Show Your Work

I’m standing in my kitchen, hovering over my son’s shoulder as I read his math question. 

“Cal is buying a TV for $429 and a DVD player for $129. He rounds to the nearest tenth to calculate his cost. Round to the nearest tenth and find the total that Cal found.” 

“This is useful math,” I tell him, trying to infuse energy and value into my voice, a task that is harder and harder to do the longer that online learning continues. “I do this every time I buy something.” 

He nods and keeps working, bent over his paper, intent on getting done as quickly as possible. 

I watch as his pencil scratches away, intrigued to see how he will “show his work” on this one. The addition part I understand, but how do you show your work for rounding up to the nearest tenth? I was never taught how to represent this visually. I was simply taught to do it. 

For him, though, it’s nothing. He writes $429 with lines pointing towards $420 and $430, and then he circles $430. It’s simple and clear, and, honestly, it seems like a waste of time to me. I have to catch myself from rolling my eyes. I don’t want him to think I’m questioning his education. I don’t want him to think it’s unimportant to follow the instructions he’s given. 

Why did he have to do that step, though? Why did he have to show how he got there? Why not just write the answer? 

~

A single tear rolls down my daughter’s face as she looks dejectedly at the computer screen. She’s attempting to finish a reading assessment, one that intentionally includes some questions that are easy and others that are beyond her grade level to gauge where she’s at. I watch as the screen is flooded with words and choices, some obvious to her and others as clear as mud. 

Her confidence and peace rise and fall with each answer, and, in turn, so do mine.

She’s done these assessments before. She knows that no one expects her to get them all right, but her expectations of herself are a different story, and those are the only expectations that matter to her. 

“It’s ok if you don’t know, babe,” I try to remind her. “Remember you’re not supposed to know them all. It’s good to get them wrong. Then your teacher knows what you need to learn.” 

“I don’t want to learn! I want to know!” her quivering lips say.  

I look into her brown eyes, the ones that are exactly like mine, and sigh, unable to respond. With that one statement, she has picked up an oar and has begun paddling the boat we’re all in.

~

The school day has gotten out of hand. I have allowed it to get out of hand. I watch as my children’s emotions continue to escalate, and realize mine are doing the same thing. We are all losing patience, losing our grip, and my imagination mocks me. 

“A woman is trying to homeschool her children, pastor a church, work at a preschool, be a good wife, mother, friend, daughter, and sister all during a global pandemic. She has been doing this for six months. How much more time will it take for her to realize she isn’t perfect and that’s ok? Round up to the nearest tenth. Show your work.”         

I walk downstairs and ask my husband for help. 

Scott ascends the stairs, and immediately our daughter falls into his arms. He is her resting place. Seeing them together like that is mine. 

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” he asks, and I know things are already getting better. 

He quietly calms her. His measured tone and thoughtful explanations soothe her sadness and infuse her with confidence. I watch as the thing that had caused me to lose my patience only causes him to rise to the challenge. 

I wonder why it doesn’t make me feel inadequate. Why I don’t feel guilty that he is so much better at this than I am. There was a time when I would have felt that way- a time when I would have beaten myself up for not being perfect in this area. I would have felt ashamed for needing help. 

There was a time in the not so distant past when all I wanted was to have all the answers and be perfect at everything I did. I wanted to know how to be the best mother, best wife, best anything. I wanted to know, but instead, I’ve learned. 

I’ve learned that there are things I can’t do and answers I will never have. I’ve learned that where I am weak, others might be strong. I’ve learned that nothing is permanent, and for better or worse, this too shall pass. 

Throughout every season, whether trying or enjoyable, I have learned, and it’s during the learning that the memories are made. It’s during the lessons that character is built, humility is cultivated, trust is established. It’s in the learning that good work is done, and every answer that’s worth giving requires us to show our work. 

~

The school day is over. Chromebooks and worksheets are replaced with laughter and silliness, and I breathe a sigh of relief as I hug my husband in the kitchen. 

“I don’t know what I would do without you,” I tell him, and I mean it. 

I am imperfect. I have been thrown questions that I can’t answer yet- questions that push on my pride, ability, and strength, and sometimes I choose the wrong answer. I’m learning, though, and, at times, that’s better than knowing. 

What are you learning? Show your work.

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