Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Math has never been easy for me. When I was struggling with college-level algebra or geometry, my brother Michael (in middle school at the time) would sit down with me and try to break down the problems for me into simple terms.

"It's really very easy," he'd say as if he were six years older than me rather than six years younger. "All you have to do is..." He'd then proceed to scrawl out equations and formulas across the paper, explaining as he went. Though I tried to follow along, I was usually still helplessly lost at the end of it, though I hated to admit that to my patient younger brother.

Being the kind and considerate people that they are, certain members of my family like to make jokes about my lack of math skills. For a birthday a few years ago, I received addition and subtraction flashcards. And somehow clipped comics from the newspaper show up on my door - such as the one about needing to answer a word problem to get into heaven ("If two trains leave Boston at 10:00 and one is going 50 miles per hour and one is going 75 miles per hour..."). Then there was the little sign that was taped to my bedroom door by one of my siblings - "No Math Needed." I actually thought that one was quite appropriate.

So when I was re-reading recently one of my favorite volumes of classic children's literature - The House At Pooh Corner, by A.A. Milne, I decided that this is one more thing Pooh bear and I have in common. In addition to a love of eating and a fondness for rambling walks in the woods, we both have a distinct lack of mathematical inclination. But one of the great things about Pooh is that he doesn't seem to be bothered by this in the least. He's not the kind of bear to lose any sleep over things like multiplication facts.

One sunny afternoon, Pooh is playing his newly invented game of "Pooh-sticks" - which consists of dropping sticks into the river on one side of the bridge and running over to the other side of the bridge to see which stick comes out first. Pooh had been playing against himself for quite awhile, dropping in two sticks of different lengths and guessing which would win. And he was quite pleased with himself.

"...And when he went home for tea," the book says, "he had won thirty-six and lost twenty-eight, which meant that he was - that he had - well, you take twenty-eight from thirty-six, and that's what he was. Instead of the other way round."

And that's all the math a bear like Pooh needs to know.