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Over the summer, Second Son came to the decision that he was ready to get serious about school and graduate. This was music to my ears, of course, because the first two years of high school for him appeared to me to be all about everything BUT getting an education and graduating.

He’s had an interesting time of it this year because he’s fighting to catch up in the general sense, and also in the more specific sense because he got a bad case of gastroentritis in late September that kept him out of school for a 9-day stretch, and a couple additional relapses since have his total number of days missed up to around 15. When you’re carrying a full, 7-hour load of college prep classes, missing that much school in the space of six weeks really sets you back.

He’s sixteen now, and one of the other goals he’s working toward is getting a driver’s license. Being the mean mom that I am, I have set conditions on when he can even go take the test and try: when he has a 2.5 GPA. Not unreasonable, in my estimation. And he was really looking forward to progress report time to show me that he had achieved that, and then some – and then the gastroentritis hit.

Throughout this catch-up process, I have made myself available to assist him with homework, and we’ve covered everything from neural transmitters in Physics and Anatomy to allegory in English III to ecosystems in his Environmental Science AP class. He’s made comments about how smart I am, always with an element of surprise in his voice, but also a bit of resistance to the idea that he might, too, have those kind of smarts because that would be entirely too geeky for the jock persona he’s cultivating for himself. (And, let’s not mention the accountability issues…)

But the other night took the cake and, in the process, he made my day.

He was working on Geometry, and like him, that’s one of my least favorite subjects. I can’t to this day tell you the names of the concepts taught, or show you a congruent angle to save my life. But I can work the shit out of some geometry problems by applying simple logic.

Here’s the problem he was trying to solve:

He had to determine the number of degrees in angle A.

So, I asked him what he knew about the angles in the diagram. He just kind of looked at me, like he was thinking, “Look at the diagram, Mom – that’s what I know.”

So I said, “Angle A is 32 degrees.” (Admittedly, I wanted to impress him.)

Incredulous, he looked at me and asked, “How the hell do you know that?!?”

And here is the Geometry-according-to-a-middle-aged-mom-living-in-the-real-world answer I gave:

“Ok, son – here’s what I know when I look at this:

The corners of the outside rectangle are right angles which mean they are 90 degrees.

The lines creating the 4 triangles in the middle of the rectangle meet in exactly the middle, and if this were a perfect square, that would make angle A 45 degrees, because it’d be exactly half of 90. But this isn’t a square, so it’s not 45 degrees, it’s probably less, because just from looking at the diagram, angle A looks more squished than the one that, when added to it, makes up that right angle in that corner of the rectangle.

I also know that because the lines cross in the middle of the rectangle, whatever angle A is, the angle that makes up the opposite corner of that particular triangle is the same number of degrees, whatever that is.

Finally, I know that the total number of degrees represented by all 3 inside angles of a triangle is 180, because if you rolled its three sides out flat they’d be a straight line, and the number of degrees in a straight line is 180.

So…180 minus 116 (the angle I know) is 64. And since the other two angles have to be equal, I just divide 64 in half….so…angle A is 32.”

Contemplatively, he took his paper back, turned to walk away, stopped, looked back at me and said, “You’re the smartest person I know.”

And with that, he made my day.