Math Genius

math genius, middle schoolMy grades are top notch when I’m 10, 11, 12, so the school asks my parents’ permission to test me. They agree. (No one, of course, asks me.)

But I don’t mind too much, since the 25 pages contain loads of fun stuff like fill-in-the-blank sets and subsets, numbers, and numerical word sentences.

A month later, results in, the elementary school principal tells my parents that I’m a math genius.

My parents look at me with renewed enthusiasm (after all, at 11½ I’m a tall, gawky, thick-eyeglassed dork).

I’m devastated.

I do not want to be a genius. I want to fit in and be cute again, like when I was, say, a kindergartener. bologna and cheese, middle school

Suddenly, my parents ask me about my day when I bike home from school every afternoon. But they don’t want to know about the lunch box snafu when the applesauce container exploded. Or the fact that I traded my bologna and American cheese white-bread sandwich for a pb & jelly. No, they just want to know about the score on my latest math test.

A year goes by. I get taller. Perhaps even geekier. I attend a different school – the one for 7th and 8th graders. The boys ignore me; so do the girls.

So, when the math teacher passes out our first big quiz of the year, I flunk it.


I moan and groan with the rest of the class about how hard it is, and how my parents will kill me when they see how poorly I’ve done.

Judy in Disguise, middle school angstI get invited to the JV Teen Club, and I become friends with a semi-good-looking 7th grader. Together, we attend the school dance (Judy in Disguise! – we all shout as we stomp). Like the song’s Judy, I’m in disguise, and I wear glasses.


I pick the Petulia Clark song,  Downtown, to sing in the middle-school talent show, because I’m lonely, and I’d love to find out how to get “downtown.” (Instead, I learn I’m not a musical genius.)

But I never, ever again understand math.

Even years later, when I try.


64 thoughts on “Math Genius

  1. Thanks Pamela. When ever I hear Judy in Disguise it always makes me smile, just as it did back in the 60’s. Oddly enough it’s a choice of record om my blog this week too.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • Amazing minds think amazingly alike! 🙂 You’re so right, Judy in Disguise always brings a smile. On writing this post, I read all the lyrics, though. They make absolutely no sense!!!xoxohugtoyouxoxo

  2. Such a shame. All too often girls get caught up in this–thinking it’s not cool to be the brainy one. Boys can too. Peer pressure can be such an impossible force to resist.

    • Geometry was my nemesis. I was getting a C in Geometry my junior year of h.s. until I wrote a (fictional) piece about Galileo. A+… 🙂
      Here’s to singing ‘downtown’ the next time we drive to the nearest town. Always puts me in a chipper mood, too.

  3. Parenting is probably the most difficult job on this planet. I speak from experience – both as a son and as a father. I wasn’t a math genius, for sure, but I was endowed with natural ability in the area of math that allowed me to participate in numerous “privileged” activities like math clubs, competitions, and advanced courses. It’s probably one of the reasons I ended up majoring in engineering.

    But (always the but), proficiency does not always equal passion. And, even if there *was* a degree of passion there in the first place, it can be sucked out of you quickly when you are nudged along to follow a particular path instead of making that decision on your own.

    So, I toe the line as a parent while remembering experiences similar to yours from my youth. I encourage my son to explore anything and everything. I keep taking readings from my parent barometer to see where his true passions reside, and I encourage him to pursue them without any coaxing, pressure, or undue expectations. At least, I try 😉

    • Wise words indeed, dad. My son tested off the charts in middle school math (and I couldn’t figure out why – duh!). But he most loved history, so we encouraged him to follow that passion. In the end, he got a college finance degree and is doing phenomenally well in the solar investing field. But I’m so glad WE weren’t the ones who pushed him toward his natural skill.

  4. I was never a math whiz; in fact, my dad was a high school math teacher and would bring me to tears trying to tutor me. But, those feelings of wanting to belong and fit in, yes! I don’t have children but have known parents who encourage their kids to the point of them losing interest in something. It can be a fine line. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • Thanks for sharing your father/daughter math story. I feel so badly for you, the child who wanted to meet dad’s math expectations, but couldn’t. I’m not sure there’s ever any ‘right’ answer in how to push/encourage children. Just show the love, that’s all. :-0

  5. I hated math and didn’t do well in it at all, but what I take away from this post is at this age no kid wants to stand out no matter what the school subject. So sad. Hope kids become more accept nowadays. Great story. ❤

    • The funny thing is that by the time we’re adults, we WANT to stand out, right? Just another way ‘youth’ is wasted on the young, I guess. Personally, I’m glad I changed my math perspective; I love being engrossed in the humanities. On the other hand, I’d be a lot richer if I’d followed the math field. !!

  6. Jill is right, this is an all to common story . A young person will almost do anything to fit in with his or her peers. Who needs math if you can be a cool dude.
    “Downtown” was one of my favorite songs, probably because I could understand the words .

    • Petulia Clark DID enunciate her words well when she sang, didn’t she? 🙂
      The funny thing about my story is that I never did become one of the ‘cool dudes.’ But by the time I was a junior in high school, I didn’t care. (But by that time, I didn’t have a clue about how to solve a math problem, either.) :-0

  7. Downtown was also one of my favorite songs! I was good at everything, got known as Miss Encyclopedia and boys dated me on a dare in high school, except for one. He will always have a special place in my heart for accepting geeky me – and he was NOT a geek!
    It’s so reassuring to know that there are other women out there who share the same experiences!

    • Wow, Miss Encyclopedia. What a really wonderful nickname (except in school, it could be horrendous). Is that one of the kind of childhood experiences that they say ‘build character’? Dated you on a dare? How dare they? I hope you battled them with your amazing wit and wisdom. Love your story, and that you survived with a great sense of humor. These are the stories we need to share with young girls, so they get through school, prepared.

  8. Oh, that need to belong! I’m convinced it never truly goes away…just morphs and manifests differently as we get older and, if we’re lucky, gets minimized as we learn to get comfortable in our own skin. That, when it happens, is one of the true gifts of getting older.

  9. Great story here Pamela. So interesting how things can change for an individual. I was rotten at anything math related and hated the stuff to the core of my being and still do. But my forte was history and geography.

    • Not having any good history teachers (or teaching) when I was young, I distained it. But then I went back to school as a special ed tutor and attended high school history classes with my students and was mesmerized. I discovered that I LOVE history and all it tells us. I hope you have continued your forte throughout your life.

  10. I started high school when I was 12 and only stood 4’5″ tall so I hear about being invisible. “When you’re alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go…” Love that song. When I came across the CD version, I had to buy it. Though my favourite song is “You Belong to Me”.

    • My brother and I did the duet together in the talent show – I sang the verses, he sang the ‘DOWN TOWN’ part in a very monotone voice. So bad it was hysterically funny. But as we sang, I still longed for the Downtown that Petulia sang about. Did you ever find your ‘downtown.’ ??

  11. Oh my. I purposely failed a spelling test in elementary school and now I still can´t spell worth a darn. Why do we do these things just to be popular?Thankfully it´s cool for girls to be smart these days. I saw John Fred and the Playboys perform a long time ago. Dig those crazy pants he wore!!

    • I remember those crazy pants! So fun looking back at the videos of these ‘rock stars’ who we thought were cute back them. Oh my, what were we thinking…??? 🙂
      P.S. I’ve never seen one misspelling in your blog posts – you’re AOK. 🙂

  12. Ah, ‘Downtown’ and ‘ Georgy Girl’ were the best anthems ever for teen girls weren’t they Pam? And I never understood maths at all but somehow became a competent accountant 🙂 Nice post.

  13. It’s so difficult to navigate academics and social skills and the whole girl/math world is particular tricky even today, I fear. I love that you wrote a fictional piece about Galileo though. Perhaps greater inter-dsciplinary subjects is the key!

  14. I detest Math, but since I’m going to need that ONE stinking class to get a degree, I’m working on it. Right now I’m living with a MATH teacher, so I’m going to tap her brain while I’m here, and ask her for math problems. I’d much rather write. I’ll never be confused as or compared to a math genius.

    • Oh my yes. I had to change my Psychology major in college because of that darn ole Statistics class. Yuck! Thus, I became an English major. Don’t remember my math class – I think I wrote a paper about Isaac Newton??? Try that!

  15. Big feet, thick glasses and a math wizard? Why would anyone ignore you? I married a woman who meets that exact description!

    But even as a kid you made terrible dietary choices. Bologna and cheese trumps pb&j every time, Pam. Come ON!

  16. I never purposely failed a test in my life. My problems were really because we moved to s different cities with different school schedules. So I left Grade 3 at the end of the year and moved to Grade 4 halfway through their school year… the family didn’t see the problem, I got no help to catch up, I was blamed as someone “poor in math” and I believed it all the way to Grade 11. Then I made some long jumps to sort of catch up. I ended up leaving school with better than average grades in math, but never quite shook off the feeling that my math was weak.

    Unfortunately, I think the peer pressure today is worse, with TV and Hollywood emphasizing the superiority of jocks and “cool” kids over nerds/geeks, so that kids want to hide their talents. Ironic, for a continent that wants kids and individuals to be individuals, we’re doing our damnedest to make them more homogenous…

    • You’re so right – our culture is messed up, displaying the ramped up ‘greatness’ of TV and Hollywood stars even though we need more talented smart people to straighten out this mess!!!! Here’s to individualism and going against the tide.

  17. I can so relate to this shutting of one’s gifts in order to fit in. I’ve done that more than once- and then it’s like a muscle that’s been put to sleep and needs to be awakened. Thanks for sharing this- makes me see how collective it is – I know I berated myself for a long time for making such a choice which was really at that young age one about survival in terms of navigating the social structure of school – can feel like life and death at the time!

  18. I was a whiz kid, too. But I hid it well behind my blonde hair, blue eyes, and rather buxom shape. I guess I had both things going for me, so I didn’t have to sacrifice one for the other (although I down-played the smart part so as not to intimidate the boys). What a shame. Even though I was Valedictorian of my high school class, the Guidance Councilor of my school never encouraged me to apply for scholarships or even gave me the notion to apply for colleges other than the local state college! He was too busy helping the not-so-smart jocks get into whatever colleges would take them.

    I went on to get a PhD in sociology at George Washington University and taught a course on women’s studies. You better believe that story was told many times!

    You, Pam, are not alone!

    • Thank you, thank you, thank you. I LOVE your true life story. So many girls were/are not encouraged to reach for the highest goal they can achieve. I know it was bad when I was in school – I hope it’s better now. I love that you earned a PhD in a fabulous school, and I love that you’ve taught women’s studies. I think your story, and mine, would be good for the sociology books…

  19. pam…I knew I was terrible in math, sister norma assured me of that on a daily basis! yet, I could write stories that all the kids loved to hear…my imagination was my strong suit…and it still is. who needs math anyways? LOL

  20. I have never been very good at math but when I chose to go back to school in 2012 I HAD to take a math class because the grade I had made in College Algebra at my previous school didn’t count. So I took an achievement test to see which class I could be in. HA! At the bottom thank you very much. I had failed miserably! but in my defense, I hadn’t seen an algebra equation in 30+ years. As a result I was put in a remedial math class but I aced it. And every class after that I made A’s because anything less is not acceptable (for me) I did realize had they put me in College Algebra the first semester I would have SOO NOT made an A. In fact I might have failed it altogether and forever blown my perfect 4.0 GPA. (as an adult) But I chose to look at it as a challenge and I worked hard. I also had an awesome teacher and I actually LEARNED! I love going to school… my husband thinks it’s funny to call me a “Math geek” which I’m not! LOL! but he is proud of me and that is what matters! 😉

    • And you should be proud of yourself! “Getting” math at the age of 10 is difficult, getting it after the age of 40 is brilliant!!! I suppose that’s how we all should look at math – a good brain puzzle and a stupendous challenge. xo

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