Wednesday, November 2, 2011

NaBloPoMo Advice Column - Day 2 - Whatever, it works.

I'm writing 30 thoughts in 30 days for NaBloPoMo. In no particular order, I'm giving you my worldview.
2. "Whatever, it works". This one is borrowed from my friend Aglaia.

Details. They're often important. How well you capture them will often dictate how good your outcome will be. For example, if you bake a cake, and forget an ingredient, you'll probably know it with the first bite. In junior high, I didn't know there was a difference between baking powder and baking soda. My group's assignment was to make a recipe titled "baking powder biscuits". We unintentionally substituted baking soda. Wow, were those biscuits fantastic looking. Tallest ones in the class. But take a bite? They tasted like a salt bomb. We couldn't even gag down enough to pretend we'd gotten the recipe right. The distinction between baking powder and baking soda? It matters. In this case, "whatever, it works", is terrible advice.

But that's not always the case.

My dad often says "there's a right way, a wrong way, and a mymom'slastname way. Everyone married to one of my mom's siblings relates to this. And for a long time, so did I. And then I got busy, and I learned that I could actually skip vacuuming beneath my bed weekly, so long as I did it regularly enough that no dust bunnies formed. I no longer completed the task the mymoms'slastname way, instead, I applied "whatever, it works".

At a PTA meeting last night, the math coach was going over the new math program at Connor's school and she noted that the big improvement in the program was that it allowed for multiple pathways to solve a problem. This, she said, is the key to true understanding. Which reminded me of a story on NPR about solving math problems

Multiply 19 and 4.

What did you do? As it turns out, some people think "19 + 19 + 19 + 19", others think "38 * 2", some think "9 * 4, carry the 3, add the 4" and still others (me!) think "20 * 4 - 4". All are correct. My method blows Ed away.

In the context of raising kids, sometimes boots must be worn when sneakers would be more appropriate, or a giant puddle of glue finds favor over a little piece of tape. Occasionally, Helen swims with her wetsuit and top to her bathing suit because the bottom of the bathing suit has gone missing. And when I need a quiet moment in the car I have been known to hand Helen a Starburst. In the quest for these lost items or quiet space, I know life isn't perfect. I try and remind myself to take a deep breath and adopt Aglaia's philosophy - "Whatever, it works!".

Building a worldview:
Day 1: Surround Yourself With Brilliant People (though my friend Susan makes a good point that clever is pretty good, too).


  1. I solve the math problem like you do. When i tried to explain that method to my then 10yo son last year, he couldn't wrap his mind around it. We've been trying to lay the groundwork for multiple paths to an answer when we give him chores and suggest 2-3 ways he can complete said chore and leave the choice up to him.

  2. De - we 20*4-4 people must stick together! Unite, I say! And yeah, figuring out how to get something done is probably even more important than getting it done. That's the life skill you want, right?

  3. Rich is a math wiz and uses your method. I am only a wiz in figuring out how much a marked down item costs. $30, 30% off? $21 because 7*3 = 21. (since you are paying 70% of the cost).

    I'm really considering htis clever/brilliant thing. The thing is, clever gets me into trouble too often. It's too closely related to snark, sarcasm, and smartass-ery. BRilliant seems more pure, on the positive side, but on the negative side brilliant is usually evil genius, ie, really bad. So maybe coasting along in the smart ass category is good enough for me.

  4. I would solve the problem by saying 10*4 is 40 plus 9*4 is 36 so 40+36=76. Ben got a perfect score on his math GRE's so I will ask him how he would solve it. Now I am curious.

  5. Since reading this post yesterday I think I have repeated the expression "whatever, it works" about half a dozen times ... at home, at work, and with friends. I've always lived by this philosophy but it's nice to actually put a name to it.

  6. Forgot to add ... I've never been great with doing math "in my head" and I tend to oscilate between methods depending on the difficulty (so fickle!). However, I do remember a time last year when I was asked a (really) simple math question on the witness stand in court - I was asked the average of 2 numbers - and I actually reached for a calculator! Whatever ... it worked, right!

  7. My dad still talks about your mom's placement of laundry to be folded.