Why Am I Not Happy?


I am terrible at Math. When I returned to University at age 21 I was forced to undertake a subject which I recognized immediately to be an oxymoron, it was called “Basic Math.” For people like me there is no basic math. A short video was shown in the first tutorial, its setting a suburban post office. As people made their way from the post office to the street they would be stopped by a man with a microphone who would hold up a stamp and ask them how many stamps they could buy with $5. The math people would ponder for a second, roll their eyes upwards in thought and give their answer. The non math people who were initially smiley and up for a chat would hear the question, get a look of terror in the eyes, and simultaneously shake their heads while pushing the microphone away. As they hurried down the street you’d hear a muffled yet panicked “sorry, too busy, have to go.”

The idea of the video was to show you how a math phobic works, how some of us are so terrified by the idea of being put on the spot with math that we immediately just shut down.

I now not only have a math phobia but I look both ways before exiting the post office.

My sister shares the same distrust of numbers which is kind of funny, our parents are both qualified accountants. As we made our way through the school system it was acknowledged that math was not going to be our forte. Jokes were made about my lack of mathematical prowess, my parents were never ones to dress things up. They were were realists. My sister and I were not told to dream big, we were told that many people didn’t actually enjoy going to work but it was all just a part of life. That everyone had to get a job, that you just got on with it, made the most of it.

According to my children’s current education facility, no-one is not good at math. Math brains supposedly develop at different speeds, some require more time, more patience. I have listened as Kindergarten teachers have instructed a class full of parents that we are never to “project”. I am not to admit out loud that I don’t like math or find it hard, as this news will taint my children’s attitudes and make then feel the same way. I get it. I understand. Math issues can be just like body issues, in the same way that I am not to stand in the mirror and say I hate my thighs in front of my children, I must now keep my mouth closed as I silently hand over the bill that needs to be divided into sevenths.

But my children are not fools, the minute they come to me with anything past Grade 3 long division they know immediately where the situation is going to end up. They’ve learnt to miss a step and now kick off with “Mum, I’ve got a problem with math shall I just wait for Dad to get home?”

When asked directly (which all four children have) if I liked math at school I try my very hardest to be honest yet not “project”.

“It wasn’t my best subject and I think we enjoy the things we’re best at.”

“There were other subjects that stole my attention”

The 4th traveller was telling G and I a teacher had told him he was very good at math when he wasn’t with his friends. I giggled at her ability to compliment while making a strong suggestion.

“That’s great that she thinks you’re good at maths”

“Yeah, but only when I’m not with my friends – she’s trying to tell me not to get distracted by my friends.”

Children are not stupid. They know what you’re saying.

It got me thinking about an article in the Atlantic a couple of years ago. I saw it shared again on the weekend. “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy” talks about children I recognize. Children who have been raised in a world where everyone receives a trophy. Children who are told that no-one is ‘bad’ at anything, they just need extra support. Children like mine who have been told their artwork is awesome, their efforts extraordinary, that if they work hard and set goals they will achieve their dreams. That they will be happy.

Children who have landed in therapy as young adults with one question “Why aren’t I happy?”

It was this article that made me start telling my children they would not be happy, not every day. That some days they would have to drag themselves out of bed. That someone they love will break their heart. That someone will use them. Someone will embarrass them on purpose, for their own entertainment. Perhaps they will not get their dream job, maybe they’ll work for the person who has their dream job? That they should hope to be desperately poor and struggle to pay the rent because when they eventually earn enough to save a few dollars they will feel amazing. That great lows bring fantastic highs.

I never believed my parents when they said that work was just a fact of life. I should have, I was surrounded by people that didn’t enjoy what they did for a living. It was a job, not a career. They enjoyed their lives but work was work, it was money, it paid for the fun things on weekends. Due to my unrealistic optimism, I continued to live in my dreamworld. Their reality was never going to stifle my dreams.

I wonder now whether it’s the opposite way around. Will our dreams stifle our children’s realities?

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