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Faking It

During an interview with Kira Vermond, who pens a column called “The Money Shrink” for Chatelaine magazine, I explained to her that I had sworn off saying “I’m not good with numbers” … or variations thereof.

Not only does it sound dippy and stereotypical, but it’s not true. Sure, I’m no math genius. But I’m also not completely inept either. In fact, I’d hazard a guess to say that I’m just as competent with numbers as most of the men I work with. Yet, I have never — ever — heard a man say, “I’m so bad at math!” It just seems more acceptable for women to make this kind of proclamation, like it’s a key into the girls’ club.

Vermond’s column in the Chatelaine’s March issue makes this thought-provoking comparison:

Maybe you’ve been out for dinner with friends and someone at the table passes the restaurant bill off, saying, “I hope I’m leaving the right amount. I can’t do numbers!” And here’s what happens next: The other women laugh and admit to their own arithmetic atrophy.

Now imagine the same group of friends looking over their menus and someone saying, “I’m such a poor reader. Honestly, if you were to put a book in front of me, I wouldn’t be able to get past the first sentence! Will you help me order?”

As they say, arithmetic and reading are basic skills. So why would I consider it acceptable to publicly pronounce that I’m hopeless at one of them? But I have. And it never really bothered me.

Until I had a daughter.

Now, it’s a whole new world. What I say, she may model. If I say that my butt is too big, she will think that a normal size woman’s butt is too big. I don’t want her to absorb this distorted perception. Or worse, apply it to herself. So since she has been born, I try to be sooo careful with what I say around body image. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fully transform my own perceptions built over 38 years and layered with a decade of ballet. So I fake it.

And I do the same with math. As the expression goes, “Fake it till you make it.” And so far, so good. Just yesterday afternoon, Stella wanted me to play a card game she had created. It involved subtracting numbers until a player ended up at zero. For grade 2, it was fairly heady stuff. But it didn’t even occur to her that she should feel less capable at math than at reading. When she struggled with an answer, I didn’t dare mention that I was struggling too. I simply provided her with a tip on how to get to the right number. I was faking the confidence. But she didn’t know. On the next turn, she got the answer correct using my tip, and I could hear her exclaim under her breath, “Yeah! I’m good at this.” Oh, my heart smiled.

I may never make it. But I’m going to keep faking it.


  1. Just found your post and had to comment! It’s brilliant! I have 2 daughters ages 8 and 11 and I am in a sense of hyper awareness of how I present myself, my weakness, my strengths, even my fear of the dentist!
    So well written. Thanks for sharing:)

  2. As soon we we had kids it made me reasses a lot of things. Swearing, for example. I never swear in front of the kids anymore. And I totally fake math confidence. Funny thing, despite all my efforts, math skills (or lack therof) seem to be genetic. *sigh*

    I also pretend I don’t have any body issues. I loudly proclaim how much I love my body/butt/squishy parts meanwhile I’m struggling to find a pair of jeans/bathing suit/whatever to minimize the aforementioned. *sigh*

    p.s. I went to school with Kira. I love her columns.

  3. Very true. I can’t see men having the same conversation…

    One of the things I struggle is making sure I don’t pass on my many irrational fears to The Boy. I want him to try things — forces me to try things as well. (And that’s not a bad thing.)

  4. I actually saw this article at my hairdresser’s last week and kept meaning to comment to you. I was all excited….Hey, I know her. Wait, not really, but yeah, I kind of do. OK, I just FEEL like I know her.
    Anyway, well done! You are so much more eloquent that I :)

  5. Very good. I’ve never thought of it this way and I think I’ve already passed on my number issues to my daughter. Although every tax season she stands all perplexed watching me do my taxes and asking how I know how to do that? Hot diggity. I’m going to try and fake my way through other math-related stuff from now on.

  6. I, lucky mom that I am, have BOYS. Not only do I simply tell them of course I know everything, have no trouble showing off my math genius, BUT I get to pretend I love to touch snakes and have to make reasonable facsimiles of catching frogs. Ugh. I guess, maybe Stella’s mom might get THAT!!!

  7. Yes! This is a comforting post. I am faking it ALL the time with my two girls. Math, body image, speaking up, positive talk about certain family members etc. I got caught for not faking it when a friend asked me to take a learn to play hockey program with her. In front of my children and friends I laughed and said “I could NEVER learn…I’m too old…I can’t skate…I am terrible at sports” blah blah My girls looked at me incredulously and threw all my encouraging parental babble back at me – “Why not?! You have never even tried, how do you know? You can do it.” I thought about my words all night and the next morning faked it and signed up at 40 to learn a new sport. Turns out, I really love it. I hope that if I keep faking the parenting talk…I will start to mean/live my words too. Maybe.

  8. Modern Mom – Thanks for visiting! So glad you could relate to the post too.

    Andrea – hah! I totally do that about my stomach too and other bits too.

    Nat – Yes, same applies for all children, doesn’t it? It pushes us to become the kind of people we want them to become.

    Finola – Of couse you know me! We’re bloggy friends! I talk about other bloggers to my husband as if they’re friends I just had coffee with!

    XUP – never too late though, right?

    Stefanie – haha! Don’t you know it … with Stella’s interest in snakes and insects and everything ick — I am constantly kicking back my own “girly” fear of these things and pretending that they are so cool and interesting too so that she is encouraged.

    Laura – that is so great about the hockey! Stella has done that for me with outdoor activities. I’m not into it at all, bu as my “winter resolution series” attests, I am going to fake it till I make it too!

  9. Oh yeah..My 5 year old had me adding in various increments..10’s, 15, etc…up and up…It was like being in school all over I surreptitiously counted on my fingers and PRAYED I was right.

    I do suck at math..I always have. So yeah..totally faking it with the kids now.

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