Summer Math, A Huge Downer

From DJ's Summer Reading List

Posted by Danny

We didn’t have to learn in the summer when I was a kid.  Now a days there’s a summer reading packet, asummer  math packet and Stephanie has to learn the Catechism for church homework.  I turned out to be a reasonably intelligent, successful dude without formal training in June, July or August.

When I was a kid, we learned from each other when school was out, not a book.  Tracy McDonnell taught me about the female anatomy in our above ground swimming pool while my dad mowed the lawn around the perimeter. 

“I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”

Sounded good to me.  With murky water and no goggles, she could have shown me her elbow and I would have been impressed.  But that hot July day in 1973, I left the pool at least knowing there was something different about her from me.  Why else would she want to cut that deal?  Although I still wasn’t sure what it was.

We played hide in go seek until 10 pm on Friday nights on our cul-de-sac on Berkshire Road. There were ten of us.  That experience taught me to stick with the big guy.  Any time I hid with my older brother or Mike Mask, I came out a winner.

We played Boyland each week – if the boys caught the girls we could do whatever we wanted to them.  It usually consisted of making them play matchbox cars in the big dirt hole in the backyard.  I think Tracy wanted to do something else.  The art of persuasion in action.

At one point, my brother and I got a bow with darts that had suction cups on the end.  We stood in a vacant house storage room and shot the darts at a friend’s butt until they eventually stuck.  This was no easy task and taught me a great deal about perseverance.  I not sure what our target learned…perhaps true friendship???

At our church, some person back in the 1950’s set up an endowment where the proceeds are used to give each 5th grader $50 bucks if they memorize the Catechism.  In my opinion, having to memorize this epistle could turn you from a true follower of Jesus Christ to an atheist in a quick minute.  I don’t think God intended for us to memorize the thing – just to basically understand the jest and work to live by it.

“Stephanie, you’re gonna learn how much God loves you if it kills you!  Get to memorizing!  You’re only on question 6.”  I’ve got some repair work to do for poor Stephanie who I insisted follow through on this assignment.

My kids sob about their summer math homework.  Learning the Catechism has been like pulling teeth.  There is a summer reading list we’re crunched to complete, primarily because I didn’t start pushing it until late June.  Even I needed a break from the homework. 

I’d have to quit my job to finish five chapter books in a summer.  I don’t know how they do it.

I do hope that all of this work pays off.  Perhaps Stephanie will become a Presbyterian minister and work to remove the Catechism from the curriculum.  From the looks of it, Michelle’s gonna be stronger in an addition field than one that requires significant talents in subtraction.  Those pages cause the most tears.  I look ahead and assign them when the babysitters with us.  But I think that’s bad parenting. 

DJ’s gonna be our author.  You’ve read some of her stuff.  For her school, she had to pick one of six books to read and report on by the end of August.  Miss Overachiever said, “I’ll just read them all.  Got to have something to do at rest period at camp.”

Me?  I’m choosing to stick to my old patterns of experiential summer learning.  Thinking of building a pool.


How can we remember all this?

This is how we learn vocabulary in our house when the mind just can’t take any more and the clock is ticking down.  Kids are given a word bank and a list of definitions and must match the two.  It’s all about connections.

Vigorous:  strong; energetic

I hold my big guns (biceps) up in the air – “Look Stephanie, my arms are strong and energetic and are in the shape of a V – just like Vigorous.”

Illogical:  contrary to the rules of sound reasoning.

“Do you know what logical is?”


“Most people just study – they follow the study guide that their teacher sends home.  Tonight you are crying and pitching a fit.  That is illogical.  ILL – means sick.  Your logic about studying tonight is sick.  We need to get it well like it was last night.  Ill-logical.”

Subdued:  quiet; not as active as usual.

“Ships are on top of the water – moving quickly and loudly.  Submarines are quiet and sneaky under the water, like subdued.  Now what is the word?”

“Sub something.”

“Think about the time a kid pooped in the pool last summer.  Sub – like a submarine; dooed – like an underwater poop.”

“Got it.”

Invariably: constantly; always uniformly.

“Dad, the word uniformly reminds me of my uniform.”

“Well, you invariably wear a uniform to school.  And the “v” in invariably looks like the “v” in your uniform collar.  And the “n” sort of looks like a pair of short pants, just like your uniform.”

Vantage:  favorable or advantageous position for observing.

“I hate to have to point this out, but the word vantage is in the middle of advantageous.  Take advantage of that.”

Laboriously:  with much labor, toil, or difficulty.

“Do you know what labor means?”


“I and Us go with Lee to do labor.  Labor is done by I, us and Lee.  Labor-I-US-LEE. ”

Loped:  Moved with a long swining stride.

A big, funny, daddy lope across the den floor.  Arms dangling like a monkey.  “I’m lopin’ baby, I’m lopin’.”

Warily:  In a careful, cautious manner.

“Let’s all sing…Warily we roll along, roll along, roll along; warily we roll along in a careful, cautious manner.”

Rancid:  Unpleasant odor or taste.

“Your uncle’s feet smell rancid.  Remember the smell.  Remember the word.”

(By the way, rancid is one of my all time favorite words.)

Respite:  a temporary period of relief or rest.

“You tired of this?”


“Me too.  We need a respite.”


“Let’s go to bed.”

My kids are going to fail the SAT.

Don’t Get Much Sleep, But We Have A Little Fun

Not my actual bed.

Posted By Jesse

Last Sunday morning I heard a light tap on on my bedroom door, followed by a twist of the knob and slight cracking. I turned my gaze from Sportscenter to the room’s entrance, anticipating the appearance of a bored 8-year old looking for someone to entertain her. Sure enough, Michelle peered through the doorway with an “I know I wasn’t exactly invited, and I know it’s kind of early, but….” look on her face. When she saw me smiling rather than shooing her away, the door flew the rest of the way open and in three quick steps she had bounded into the room and up onto my bed.

I’m not sure exactly when the girls decided I was less of a guest who was not to be bothered and more of a family member who is only granted semi-privacy, but it was a welcome change from my perspective.

On this particular morning, Stephanie had had a night of restless sleep and coughing, and Danny was letting her sleep in a bit in his bed, which is where Michelle had undoubtedly begun her quest for a playmate. But he booted her to let Stephanie rest, and 8 a.m. is just too early in the morning to start playing with dolls I suppose.

So Michelle and I did lounging stuff. I tickled. We snuggled. We wrote letters on each other’s backs and tried to guess what the message was. I wrapped her up like a burrito in my comforter and pretended I couldn’t figure out how to get her out. I acted like I feel back asleep on top of her, smothering her until she could stop laughing enough to belt out, “Get! Off! Me!” All in all…it was probably the best Sunday morning I’ve had in a while.

I’m not overly eager to have another human completely dependent on me. But if you put enough of these types of moments in the brochure to draw in people to become parents, I’d probably get suckered into signing my life away without looking too closely at the fine print.

Lisa and Danny’s bed used to be the main hub of activity in the house, I have gathered. That is because it was also Lisa’s throne. Danny tells me in the evenings she would set up shop in her bed: Law and Order re-runs on the television, laptop computer open for work or Disney planning, she would welcome kids to her bed to review flash cards, plan summer activities, or just plain snuggle. In fact, any time I ask Michelle about memories of her Mom she brings up snuggling in her bed.

Danny probably recognizes some of Lisa’s sedentary traits in her brother, because after dinner I often post up with a laptop on my bed and dial in the evening’s sporting events on the television. I’m not nearly the center of activity Lisa was, but I’ve come to find that more and more the girls treat hopping up on my bed–to chat, to play, for study help–as a regular thing, and not something they have to ask permission to do. And I love it.

Yes, there are times I’m trying to bang out an article that I have put off and put off and now have to write double-time just to get it in a day late. And there are probably times when I would enjoy sleeping in. But I’m trying to put the word out that my bed is open for family business.

It may not be “Grandma’s Feather Bed” and it certainly can’t compete with Lisa’s throne, but my bed is starting to work its way into the rotation of family hang-out spots. DJ will stop by if Danny is putting the other girls to bed and she needs someone to quiz her on vocabulary words. There are still a pair of Stephanie’s dress shoes in my room from when she got home from church and sprinted to my room to let me know how lazy I was for still being in my pajamas….and ended up staying for a while. And, of course, the world is Michelle’s playground, so she’ll come in looking for entertainment any time she pleases.

Moving in with the Tanners, I basically forfeited the right to lock my door. Best trade I ever made.

“D@#% Math”

Danny's SAT

I got a call yesterday afternoon. It was Danny, asking when I might be swinging by the house. DJ was struggling with 10 algebra problems that were to be turned in for a grade. And Danny was struggling trying to help her.

Danny is doing a fantastic job of keeping the girls’ studies up. I help some. Without getting into specifics, the girls all have very high grades (at least one got all A’s last semester, and there were plenty of A’s among them), and, perhaps more importantly, all have a pretty darn good work ethic. That is a tribute both to their mother and and credit to their father, both of whom instilled in them good overall character.

The school work they get, I would say, is fair and challenging. The girls seem overwhelmed sometimes when first facing loads of homework or multiple tests, but typically they succeed through practically working their way through it.

But I think we’re finding that, in math at least, Danny’s peak as a capable tutor might be 8th grade.

I actually tutor some in math and have done a decent amount over the years, with varying results. So, to be fair to Danny, because of that I’ve stayed much more fluent in algebra–and I’m actually excited for when DJ takes geometry! (she’s going to HATE it)

Danny described one of the problems to me.

“Five to the negative one time three to the negative two. What are negative exponents?”

I told him I could take a look at it that night. We hung up, but when I jotted the problem down, I realized what he was talking about. Negative integers.

I called him back.

“The negative integers send it to the denominator. Or to the numerator if it’s in the denominator”

He said they’d try to use that. I wasn’t getting home until 7:30 and they were going to the talent show at 7:00, so we agreed to meet later so I could take a look at the work.

About 15 minutes later, I receive this email from him. Its subject is (he’s going to be mad at me for saying this) “d@#% math”. Here’s what it said (I’ve cleaned it up a bit):

So I have spent the last hour trying to figure out this math.  The problems that she has, for the most part, do not have an example in the book that shows you an exact pattern to follow.  And, there are answers to some of the questions in the back of the book – there are answers to some pages, some odd numbered problems.  But, NOT ONE OF THE ANSWERS TO SUPPORT THE EXACT TYPES OF PROBLEMS SHE HAS TO TURN IN FOR A GRADE TOMORROW!!!  And I have scoured the internet.

There are 10 problems.  I am nearly certain that three are correct.  The rest, not sure.  In case you are sitting waiting for your thing to upload, these are the exponent questions (*denotes an exponent):

5-1*(3-2*)  we think this answer is 1/45

(r-5*)-4* (do two negatives make a positive?  do you shift them to the denominator?)

p0*q-2*  we think this answer is q2/mn4

a2*b0*(a-3*)   we think this answer is 1/a



And there are two additional word problems.  I think the negatives are what are hanging us up.


I literally laughed out loud at the thought of him typing out all these problems, many of which, as you will note if you care to examine, are correct. But (until I wrote this blog post) I did not spend two seconds reading the problems. When I thought about Danny thinking I would actually try to translate algebra via email, I laughed again. I saved the email and caught up with DJ later.

She had many of the answers right and a pretty good understanding of exponents, positive and negative, multiplying and adding. I’d say she and Danny were at about a B- working together. I showed her a few errors in her answers and she understood and made the corrections. Man, hope it gets a good grade after I signed off on it AND blogged about it.

Here are some other funny algebra pics:

There will be a lot of people who read this blog who will not get this.

The Casual Ditty Of The Tiger Uncle

Posted by Uncle Jesse

One afternoon last week I had the girls to myself. Stephanie was doing some homework and Michelle was in her room, downloading every new free app on her iTouch she had heard anyone mention in the previous 24 hours. I went up to her room to let her know the piano was open, and that since she had a lesson the next day it would probably be a good idea to hop on. She obliged without objection. I watched her sit down at the piano and heard her start playing. I took a brief bathroom break. When I emerged, I did not hear any piano music. I approached the piano to see if she was stuck on a part, but she had vanished. I did, however, hear the dulcet tones of Ke$sha coming from her room. Once again, I ascended the stairs.

perfect form? we're working on it“I thought you were going to practice piano,” I said with a curious tone, honestly unsure of what had happened to prevent her from practicing.

“I did.”

I looked at my bare wrist as if I were wearing a watch. I do this often when time is being called into question; rarely am I called out for not actually, you know, wearing a watch.

I had taken some reading material to the bathroom with me, but it’s not like I did the puzzles or anything. I surmised that the piano practice could not have lasted more than five minutes.

“Yeah, I’m going to need to hear those songs. I don’t think a 5-minute practice session is going to cut it.”

Protest. Shock. Not only was I asking her to resume a chore-like activity that she already considered completed, I was basically questioning her integrity. I reminded her that since she had been practicing this set of drills and songs for a week now (well, it had been a week since the last lesson–I don’t think there has ever been a “7 days a week” piano practice standard in the house) that they should basically be perfect for tomorrow’s lesson–notes, volume, rhythm, everything.

What I found when I sat to listen to the next practice was not perfection. No songThey make Cliff Notes for this stuff? went through without errors. Not once after opening the book was it viewed for the tips on how the piece should be played, the fortes and pianissimos, crescendos and decrescendos. Whole note drills were being played as half notes or faster. I decided that in addition to more practice, it was time for a gentle (ok, maybe more than gentle reminder) of what piano practice looks like.

Not surprisingly, this reminder was met with tears. But the practice pressed on, and I sat on the bench–not to look for errors any more, I assure you. I had found enough to make my point. Now, of course, I had to do the part that, more than fussy children or tears is typically the reason kids are let off the hook. I had to sit down next to her and practice the darn piano with her.

I have heard and read a lot recently about Yale professor Amy Chua and her new book on how she raised her two high-achieving daughters, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Like most of the folks who are writing, blogging, and offering opinion on Chua and her seemingly (to some) Draconian-strict methods of parenting, I have not actually read her book (this is an important question, I think, to ask anyone who seems especially fired up about Chua and her book: have you actually read the book?). I did read the excerpt in the Wall Street Journal and found it very interesting. I also suspect that Chua is a very smart woman with a very smart agent and, like the folks at the WSJ, are trying to sell as many books (or newspapers) as possible and collectively were wise enough to include some of the more incendiary revelations of the book in the excerpt.

It worked. People are talking.

I certainly did not grow up with parents who threatened to give away my toys overnight if I did not bring home perfect grades, or perform my piano pieces without flaw. But I do think I was raised with a little more of the “Chinese” upbringing with which she reared her children than some of my “Western” friends. While curfews and car rides were not met with much questioning from my parents, it was well-known to my friends not to call on the phone the night after report cards went out if there was a ‘B’ on mine. My status was “unavailable”.

[brief side story: Lisa used to combat this by lining up her friends to call at specifically calculated times, five minutes apart from each other, beginning at 8 o’clock. Each friend/caller was assigned a particular academic query and was instructed to let the operator–my Dad–know that only Lisa knew the particular answer, or who was doing what in the group project, or what pages they were supposed to read, or whatever. This served two purposes: first, it made it seem as if she were thought of as the “academic” among her friends. But more importantly, after three interruptions to “Nova” on PBS, my father would tire of relaying questions and answers, and surrender the phone. Very clever and diplomatic of Lisa. Me? I just threw my stereo down the stairs]

So unlike much of the American opinion I read about Chua and her methods, I do not think, “What a tyrant! What an awful way to raise children! She must not love them!”

Flashy cover? Check. Splashy book excerpt? Check. This thing will sell.On the contrary, I believe she loves her children very much, and that she has devoted and sacrificed much of her own time to raising them in a way she believes will lead to success and, yes, happiness for them. Her theory is not an absurd or even untested one. The thinking goes that children will kick and scream at anything that requires work and patience in the beginning, so kicking and screaming should not be deterrents. Rather, once you get through the initial push, and once a child has a taste of success, it will bring confidence. Which leads to more hard work, more mastery, followed by praise (not only from parents, but non-family members as well), all of which will lead to more confidence, more mastery, more hard work, more success, and, ultimately, happiness. Is this a terrible theory? Of course not. And, in fact, I have neither the academic training, parenting experience, nor desire to try to “set her straight” or “prove her wrong” because, again, I’m not sure she’s off base at all (though I do take issue with the way she degrades some things “Western” parents do as a way to justify her own choices. To wit: Chua says her kids were not allowed to be in school plays. Surely a child can have a small role in a performance of a school play without having “to stay after school every day from 3:00 to 7:00” and “on weekends”. And don’t even get me started on what her kids may be missing out on by not going to summer camp).

But anecdotally speaking (which, from what I can gather, is what most of her theory is based on: her own rearing and that of her children–not scientific studies on the psychology of children and parents in different cultures), I look at my sister Sallie, and think, “there has to be another way.”

I would challenge Chua or anyone to find someone who has achieved at a higher level in a more competitive field than my sister. My sister was pushed, yes, but also allowed to fail, quit the piano (and all other instruments) when she grew tired of it, choose her own field (there are no other scientists in my family–not even close), decide which activities to participate in, etc. Was she pushed by my parents? Absolutely. But sometimes after a particularly trying ballet practice in which she had felt the wrath of the instructor, my mother commiserated with her and agreed that, yes, that woman could be a…well, a meanie.

Back to Michelle and the piano. Here at the Tanner house, I am always feeling outI can't stay here for three hours a day. I just can't do it. my role. At first I concentrated on bringing the fun to the house, because we all needed it. But over time, it has become clear–and Danny will readily admit this–that we are a little lacking for Lisa’s discipline. This is not taking away anything from Danny or the girls. Again, he says over and over what a perfect pair they were, and perfectly complementary when it came to parenting. It only makes sense that, with one of them gone, something would be a little lacking, right?

But I also know I do not have what it takes to be Chua. Not even close. She is right in that many Western parents say they value their children’s independence when really they just do not want to stop watching “Modern Family” to sit next to their kids at the piano bench. And I’m no different there. I could not do it every day. Sometimes I try to crank out a silly little article before a deadline and I watch Danny move back and forth between cooking a meal, sitting at the piano bench, sitting on the couch to do flash cards, back to the meal, back the bench, and so on. I wonder if I could ever keep up the kind of energy it takes to be a “great” parent, the energy that he and, yes, the Tiger Mother, both display.

Typically, I try a little of both. I can sit on the piano bench for 20 minutes. Or I can call out flash cards for one night (hey, we have DVR, right?) But I also try to let the girls know that ultimately, and especially now that we’re down one true parent, that if they want to get ahead it’s on them.

I believe talent is overrated, and that hard work is the only way to truly achieve success. And I also believe in choices, and finding the thing or things you (not your parents) have a true passion for, and that these are the things you will want to work hardest at. So after almost every work session that begets tears (be it book work, piano work, running, dancing…any of the activities the girls are involved in at some point involve tears, I have learned), they typically hear this from me:

“Being great at anything is not easy. If playing piano were easy, everyone would be doing it. It takes work, and practice, and patience, and repetition to get really, really good at something. You are going to be GREAT at something. It may not be piano; it may be drawing or writing or leading or something else, but you are going to be great–one of the best in the world–at something. But whatever it is, you’re going to have to work hard at it. And practicing piano is a way to learn that skill. Again, I’m not saying you have to be great at piano. I really don’t care what it is you choose to be great at. But you’ve got to learn to work hard.”

Two nights ago Michelle was on the piano. I glanced at the clock to see how long she went and was disappointed when it fell short of ten minutes. But I never feel quite as comfortable pushing more piano practice when Danny’s in the house–all joking aside, he outranks me, and I worry about the one day a kid lashes back with “You’re NOT my parent!” because I’m not. But I was also fatigued from the last time we did battle at the piano bench, and I had another article to write.

But a minute later, the piano started back up. This time it had just been a pause, or a bathroom break, or a text from someone on the iTouch (since she knows how to do that now, too). But soon the piano was being practiced again, and whether it was from her desire to get better, or knowing I was within earshot and had raised the bar for what counts for practice time, I’m not sure and I don’t really care. Without getting philosophical, and without taking a lick of credit, I’d like to think that a child doubling her practice time without prompting is at least as significant as one spending three hours with hands on keys (and parent on back), banging out soulless perfection.


Posted by Danny
We studied for Stephanie’s history test AND her science test on Monday night.  It snowed on Tuesday and school was cancelled. 

We studied for Stephanie’s history test AND science test again on Tuesday night assuming it would be administered on Wednesday.  Both were postponed to Friday.

We have now studied, for the third time, for Stephanie’s history and science tests.


Ask me a question about The Bay of Pigs!!!  Ask me about the Contra Rebels or Sandinistas in Nicaragua!  I know the answer. 

I like to say Nicaragua.

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