There are so many questions, and so many possible answers. But then again, it isn’t algebra.
Even if it were algebra, I’m not very good at algebra, so I wouldn’t be able to help you with your algebra. But it isn’t algebra.
For the last three weeks my daughter has been out of school—a temporary homeschooler—while she finishes the run of a theater production. She’s been doing algebra at home, where I can’t help her with the answers. I can only hover and hound her, stressing the importance of keeping up with algebra.
Around fourth grade, math becomes the marker by which our schoolchildren are judged. Fourth grade was when I stopped being able to do the math.
I dropped by the school to deliver some assignments last week, and I walked into the algebra class with a completed chapter test in hand. The test was a big benchmark for me. Perhaps she could get through this month without falling too far behind, is what I’d been telling myself.
I thought the room was empty until I saw the teacher sitting in the corner, his back to me. When he saw me, he said hello, and his voice sounded strained.
Are you okay? I asked.
Can you tell? He asked.
Is something wrong? I asked.
It’s my mother. She’s dying. He paused. Do you have any advice for me?
I listened. I had no answers. It is so hard, but it isn’t algebra.
Even now, I’m breaking down at how much I’ve misunderstood the questions and mistaken the answers.
None of it is algebra.