A Chicago Childhood, Aspie-Style

This post is long? Too many words? Good bet your pals aren’t Aspie nerds!

When I am almost three, we move to Chicago, to a cozy brick house on a corner with a front stoop, and back wooden stairs.

Brick Stoop

In the summer, the tall hedge between our back yard and the neighbors’ looks like a fairyland. It is covered in lightning bugs lighting up and turning off their rear ends. It’s very, very pretty to see every summer night.

Coke Bottle Fireflies Animated Gif

Our Hedge Had This Many, All Over It

I am sitting out on the front stoop one day when a bird lands next to me. I have never seen such a bird before! It is a very bright red, and it has the most unusual head I have ever seen. I am so excited, I run inside to tell my mommy about it:

“Mommy! There’s a red bird outside, and it has a point on its head!”

Smiling Cardinal on Berry Branch

See him grin at how photogenic he is?

She says that it is a “cardinal”. From then on, I always like to see cardinals. They have very cute pointy heads, and I will forever think they are special.

Our back yard has violets that grow among the grass. They’re beautiful and if you pick them, they smell nice.


Dime-Sized or Smaller Blooms

There are also some pea plants growing in the grass. That is because we enjoy having big pea-shooter wars with the boys who live down the street. We duck under the back wooden stairs to shoot our peas from a safe place.

The hard dried peas really sting when they hit you, but the wars are fun. It costs a nickel to buy a shooting straw with a small paper bag of peas.

Pea Shooter and Peas


The boys we war with are Stewie and Howie. They’re the same boys who put on puppet shows on some Saturdays. All the kids go to them. They are pretty good. A lot of times, they make us laugh.

The shows are free, but the bags of popcorn cost a nickel. Since everyone buys popcorn, I guess Stewie and Howie do all right for themselves.

My best friend Sharon lives kitty-corner [diagonally] from us. Her big sister is my big sister Joe’s best friend, so that is nice.

Some wild kids live next to Sharon’s house. They are all boys, and there are a lot of them. Sometimes, they take things that don’t belong to them. One day, one of them takes my Blue Fairy book and runs into his house with it. I am really sad and mad. It is my favorite book, and I want it back.

I tell my daddy, and he tells the boys’ daddy. The boys’ daddy goes into their house and comes out with a book he thinks is the right one. He gives it to me. It is not the Blue Fairy book. It is the Green Fairy book. I want my own book back, but I’m too embarrassed to tell him that he got the wrong book. At least the Green Fairy book is a good book, too.

Next door to our house is Jimmy Nothnagel. Jimmy is the luckiest kid ever, because he has a real set of playground monkey bars in his own back yard. They’re the kind that are shaped like a standing-up tube with the bars rounding off at the top.

That is our perfect rocket ship when we play Rocky Jones. Jimmy plays Rocky, and Joe always gets to play Rocky’s girlfriend, Venus*. It isn’t fair. I want to be Venus sometimes.

Rocky Jones and Vena

Dang, Venus! 😮 Good Thing There’s No Wind in Space!

Joe and I watch Rocky Jones and Buck Rogers and Commando Cody on television, and we also watch some Westerns. One day, while we are watching Wyatt Earp**, the phone rings and I answer it. The man asks to talk to our mommy.

I ask him who he is, because I have been taught how to answer a phone the right way. He says his name is Wyatt Earp! I tell Joe, and we both go running into the kitchen.

“Mommy! Wyatt Earp is on the phone!! He’s calling us!!”

It is pretty disappointing when our mommy tells us later that it wasn’t the real Wyatt Earp. It was just an insurance salesman who had Wyatt Earp’s name.

Do you think he tried to call people during that show’s time on purpose, so they would talk to him because they thought it was the TV man?

Joe and I go to the bakery by ourselves when our mommy needs a loaf of bread. It is safe for little girls to walk by themselves through the city and go to the bakery.

Every time we go to buy the bread, the baker gives us a big bag of broken cookie pieces, and we get to eat some on the way home. We love going to the bakery.

Whenever it rains outside, we get very excited, and run to our mommy. She gives us our bathing suits, and a bar of soap. We go outside in our bathing suits and have a soapy shower in the rain. It’s a lot of fun.

Sometimes, we sail our soap boats down the river that the rain makes on the side of the road.

Ivory Snow Soap Boats

One day, we’re playing in that river. We’re making a dam of leaves and pieces of wood stuck in the sewer opening, so that the river starts to turn into a lake. When the cars drive through it, very slowly, they make big waves.

A grown-up comes outside and tells us that we’d better not do that, because the sewers are very important to take the rain water away, and if we dam them up, and other kids do that, the city will flood!

We get very worried, and take apart our dam. We never make that bad thing again.

One summer night, my mommy and daddy are going to have a backyard party. My mommy makes some special food for the party. One plate has little flowers on it that you can eat! Mommy says they are “radish roses”. She lets me taste one, and it is delicious.

Mommy goes inside to make more special food. When she comes back outside, the flower plate is empty. I ate all the roses. Every one of them was just as delicious.

During the party, I watch the lightning bugs decorate the twinkling hedge all night.

On Saturdays, we can go to school if we want to. I can go, too, even before I’m old enough yet for school. Saturdays they have play time at the school.

One time, when Joe takes me, they are playing the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. The children make a line, and take turns being the goats, and climb over a school desk—that is the bridge. I get my turn to be the troll underneath.

I am sitting under the desk, and the first little billy goat comes trip-trap trip-trap over the bridge. As she trip-traps across the desk, her little goat leg comes hanging down in front of the mean troll. The tender goat flesh looks delicious, and I am a mean troll who is going to eat her.

After I bite her hard on the calf, the teacher won’t let me be the troll any more, even though I thought I was doing a very good job.

It's Called ACTing, Lady.

It’s Called ACTing, Lady.

Sometimes, a tired man comes up our backyard wooden steps and knocks on our back kitchen door. It’s a different man every time, but he always has old clothes on. My mommy makes a big meat sandwich for him and gives him something to drink. I know this is my mommy being nice.

One day, my daddy is outside. He is feeding peanuts to the squirrels, because he likes to do that. When he comes inside this time, his thumb is bleeding a lot. The squirrel thought his thumb was a peanut, and he bit it.

Apology Squirrel

One time, my daddy is gone for a long time. When he comes home, I don’t remember him. A big man with shiny teeth and shiny glasses tries to bend over and hug me, and I am scared of him. It takes me a long time to remember my daddy again.

Joe and I have a lot of fun inside our house, not just outside. We do two things that are fun:

We can stand up on the big padded rocker and hold onto the back, facing it, and rock really hard. Sometimes, the rocker tips over. That is scary, but the next time we still rock on it again.

Another thing we do is on the stairs. The stairs to the upstairs have blue carpet on them. We sit on a mattress and slide on it down the stairs all the way to the bottom, like we’re riding a sled. We do it over and over.

One time at night, I am very sick. I can’t get any breath, and I am feeling scared. My mommy takes me out of bed and carries me downstairs, and rocks me and rocks me in that big padded rocker until we see the sun rise.

She sings “Turra-Lurra-Lurra” to me. I like that song.

One day, I am out on the front sidewalk, riding my red tricycle.
I am leaning low over the handlebars, peddling and peddling as hard as I can. I want to see how fast I can go. I am happy. I can go very fast!

Happy Child on Red Tricycle

Look At ME!!!

The tricycle hits a bump, and I tip over forward. My chin hits the sidewalk.

It happens in front of the Nothnagels’ house, and that is where my mommy is. I go up their stairs and into their living room. Blood is coming out of my chin.

My mommy is sitting talking with Mrs. Nothnagel, and she is also sewing some red corduroy overalls that are small. Maybe they are for my little brother. When she sees me come in, she takes the needle out and pushes the red pants onto my red chin. I think that is pretty interesting.

I don’t remember hurting. I have a nice scar now.

Another time I get cut is when I am chasing my big sister. She is escaping, and I don’t want her to. She runs out the kitchen door.

I put my hand out to push it open and chase after her. My hand goes through the door glass.

I remember sitting in the kitchen chair afterward with the sun shining in the window and my mommy doing something with a cloth. After that, we are at the doctor.

I get to see the inside of my wrist before he sews it shut. I like to see what the inside looks like. I didn’t know it looked like that!

One thing I really like about Chicago is getting to go to the fires.

Whenever there is an old, run-down house, the firefighters drive around the neighborhood and pick us kids up. We get to ride on their big firetruck and watch them burn the house down!

There is nothing better than that, I think!

Happy Girl At House Fire



* Venus’s correct name was Vena, but we thought it was Venus. Our name makes more sense for a space-explorer.

** Wyatt Earp was a real person

Tic-Tac-Toe Affection, and Apologies


I’ve been thinking: We all throw those X’s around, but those are kisses. I guess it’s because just O’s would look like nothing, literally.

Zero Dollars

“Gamma loves you THIS much!”

But I’m not a smoochies kind of person.

I’m not really much of a hugs kind of person except for my good friends, with whom I now have learned to feel comfortable exchanging a warm hug of greeting and goodbye.

Awkward Hug

Thank Goodness I No Longer Look Like This!

Better Hug Approach

This is MUCH Better! Almost Touching!

I’ve even advanced to hugs of spontaneous delight–such a non-Aspie I’m becoming in my old age!

Two Asian Women Doing An Alternate Fist Bump

This IS How You Hug–Right?

So, anyhow, I’m still Aspie enough that I feel odd throwing all these kisses around (although they look like hugs to me–like arms crossed, which could be the arms of two friends in an embrace).

And I’d only give one hug, which would mean I’m putting just one O. How bad would THAT look?:

“Bye, friend, here’s what I think of you:

Cookie Say Hi

Do You Know What This Illustration Has To Do With The Text Above? 😈 Nothing.

What’s a weird kid to do?

I’m just going to have to come up with my own keyboard-created emoji that indicates “warmth”.

The closest I’ve gotten is one I didn’t invent, but have been using. It’s pretty indicative of my non-virtual personality, but it doesn’t get the “hug” concept across, so I’ve still got to work on that.



All this X and O stuff was the actual end of an email to a friend–one who shall remain nameless.

(HERE, Thieu–she HAS a name, I’m just not putting it HERE. 🙄 )

This friend suggested I make it into a post.


This is the same friend, and the same email, which included the rant about our WordPress Overlords and the new editor.

I owe that friend an apology, because in my last post, I claimed she’d suggested I post the rant, but I now realize she meant only the X vs. O stuff.

She is far nicer than I. I think she would think that posting my rant, rather than gently bringing my points to the attention of our Overlords, was a low-down mean-spirited thing to do.

WordPress Overlords? You apologized to me once for abysmal treatment.
I now apologize to you for, not abysmal treatment, but possibly not-nice treatment.

My Bad Frowny Sign

*** EDIT Monday, June 8 ***

I was asked “WHAT abysmal treatment had the WP folks DONE to me?” I started thinking back to what those “happiness” engineers had done, and…felt like taking back my apology:

(1) My blog wasn’t working fully due to one bug. Iphone access to it wasn’t working fully due to another one.

(2) When I reported each bug, I received this in response: 0. A hug. So after a week or so of silence, I re-reported. Same, and more of the same: 0000 (It looks like lots of hugs. Why did I not feel the love?)

(3) Also: I was locked out of the normal method used to report bugs, so there was that bug, too, which made reporting trickier. THAT bug was actually TWO bugs: One flavor in Windows on my ASUS tablet, and another on the Iphone.

(4) Still more: I was locked out of the usual method used to READ any response from the happy, happy engineers. I of course had reported to this to them in my back-door-delivered bug-report. I asked them, due to this, to please reply instead via email.

(5) Guess HOW our happy engineers replied? That’s right: Using the method that their bug prevented me from reading.

(6) Guess what they did when I didn’t respond to the message I couldn’t see? Closed the bug report due to my non-response.

(7) When I lambasted them, ungently, and understandably, for their handling of my issue to that point? Rather than an apology, I received a profoundly rude response. Back when I had I.T. staff reporting to me, that response would have earmarked someone for firing, unless their dog had just died.


I just had to include this kissy photo I found when googling “reluctant hug”, ’cause I loved it:

Mom Kissing Reluctant Daughter


The Home I Used To Have, The Me I Used To Be

“I am very happy, but I am acting sad…”
I am living in a small white wooden house in Oak Lawn, Illinois.
I am sitting across the street from that house, on the grass in the sunshine on a beautiful day. Three other children are sitting in a small circle around me. I am very happy, but I am acting sad while I rub my eyes and the children sing. They are singing about me:
“Little Sally Sau-cer,
Sitting in the wa-ter,
Cry, Sally, cry…
Cry out your eyes…”
I stand up, eyes closed, one arm out straight with finger pointing, and turn slowly, pivoting back and forth while they finish singing:
“Turn to the East,
And turn to the West,
And turn to the one
That you love best!”
I stop, and open my eyes. The child I point at will take my place in the circle.
I am two years old.
I love that happy memory.
We have a large weeping willow on the front lawn. Its long, trailing branches reach down to the ground all around. I can go inside this curtain and sit on the soft grass floor underneath. I’m surrounded by green, and no one can see me. I spend a lot of time inside this friendly tree.
Inside a Weeping Willow
I remember the day my sister Joe’s friend, an older boy, set our roof on fire. (Some of you better know Joe now as Macy Girl.)
Joe’s friend was playing with a firecracker, and threw it up there. The fire was burning almost over the front door. Joe went inside our house. I stayed outside and watched the fire burn. It was very interesting, to see our house on fire! I sat down on the grass to watch some more. My daddy came outside in a hurry with a big metal bucket, and told me to move back. He threw water on the roof to put out the fire. He hit it with the water the very first time, and the whole fire went out, just like that. It left a burned-looking spot.
I’m glad I got to see that.
I have one memory when I was a tiny bit sad and another one when I was mad.
I am still two years old, and I have pneumonia. My mommy won’t let me go outside to play. I remember not breathing well, but I don’t remember thinking I was sick. I’m standing by the front screen door, looking out at the outside and the other kids playing, and I want to go outside, too. I’m wearing my footsie pajamas, which are nice and cuddly, but I wish I could go outside in them!
The mad time is when I see my daddy way up the big, big, wide stairs that go to the attic. He is very far away, and he is looking down at me through a square hole. His head looks little, and his smiling teeth and his glasses are shining. Joe is up there looking at me, too. I hate to see them looking down at me. My daddy won’t let me come up. I say “How come Joe gets to go up?” He says “You’re too little.”
That makes me mad.
My most exciting Oak Lawn memory is about a bug.
Joe and I are in the living room. I’m sitting on the floor next to the fireplace. I’m watching a narrow brown bug crawling across the bricks on the hearth. All of a sudden, its rear end lights up!
“Joe! Joe! This bug has a light!”
She comes running over. We both watch the bug walking. Its rear end lights up, and then turns off, and then lights up again. What an amazing bug that is! I am so very happy to see a bug like that!
Firefly on Finger
I learned to how to read in Oak Lawn. I could already read, but I didn’t know how to read.
One day, I am sitting in the back seat of the car. (It is a black-and-white De Soto the same age that I am.)
1956 Black and White De Soto
We are waiting to go somewhere, and the car is nice and warm, and I am reading my favorite book. It is a board book, and it is about Mrs. Squirrel. I like the story, and I like the pictures a lot. They show real squirrels with clothes on. (They might not be really real, but the pictures are photographs, not drawings, and Mrs. Squirrel has fur, and shiny eyes.)

In one part of the story, a friend of Mrs. Squirrel’s compliments her new hat. I can see why. It is a lovely straw hat with a wide brim and colored flowers. The friend says to Mrs. Squirrel:

“That is a be-a-u-ti-ful hat!”

That is when I learn how to read. I can hear the voice of Mrs. Squirrel’s friend, and now I understand that bigger words have pieces. You can read them by reading all the pieces.

Today, every time I write the word beautiful, I always remember that discovery. In my head, I still hear each word piece, and I see again Mrs. Squirrel wearing her nice new hat.
She looks very pretty!

A Lovely Hat But Not Mrs Squirrel

Not My Mrs. Squirrel, But Another Lovely Hat/Squirrel Combination

Revisiting the Oak Lawn house when older, I learn that the wide, wide attic stairs are a tiny pull-down ladder barely a foot wide, with each step only four inches deep. To a two-year-old, objects may be bigger than they appear in later life.
Attempting to revisit the Oak Lawn house when even older, I fail. A tornado has left the houses on either side untouched, but removed all evidence of my home. The front-yard well that provided water to the family of my early memories is now an empty dry hole.

Learning to Cheat and Steal

Most kids play board games in three stages:

(1) Little kids ignore rules, or learn them but cheat anyway. They think their own cheating is okay, but not anyone else’s.


At this stage, parents let them win. As they should.

(2) By age six or seven, parents let kids start to lose a few games. Ouch! Cheating stops. Kids learn that games played by the rules can be fun!

Not Thinking “How Can I Cheat?”. Thinking “I’ve Got Him Beat!” (Poor Grammar, But Great Winning Attitude, Sugah!)


(3) When kids reach nine, or ten, say–cheating often starts again. Only this time, it’s creative.

Not Always That Creative.


Older kids understand there are subtle unwritten game rules. These are trickier to learn and master. Rules that tell which games do allow certain types of cheating, and which tricks you can get away with without getting “in trouble”–or perhaps just frowned upon by parents or peers.

Cheating at games is so accepted in our culture that it can be the most fun part of a game. Ned Cuthbert thought so in 1865 when he stole second base for (arguably) the first time.

And who hasn’t made backdoor Monopoly deals with a favored sibling (sister/brother) to borrow a hotel (or four!) for Park Place in order to drive another sibling out of the game with extortionate (too-high) rent?


As I child, I had some trouble with these ideas, having Asperger’s. We Aspies have trouble understanding which rules apply in which situations. When was it okay to cheat? Why could some kids get away with cheating, and others not?

How Do Some People Know That God Loves Them More Than the Rest of Us?


When I became a big grown-up and joined the corporate world, I discovered that most grown-ups learn corporate games in similar steps:

(1) They immediately cheat in little ways after learning the basic rules at their company: Taking home office supplies, lying on timesheets, playing games during work time, padding expense accounts.

(2) Some cheaters get caught and get their wrists slapped. They follow the rules for a while after that, and really put their nosies to backside posies.

Top-Notch Censorship Expert Currently Available For Hire. Bonus: Mouth Comes Pre-Puckered and Ready for Dorsal Docking.

(3) But after enough time at a company, the cheating often starts again. And it gets more creative.

It’s Not Lying, It’s Imaginative Truthiness.


Poor Aspie me had trouble again. I was shocked by level l “borrowing” of pencils from the stockroom. “That’s stealing!” Imagine me later when the generally-accepted lifting of supplies at one company where I worked extended to staff walking out the door with laptops and printers, and coming in on weekends to dig up the landscaping for their home gardens. The company simply kept replacing the hoovered plants.

To An Aspie, Corporate Game Rules Are Equally Ever-Changing.


The way the level 3 “creative winning” stuff was broadly admired across all the companies at which I worked was appalling to me. It still is. Even the prey beasts of nasty corporate gameplayers begrudgingly admired their predators. I don’t get it. I don’t understand you neurotypicals (non-Aspies)–and I never will.

One incident that occurred in my very first year as a programmer has stuck with me. I wish it hadn’t.

A very talented programmer, Mandy, had reached out to me and taken me under her wing to mentor, entirely of her own accord. I admired her tremendously. When she noticed someone floundering, she immediately assisted, no matter her own workload demands.

“And This Is How You Switch Back From Netflix When The Head Exec Walks By…”


Julie was struggling on the late afternoon of a three-day project due the next day. Mandy asked, “Can you use some help?”

“Oh, my gosh, yes!”

Julie described what was needed. (She basically needed to develop a cross-referenced index of data base variables found across multiple files.) Mandy gave Julie some suggestions on approach, and shortcuts to get it done.

“Great! Thank you SO much!” enthused a now-happy Julie.

The next morning, a frazzled-looking Julie showed up late for work.

Mandy: “Is everything all right, Julie?”
Julie: “No. I worked all night, and I just couldn’t do it.”
Mandy: “Well show me what you have.”
Julie: “I..I don’t have anything.”

Mandy: “……!”

(Mandy was trying to control her face. So was I, over in my eavesdropping corner.)

Wowzers! Julie’s Project Wasn’t Make-Work. There Were Real Customers Waiting For Real Stuff. (Sidebar: I am totally going to copy that Lego guy ring idea! How cute are they?)


Then, Mandy reached into her attaché case…and pulled out a hand-written preliminary draft version of Julie’s project.

Mandy: “I hope you won’t be upset with me, Julie, but you looked so worried yesterday, and since the project is due at lunch today, I went ahead and worked up a very rough outline to give you an idea of what I was talking about. You still have a few hours before you have to turn in your results. Maybe you can take this as a starting point and get your project done by fleshing this out and typing up your notes.”

Julie: “Mandy!” (throwing her arms around her)


• Julie turned straight around from Mandy’s arms,

• Typed up a new coversheet with HER name on the cover page,

• Hand-delivered “her” report a full three hours ahead of schedule.

Oh No She DIDN’T.


But that’s not the good part. The good part is that, obviously, Mandy found out almost immediately. Even the Vice-President who received the report from Julie’s hands knew it wasn’t Julie’s work, or handwriting. But he still praised Julie, PUBLICLY, for her great work on the project. AND GAVE HER A PROMOTION.

Oh No He DIDN’T!


And the entire staff–with the exception of Mandy and I–thought that what Julie had done took the “admirable” kind of chutzpah. Julie, and everyone else, expected that she and Mandy would still get along just as they had previously.

I Don’t Understand. I’ll Never Understand. I Don’t Want To Understand.

Addendums on Sexism

(1) Although the culprit in my tale is female, it is possible that the corporate climate I describe is more a male than female norm.

“Yes, Virginia, There IS (One) Demonstrated Biologic Gender Difference That Affects Judgement.”

“Research suggests that substantial benefits can be reaped from a more gender-balanced global workforce.”

“Paul J. Zak, founding director of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies at Claremont University, has found…Men under stress tend to secrete high levels of testosterone and become aggressive. Women under stress secrete oxytocin… Due to these hormonal differences, Zak says, women tend to be more effective than men when managing a team of people who have to work cooperatively. Oxytocin increases empathy, patience, and trust…”

“Economists are breaking important ground, too. In 2011, the French academic Marie-Pierre Dargnies’s mixed-gender competition study found that financial teams comprised of men only were less likely to perform well than mixed teams.”

So, it would appear that, contrary to the old (male) “wisdom” that women aren’t suited to be in charge of anything, pilot a plane, etc. due to their raging hormones, it is instead men who are ill-suited to be in charge of anything due to their own literally-raging hormone.

However, perhaps more females and increased teamwork won’t alter the cheating, thieving climate I see as amoral:

Cheating Teamwork

Oxytocin Doing Its Excellent Work

(2) The only form of corporate cheating which was broadly despised at my companies? Women who had slept their way into a position—or who were assumed to have done so. This was considered an unfair advantage by both male and female employees. Yet the male who golfed and was drinking buds with the prez? S’cool. Another who was in line to marry his daughter? Copacetic.

Addendum on Comedy Writing

One of the funniest comedic pieces I’ve ever read is about a chess game played by penpals where both parties are cheating. (TOTAL SPOILER ALERTS HERE.) With no way for either to check the board of the other, and the games and claims growing more divergent, the worst cheater of the two finally suggests they throw in the towel and switch to Scrabble (!). He then announces that he has “just by happenstance” drawn the perfect tiles to play the highest-scoring possible eight-letter word in the game.

(I’d refer you to the piece—I know the title and author—but there is a personal reason I will not. This is why I also issued the spoiler without regret.)

Addendum on What Prompted Me to Write This Post

Last night, I momentarily neglected to credit Michelle at the green study with her great generosity in steering people toward my blog. One theft I despise is credit theft, and a close second is the sin of omission in this regard. My fault last night reminded me of what Julie had done to Mandy.

Today I learned that Maggie at The Zombies Ate My Brains has ALSO steered people to my blog!

Thank you so very much, Michelle and Maggie. Appreciative bows to you both! That the talented writers of two popular blogs have been so kind is deeply appreciated.

That this blog is STILL so lightly read after TWO boost-ups? Credit for THAT is entirely mine : )


A Young Aspie Figures Out Figures

Derp-Alert:  Run away! Head for the next post. This post is of possible interest only to:  Math nerds, some teachers, bored Aspies, parents and friends of Aspies, and regular folk who have finished the back of the toothpaste tube for the n-teenth time and are looking for something with a little more bite (heh, heh–oh, Outlier Babe, you are a laugh riot…).

If This is What Looks Back At You Each Morning, This Post Is For YOU

At age 6, I starting thinking:  “Numbers don’t make any sense.” Why did we decide to represent four objects by the thing that looks like this ?:

The Number 4 Asks Nu

Nu? You’re Asking ME?

Roman numerals were very logical.

...Four Dead Christians, Five Dead Christians...

Arabic ones seemed arbitrary, but I reasoned that there must be a logical basis for them, too. So I sat in Mrs. Thompson’s 2nd grade class writing the numbers 1 through 9 over and over on a piece of paper.

I kept experimenting until I finally figured it out:   It made so much sense!  It all had to do with angles:

Click the Pic for a Lovely Animation of Types of Angles

Just like the Arabs (as I surmised) I drew straight-lined angular digits: A 1 with a single top hook forming 1 angle, a zig-zag 2 having 2 angles, and so on. I was so proud I’d solved the puzzle!

Interfering somewhat with my joy, I’d had to add a distinctly maze-like curl to the tail of the 9 in order to provide sufficient angles, and a base and a European crossbar to the number 7. 

But I was far too pleased with myself my hypothesis to abandon it over these huge, gaping minor failings. 

Here are the numbers exactly as I drew them:

From Jeff's Lunchbreak:  Origin of Arabic Numerals (http://www.jefflewis.net/blog/2009/10/origin_of_arabic_numerals_was_1.html)

1 Through 4 Were No-Brainers

Roman Numeral Trivia: Even after Arabic numbers were adopted, Roman numerals were still sometimes preferred to Arabic ones during medieval times for their reasonable security against fiscal fraud.

For example, any digit of the number 2381 can be altered to cause a substantial difference (as much as 7000 by changing the 2 to a 9), but the equivalent MMCCCLXXXI cannot be easily altered to produce a new number.

– From Math Lair, Roman Numerals


5, 6, and 8 Were Easy, Too. But 7 Is Quite the Cheat...

(I can’t tell you how stunned I was to find my exact original numerals online–as well as other angle-based versions–and to discover for the first time when writing this post that others had also theorized that angles were behind the shapes of Arabic numbers.

Shout-out to my fellow geeks!


...And What a Curly-Tailed Workaround For Number 9!

I liked that my hypothesis explained why Mrs. Thompson insisted we write the number 4 the closed-top triangle way, like it appeared in our math book, instead of the way most people wrote it:

Numberjacks Howdy-Do Four

The “Howdy!” Way of Writing the Number 4 (From “Numberjacks”

Written the “Howdy Do!” way, the number 4 had five angles instead of four, so of course that way was wrong!

Another Reason To Use the Triangle-y Four

I further theorized that over time, people had gotten tired of drawing the 9’s complicated loop-de-loop tail, so they just kind of unwound it until the digit’s whole spine developed scoliosis.

The 7 lost its extra horizontal lines due to laziness, too (except in England, where they aren’t as lazy as we  Americans). 

Yes, I was quite the scientific thinker at my grand old age of 6.

An Even Dumber Classmate

A bonus benefit to my hypothesis was that I was able to use touch math from then on whenever I did addition:

I had already been using it for the digits 2 and 3, touching each pointy digit tip with my pointy pencil tip. (There are two points on the left side of the 2, three on the left of the 3.)  When I added 2 plus 3, I just counted up as I touched each point:

1-2-3-4-5” .

Hear the Strauss? 1-2-3, 1-2-3...

Now I could do the same thing for the bigger digits, by touching each angle (or its imagined historical position) and counting up on those.  Nice.

Many children devise digit-touch systems. A highly-talented Math instructor once told me that these are the children who become stronger in math concepts.

One of My Old Math Teachers Just Heard That...

He said research suggests that children who don’t develop their own touch systems can be taught one to gain the same advantages.

There are commercially-available and cost-free touch math systems. The touch positions on digits differ among systems.

The most prevalent commercial system is Touch Math, described in the References. I take issue with that program’s name, and some of its features, also explained in the References.

Because I was weak in math, it’s too bad no teacher back then introduced me to dice math: 

To instantly recognize the numbers up to 12 visualized like they are on die faces, and to automatically add and subtract by these groups.  Now THAT would have been at least as helpful as touch math.

Dem Bones, Dem Bones Is...Great Fo' Math!

A gentleman named Owen Prince realized this many years back, and developed a dice-based touch math system he copyrighted as Dot Math:

Dot Math Keypad, copyright Owen Prince, from DotMath for kids, http://dotmath.tripod.com/index.html

Dot Math Keypad, copyrighted by Owen Prince, from DotMath for Kids

Some of the opinion portions of Mr. Prince’s site are worded in a way that sounds a little…well…hmmm…perhaps it’s better not to say.

However, I recommend a visit there, anyhow, because his concept is worthwhile and because, after all the “copyright dispute” text (you’ll see what I mean), he gives a lovely, if oddly-worded, helpful review of math resources.

Please see also his Comment on this post, because he gives a detailed, impassioned and, to me, convincing argument in favor of using his system over the commercial Touch Math’s approach.

Okay, this post should end right here, but it’s just gonna keep going and going, so if you’re wise, you’ll stop reading now and go have a nice cup of tea. Enjoy!

Oh–I guess you may as well read the rest while it cools down, then, yeah?

Entirely off-topic, but another helpful idea: 

That same talented math teacher, of 1st graders, did not teach or use the English words for 11 through 19 in his classroom until the end of the year. 

He had his children use the Asian nomenclature “ten-one (versus “eleven”), ten-two (for “twelve”), ten-three…”.  He continued this pattern when using his number poster that displayed numbers up to 100 (so, for “55” he said “five-ten-five”).

This teacher considered this a key feature in enabling his students to retain the place value concepts that he felt they developed naturally but which were otherwise interfered with by English number terminology.

Happy Grandma Ratty: “Let’s See: That’s 5-ten Baby Ratties In Those Last Litters, Each Baby Will Have 10 More Babies…

Each year, all of that talented teacher’s 1st grade students ended their first year in school testing at a 3rd grade Math level.

(BTW, I can say from budget-driven experience that Cheerios threaded onto coffee stirrers stuck vertically into clay work just fine for abacuses, if you can prevent snacking to hide evidence of miscalculations.)

Relevant:  From a June, 2010 review of  literature on cross-cultural mathematics instructional and learning, Chinese Number Words, Culture, and Mathematics:

“Although it is not possible to disentangle the influences of linguistic, cultural, and contextual factors on mathematics performance, language is still seen as contributing to early cross-national differences in mathematics attainment.”

Imagine if every classroom across America instituted that teacher’s simple terminology change today. 

Easily implemented, easily taught to teachers with five minutes of instruction (“Start doing it, it will feel odd, but it works, it’s easy to do, you’ll get used to it”). 

Or, pick the 10 lowest-performing schools in each state and implement this in 5 of them.  Compare the 10 schools in two years.  Bet you’ll net impressive results in those 5 out of 10!

More on Asian Number Names

Another interesting reference on English vs. Asian Place Value Concepts and Number Words

Touch Math vs. touch math

Note the capitalization: In this post, lowercase “touch math” means the generic touching of digits. It is irksome that TouchMath was permitted to copyright a phrase that can apply equally to non-commercial uses, and to uses other than touching pencil to paper.

The two words “touch math” could as easily mean the same as “hands-on Math”, such as the touching of beads or any items used to help in counting.

More on Touch Math

The commercial “Touch Math” program’s addition demonstration in 50 seconds (the program also supports other operations):

TouchMath can be effective, but it would have caused problems for me and my particular flavor of Aspie-ness, and I bet the same factors could bother other kids, too:

A) “Double touch points“.

As shown in the video, some touch points/dots count as 1, but others as 2. Remember that each spot will be an imagined tiny speck on the child’s own hand-drawn digits when actually used.)

I was a Math-phobic Aspie child. Different-valued dots would have given me the mental screaming-meemies.

B) Random positions of touch points.

The digits 7 and 9 in particular look like a confused scattering of dotted nonsense.

My particular flavor of Aspergers still freaks when confronted with this type of disorganization.

We're Just Going to Put a Touch Point Here...and Here...and HERE!!

C) Touch points on top of digits, rather than adjacent.

This is off-putting for me as an adult; when a child, I believe it would have made it difficult for me to use the touch points with my handwritten digits.

The Dot Math’s Mr. Prince claims that he has research demonstrating that for some students this interferes with transference of skills to regular non-dotted digits. That is why his system, which originally had dots atop digits, was revised to have them adjacent. I would love to see research on this issue.

An ideological objection:

No generic phrase should be cornered by a commercial product. One can no longer perform a google search for anything to do with the generic concept–I had to plod through 29 pages of results before landing on one reference to non-copyrighted material: a lone research paper I found on Eric (and even that one may refer to the Big Touch).

Further, the two words “touch math” can easily be applied to any mathematical manipulation of real or virtual three-dimensional objects (e.g. counters, graph paper, a balance…).  How about if I copyright the phrase “Edit Post”, or “Code HTML”? How about this one?:

Bite. Me.

Okay, the post is finally finished. You’d better go stick that tea in the microwave. Careful this time…


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