FLINT - I wish I could show you the reason that I feel officially dumber than my kids but my keyboard can't type mathematical formulas. Or maybe it does and I'm just not aware. Everything's falling apart at once.
Suffice it to say that I had no clue what I was looking at when I looked over the wild and untamable Annie's 14-year-old shoulder the other evening as she was doing homework for school, which doesn't even start until next week. (How long has THAT been going on, by the way? I quote Pink Floyd from my obviously misspent youth: "Teacher, leave them kids alone.")
There on the paper before her were long strings of ys and xs, some of them encased in parentheses, with teeny tiny little twos and ones floating crazily above and below them, as if gravity had gone goofy.
It was all Greek to me. When I said that to Annie she rolled her eyes, which is her official teen response to just about everything that comes out of my mouth these days.
"Daddy, it's just math," she said.
Algebra, actually. I recognize that much. What bothers me is that I can't do it anymore. I used to be able to back in high school but that was, what, 35 years ago now?
I've forgotten the specifics of just about everything I learned back then. Kids grumble about having to learn things that they're never going to use later on in life, and I guess there's some truth to that. I've never once used algebra in my adult life. Never used geometry. Never been asked to diagram a sentence or recite the Gettysburg Address.
I ended up a word guy and I'm fairly adept at using them to make a point. But there's a lot I've lost. We become specialists as we age. At least we retain enough to recognize what we used to know. That's something.
None of that matters when your kids are younger, of course. You're able to help with homework on basic smarts alone. To them you seem like a genius. You know the answer to everything, or at least you can fudge it.
Then they hit a certain age or turn a certain intellectual corner and all of a sudden you're standing there in the dining room behind a girl who still has Harry Potter posters on her wall and you feel old and stupid. It's not a comfortable feeling.
Good thing the kids are so compassionate about it.
"Ha, you're smarter than dad now, Annie!" said Sam, my 17-year-old son, who was helping her out.
A brief flush of pride appeared on her fast.
"No, I'm not," she said, to her credit.
But she is. She's a wonderfully sharp knife that's been honed by years of school and work to cut through just about anything, and I couldn't be prouder. She has a great future.
Of course, that future will include a day when her son says to her daughter, "Hey, you're smarter than mom!"
That's called karma.
I read about it in school.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Andy Heller, an award-winning columnist for The Flint Journal, appears weekly in the Daily Press. He graduated from Escanaba Area High School in 1979. For more of his work, visit his blog at blog.mlive.com/flintjournal/aheller. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.