It doesn’t happen all the time. It doesn’t even happen often. But it happens enough for me to hate it: the impromptu math quiz given to my children by complete strangers once they learn we homeschool.
This time it happened while we were on vacation.
While stopped at a booth to make some purchases someone asks my oldest daughter what grades she’s in. Trinity pauses and looks to me for some guidance.
Grades are tricky when you’re homeschooled. Maybe you’re in a fifth grade math book but you read eighth grade literature. You’re learning a foreign language and typing, which are typically high school subjects, but you’re only eleven years old. Grades are complicated.
Trinity, never particularly bold in the company of strangers, takes a deep breath and answers, “I think fifth grade.”
The lady behind the table raises her eyebrows and glances at me, “She doesn’t know what grade she’s in?”
I smile politely and reply, “We’re homeschooled,” hoping to move things along.
The lady’s eyebrows rise even higher and that’s when I can see what’s coming.
“Well.” The woman focuses on my daughter, who has been distracted by the dozens of people passing by her. “These are two dollars each,” barks the woman. “If your mom buys four and then gives me ten dollars, how much change should I give her back?”
Trinity looks fearfully at the woman giving out the impromptu math quiz. She hadn’t been listening closely. Add to that her natural aversion to math and her shyness around strange adults. “I’m…I’m sorry…what?” my daughter stammers out timidly.
The woman behind the table looks gratified that her preconceived notions have been proven to her satisfaction. She looks at me and arches one eyebrow, “She doesn’t know the answer!”
I really hate that woman’s eyebrows. I am filled with a strong urge to hit her over the head with my newly purchased bag of produce until the smug look leaves her face.
I want to explain to this woman that my daughter is actually quite bright: that I am a good teacher. That if Trinity was in a quiet place and wasn’t rushed, she would answer the question correctly. Story problems? Ha! We eat story problems for breakfast at my house. (Sometimes quite literally- pancakes and syrup really help with math.)
But this woman doesn’t want to listen to me, she only wants to be right. Worst of all, if I make a big deal of it and push the issue, my daughter will feel like a failure. Right now she merely thinks this math obsessed woman is crazy. If I engage her, I give her credibility.
So I fake smile, with my lips only, and say, “She didn’t hear the question correctly.”
And then I shepherd my little family away, with my arm around my daughter’s shoulders.