Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Mathematics of parenting

Yesterday my youngest son, a fifth grader, was sitting on his bed doing homework. He's had a pretty big work load lately, so I went to check on him. He was working on his math work, finding the area of different shapes and solids.

His current problem was to find the area of a trapezoid. I said, "Wow, a trapezoid? That one looks hard." He proceeded to show me all the strategies for divining the area: "You find the area of the rectangle and then the two triangles on the ends; you could move the triangle from one end, flip it, and put on the other end making a larger rectangle; or you could turn it into a larger rectangle, then subract twice the area of one triangle."

Neat. I pursued the conversation. "It sounds like you really know your stuff. I love geometry. You know, a lot of these same principals are the building blocks of calculus, where you're finding the area under a curve."

"Oh yeah, I know about calculus. It was discovered by Sir Isaac Newton."

Oh no. My thoughts raced. Everything from 'I'm a bad parent' to 'what are these people teaching my son?!' (I know this teacher, and she's great.)

You see, the question of who discovered the Calculus is the 'Yankees vs Red Sox' debate of mathematics. As I've already stated, I fall firmly on the side of Gottfried Wilhelm Liebniz on this debate. Why I prefer Leibniz doesn't really matter, as i said, it's a long-standing debate and my allegience owes more to my schooling in philosophy, than mathematical truths. The Rationalists still remain my favorites, and since this is my blog, I don't have to be politically correct and proclaim him to be the "co-founder" of calculus.

So here I am, faced with one of my first instances of having a different perspective from my children. Next thing you know, I'll be hating on their music and telling them they need haircuts. I am happy to see that my children will grow up thinking for themselves and developing their own thoughts and beliefs.

But damn it, they'd better get this one right.

Now reading: Changeless by Gail Carriger, the second book of The Parasol Protectorate

Friday, February 04, 2011

Birthday cake & slumber party

Last weekend was my son's 12th birthday party, a sleepover with six of his best friends. Naturally, a birthday party must have a cake. My wife spent two days working on this cake. Baked it on Thursday night, frosted and decorated it on Friday night. It looked great, one of her best "normal" cakes -- she usually does character cakes based on whatever theme the boys want.

So, Saturday morning we leave to run errands (library, grocery store, etc.) and put the cake in the oven for safe keeping. Right.

After our errands, we arrive home tired and hungry. I run into the kitchen to make some lunch for the boys while wifey is doing something else. And, as you've already guessed, I turned on the oven. Five minutes later I smell something burning and run back to the kitchen as understanding dawns.

The cake is ruined. The icing has crystalized as the butter in it melted out. The wax candles have completely melted away. I just stand with my head hanging down, on the verge of tears. My son came running in to see what the outburst was all about, and bravely held back his own dismay. My wife, recognizing that she had two choices, mercifully chose to laugh rather plant a butcher knife between my shoulder blades. She's a wonderful woman that way.

So we went into Emergency Baking Mode. We've done it before, since she used to decorate cakes for fun and profit as a sometimes-paying hobby. My wife ran to the store for more gluten-free cake mixes and sugar for icing while I cleaned up the kitchen and made ready. And wallowed in quagmires of self-pity and guilt the likes of which the modern world has never seen. I mean, I felt like crap. I couldn't believe what I'd done.

Several hours later, we had a new cake. It wasn't nearly as cool as the original, but it was close.  And it was awesome. My wife remained supportive and light-hearted through it all, mostly because she recognized that she now has a free-pass for life. In my eyes, she can literally do no wrong forever.

So then we move to the slumber party. It was only slightly crazy. I was able to help entertain the boys who weren't playing video games by teaching them a couple of card games (Super Munchkin and Zombie Fluxx). I was surprised at which boys wanted to play.

Later, after pizza and cake, I led them in many rounds of Werewolf, which they absolutely loved. Again, a dynamic arose that surprised me. The one kid who was off his ADHD meds kept getting killed by the villagers (the other boys), whether they believed him to be a werewolf or not. It was a scene straight out of Lord of the Flies. He exclaimed, "Why do y'all keep killing ME?" And one of the younger boys replied (bless his heart), "Because you're being annoying." And the kid took it to heart. He made a strong attempt to settle down. It didn't work very well, but he was trying.

Then later, he asked if HE could lead the next game and began looking over the rules. Unfortunately, we never got to play that next game, because the group had already decided that they wanted to watch a movie. I wish we could've played that additional game because his over-abundance of energy would've been well-applied, and by moderating rather than participating, he would've had a leadership role amongst the group. And he would've handled it very well.

The party was a blast overall, and all the boys enjoyed it. So did I, for that matter. And I got the satisfaction of having one of the boys ask, "Where do you find these awesome games?!" The boys culminated their party with a massive pillow fight in the living room, where they were all camped out. And of course, my wife had to threaten to sleep on the couch if they didn't settle down. They were all asleep within minutes.

Now listening to: Seven Nations latest disc, Time as the Enemy