The Best Thing For Being Sad Is To Learn

The Best Thing For Being Sad Is To Learn January 23, 2021


I have always known Rosie was smarter than me, but I had one of those moments that drove it home last week in homeschooling.

I was trying to teach the the six times table, and I wasn’t doing well because I myself am bad at math.

“These are kind of hard,” I said. “Let’s see what you know. What’s six times seven?”

Rosie did not hesitate. “At times like this it’s necessary to count by fives. Five, ten…”

“No, no,” I interrupted. “That will never in the world get you to six times seven. Now think about it. What’s six times seven?”

Rosie stared daggers at me and repeated herself. “At times like this it’s best to count by FIVES. Five, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five, and add seven to that is FORTY-TWO!”

I didn’t catch what she was doing. “All right, smarty pants. Let’s try it again. What’s THREE times six?”
Rosie began instantly. “At times like this it’s best to count by fives. Five, ten, fifteen, plus THREE is EIGHTEEN.”
I finally caught on. “You’re multiplying by five because you know it so well and then adding one skip count?”
 “Oh. You’re better at math than I am.”
And that was the end of the lesson.
Rosie is also reading at a good clip now, which pleases both of us. We worked our way through Katherine Applegate’s hysterical Roscoe Riley Rules series, and now we’re reading the adorable Ivy and Bean books by Annie Barrows. Rosie is relieved to have a book about a girl who’s a tomboy like she is.
In history, we’re learning about ancient Greece, and that’s the most fun. Rosie and I learned about democracy and what a city state is. We’re going to watch a few scenes from an authentic Greek play and we’ve looked at some funny art. We read some of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. We watched all those old Wishbone episodes where the dog plays a character from the Odyssey or the Metamorphoses while the irritating children get into trouble. And she read to me from a children’s book of grossly oversimplified, bowdlerized Greek myths.
I quizzed her on the Greek myths she’d learned by playing school; she had to stand up and impersonate a different pupil for each story.
” Okay,” I said,  “Tell me about the Trojan Horse.”
Rosie began instantly, nearly word for word from her terrible book of myths. It wasn’t the best translation of Homer I’d ever heard, to say the least. “One day, the people of Troy found a horse outside the city. They looked at it. They smelled it. They touched it. They talked about it. They decided to bring it inside the city. That night, men came out of the horse! What a surprise. NEEEEEEIGH!”
“Well, except for the neigh, that’s not wrong. Now tell me about the minotaur.”
Rose began again. “Once there was a wicked king of Greece! The wicked king had a monster. Everyone was scared of the monster so they would not evict the wicked king. The monster lived in the middle of a maze. Finally, a brave man named Theseus decided to defeat the monster. The king’s daughter, who was in love with Theseus, gave him a ball of string. He was told to unwind the ball of string so that he would not get lost. Theseus beat the monster! The monster burst into flames.”
“It was Crete, not Greece, and I don’t know about the flames, but okay. Pretty close. Now, Icarus?”
“Once there was an evil king named Icarus whose daughter was made out of jewels–“
“No,” I pressed, flapping my arms to give her a clue. “Not Midas. Icarus. Icarus and his father Deadalus?”
“Oh yes. Icarus and his father wanted to escape the island. They invented wings out of rocks and feathers and strapped them to their arms. They flew over the ocean. But Icarus flew too close to the sun, which melted his wings. He fell into the sea and a dolphin saved him.”
“It was wax, not rocks, and there was no dolphin. He died a horrible death to teach us the dangers of hubris. Now,” I said, “What about Oedipus Rex?”
I hadn’t told her about Oedipus Rex; I just wanted to see what she’d say.
Roses face fell. “What?”
“Oedipus Rex. Tell me the story of Oedipus Rex.”
She blinked for a moment and then began. “There once was a tyrannosaurus named Oedipus Rex. He ate tacos every day. One day he went to the store and couldn’t buy tacos. He was out of money.”
I liked her version better than the correct one.
As a visual aid, we built a tiny replica of the Parthenon from a kit. The kit has instructions translated from Chinese and they’re not very helpful. They warned us, and I swear this is a direct quote, “Do not assemble the product near fire. Ways of tools using: (do not use for any other purposes.)” There was also a strict injunction to ” be careful not to let your children eat or put our products or the package into the nose or ear.” We were careful not to put the package into our ears as we worked. I joked with Rosie that  the original architects of the Parthenon probably said “Thousands of years from now, people will make models of this temple out of cardboard! And they’ll stuff the cardboard in their ears!”
I reminded Rosie that this was a model of a temple to Athena, and asked who Athena symbolized.
“Gentle and beautiful war,” said Rose, which was close enough. She refers to Hera as “That lady with the mean snobby husband,” so I’d say she has a good feel for the myths.
It took a whole afternoon to get all the little tabs of the model Parthenon into all the little slots, but I now have a temple to Pallas Athena for a dining room centerpiece– at least, until we start on Ancient Rome and swap it out for a Colosseum.
Rosie says that the original Parthenon wasn’t nearly so difficult to build, because it didn’t have tabs and slots.
Merlin, as we know, said the best thing for being sad is to learn something. “That’s the only thing that never fails.” And while the world is in shambles around us, it’s pleasant to be able to learn and teach inside.
I will miss homeschooling someday.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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