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Friday, September 26, 2008

Mad Minute

When I was in the first grade my family lived in Carp, Ontario. Or, more specifically, we lived in an old farmhouse across the road from the O.P.P. station outside of Carp. It was dramatically rural, and I have lots of those soft-lens memories of fields and treehouses that every kid should have.

I attended Huntley Centennial Public School. I've no idea who "Huntley" was. Huntley had different wings, with coloured doors marking off areas that certain grades were supposed to stick to. When I was in the first grade my wing was the Blue Wing (the cool older kids were in the Gold Wing) so all of my doors were blue.

My first grade teacher was Ms. Barr. I still remember her name. She would have us do math drills just about every day called Mad Minutes. She would pass out a piece of paper and on it would be printed between 20 and 30 math questions: simple addition or subtraction problems. We would be timed for one minute and we tried to finish them as quickly as possible.

I was fast.

I was very fast.

But I wasn't the fastest.

The fastest student in our class was a little brunette named Sara. She blazed through the problems. No matter which version of the Mad Minute (the teacher didn't make them up; they came pre-printed) the teacher put down in front of us Sara owned it.

Sara may have been my first crush. I don't remember if she was pretty or not, but that doesn't matter: she was smart. I've always been a sucker for smart girls. She was the only kid in the class who was faster than I was at those Mad Minutes, and she inspired me to do better every day until I closed the speed gap between us. Eventually she wasn't beating me by much, and I remember being very pleased with myself while also still being a little annoyed that I couldn't catch up to her.

She knew I was trying to catch her; I think I was pretty obvious with my disgust for myself whenever she'd put her pencil down and stick her hand up to announce her completion. And I think she liked the attention in some strange six-year-old way.

As the year wore on Ms. Barr would rotate us around the desks in the classroom. The desks were arranged in pairs, and each student at one time or another sat next to each other student. So eventually Sara and I were seated next to each other, and the game was soon afoot. The pressure to finally win that Mad Minute race against her, especially if I could do it while sitting next to her, was enormous.

But Sara wasn't nearly as petty in her competitiveness as I was. So, as that first Mad Minute was about to begin, our first head-to-head race, she nudged me with her elbow and directed my attention to a sheet of paper she was sliding out of her desk onto her lap.

It was a Mad Minute worksheet, filled out in its entirety.

My nemesis, my crush, my rival, had been cheating all year long. And knowing how badly I wanted to improve my speed, and perhaps as a way to convert my overt animosity and competitive drive into friendship she was willing to share her secret with me. Because she mistook my drive for a drive to merely be fast, and not to excel. I wanted to excel: to be good enough that the speed followed naturally.

I was so stunned that all I could do in the time between her showing me the paper and Ms. Barr blowing her little whistle to start the Mad Minute was shake my hide and mutter "no" as my eyes grew wide.

That day, because I was angry, or she was suddenly nervous, or for whatever reason, I destroyed Sara's time.

It may have been the fastest I had ever worked. Because I knew I wasn't competing against someone who was taking any time to calculate, but someone who was just copying numbers. I knew that she would take less time to do it, and so I just let my brain guide my pencil with very little direction. The marks on the paper followed almost immediately from lightning calculations.

I was a tiny John Henry, up against the a Mad Minute Machine. But unlike John Henry my heart didn't give out after the race.

My heart had been shattered before the race even began.


MereCat said...

What a fall from innocence. How do first graders learn how to cheat??? It's amazing. I remember hiding behind bookshelves in Kindergarten to avoid the French teacher. How did I even think to do that?

P. S. I have Signing Time going right now. I'm glad you found Rachel for me.

Anonymous said...

My 7-year-old completed 87 out of 100 on her mad minutes, today. Her class has 5 minutes and all 87 addition problems were correct. She's getting an ice cream sundae from her dad, as promised, for beating last week's highest paper. Will have to ask who's been sitting at her table, this week ;o)

Corina said...

Wow. As a fellow "driven" person, I would have been shocked too. And it may be cynical of me to say that today, she is most likely very successful.

Violet said...

That is so sad! I mean, awesome for your lightening-fast skilz, but so sad for your shattered crush, and for her extremely early loss of testing innocence. sigh

Elisa said...

It's so disappointing to find that what you liked in someone is actually... not really there! Sucks. At least you got something positive out of it - you got Mad math skills, yo ;-)

AEA said...

Very dramatic. However, you describe a first grade girl as a "little brunette". Granted, you had a crush on her, but I thought you had reservations about the implicit sexualization of American youth. Or maybe I'm just envious of you.

Backpacking Dad said...

merecat: well, you are welcome :} Congratulations!

corina: probably

violet: yeah. it's sad.

elisa: Mad skillz, yo. Although I don't know if I can do even simple arithmetic anymore.

AEA: wow, dude. You are ASS-uming things on a stellarly obnoxious level. You have lost as many brain cells as hairs on your head, and now I'm not going to help you move your crap out of your office. ;}

Aunt Becky said...

That sneaky cheat! I'm mad on your behalf.

Momo Fali said...

Your first crush AND your first disappointment with a girl. I'm all weepy for you.

Though, that could just be my homemade wine and hormones.

My_Dog_Is_Better said... would she have gotten the answers?

I have a theory and since I've known you, argued with you, and been forced to let you think you're smarter than me for 28 years, I feel highly qualified to develop this theory.

You just always HAVE to be the smartest person and it so killed you that poor little Sara was quicker and better at math, that you were completely traumatized at the end of 1st grade and made up this silly story of a six-year-old cheating (I mean, c'mon) so that you could continue to reign as King of Smart People in your mind.

Poor Sara.

Velma said...

My daughter has to do this right now, and she already confessed that this year she is way more relaxed because the (ahem) super competitive little boy from last year isn't in her class this year...!

THopgood said...

A man of integrity even at the tender age of 6! Impressive!

Trish said...

Wow! Cheating at the age of six! Well, that sure would have been disappointing. I'm with you; I strive to excel. I have no patience for cheating. Good for you, beating her that day.

I bet she's now in school with me. She's one of those people who keep sending me emails asking for assignment answers. I don't know which is more offensive: that they think I'll help them cheat, or that they think I'll do it without compensation. ;)

Kei said...

Wow. I'm flabbergasted. I am so glad you crushed her time and I hope you continued to.

Sammanthia said...

I only cheated once, in high school Chemistry. I felt so bad about it I 'fessed up to the teacher who then gave me a B just for being honest. I never did it again.

Redneck Mommy said...

Wow. Who would have thought that such a warm and fuzzy post such as this would have not one but TWO people from your life schoolin' you.


I must say, having met you and spending quality time with you on the twitter boards, I agree with your sister's assessment of the situation.

Poor Sara. All so you can be the king of the smart people.

You likely broke HER heart that day.

(Wipes away a tear shed for Sara's poor shattered heart.)

Whirlwind said...

daughter's doing those now - 80 problems in 3 minutes. You have to get 78 correct to move to the next set (they start with doubles i.i 1+1, 2+2. 3+3 through 9+9 and them move onto +1'2, +2 etc). She's stuck on +2's right now, but with practice this weekend, she should pass by Mondays. And yes, practicing is allowed, in fact the teacher gave us the sheets to practice on.

Kyddryn said...

Oh, dear, what a letdown!

I am glad you didn't let it deter you from excellence.

Shade and Sweetwater,

Cathy said...

You wanna go head to head? I challenge you to a Mad Minute test!!!

bejewell said...

I'm guessing that today Sara is either a multi-gazillionaire or in prison.

Am I right?

for a different kind of girl said...

Question: 20+1 = ?

Answer: 21

Question: 21-20 = ?

Answer: 1

In a roundabout fashion, the fact that I am the 21st person to comment on this post (assuming I cut down the totally wordy way I have and just POST ALREADY, thus effectively snuffing out the dreams of someone else hoping to be the 21st person) ACTUALLY means that if this was a math problem, I'd be number 1.


I know. You know. It makes sense. I mean, I assume it does. Math was never my strongest subject, but I assure you, I never cheated on my timed math trials. This probably explains why I still can't balance my checkbook, but that just means it makes me happy when it seems like I have more money than I actually do.

You are the king of the Math Minute Math Morals.

for a different kind of girl said...

Yeah! I was 21 (1)!

ilana (Helen) Pengelly said...

When I read that it brought a tear to my eye. Is that the grade school equivalent of steroids at the Olympics?

Bridge said...

I was so excited about the fact that you had a crush on the smart girl - and that your competition with her intrigued and interested you rather than scaring you off. I sometimes wonder whether guys like that exist. Thanks for reminding me that they do.

Gina said...

what kind of 6 year old cheats??

Always Home and Uncool said...

Who knew you were down with O.P.P.

Julia said...

I teach first grade. Actually I teach first and second in one classroom, but that's another story. And let me tell you all something...those little "cherubs" are a sneaky bunch. Their eyes roam the room during a test. If they don't do their homework, a friend will give their paper to them to copy the answers. You turn around, and they try to do something behind your back. Ohhh, they can be bad, really bad. But they, bless their little hearts, always confess. And honestly, that's why I love those stinkers.

BTW...I love your blog!

Backpacking Dad said...

aunt becky: thanks :}

momo fali: that's why I never imbibe homemade hormones.

my_dog_is_better: sis, I have no idea how she got the answers: I'm not a fiction writer, so I don't have to worry about details like that when I tell stories. She had them, and that's all I know about it. Oh, and I am King of the Smart people in my mind because I'm King of the Smart people in the actual world. It's no fun to just trick people into thinking I'm smart. That's what Sara was into, not me.

velma: on behalf of all super-competitive boys: I apologize. But she's not cheating is she??

thopgood: ha!

trish: always hold out for more money.

kei: as far as I recall.

sammanthia: I can never believe anything you say now :}

redneck mommy: You're not helping.

whirlwind: so that's how she got the sheet....

kyddryn: nope.

cathy: no way. I'm retired from math. I choose not to run.

bejewell: or she's working at Karson Kartage and Konstruction (KKK) in Carp as an accountant.

FADKOG: You have blinded me with arithmetic brilliance and I think you ripped a hole in the fabric of reality to make it the case that 21=1. Awesome.

ilana (helena) pengelly: Exaclty!! Disqualify the Hungarian Water Polo Team!!

bridge: I have always, always, crushed on the smart girl.

gina: the kind who gets a way with it.

always home and uncool. Yeah. You know me.

julia: I wonder if Sara ever confessed. Maybe showing me the paper was her confession.

Anissa Mayhew said...

You do have to wonder what drives a first grader to cheat? What sort of uber-perfectionist she called parents that browbeat into her at such an early age that being best at any cost was ok.

Take some pride in your 7 yo inner child that you were cream of the crop and the kid chasing third place was actually trying to beat someone who worked at it.

Tricia said...

A terrible blow for you and I hope there was some sort of a lesson in it for her when you didn't cheat, and beat her.

Laura Iriarte said...

wow...amazing post! I saw you featured on brittany gilberts eye on blogs! yeah for you! :)


Miss Grace said...

At the start of this post, I thought I was reading real-life, math-based Bridge to Terabithia, and sort of freaked myself out at the possibility of Sara dying. I'm glad she didn't.

And this also made me think of my first grade nemesis, Kevin. I was the second in the class on word packs. Kevin was consistently like 10 packs ahead of me. Which is unreal, the difference from one level to the next was usually 1/2 a word pack, at most 2. I COULD NOT KEEP UP.
And I went to school with him all the way through high school, and I NEVER caught up with him, and then he went to West Point. So mine didn't really end in triumph.

Juliw said...

I live in a suburb of Vancouver, and I guess Canadian academia hasn't progressed very much because my daughters' have Mad Minutes as well. And I agree with Julia, kids are darn sneaky...raising them is tricky business. So far I have been able to outsmart them, but my 10 year old is a bit of a genius, and I'm pretty sure I am going down in a blaze of glory pretty soon!