It’s 9:07 am on August 12, 2016, and my husband says, “We have 40 miles left to get to campus. If we drive 60 mph, what time will we get to Waco?” There are groans from the front passenger seat of the rental car containing our daughter who is heading to Baylor for a second year of college and from the back seat containing our other daughter who still has two years left at home. “Dad, you always make us do math problems,” they say. I have to agree, he does bring up these types of problems a lot and now seems like an odd time to be asking people to calculate. As far as I’m concerned, it’s always too early in the morning for math, and I’m not in the mood for numbers because my brain is full of things like reminding myself not to use my daughter’s clean sheets to wipe my nose as I’m sobbing at the drop off.
“NO blurting!” I blurt to everyone in the car. There have to be some kind of ground rules in a family full of people who can figure out these kinds of problems in less than 30 seconds and shout out the answer before I even have a chance to figure out what I’m trying to figure out. Already I need clarification. “Honey, what’s the problem?” I ask. “We have 40 miles left to get to campus. If we drive 60 mph, what time will we get to Waco?” my husband re-explains. Now I am ready to problem solve.
I begin by wishing I had a calculator and some paper and a pencil. I begin again. Maybe this has something to do with high school geometry and I can create a proof where if I know the first step or two, the rest of the sequence will magically, logically flow forth. Except that this problem doesn’t seem to involve a trapezoid and I wasn’t good at geometry precisely because I could never come up with the first step or two that would set the whole proof in motion. So, if that’s not going to work, then maybe I have to formulate one of those “solve for X” equations where if X is divided by 100, it will equal something. But which number is X? 40 or 60? And I’m certain the answer to this problem is more concrete than “something.” Maybe plain old multiplication will help? For math’s sake, let’s just say that something times something equals X and that “something and something” in this instance are 40 and 60. That would equal 2,400 which is a very big number. Is that a time? Yes, actually, it is. But that can’t be the answer because I recognize a gas station we just passed and I know we are much closer to Waco, Texas, than 2,400.
Even though their eyes are barely open, I can see my girls are gaining on me. They might also lack the use of a calculator, paper and a pencil, but their mind-wheels are spinning – and spinning in a direction much closer than 2,400 o’clock. “No blurting!” I remind them.
I’m starting to wonder if there are enough miles, minutes or miles-per-hour left for me to figure out how to arrange these numbers. What about 60 divided by 40? That equals 1.5. But one and one-half of what? I know my husband wouldn’t give me a math problem, especially in the morning, with half of a number because working with whole numbers is hard enough. Then 40 divided by 60 equals yet another something. And if I remember what my third-grade math teacher taught me about long division, then 10 goes into 40 four times and 10 goes into 60 six times and that is 4/6 which reduces to 2/3! Two-thirds seems reasonable and two-thirds of an hour seems even more reasonable. To wit: if 1/3 of an hour is 20 minutes then 2/3 of an hour is 40 minutes. I think I’ve solved for X! I can answer my husband’s very logical yet very illogically timed math question. However, I’m not a Blurter and I take a second to ponder…. do I add minutes in case we stop at Buc-ees to get a snack? It might rain which would slow us down and there is always construction around Temple, Texas. I’m really not sure how to work all those variables into my equation.
But in the two seconds I spend debating how many minutes I should add for a pit-stop to get a Slim Jim, my daughter in the back seat blurts, “We’ll get to Waco in 40 minutes!” No! I had it – I had the answer but I just didn’t say it in time. Not wanting to be left out of all the fun math has to offer, I contribute with Texas-sized caution, “We will get to Waco at 9:47 am.”
It’s too close to call; we both have the same answer at almost the exact same moment. But my husband, who can barely contain himself because there is a car full of people trying to solve a math problem he orchestrated, pauses then confirms, “Mom wins! I didn’t ask how much longer it would take to get to Waco. I asked what time we will get to Waco.”