Learning Division and Patience

I taught Mario long division. I felt like a superhero at the end of the evening. 

In the beginning, there was an in ordinate amount of stomping and crying and yelling and affirming “I am man-trash at division!” (Yes, that is Mario’s new phrase for everything bad). I remained calm, taking deep breaths as he slammed the table with his pencil, and rose up to bang his head against the wall. I allowed him to let off steam and then gently brought him back to the table to try another problem. He would get the first number but then have trouble with what to do next. He would stare at the problem, dig the lead of the pencil into the paper, and then begin his tirade routine all over. I, in turn, was able to continue my routine of taking breaths, letting him vent, and then re-setting him. I explained to him that skills do not always come immediately – there are certain skills that need continued work to master. This is sometimes lost on him and Ri. Although he stared at me in disgust, my communication was having an affect because he continued to work on the division problems with me. Thirty minutes after we began this work, I gave him 5÷125. He asked me to not give him any hints. I stood up from the table and moved to the stove to stir the chicken in the skillet.

“ Mom, I finished. Can you come and check it?”

I gave a silent prayer up to the heavens that he got it correct. I walked over to the table and looked down at his solution. I saw two at the top of the division problem. I saw where he subtracted 10 giving him another 2. I saw that he dropped down the five and put another five by the 2 on top and then subtracted the 25 to get a remainder of zero. In other words, he had done it! All by himself with no help from me. 

I beamed like he had received the Nobel Peace Prize. But that is just how it is as a mom. You feel that exuberant no matter if the accomplishment is folding their own laundry, acing a math problem, or winning a renowned prize. I patted him on the back and gave him a new problem. He got that one right, also. He looked up at me and asked if he could be done with math for the week. I told him that I would give him one more problem and then he could be done. I gave him 4÷164 and he got it correct. Alleluia! 


As I watched him complete the last problem, I made a conscious effort to soak in the moment with him. I am not exaggerating when I say that it felt like angels flew down from the heavens when he got that final answer correct. You could see how excited he was when he looked at me and I told him he had gotten it right. There is not a better feeling than seeing your kid work hard, and get to where he needs to get. 

A few years ago, I would have been too wrapped up in work, getting the house clean, feeding the kids, etc. to be able to calm myself enough to sit down for thirty minutes and persevere through tantrums to solve math problems. But I have gotten older, read more, contemplated more, and reconstituted my priorities. And, in return, received this gift.

Ri’s caramel hot chocolate dream drink

The boys went to the high school basketball game last night, while Ri and I worked furiously on her math and social studies homework. My gosh, I thought sixth grade math would be fairly simple- fractions, decimals, division. But I was wrong. I could not figure out the solution to three questions to save my life. I started to go a bit nuts. Maria, seeing me a bit irritated, decided to make me a treat. Here is a video of her explaining the concoction she created:


Yea, it tasted as good as it looks. It had all the foods I love – chocolate, caramel, whipped cream, ice cream, and nuts. I had to throw on a pair of elastic sweats after eating it but it was oh, so worth it. And I wouldn’t blink paying $10 for it (she changed it to $8 after I turned the video off). 

And the sugar high helped. I figured out the solutions to two out of the three questions and gave a daggone good guess on the third one. 

Hamburger helper fix

Yesterday Jon and I came home from work to two wild, spazo kids. Maria and Mario were both hyped up – Maria from her first Brownies meeting and Mario because David picked him up early during nap. Maria screamed every word she said in pure excitement; Mario zipped from one room to the next like a pinball. Ahh, nothing like relaxing after a long day at work. But they do keep us going….

I made Maria’s new favorite dish, hamburger helper (at least I used 98% lean meat)! While eating, we discussed Maria’s laws as a new Brownie. As part of her homework, she had to write down which law applied best to her family. She chose “respecting each other’s words” over courage and helpfulness and kindness, among other laws. She picked it, she said, because she thinks it’s important for us to always listen to one another. I loved that.

Of course, Mario chimed in at the tail end of her explanation to stand up on his chair and make some funny face. He then told us how eight girls had crushes on him. One in particular, Viv, told him she thought he was cute because of his tan. There’s that tan reference again! In order to get him off the girl fixation, I asked him what he loves about his family since that was Maria’s next project.

He said he loved his mom because “1. she feeds me food; 2. she tells me she loves me; 3. she respects what I say; and 4. she reads me books.” Not too bad, I thought. He then leaned to Jon and said “and so does my dad!”

Maria was a lot less generous. She only had to write one thing she loved so she wrote that she loved my cooking (because of the hamburger helper that night!) and Jon’s ability to fix things.

Speaking of fixing things, later that evening Jon and I found a worksheet she prepared where she had to answer a question asking “when a person is sad, I BLANK.” She wrote in “I try to fix it.” I about fell over. For years, I have talked about the difference between Jon and I when it comes to approaching someone’s problems. I react by consoling the person and listening to them. Jon reacts completely opposite. He immediately gets the wheels turning in his head to try to fix the person’s problem. When I saw Maria’s answer, it affirmed yet again another personality trait she has inherited from Jon. Daddy’s girl.

After dinner, Maria wrote and decorated her Brownie star with what we discussed that evening and Mario wrote letters I randomly quizzed him on (he’s getting much better – yea!).

They both sat still for an entire half hour (must have been the carb overload in the hamburger helper!).

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A+ Confident

Mario has been hearing us get on Maria about having to do her homework for the last eight months.  He usually sits in the other room playing his Ben Ten game or watching a show or jumping off the couch onto the chair and vice versa.  I have tried on numerous occasions to try to get him to read a book or draw while Maria is working on her homework.  He has always had no desire. 

He sees Maria get frustrated at times.  She is now at the stage of reading chapter books.  Some of the books are so incredibly boring that she brings home that I can totally understand why she detests having to read them.  Mix that with the fact that they have harder words in them so she can’t just fly through them like she used to do, and it is even more frustrating.  The other night I was making dinner and she was reading one of the chapter books.  She had to read eight pages and she had cried about that fact for an entire ten minutes before she finally plunged into it.  She wanted to read to herself so I let her.  Within a minute, I looked behind her and saw that she had flipped through to the sixth page already.  Each page was filled with words.  There was no way she had read all of them in a minute.  I looked at her.  She looked at me.  I crinkled my face at her.  She crinkled hers back at me.  I asked her if she read all six pages.  She said yes. I asked her if she read every word in those six pages.  She said yes but a little softer this time.  She glanced up at me after saying “yes” and then said “Ok, I didn’t read them all.”  At least she told the truth.  Mario watched the entire exchange, and threw in his comments at the end.  

“Maria, you have to do all of your homework.”

Maria rightfully flicked his arm. 

Mario working awayI think Mario used to enjoy watching Maria get flustered and enjoy the fact that he did not have to engage in this nightly exercise of homework.  But last night, he embraced the idea of homework.  Maria was taking a shower and something hit me to tell him that his school sent homework home for him to do just like Maria’s school does for her.  He totally bought into it.  I brought over one of Maria’s old kindergarten workbooks.  We started with an area that he is really good at – sequencing.  He looked at three pictures of a boy and he had to determine which action went first, second and third.  He got them all right.  I gave him a high-five and wrote “A+” on the top of the page.  From there, it was all over.  His head was the size of Jupiter.  I flipped over another page and had him work on the next exercise.  He got it right.  He wrote his own “A+” on the top of the page.  When he got to a page where you had to circle the objects that had a certain vowel in them (e.g., find the “a” words in ball, cow, and ape), he had no clue.  But when I tried to explain it to him, and point him in the right direction, he got so angry. 

“I know how to do it, Mom!” 

When he circled all of them, I let it go and moved onto the next page.  However, Maria was not so generous.  She had to take the opportunity to point out to Mario that he did not get the answers right. 

“Mario, you circled them all and that is not right. You have to try again.”

Mario’s response: flick her in the ear. 

He ended up finishing the entire workbook because he refused to stop until all of the pages were completed – right or wrong.  Maria left the room after the flicking, and cuddled with her dad on the couch.  I remained at the table with Mario watching him proudly circle the answers he believed correct and then watching him mark an “A+” a top every page of the book.  He certainly does not lack confidence.