math homework

Back in college, when I was having trouble falling asleep, I used to crack open my Economics textbook. It was as if the mere act of opening it sent up a flume of sleeping powder. I’d collapse head first into the book like I’d been chloroformed.

I don’t think I’m alone here – there’s just something weird that happens to the body when you’re forced to do something that feels especially boring. Any energy you had leaves your body with the vigor of air cannoning out of a party balloon that hasn’t been properly tied off.

I was reminded of this last night at the end of dinner. Lucy has been running a high fever over the last few days. To make staying in bed more interesting, we constructed a fort in her room. I used a rolled up rug we had as the tent pole. (“You just have a bunch of rolled up rugs in your basement?” my Irish friend Jason asked me. “What are you, a sultan?”). Over the tent pole we hung a big sheet covering the bed. The kids named the fort Penguinopolis because they both love penguins.

This is the fort. (Note the tiny penguin flag atop the tent-pole. And the penguin guard. Also there’s a big Penguinopolis sign outside the bedroom.)

Liz stayed home with Lucy (taking care of her while simultaneously working a big job because Liz is awesome), and I came home a bit early to be with them, which brings us to the dinner scene.

We were having a grand old time, telling stories and such. It culminated with Lucy retelling the story from the day (more on that later). She was giggling and Lizzie was goofing around with her and we were all happy and whatnot. Things were good.

“Okay!” I said finally. “Time to clear the table!”

And in that moment – that very instant – Lucy went from happy giggly girl to looking like she had just been tased. Immediately her headache came rushing back.

“I can’t!” she pleaded. “My head is killing me!”

Now, in fairness, of course her head was killing her. She had a fever of a billion and five and she had been sweating molten lava all day. But the thing is, two seconds earlier she had been fine.

Her energy was way up for the Fun, way down for the Not Fun. Just like me and my Econ textbook.

This brings me to Finn and math homework.

Neither kid seems to hate math, which is pretty great, and the opposite of how I was when I was kid.

But I realized I wasn’t getting involved with his or Lucy’s homework. Like, at all. I don’t know why exactly – he and Lucy seemed to be doing well in school, and I figured homework was between them and the teacher. But a few weeks ago I realized, of course, that a good dad would not only know what his kids were doing for homework, but would sit with them and do it. (This is assuming a dad has time. I’m lucky to get home at a reasonable hour.)

Lucy’s 2nd grade homework was pretty straightforward and only took a couple of minutes. Finn’s 4th grade homework was getting complicated. So I told Finn that I was committing to going over his math homework with him every night.

And he totally lit up.

Ever since then, I’ll come home from work and we go over the math homework, which he’s already finished, and we check his work together. It makes me feel like one of the Dads in the Make-Time-to-Be-a-Dad-Today commercials which are the only commercials that make me tear up.

Now, here’s why I bring all this up:

I don’t recall my own 4th grade math homework. But my guess is that when my parents offered to check over my homework with me – especially when I had already finished and could be doing something fun? – I probably slumped over like Lucy when we asked her to help clear the table. I would probably wail in agony at spending additional time on my homework. I would likely have brayed like a Tusken Raider on the desert planet of Tatooine, shaking my gaderffii (my traditional melee weapon, its hook tipped with the venom of the common sand bat) at Luke Skywalker, leaping off my domesticated bantha to stand over him in order to establish myself as the alpha.

In those moments I would tell my parents that I was too exhausted. Or that I felt sick, or that I had a cold or the flu or mono or fowlpox.

But when I’m sitting with Finn and we’re doing math together? Finn actually perks up.

It’s like we’re playing video games together or something. He’s super excited. And what’s more, I’m super excited too. I really enjoy it. Like, I’d rather be doing that than anything else at that moment. (Except touring a Snickers factory which is my all-time dream in case anyone knows a guy who knows a guy).

That’s the point – you can’t fake that. Finn fancies himself a problem solver, and I think he likes to show me he can solve problems. And when we are working on something together, a lot of challenges that felt difficult suddenly feel not only possible but actually exciting.

I hope Finn is somehow left with good memories of math homework, in the way I have great memories of writing papers in middle and high school because it was a chance to connect with my dad, a writer and English professor. It’s what made me fall in love with writing.

I don’t know how long these times last – sitting at the kitchen table doing math homework with your son. Or how long he will think that’s something exciting rather than annoying. But I’ve recently grown to love math, because I love that, it this unexpected little way, it connects me with my son.

Okay, in lieu of a top five, lemme tell you The Story that Lucy told me at dinner. It’s very short. It goes like this:

So yesterday Lucy is home sick. Fever of 103 temperature. She’s miserable. But good news – her favorite thing in the world, her puppy Beasley, wanders into her bedroom – into Penguinopolis. Beasley loves being with Lucy on Lucy’s bed. So this made Lucy happy. Beasley climbs on the bed and cuddles up to Lucy. Then Beasley barfs all over her.

So it wasn’t a great day for Lucy.

Okay bye!

By | 2019-02-06T07:53:14-04:00 February 6th, 2019|20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Liz February 6, 2019 at 7:59 am - Reply

    That Star Wars integration – seamless! Oh but in the puppy story you forgot the part about the person who had to clean it all up. You are a great homework-helping dad, love.

    • Conor February 6, 2019 at 12:25 pm - Reply

      You are the total big hero mom! And cleaning up Beasley, that gets you a gold star, love.

  2. Lance Arguello February 6, 2019 at 8:47 am - Reply

    I like you even more now- Star Wars fan since 1977! Cherish the dad son time. Sadly, they do grow up…

    • Conor February 6, 2019 at 12:25 pm - Reply

      I’m going to do everything I can to stunt his growth.

  3. Heather Barnett February 6, 2019 at 9:18 am - Reply

    Now it’s time to ask ourselves, how is Yoda so alpha, or is he? I sure love Yoda. Thank you for the post.

    • Conor February 6, 2019 at 12:26 pm - Reply

      Yoda is timeless. Love Yoda.

  4. Another Liz February 6, 2019 at 9:19 am - Reply

    In our house, there was an unspoken rule: Mom cleans up the barf and Dad disposes of rodent cadavers.

    • Conor February 6, 2019 at 12:26 pm - Reply

      That’s not a terrible distribution right there.

  5. Amy February 6, 2019 at 9:56 am - Reply

    I agree that a good parent will be aware of their child’s homework, what they’re learning, how they’re doing, whether or not they’re doing it…but I disagree that a “good” parent “should” be doing it with them. I think you were right the first time – it’s between them and their teacher. Unless they are having difficulties, it’s a good thing for them to do it on their own. It teaches them independence and responsibility. Or maybe I’m misunderstanding what you mean by doing it with them…Anyway, hope Lucy (and Beasley) are feeling better!

    • Conor February 6, 2019 at 12:28 pm - Reply

      No, I agree – they do their homework first thing when they come home, when I’m going over it with them it’s mostly them showing me what they’ve done. But it also reminds them to check their work and most importantly it makes homework fun and shows them we’re invested with them. We’ve seen huge growth from Finn when we’ve gotten involved with his math homework!

  6. Dad February 6, 2019 at 11:37 am - Reply

    Ah Math!!! Grand memories. Not. But you’re making good ones. Bravo Conor. Hope Lucy better. Beasley too.

    • Conor February 6, 2019 at 12:28 pm - Reply

      They’re on the mend!! 🙂

  7. Laura P February 6, 2019 at 11:50 am - Reply

    You are a great dad, Conor! Just wait for the day when Finn shows you his finished math homework and you have NO idea what he is talking about. Kids, they keep us humble!!!! (and why do they have to keep reinventing math anyway??!!)

    • Conor February 6, 2019 at 12:29 pm - Reply

      Long division is so much different now. I just watch him do it. It’s crazy.

  8. Marcy Prager February 6, 2019 at 12:14 pm - Reply

    My children remember that every night I read to them. No matter how busy our lives were, mom reading was special time to spend with each child. Now I find joy in tutoring young students, grades 1-4, in math or literacy. As they make progress and gain confidence, it is a joy for me to tell the parents my services are no longer needed. My own children did not want me, “the teacher” doing homework with them. Reading to them was different.

    • Conor February 6, 2019 at 12:29 pm - Reply

      I love that! And yes, reading they will do for fun, all day, by themselves. Totally with you.

      • Dawn February 7, 2019 at 12:31 am - Reply

        My unsolicited advice – I adopted a young boy this year, a former student. I have three grown daughters, and a granddaughter, its been a while since I did the homework thing. When the math doesn’t make sense to me, I politely excuse myself, sneak off with the laptop and google Kahn Academy – fantastic tutorials on everything math – the kid thinks I’m a genius. Keep Kahn Academy close by – better yet, check what math he’s doing and study on the commute home. Golden.

  9. Dawn February 7, 2019 at 12:29 am - Reply

    My unsolicited advice – I adopted a young boy this year, a former student. I have three grown daughters, and a granddaughter, its been a while since I did the homework thing. When the math doesn’t make sense to me, I politely excuse myself, sneak off with the laptop and google Kahn Academy – fantastic tutorials on everything math – the kid thinks I’m a genius. Keep Kahn Academy close by – better yet, check what math he’s doing and study on the commute home. Golden.

    • Conor February 8, 2019 at 1:36 pm - Reply

      Outstanding advice 🙂

  10. Kelly MacNeal March 7, 2019 at 2:47 pm - Reply

    Hey Conor! I actually know a guy! 🙂 I could POSSIBLY make your Snickers dream come true if you’re willing to travel to Kansas!Lol!

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