Do the Math

Household Word ArchiveBy Carol Band

Last night, my son Lewis asked me to help him with his math homework. He is in the sixth grade. So, naturally, I was stumped.

I was baffled last year when he was in fifth grade and had to multiply fractions. I was useless when he was in fourth grade and asked for help with long division and I was seriously challenged by a third-grade worksheet that involved circling pictures of bears. Frankly, I thought that after going to college, getting married and being fruitful and multiplying my math days were over.

"Maybe you should ask Dad for help," I suggested.

I admit, I'm no whiz at middle school math, but that's because in my daily life I never need to calculate any circumference or find the lowest common denominator. But ask me to plot the most direct route to a remote suburban soccer field, to divide two chocolate cupcakes among three children or to estimate the time it will take for the windshield on my minivan to defrost on a Monday morning when the temperature is 22 degrees Fahrenheit, and I've got answers. That's because although I may be lousy at math, I excel at Arith-mom-tic.

The mathematics of motherhood is very different from what they teach in school, I explained to Lewis. It's a lot more conceptual, highly theoretical and really, really advanced. For instance, I've learned that four grape popsicles and one lime popsicle divided by five kids equals nothing but trouble; that instant oatmeal takes practically five whole minutes to prepare; and that three little girls on a play date almost always results in a negative number. I've discovered that things don't always add up.

Just yesterday, Child Number Three was lurking around the house, driving me crazy. It was too wet to play outside, too boring inside and too early to start on homework.

"Call a friend," I suggested.

"What's Will's number?" he asked.

"648-7407," I answered brightly. I may not know the 10th digit of pi, but I've memorized a lot of phone numbers.

A few minutes later, the doorbell rang and one bored boy plus another bored boy (take away two grape popsicles) added up to an afternoon of wrestling in the playroom and Whiffle™ ball in the rainy street. Applaud my genius, but it was simply basic Arith-mom- tic. One + one = zero.

But I shouldn't feel smug. Sure, according to conventional math, my 18 years of being a mom practically qualify me as a child management expert. Heck, I've raised three kids through colic, toilet training and preschool. I've even helped them make sense out of the irrational numbers of puberty. I've learned that one teenage girl + twenty $40 T-shirts from Abercrombie & Fitch often equals nothing to wear. However, using higher Math-mom-tics, we discover that although I have logged nearly two decades of parenting experience, my kids have a combined total of 45 years of being kids.

The time that they have spent asking me for snacks, barging into the bathroom and interrupting my phone calls exceeds the years that I've devoted to perfecting my parenting skills by more than two to one. Even if you add my husband's experience (and according to Arith-mom-tic his years don't count nearly as much as mine) as a parental unit, we are still clearly outnumbered. Go figure.

Carol Band says that you don't need a calculator to count your blessings. Write to her at