Apple Arithmetic

When my son John started Grade Two, he hit a major stumbling block. Arithmetic was a mystery to him. On the back of our Exercise books and Scribblers, when I was in Grade Two, all the 'goes-in-tas' such as 'two goes-in-ta six three times', so we could refer to that if we were stuck, but we also had to memorize the tables. We called Arithmetic just that-'The Goes-In-Tas'.

However telling him that could not even bring a smile because he was distraught that he was not getting it as well as the rest of his class. He could learn it his teacher had told me, but he wanted to spend his time drawing or daydreaming. I knew my son and I knew the teacher was absolutely right. For some inexplicable reason he did not pay the least bit of attention in Arithmetic class. He hated it!

I was extremely upset about it all and made a concerted effort to try and help him do his homework. He would dawdle, go to the bathroom, chew on his pencil, slouch down in the chair and just generally had a totally mental negative attitude about mathematics in general even though he well knew his numbers, what was required of him and had done some of it the previous year. However, for some reason he took a dreadful dislike to anything remotely like Arithmetic. It was just not explicable at all.

My concerns and fears were worsening daily. Then a friend suggested I do the 'apple trick' that she had done with her son when he was experiencing the same problem.


So I acquired a dozen bright shiny red apples, and I began what was to be the most exasperating tutoring Exercise of my life to date. John and I sat at the table and for four or five hours we went over and over the fact that 'two apples plus two apples make four apples', 'five apples minus one apple is four apples', and on and on it went until he finally seemed to get it and get it right. I was so pleased and he went off to bed all ready for his test in Arithmetic the next day.

The next day I waited for the school bus with great anxiety. I was so afraid to find out how he did with his test. I was expecting he would do well after the 'apple arithmetic marathon' the previous evening but when I saw the look on his face as he jumped off the big yellow school bus I knew he was not pleased.

When we were finally inside our house, I took his test sheet and saw he had not done well at all on his test. He may as well not have written it.

"John, what in the world happened? You knew it so well last night? How come you didn’t pass your test?", I had to ask through my puzzled psyche. I worked hard to get an answer but he just shrugged and went on his way. He had just given up even trying to learn this Arithmetic by then.

Soon he came back, looked up at me and said, " It's your fault Mom. You forgot to give me any apples to use. I can’t do it without apples!"


I went into a stupor, and I think I stayed that way until he finally started to apply himself, on his own terms, and conquered mathematics, graduating from high school and moving on to college. I was still wondering what the heck it was that caused him to block out Arithmetic and keep it blocked out for months until nearly the end of Grade Two.

John went on to study for a profession in which he would need mathematics daily. My fears were limitless. How would he get through college mathematics? But he did, and I often wondered if he was carrying a bag of apples concealed in that huge backpack he wore.

Graduation from college came and John earned an award for 'Perseverance and Pursuit of Perfection' in his studies. I still was stuck on the days of the apples and in a state of confusion.

So, as many young people were doing and are still doing, he moved to Western Canada and completed more studies there, going on to even more complicated mathematical courses. It was still all a mystery to me.

A couple of years later, in one of his routine phone calls, he told me completed his final year and had achieved his goal.

I was very proud of him but I just had to ask again, "How did you ever do all of that after your problems years ago with simple Arithmetic? How did you ever grasp Trigonometry?"

"Don't know. Never thought about it.", he answered.

A few days later he phoned me, and was laughingly trying to sputter something in between his laughter, which was always so wonderful to hear. He has a marvelous sense of humor and is a great impressionist so I could not conceive just what he was doing now. His pranks, hijinks, and practical jokes were and are a wonderful part of our lives.

Finally he managed to speak. "I know what happened since the days of the apples and my Arithmetic!", he laughed.

"What was it then?", I inquired, never knowing what to expect from John.

His voice boomed loudly across the miles and into my ear.

"APPLE CALCULATORS AND COMPUTERS,? he yelled with great delight.

Then he hung up!

I was dazed. Then I realized that, after all of that misery, it was still 'APPLES' that got him through!

Now, doesn't that beat all?





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