vintage-teacherMy oldest daughter is in the home stretch of her freshman year. She will be home in her own room for the entire summer in 7 days – 7 short days. But first she needs to survive finals.

I found spring finals to be harder than the ones right before Christmas. Perhaps it’s because it’s not only the end of the semester, but the end of the entire school year. In addition to taking your tests and handing in final papers, you leave your room and your friends and come back to an entirely new scenario the following fall.

When I was a freshman my spring semester was a toughie. I had two classes that took up most of my time – American Art History and a basic dunce math class. By the time finals came around I was ready to throw both books into on-coming traffic on I-95.

The art history class was tough because the teacher spoke so fast. You wrote in a frenzied panic as she flipped through slide after slide. By the time the 90 minutes was over you were exhausted – and your writing hand felt like a club. Then you had to go home and make sense of the 23 pages of cat scratch you took down. Add to that the memorizing of names, dates and periods of at least 100 paintings, sculptures and architectural masterpieces.

I got a 99 on that final. The teacher actually wrote me a postcard saying she took the point off just because she hates giving 100s.

But Math? That was a totally different story. It was an idiotic freshman math class that everyone who didn’t place out had to take. And it wasn’t so much that the math was hard, it was the way they had the class set up that really messed with your brain.

The course was set up like a game of Russian roulette. There were 3 tests and a final. If you failed any one test, you failed the course. Even if you got 100s on every single test but you failed the final, you failed the course. And failure wasn’t your typical below 60 score. Anything below a 75 was considered an F. Most of the tests were 20 questions, so if my remedial math skills are correct, if you missed more than 5, you failed.

I saw kids drop like flies over the course of the semester, having been handed their “F” on one exam or another – I somehow managed to pass them all. The math final was the very last test I had to take that semester. As I solved each problem, I wrote my answers down on a sheet of scratch paper. After all the exams were handed in the professor revealed the answers on the overhead projector. This way you could know your fate without having to spend a few agonizing weeks waiting to get your results via the US postal.

As I worked my way down the sheet, I was putting an “X” next to my answers at an alarming frequency. By the time I’d gotten through checking half my test answers I’d already reached the dreaded five wrong. My stomach churned as I imagined my father’s wrath at me failing a course – a course that he’d shelled out good money for – and that I’d have to repeat.

Could I possibly have gotten the last 10 answers on my test right? There was no way…no way…wait, wait…WAIT!  As I checked my answer to question 20 and realized it, and the 9 before it, were all correct, I knew I’d passed the exam – and by the skin of my teeth. I whooped a gleeful cheer of victory, ran out of the building and drop-kicked my math book across the lawn. I stomped it and ripped pages out and made confetti and threw little tiny bits of x + y = (who gives) (a fuck) in the air over my head.

I was so incredibly relieved I almost cried. I walked back to my soon-to-be empty dorm room with the sun on my back and a smile on my face. My dad came to pick me up later that day and the ride home to Jersey was one sweet trip.

For ahead of me was a three month chill-pill. Ah, childhood summers…