Feeling Quite Venn

Venn DiagramMy younger and I continue exploring Challenge Math (Zaccaro), despite the arrival of the Singapore 5 materials over the weekend.  After looking over the new arrivals and deciding he’d start with percents, which is halfway through the second book.  (My younger prefers to jump around in math books and his other reading:  he simply refuses to let the table of contents order him around.  That’s another post.)   But come Monday, he chose Zaccaro’s book.

Fine by me.  Yesterday we continued exploring problem solving techniques, jumping to the Venn diagrams at his request.  He started with his usual negativity — this will be hard, when can we stop, let’s just do the first few, can I have a snack,  etc.  Once underway, he was actually smiling as he tackled progressively harder problems, noting how easy they really were.  By this point, I’m smiling, too. 

It’s a rare day that my younger relaxes enough to work to his ability in math, being willing to struggle with difficult concepts without becoming discouraged.  He’s a perfectionist and of the ilk that prefers not to try at all if he senses and risk of imperfection.  This concern washes into writing assignments:  why start if you certainly will fail to produce a flawless product?  So he balks, argues, avoids, and, on occasion, finds the words to express this concern. 

When I’m really tuned into him, I can see the anxiety building and recognize his fear of failing to meet his own high standards.  Sometimes I’m less attuned, either distracted by my older or by my own concerns and thoughts, I miss the warnings.  My repeated reminders to return to work meet silence or tip him into a fury.  Adrenaline hits me either way.  Usually, I can find my way past that rush and its accompanying anger, but sometimes my fury matches his, and I start yelling.  Eventually, we find our way back to some semblance of calm, me breathing deeply, touching him gently, and searching for cues as to his distress.  It’s almost always worry about missing perfection, although he rarely verbalizes (or even realizes it), and modifying the assignment almost always helps.  I often scribe for him, for math and for writing, allowing him to think with so much committment to paper (mistakes from his mouth to my hand don’t bother him).

For the Zaccaro math, I’m by his side, scribing when needed and curiously observing  his thinking process.    A few problems in, I turn over the marker to him and walk away to check the laundry.  Upon my return, the marker remains capped and he’s starting to wiggle.  “Did you already finish it?” I ask, thinking he’s erased the problem and moved on.

His anxiety level visibly rises with his pitch and volume, “I can’t do it!  I can’t draw the circles right!  They keep coming out as ovals!”    I finally, realizing I’ve been holding it while waiting for the explosion. 

“No big deal,” I respond.  “They don’t have to be perfect.”  He passed the pen to me.  I drew three lopsided intersecting circles (one quite ovoid, in fact), passed the pen back.  He smiled and completed the problem.  He’s feeling quite Venn, and so am I.

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