Stupid “Color by Number” Math

How math becomes a girl’s head trauma in grade school

It’s been a while since my last childhood story. Truth be told, I have not been inspired by any childhood memory lately, until my sister’s phone call dragged me out of bed at two o’clock one afternoon. This was after a 12+ hour, hard-fought battle, migraine. It was kicking my a**.

You see, as some of you know, I battle migraines regularly. And while I’ve been diagnosed with hereditary migraines by a neurosurgeon, keep a migraine journal to avoid triggers, and take prescription meds, there are natural triggers that cannot be avoided. Stress and spring in the Texas Hill Country are two such triggers.

In talking with my sister, she asked if I remembered my first experience with a migraine .

“Easy,” I said, “back in the first grade, during math class.”

Teresita’s first battle with an all-encompassing, excruciating pain was back at the border, in school. Everything hurt. Light, hurt. Smells, hurt. Feeling, hurt. Thinking hurt. Breathing, hurt. Hearing, hurt. The stress of a language barrier was often a routine migraine trigger. It must have been first grade, as the lesson was addition and subtraction. The assignment? A color by number math worksheet in which the answer to the math problem would dictate the color for the picture’s puzzle piece.

Photo Cred: Lillian Martin on Wallpaper Flare

Usually math was not a problem for Teresita. In fact, math was her favorite subject. No translation required. Easy peasy. Unaware of the actual trigger that day, or of triggers for that matter, Teresita could not express or explain that she was in a lot of pain. She could not solve equations on that stupid color by number math sheet, and could care even less about coloring in the puzzle picture. So, she turned in a blank worksheet to Teacher, managing to scribble her name on it. Teacher smiled politely and handed it back to Teresita, not a word, indicating the math had to be done. This was her first encounter with the all to often math instruction to,

“Show your work.”

Teresita attempted to show that she was not feeling well, that she needed to crawl into a dark cave and sleep the pain away, that she was using the little strength she had to avoid losing her cookies, only to make Teacher frustrated and irritated with her. Teacher refused the blank worksheet, escorted Teresita back to her desk, sat her down, and placed a color stick in her hand, forcefully tapping on the math sheet with her long, scrawny index finger, strongly indicating to… do, tap-tap, the, tap-tap, math, tap-tap!

Teresita took all the color sticks into her fist, pounded them onto the sheet, forced them back and forth, edge to edge, and covered the paper from corner to corner with a solid, dark layer of wax. Using every bit of her will, she gets up and turns that in. Earning her, her first trip of many, to the principal’s office.

And, that’s the first experience of an intense head pain, strong enough to translate into flipping off that first-grade math teacher.

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©️ Teresa Carbajal Ravet
El Norte

Written by

Chief Culturist at Sententia Vera, LLC | Cultural Bilingual Communication | Mothering 5 Bicultural Souls

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