I'm not quite sure why math homework is such a catalyst for visceral anger. John is good at math -- he routinely tests well on it, enjoys reading "The Number Devil" and other math books, and generally has an OK grasp on things such as estimating. But when he's learning a new concept -- such as long division two months ago, and length conversions this week -- it's like drilling a well deep into his store of viking rage.
Here is a typical escalation:
I'm washing dishes. John is at the table doing homework. Maia is either coloring or doing her own math worksheet I've printed off the computer (honestly, sometimes I feel like she does this to bug John).
John: Sigghhhh....grooaaaannn...Um. Mom. Mom, can you come help me?
Me (wiping hands off): Sure, whatcha got?
John: (Sighs again.) I don't get it.
Me: What don't you get?
John: This! All of it! That! I don't GET it.
Me: What number are you on?
John (grips pencil tightly, stares at table, presses lips together): NUMBER. SIX.
Me: OK. You've got 11 feet, and you need to figure out how many inches it is.
John: I know that! I just....RRRRGH! I JUST DON'T GET IT! NARRRRRRGHHHHHH MUST DEFEAT OUTRAGEOUS HORROR OF MOTHER TRYING TO TEACH ME MAAAATHHHHHHH! RRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAWWWWWRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!
Well, that's what it feels like, anyway. I send him outside to walk it off. I go back to washing dishes. He comes back. We try again. We get a little farther until he insists his teacher told him that when you're converting feet to inches you divide by 12. And so on. Tears. Peevish comments. Erasing and re-erasing. Wet, gurgly sniffs. Until finally, he's multiplying by 12s in his head. He converts yards to inches. After supper, he tells us he read that it takes 20 football fields for a loaded train to stop ("No shit," I can see Matt thinking). I ask him how many feet that is, and he stands, looking at the ceiling, and comes up with the answer.
Then it's OK.