Today my ten year old son is working on long division. It is our third attempt at the subject. I have long feared the idea of teaching one of my offspring long division. To me it has become a litmus test of sorts, if I can teach this, I can teach anything.
The first attempt went over surprisingly well with me congratulating him (and myself internally) for doing such a fine job. My son was obviously a math genius, and I was, of course, a gifted teacher.
Yesterday was our second attempt and it did not go so well. In fact, it was so awful that for a few moments I was convinced aliens swapped my son with another child. When I sadly realized that no alien swap meet occurred I almost cried. The alien theory was a far easier idea to stomach because it didn’t reflect on my teaching abilities at all. After a few disastrous attempts I could see my son was becoming too upset to continue, as was I. So I called it quits on long division for the day and had him work on some review instead, since many of his mistakes were silly ones in subtraction or multiplication.
For the rest of the day I pretty much felt like a complete failure on the homeschooling front. I had visions of my children taking their SAT’s and receiving negative scores. The New York Times would write a scathing article about my teaching methods and I would eventually be arrested for horrible homeschooling.
It was not a pretty frame of mind.
From considering myself a terrible teacher it was an easy step to calling myself a bad mother, then a bad wife, and finally a bad person. A bad person who is fat. With horrible hair to boot. And horrible taste in clothing. Who drives a mini-van.
Psychologists call this a ‘negative downward spiral.’ I call it poop (or some other four lettered word for manure) because that’s what it makes me feel like: a big ol’ pile of poop.
All night I tossed and turned, wondering how I was ever going to get my son to understand long division, how I was ever going to lose twenty pounds, how I could ever get my entire house clean, and other items of minor consequence that seemed all important at 1:00 a.m.
Today our third attempt at long division has proceeded pleasantly despite all my angst and worry of yesterday. My son, while making small mistakes, is beginning to understand the process of long division. I work by his side, alerting him to his tiny errors and reminding him that long division is mostly about estimating and detective work. The point is not to get everything right on your first attempt, the point to is finally come to the correct answer as you continue to chip away at it.
It would be nice if we (and by we I mean I) could remember that long division is like life: it’s seldom going to go exactly right on our first try. We make educated guesses, we estimate, and we fix our mistakes as we discover them. The secret to long-term success is to keep trying until something finally works.
This sort of information is good to have by your side during those downward spirals.