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Today's Family Magazine

MOMMY CHRONICLES: Learning to overcome hard things

By Stacy Turner

I was one of those weird kids who hated skipping school, even if I was sick.  I always worried about what might be covered while I was out, and how I’d be able to catch up.  But according to Mom, we had to take the appointment with the specialist whenever he could see us, which meant I’d be missing some school that day.  Worse yet, I’d miss math class, something I didn’t particularly enjoy, but didn’t want to miss. Not to worry, though, my teacher gave me permission to finish the assignment at home and return it to school the next day.

After dinner, I spread my homework across the kitchen table and pulled out the worksheet.  That’s when I realized that although the numbers were familiar, the line they huddled beneath mystified me. “Oh, it’s long division,” my mother explained, sounding deflated.  More to herself than me, she added more confidently, “That’s okay, we can do this.”

After what felt like hours, Mom and I finished the lesson.  Mostly Mom did, because she didn’t show her work like we were always told to do, and I didn’t understand how she got the answers.  She assured me that even though it wasn’t the “new math” way, the answers were correct. Tired and confused, I packed up my homework and turned it in the next day at school. 

When I got it back later, it was covered in red marks.  I double-checked to make sure it was my name on the top of the paper, but sadly, it was. (That was the one area free of red ink.) It was the lowest grade I’d ever received.  How was that even possible, when my mother had done most of the work?  But when I showed her later, she wasn’t angry or upset.  She just shook her head and apologized that I inherited her math anxiety. 

I had to get past the idea that I couldn’t do math in order to figure out that with extra time and hard work, I actually could.  And I learned that once you figure out that one thing that’s hard, you can use that skill to figure out other hard things, too.  As a mom, I don’t want my kids to have preconceived notions of what they can and can’t be good at, like math, science, or art.  I want them to try bold things like skiing, whitewater rafting, or rock climbing, before they decide it isn’t for them.  Or try weird food before they dismiss it out of hand since they may just find their new favorite.  We also make a habit of making them accomplish other things they’d rather not but need to be able to figure out.  For my youngest, it means ordering her own meal at a restaurant.  For my oldest, it may mean asking or answering questions on her own during a doctor’s appointment or any myriad of other things that can seem scary or even impossible until you actually do them once or twice. 

But my kids aren’t the only ones who’ve been changed.  I’ve been more compelled to practice what I preached and stretch out of my own comfort zone, too.  And I’ve learned that the best way to find out what you’re capable of is to just give it a try.  Sometimes we may fail, like the time I ended up in the river during a sketchy stream crossing on a recent hike.  But often you’ll succeed, and you feel like a super hero.  Like the whitewater rafting trip, when I climbed 20 feet up Jump Rock with my knees knocking together, then hurled myself off like a crazy person into the river below even though I didn’t’ want to.  That’s because I wanted to know that I could do it, even though it scared me.  And I wanted my kids to see that, in spite of my fear, I did it anyway –– and I’ve got the video to prove it.

Thankfully, my kids have never heard of math anxiety, and as a result, they work hard and happen to excel at math. (Sometimes we call them mathletes, just to make them cringe, but that’s a story for another day.)  They do have other hard things they face, and each time they do, it gives them the confidence to try the next hard thing, and then the next.  Life can be full of hard things, but the more we try, the more we have the opportunity to overcome them. And the more we conquer, the braver we become.  In case you’re wondering, although it doesn’t come naturally to me, I conquered long division and made it all the way through geometry and algebra with lots of hard work and no help from my mom.