That’s it. The towel is thrown in, and the white flag is waving.

At 9 years, 3 months old, Penny is past the point where I can help her with her homework.

Not that I’ll stop trying, mind you, because nothing says father-daughter binding quite like some elementary school math. But the elementary school math these days ... let’s just say it’s not so elementary.

This particular perplexing problem tasked Penny with taking a sum and, knowing one of the two parts that made that sum, figuring out what the other part is.

Simple enough, I told her. You just subtract the small number from the big one and ...

That’s when she stopped me.

“No, Daddy. You need to use a tape diagram.”

“What, you tape a diagram to something?”

She chuckled then proceeded to draw some boxes with squiggly lines and other things that made this subtraction problem look like the calculus I picture lines the walls at NASA. One of the boxes had a question mark occupying it.

“See, Daddy? You then need to figure out the mystery number.”

“Mystery number? Are you doing a magic trick?”

“No. You know what fills in the rest, and you have to figure out what goes in the mystery box.”

“Oh. You mean like subtract them.”

I understand the theory behind Common Core math - that doing more work earlier on will lead to enhanced comprehension later on - so I don’t want to poo poo what she’s doing. Plus, that’s what the curriculum calls for at this point, so any protests anyone may have are fairly moot in the short term.

But I just can’t follow along anymore. I learned via multiplication tables and common denominators, stuff that makes sense (at least to me). Looking at what she was showing me, I suddenly sympathized with my in-laws during those moments they want to make the remote turn on the TV but end up recording a random “Seinfeld” episode instead.

My kids’ homework isn’t supposed to make me feel stupid. I think. At least Rigby’s hasn’t (yet). But there’s a real disconnect between what parents know and what their kids are supposed to know that could make one feel sorta dumb. When I tried to show Penny how I did a division problem, she told me she’s never seen division drawn out like that. I wasn’t aware there was another way to do it, but evidently I was wrong.

So, in essence, we’re speaking different languages. Which makes trying to guide a child through homework a real treat.

I told Penny how I would calculate a solution to her homework, but she looked at me like I had just read the Bible out loud in Latin. So I told her to ask her teacher for assistance on how to do the problem in the way she’s supposed to.

I hate to admit it, but that may be a more common occurrence. At least until and unless I can catch up on this whole Common Core thing. I’d like to think I can - because if kids can learn it, then so can I - but until I learn how to translate, the white flag will remain up.

Paul Lane is a father of two from Niagara Falls. Contact him at

Recommended for you