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I don’t enjoy being bad at math. For a long time, I was more comfortable running barefoot on desert blacktop and risking stings and bites of scorpions and black widows than answering a math question. Palm Spring, California is a great place for kids. 

From card games to casual calculations, I tried to avoid it. My antics included abruptly changing the subject or pretending to not understand while frantically trying to calculate a plausible number.

Marring Mr. BuLL changed that. Because of him and a secret competition I made in anger, my bad at math discomfort has changed.

Like any good wife, I blame my husband. 😉

Bad at Math Beginnings

Third grade was going to be a big year. I started a new school in a new country, but I thought education was universal. Sure, Jamaica was different, by a lot, but education stayed the same.

Right?

I was so young, tiny, and various shades of wrong.

Instead of starting at my expected grade, I was held back.

One subject that sucked all the air from the room was not knowing how to multiply. I hadn’t learned the subject, and I was already behind the curve. I felt dumb. Other kids could recite multiplication answers on command while I wondered how they could spew numbers that seemed random. 

I stewed in angry envy, how do they do it?

Instead of trying to figure out how to multiply, I focused on cramming. I tried to memorize all the numbers at the end of the equal sign. It was an ugly way to learn. 

My view of math became stained, like drunk vomit on a mattress. Some stains just won’t come out no matter how hard I scrub.

Bad Acceptance

When my family moved back to the states, I was placed in the correct grade, but I was already damaged goods. Multiplication, along with the rest of math, was considered “bad.”

I never asked or mentioned needing help with multiplying, even though I continued to flounder with the concept. My faulty memory tried to make up for my lack of understanding but math concepts build in complexity. Something I didn’t realize until I was older.

Without a solid foundation, my skills wobbled all over the place like a drunken goose. With that joyous reckoning in tow, I began to define myself as bad with math. I avoided math whenever I could.

Eventually, math became easier with the introduction of calculators. Whoever made that a thing, please come collect a fancy certificate of gratitude and a cookie!

Channeling Change

I knew that someday, I would go to college and a high school diploma, with all its requirements, is highly recommended. I decided to take the bare minimum of high school math. After scrapping my way through high school, I assumed my days of the calculated confusion were over.

Still young. Still wrong.

A strong round of disappointment lay in wait for me when I realized math is required in college. But, I was avid in my avoidance. 

I started looking for ways to avoid math. I was steely-eyed and determined to avoid college-level math classes by any means necessary.

To do this, I had to do something I didn’t want to do and was barely better than taking a class. It also didn’t feel like an option:

I would need to relearn algebra and geometry to test out of math. I tripled checked that a calculator would be allowed during the test. Without a calculator, I would of sunk before I left the dock. 

I bought a couple of textbooks and started training. It was many shades of uncomfortable, but at least I didn’t have to recite multiplication tables. 

I tried to console myself that I like buttons. I love to push buttons and make little digital numbers dance. Dance for me numbers, dance!

After spending way too much time with math, the big day came. 

I sat in a room full of students younger and more confident than me. My hands were sweaty and panic-like thoughts raced through my head. I can take this more than once, right?

I didn’t ask, I didn’t want to know the answer. 

It was a relief to see familiar equations, like stepping off a plane and into the arms of a friend. As I continued, that started to change. Doubt began to creep in as I tried to decipher unfamiliar equations. I wondered, am I wasting my time?

I turned in my test and tried to forget about it. Also, something I am not good at. 

When I found out I passed and tested out, I was surprised. 

Who was this woman who could do things like test out of math? It was all unicorn farts and cupcakes. At least, for a while. 

Later, I found statics lurking in the weeds, ready to scare the fart right out of me.  

After coming to terms with having to take a math class, I focused on the bit of confidence built from my initial success. I also researched the statics teachers like they applied for America’s Next Top Model, knowing that their teaching abilities would help or hinder my experience.

I took no chances and found a tutor too. With everything set, I tucked in and managed to survive, a decent grade and all.

Bad at Math Challenge

I thought my calculated story would end there. After all, I survived all the math rigors. Now, I get to live in a land of 24-7 calculators.

Life is rarely that simple.

After years of avoiding math, I started to grow fond of math. I even went to surprising lengths to create math challenges. 

For. Fun.

Sudden personality changes wasn’t because of a stroke but because I wanted to beat my husband in math.

Mr. BuLL is good at math. Mr. BuLL and math have been kickin’ it as besties since grade school, and it shows. His ability to understand math and all its problems is freaky fast. He beats the pants off Jimmy Johns.

After one annoying yet forgettable event, I made a vow that only an angry wife can. I vowed to beat him at math. 

Someday.

I started practicing by adding things, from grocery bills to tips to gas prices. I was a woman on a mission. My past wasn’t going to get in the way of BEATING MY HUSBAND AT MATH.

Not that he knew about any of this.

After years of occasional and random practice, I started to improve. I got faster. The best part was when I was right.

The piece le résistance came when I was able to correct Mr. BuLL. 

It was a surprising event, but it happened. It was a small moment, but enough to realize I had won. 

I had won the competition that no one knew about, took years to accomplish, but I still – I won!

Since then, my feelings for math have changed even more dramatically. The icy disappointment has melted into a warm bath of delight. 

The changes were underway when I started the quiet yet deadly math competition. The warmth grew when I started learning about investing. Hard to stay icy with math when compound interest is so darn delightful.

After all this time, growth, and experience, I have become very fond of math.

Yet, I still don’t try to multiply. That’s what calculators are for, right? 

Keep exploring!

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2 thoughts on “I Love Being Bad at Math: Said No One. Ever.

  1. I’m taking it that Mr. BuLL is not an engineer, because as an engineer I can tell you that not anyone, other than another engineer, ever, ever, ever beat even one of us at math! So enjoy your triumph but stay in your lane, you don’t want to go against one of us. Seriously, congrats, few of us have the grit to tackle a lifelong weakness and turn it into triumph, you are indeed something special! It gives me hope I might overcome my lifetime fear of spiders…..nah, that’s never happening!

    1. Mr. BuLL isn’t an engineer though he would be fabulous at it. He is a soil scientist/research agronomist and gets plenty of time playing rumbling around with math.

      He still beats the pants off me when it comes to super wordy math calculations like : A mile long train is moving at 60 miles per hour when it reaches a mile-long tunnel. How long does it would it take for the entire train to full of passengers to pass out before this question ends?

      Marriage is all about give and take….

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