Ellie McMillan, 6, knew she had a sugar cookie waiting for her at the finish line.

'We're not giving up. It's math!'

Publix Math Night: Where math is a shopping pleasure ...
By: 
May. 3, 2016

It’s not easy for some kids to get excited about math. When I arrived home from work on Tuesday and announced that it was time for my 6-year-old daughter, Ellie, to get in the car so that we could go to Publix Math Night, her older brothers were confused.

“Why does she have to go?” they asked.

I gave them a “pipe down” look, so that Ellie wouldn’t be dissuaded from coming with me. She was excited about going because she had heard there would be a goodie bag at the end.

She bounced out the door and into the car, still in her school uniform, a sky blue polo shirt and a navy blue skirt. Her brown curly hair was in a ponytail.

On the way to Publix, I got a rundown of everything that was happening at school — even things I would never have thought to ask about.

“It's nice to be the last person in line because no one can skip you,” Ellie said.

“Well, I guess that’s true,” I said.

“One boy in class got fired from holding the door,” she said. “He wasn't holding it properly.”

“What’s your job at school?”

“I don’t have a job. Because I was accidentally talking.”

“Accidentally?”

“People were taking to me, and it's hard to not say anything,” she said.

“I guess that’s true.”

I pointed out that her hair was coming undone; loose strands dangled across her temples.

“Yeah, I know,” she said. “When no one’s looking, I snip some of the short hairs so they’re not in my face.”

“Probably shouldn’t do that,” I said.

If that car ride were all I got out of this little outing, I would have been happy. But then we got down to business. At Publix, Ellie was handed a clipboard and a pencil, with a worksheet that included tasks like finding how many boxes of popcorn could be found on a particular shelf.

Jennifer Lalaram joined her daughter, Aleiya Lalaram, 8, for Math Night.

It looked like we were all done and ready for our treat, but then Ellie made the mistake of turning the paper over and seeing a whole new set of questions. “Ugh!” she said. “There’s more on the back!”

Trying some reverse psychology, I suggested that we should just give up.

“No!” she said, stamping her tiny foot on the tile floor. “We’re not giving up. It’s math!”

“All right, then, let’s keep at it!”

We saw a dozen other boys and girls with their parents doing the same tasks, all having a good time. We bumped into one of the girls, Olivia Owens, 6, for a second time in the frozen foods section, and it was almost a disaster.

While Olivia was finishing up counting the number of freezer doors, we were just starting. When we crossed paths, it got a bit tricky.

“Fifty-two, fifty-three,” Olivia said.

“Seventeen, eighteen,” Ellie said.

“Fifty-four, fifty-five.”

“Nineteen, twenty.”

Tricia Marchione with her daughter, Olivia Owens, 6 (Photos by Brian McMillan)

The two girls paused and looked at each other, trying hard to keep focused on their own count.

When we finished, Ellie got to 63, and I said, “We might have gotten mixed up back there. Should we do it again?”

No hesitation: “No! We got it!” Ellie said.

For her efforts, Ellie received a sugar cookie, a paper cup full of apple juice, a Frisbee. Apparently, the whole ordeal felt a lot longer than it was. We were there from about 5:30 to 6:05 p.m., and when Ellie walked outside, she looked at the sky in wonder: “It’s still light outside!”

I can’t blame her: That’s how a lot of people feel about math class every day.