Learning the Times Tables; an inspiring tale with an obvious morale you already know but you should read this anyway because it is kind of funny.
At parent-teacher conferences, Primo's third grade teacher suggested he nail down his times tables. She had been sending home notes every week reminding parents to remind kids to practice their times tables for five to ten minutes a day and she even included a few ideas of ways to do this. I read these notes, and then I ignored them. Primo's a super smart kid, and I was sure he'd memorize his times tables just by, you know, doing math, like in class and stuff.
Shockingly, this laissez-faire, lazy-bones, nebulous plan was not wildly successful.
All I needed, though, was a direct instruction. We got home that night after PTC and I announced to Primo that we were officially nailing down our times tables. We, because I was quizzing him. Daily. For five minutes. With the flash cards that we would be making together, right then. I have been hoarding an unreasonable amount of index cards for a decade - don't know where I got them and haven't known what I'd eventually use them for, until that very moment. We sat down and did the 8s and the 7s tables, then a few days later did the 6s and the 5s, eventually the 9s and the 4s. I do not know why we did them in this order -- there is no method to my madness apart from the fact that I always had a hard time with the 7s and the 8s so I figured that was a good place to start. We never did the 3s and the 2s because dude, those just come naturally (if you've ever wondered why I am not an educator, here is why. I would be a really shitty one.)
After we made those first few flash cards, I quizzed the kid on them and he knew . . . little to nothing.
"Primo!" I exclaimed -- then I reminded myself not to make a big deal and to remain encouraging, which would rule out saying what I wanted to, namely "You don't know this for shit, kid!"
"Primo," I corrected my tone to upbeat and calm, "It looks like you could use some work in this area."
"Ugh, no," he groaned, "I know this stuff already."
"But its taking you" -- (here I was forced to pause again to stop myself from using words like "freaking forever") -- "its taking you longer than is efficient."
I'd show him the card, and then two minutes would pass as he computed four times eight by adding four to four to four to four to four to four to four to four. It was excruciating. I imagined him taking the SATs and asking if he could have ten more hours to finish.
I had the distinct feeling that he would never learn his times tables.
Then something amazing happened.
For two weeks, I quizzed him every day for five minutes.
Now he knows his times tables. All of them. Super fast, without thinking. He knows them backwards and forwards, inside and out. He OWNS that shit.
So, incidentally, do I. I am thinking about putting it in the Special Skills section of my resume.
I'm on an extreme high about it. Primo, he doesn't really care. I mean, he's cool with it, but he's not bugging out and getting all life-coachy, like I am. Its just, once you grow up and get used to life being complex and nuanced and ambiguous and skills being hard-to-impossible to master (like parenting, for instance) it is so refreshing, so wildly, satisfying to set out to do something and then FUCKING DO IT. Like, fully, masterfully. In two weeks.
I wish everything in life were as simple and easy as that.
Nicole is a parenting writer who contributes essays and articles for magazines like Parenting, Parents, American Baby and Babble. She lives in Brooklyn with three children, one husband and a morbidly obese goldfish.