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From Story Problems to Boy Problems (and everything in between) This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     There are nine chickens on Old McDonald's farm. Each chicken had four baby chicks. How many baby chicks are on Old McDonald's farm in all?

After spending 20 minutes on this story problem and finally coming to my answer of 13, I glanced at my homework to make sure my name was on it and ran into the kitchen.

"Okay, I'm done. Check my math so I can play outside," I excitedly said. Dad glanced up from his crossword.

He sat there with his jet-black eyebrows crunched up and his salt-and-pepper moustache covering an obvious frown. Dad wasn't one to nag about homework, but he was a stickler about doing it right.

"Dana, none of these are correct. You're not going outside until you get them right."

"Dad, I tried," I whined.

"No, you didn't. You rushed through without putting in any effort and made stupid mistakes. If you're going to do homework, you have to put your all into it and not just do it to get it done," Dad said, raising his voice.

That was when the tears welled up in my eyes, and I had to look down. I was frustrated with Dad because I couldn't go out, but I was even more frustrated because I honestly didn't understand how to do the story problems. Math was such an obstacle for me, and I felt embarrassed that "simple" story problems took me 20 minutes, and that even then I couldn't get them right.

"Dad ..."

"Yes," he said, picking up his puzzle.

"I just don't understand how to do them. Can you help me?"

Dad looked at my teary eyes and said, "Of course. I will teach you how to do the problems the right way."

Dad pulled up a chair and went through every problem. He drew pictures, wrote equations, taught me short cuts. He even created practice problems and took me through them step by step. He explained everything a number of times, then made me be the teacher and tell him what I was doing. We probably spent three hours doing story problems and learning new ways to solve them.

I finally understood why Old McDonald had 36 chicks, and I was laughing at how silly my first answer of 13 was.

"Do you understand now?" Dad asked, his pencil behind his ear.

"Yeah, I got it. Thanks, Dad."

"I'm going to make a prediction: if you write down and think through the problems, I bet you'll be a math whiz someday."

I laughed and rolled my eyes. "Me? Good at math? I don't think so."

"Hey, Dana, just remember one thing. You can come to your old man for anything. I'll be here."

"Thanks, Dad, I know."

Dad smiled, and whispered, "Okay. Now, go to bed before Mom gets mad."

***

By the the time sophomore year ended, a lot had happened since that crisp autumn night in third grade. I no longer worried about story problems. Dad had been right, math had become easy. Now I had more important problems.

Sitting on a swing outside my best friend's house, I couldn't help but notice how much fun everyone else was having. Everyone except me, that is. The first party of the summer was underway, but my mind was a million miles away. Earlier, I had shed my first tears because of a boy. My first boyfriend had broken up with me totally out of the blue.

My heart told me to cry, but my brain tried to convince me that I was being too dramatic and needed to stay strong. For the first time, my emotions got the better of me. I was a complete wreck.

I called Dad to pick me up early, and as soon as we walked in the front door, I got the same teary eyes I'd had as a child working on those stupid math problems. I was embarrassed I couldn't hold back the tears long enough to get in my room and let loose.

"Dad," I said, my voice cracking, the tears starting to fall even harder.

He hugged me and rubbed my back until I could catch my breath. After 20 minutes of pouring my eyes out, I was ready to pour my heart out, too. I told Dad how my boyfriend dumped me without even giving me a reason, or warning. Dad listened to me go on and on, blowing things out of proportion and rationalizing to myself. When I asked him what I could do to make my boyfriend like me again, he told me some of the best advice I've ever heard.

"Just be yourself. That's what made him like you to in the first place. You don't have to change anything, if you don't think you did anything wrong. He'll come around, guaranteed. I think by the time he does, though, it'll be his loss because you'll have found another guy who likes you for you."

I laughed as I had back in third grade when Dad told me I'd be a math whiz someday.

"Thanks, Dad."

Dad smiled and said, "Anytime. Now get some sleep.

***

On the drive home from a tennis match this year, Dad and I were jamming to some oldies. It's senior year now, so I'm trying to "carpe diem" every moment, and it's not often that I have alone time with Dad anymore, or need to go to him for help. This night, though, I had to tell him how right he's been.

"Hey, Dad. Remember sophomore year when I was crying because my boyfriend broke up with me and you told me to be myself? And if I did, he'd come around?"

Dad smiled and said, "Yeah, I remember."

"Well, you were right. He came around, and it was too late, just as you predicted. I had found someone who liked me for me. Thanks for giving me that advice, but, more importantly, thanks for being there."

"Anytime."

I smiled because I knew that from story problems to boy problems, and everything in between, Dad would always be there to help.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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