Living With Mathlexia

Hello, my name is Natalie and I’m Mathlexic*.  To me, math is a four-letter word.  Is it because my brain is just too filled up with a love of literature?  More importantly: Can book worms even be math nerds?

As a kid, I adored math and was even crowned Number Facts champion of 5th grade.  I lived for timed tests on multiplication and division but didn’t realize I was a big fish in a small math pond.

Things started getting dicey in middle school and by high school merely mentioning Algebra gave me hives.  Learning that my beloved alphabet had defected into my math problems left me reeling.  My pea brain processed a simple equation thusly:

x-13y(4n-17) is equal to…what the hell’s going on here?!  Where did these letters come from?  Someone pass me the Benadryl!

10th grade was worse–Geometry and theorems.  Euclid, you’re the devil!  Algebra II was the stuff of my 11th (and 12th) grade nightmares, but a saintly guidance counselor showed a shred of mercy by enrolling me into the ‘special’ class that took two years to cover Algebra II and Trigonometry.  The class was filled with avid readers and kids from the AP English track.

Maybe it’s all the rules, principles, and formulas–I’m more of a free spirit and the rigidity of math scares me–I feel hemmed in by the structure.  I love the ambiguity of English–if I can support my answer, then it’s valid!

All of my math teachers grossly misstated the truth (read: lied) when they said I’d use Algebra, Trigonometry, and Geometry in my daily life.  I swear that there is a giant PR campaign behind that myth and even the math teachers in my school continue to perpetuate it.  I can honestly say that I’ve never called on the Pythagorean theorem since I left school!

Lest you think me a dope, assured that I can compute percentages in my head in nanoseconds and can do any word problem you throw at me (without using inane formulas!).  I just can’t wrap my head around ‘math with letters.’  It’s a thorn in my side because I hate to admit defeat and want to understand Algebra, Geometry, and Calculus!

To that end, I recently placed an order on Amazon and needed to spend $2.14 more to get free shipping.  I found an Algebra workbook for $2.15 and purchased it, hoping against hope that math might come easier to me as an adult.

The workbook arrived this week and my hypothesis proved false: Math, unlike wine, does not get better (or easier) with age.

*Please don’t take offense at my word choice–I’m not trying to denigrate anyone with a learning disability.


  • At 2010.02.15 20:31, Kathy (Bermudaonion) said:

    I do like math. Before we moved here, I was the neighborhood tutor for high school math and always thought it was fun.
    .-= Kathy (Bermudaonion)´s last blog ..Our Life in France – banking, money and numbers =-.

    • At 2010.02.15 21:23, Dishy said:

      I liked math in grade school. After that it got hard and lost most of its charm. Much like boys. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to live w/out either (math or boys) so I got married. Now I make my husband do our taxes.

      • At 2010.02.15 21:41, rhapsodyinbooks said:

        I was told in elementary school that I should stick with language studies because “only boys study math.” And so I never developed any math skills. Sort of sad. I don’t think teachers do that to girls anymore!
        .-= rhapsodyinbooks´s last blog ..Black History Month: February 14, 1818 – Birthday of Frederick Douglass =-.

        • At 2010.02.15 23:15, Lisa said:

          I can’t tell you how hard it was to keep up with helping my kids and their homework as they got older. My middle one is now struggling with pre-calc which I never had to take so I’m completely useless. Not that I would remember a lick of it even if I had taken it; or understood it to begin with!
          .-= Lisa´s last blog ..The Weight of Heaven =-.

          • At 2010.02.16 00:41, Ti said:

            I really hate math. I hated it back in high school and I hate it more now as I am forced to help my son with it and pretty soon, my daughter too. You’d think with all this homework I’d get better at it.

            In high school, I had to have a 13-year-old geometry tutor because I could not wrap my brain around the subject and he was a whiz. He told me to stop fighting it. To just accept things and go with the flow. That helped get me through it then, but I still fight it to this day.
            .-= Ti´s last blog ..Moby Dick Monday: February 15, 2010 (Final, Week 14) =-.

            • At 2010.02.16 13:05, Hayden Tompkins said:

              You are not alone!

              • At 2010.02.16 14:02, Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit) said:

                I often viewed math as more of an exercise to train your brain to think critically, but I think that can be accomplished in a number of ways. I’ve been good at math in the past, but it doesn’t mean I enjoy it at all!
                .-= Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit)´s last blog ..Guest Review of Going After Cacciato =-.

                • At 2010.02.16 17:38, softdrink said:

                  You bought a math workbook?!? Intentionally?? That’s just wrong!

                  • At 2010.02.16 18:08, Jess - A Book Hoarder said:

                    For some reason I always enjoyed math. It was always the first homework I finished, even before I did my reading. But I was sort of a slacker when it came to assigned reading. I hit 7th grade and decided my teachers were no longer going to tell me what to read when I was doing an excellent job picking out piles of books I would read into all hours of the night. I don’t know what was wrong with me back then!

                    • At 2010.02.16 19:08, Aths said:

                      Haha! I am in your same boat, but not so extreme. I loved math as a kid, but later started feeling dispassionate about the subject. I didn’t hate it, but Math and I decided to mutually ignore each other. 😉

                      • At 2010.02.16 19:31, Carrie K. said:

                        I’m sending the link to this post to my daughter – also named Natalie – who is now struggling with pre-Algebra. Poor girl inherited her mom’s aversion to anything numerical.
                        .-= Carrie K.´s last blog ..Teaser Tuesdays – February 16, 2010 =-.

                        • At 2010.02.16 21:12, Kristen said:

                          I definitely hear you on the math issues. Two stories: When I was getting ready to take my GRE test, I had a math tutor so that my math score on the general exam wouldn’t keep me out of grad school (for English Literature but apparently they want to know you are capable of balancing a checkbook before they let you in or something like that–in any case, they required the score). My first day with the math tutor, he tested me to see what I knew. Then, obviously amazed that I had made it through my junior year of college with so little knowledge, he blurted out, “I’ve been a tutor for twenty years and I’ve never met anyone who knew as little math as you do.” Gee thanks for that confidence booster!

                          Second: My son is actually gifted in math. (I like to say that I passed along all of my dad’s stellar math genes and the reason W. is so smart is because I didn’t use those genes at all so they were shiny and new and full up when I passed them along.) We have had some fights with the school about making sure he’s challenged in the way he needs and finally ended up having a meeting with just about everyone who counted at the school. As we sat there and discussed, something was said about W.’s general laziness about writing out all of his work (a true statement but one that is best understood by the fact that the kid can easily figure it all out in his head and sees no need to write down self-evident stuff). The Dean of Students at school sort of self-righteously said that W. needs to learn to write it all out and that this would serve him well later in life. I admit to being a little frustrated with all of them and carelessly said, “Really. Who uses math later in life? I know I don’t.” The reply to this was, “I’m a former math teacher,” and the undercurrent was that he had the power to grant our request for the kid so I should zip it. How awkward! But totally true. I really don’t use math in my daily life. At best I balance the checkbook once a month. As my former math tutor would suggest, that’s perhaps a good thing! Any more frequent and I’d probably have it all stuffed up good and tight.
                          .-= Kristen´s last blog ..Review: Eternal on the Water by Joseph Monninger =-.

                          • At 2010.02.17 01:36, bybee said:

                            I despised math from the first day I encountered it in first grade.

                            Algebra: The first time the teacher said: “Let x =…” I turned him off. NO! I don’t want to let x equal anything…it’s a letter!

                            I only had to take one math class to graduate college. I took it at night and it was my only class for the semester. I got a B.

                            A while back, I read that most elementary teachers hate and fear math..they must be passing that distaste onto the students somehow!

                            • At 2010.02.17 13:39, Online Publicist said:

                              I’m just like you! Well, except for the part where you excelled at math once. I never encountered that. I remember cheating off my best friend’s quiz in second grade. :-/

                              And in high school, I took a math course every summer just to pass with the minimum requirements. I had tutors and everything! The stuff just never stuck with me. I think the descriptions aren’t colorful enough. 😛

                              • At 2010.02.17 14:01, Christy said:

                                haha! I like your sentence about the alphabet defecting into math problems. I did fine in math, but I had to work hard at it, especially with calculus. The one thing I did like about math was that when you took a test, you knew when you were done. With my written tests in history and English, I always had to worry that I could have said more in a short answer or essay question.
                                .-= Christy´s last blog ..Teaser Tuesday: Frankenstein =-.

                                • At 2010.02.17 20:57, Jenners said:

                                  I’m in the same boat as you … actually, my boat is a little leakier because I never even mastered the basics. I can’t compute percentages in a nanosecond. I’ve always feared math … and math with letters is even worse. I can’t believe you even gave it a go again!! If nothing else, I think we’ve learned you don’t need it in life!
                                  .-= Jenners´s last blog ..Review: "Still Alice" by Lisa Genova =-.

                                  • At 2010.02.19 11:44, Heather said:

                                    I hated math too. Still do. I’m dreading my kids getting into high school because of boys, girls, and math. Yuck!

                                    And I’d swear I really am Mathlexic because I switch numbers around all the time. And I always confuse 7s and 4s. It drives me mad!
                                    .-= Heather´s last blog ..When She Flew by Jennie Shortridge =-.

                                    • At 2010.02.19 13:25, Lanie said:

                                      Natalie, dear cousin of mine!!! I have to completely disagree!!!! Writing is something that is read, sometimes misunderstood, usually unappreciated, (in many of my cases) and judged like Ugly Betty in a beauty pageant!

                                      Math is reality, and there is always an answer!!!! 1+1 will always equal 2!!! (Unless you are using imaginary numbers…) Maybe Nan and Pop sent all the math-genius genes in my direction and forgot to share them, but thank goodness! I’ll stick with math and you can write all you want 🙂

                                      To complete my Aerospace Engineering degree, 126 credit hours of love are needed towards engineering, physics, and math while a daunting three are needed for writing. Thank goodness I have already lived through that nonsense to tell the tale!!! Fun it was not!

                                      Indeed we share the same family blood, but as to our mathematical and writing capabilities, we go our different ways. Love you still, Lanie

                                      • At 2010.02.19 13:50, Natalie said:

                                        An aside from Nat @BL&S:

                                        My precocious teenage cousin Lanie really is studying rocket science or some such insanity as a crazy school down south that is positively RIFE with math nerds.

                                        I still love you even though you’re a math nerd.
                                        xoxo from your favorite cousin

                                      • At 2010.02.20 11:02, Beth F said:

                                        LOL!!! I do like algebra! But I hated geometry. Of course, after calculus in college, I haven’t actually bought a math workbook… good for you!
                                        .-= Beth F´s last blog ..Weekend Cooking: Babette’s Feast (The Film) =-.

                                        • At 2010.03.03 14:19, Allie said:

                                          You are so not alone in this!

                                          I can balance my checkbook, and I’m happy to leave it at that. 🙂
                                          .-= Allie´s last blog ..Don’t Look Back . . . =-.

                                          • At 2010.03.07 17:47, institutrice said:

                                            I LOVE math! I always have. At first it was hard to get algebra, but I figured it out. (I even taught myself how to add and subtract with negative numbers because the student teacher refused to show me after I was out very sick for a week.) I remember solving a geometry proof in 9th grade in fewer steps than the teacher said was possible. It wasn’t til 12th grade that I hit a wall with calculus; I just Did. Not. Get. It. I felt really dumb about it for years (coming from a family of engineers) until I heard that people who are good at algebra might not get calculus and vice versa. Thank goodness! 😉 But I am one of the freaks who scored better on the math part of the SATs than the verbal, by 100 points. 😀 And I am also a rarity because I’m an elementary school teacher who LOVES math – when they’re talking about more time for reading and writing (which already get more time anyway), I’m the one whining, “What about math??” I love it that so many of my girls are good at math, and they’re proud of it.

                                            • At 2010.03.10 15:23, Kari said:

                                              I tutor junior high and high school math…and I can’t believe how much it has stuck with me! I love math because it’s fact; it can’t be interpreted multiple ways, and it doesn’t change with time. Somehow, as big of a bookworm as I’ve been my ENTIRE life, I’ve always scored way higher on standardized tests in math than in english. I think my brain just works better with numbers.
                                              .-= Kari´s last blog ..The thermometer hit 60! Break out the books! =-.

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