayer, Battle, Victory." Sure the sermon was about a family whose daughter contracted spinal meningitis and almost died. The family prayed, fought some sort of spiritual battle (which as the preacher retold the story, involved actual demons and angels fighting over the soul of the child. Yes. It was an evangelical, rock n' roll sort of Bible Belt church), and an ultimate win for the side of good. The kid recovered with no long term issues.

Now, maybe I'm sounding dramatic by recalling that particular sermon in this moment of minor mathematical victory, but I was feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders, not wanting to damage his fragile little ego but recognizing that I was about at the end of my rope. And admittedly there was not prayer involved. I'm more of a feel frustrated while acknowledging that God's got my back without me having to beg for help sort of gal. I mean, if I were to ask for something, it would undoubtedly be the wrong thing. He knows best, I assume, so why interrupt His train of thought with my own. LOL! But when Hunter-roo finally got that right, when it clicked for real, I felt like we'd won the biggest victory in history and that there must certainly have been divine intervention because I obviously was not getting through to him at any point during this lesson.

I share all of this simply to illustrate how, in motherhood (and perhaps fatherhood, in our careers, in whatever it is) we can get so bogged down with the moment that even a silly thing like arithmetic can feel like a life or death situation. Like somehow the way you handle this moment will change the course, the destiny of everyone involved. I was feeling like if I couldn't even teach him this, how could I ever teach him algebra? And if I blew up, maybe he'd be a grown man someday who thought of himself as stupid. All of these overinflated, dramatic emotions around something small that in reality lasted about 10 minutes. 20 minutes later I am now capable of recognizing the smallness of it all. The comedy of motherhood. 20 minutes later he's riding his bike with a banana in one hand and I'm blogging about it all, just to remind my future self that it passes. That it's hilarious and impermanent and that frustration is fleeting while the joy of watching your kid riding a bike while eating a banana is what lasts. That it will happen again, and when it does, I can read this post, take a deep breath, and grab the bike helmets and the fruit bowl and come back to math later.

Phew! I'm relieved and happy FOR you - you are such a good storyteller!! Thanks for sharing this... I'm glad to hear about the future frustrations to prepare myself... :-)

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