If there is chemistry PTSD then I have it. The tutor I hired for my son to get through the AP test has the same calm, soothing voice of my high school chemistry teacher.

I remember writing poetry during lab while my partner did the experiment. Mark was my lab partner. I’d known him since first grade — when I was the only kid in town who could read the adult dictionary. “You emphasize the second syllable,” I’d tell someone trying to show me they too could read the dictionary.

I felt so in control. Powerful. (Emphasis on the first syllable.) If you focus on things the teacher hasn’t taught yet then the teacher leaves you alone.

Third grade: The first week we studied flags of Europe. I memorized all the world’s flags and colored so many flags on index cards that magic marker covered my hand when I raised mine to say, “The answer is Switzerland’s flag. And I think the answer to the question you’ll ask next is Norway’s flag. And could I just go to the library and memorize populations?”

Scare the teacher. Make her think you will be impossible to teach. She’ll always let you go to the library. The librarians love the kids who read quietly.

Mark says, “Don’t touch the beaker.” We have an understanding that I am a lab partner with non-participating status, but sometimes I get curious about the stuff that’s colored.

“Move,” he says. But in sort of a nice way and I start thinking maybe he likes me. Maybe I should go to chemistry more often so I’ll have a boyfriend.

I remember all this while I am in a windowless classroom with my son and his AP chemistry tutor. My son knows chemistry concepts very well but he knows nothing of test-taking strategies.

The tutor says. “Go back and check your work.”

My son says, “I don’t have any.”

My son is a king of doing math in his head but he’s studying for a test in the show-your-work kingdom.

So I bought a ten-hour package. Each hour is $189. I tell myself there was no point in paying for a chemistry tutor all year if he can’t do well on the AP test. For a homeschooler, knowing concepts but not testing well is like the tree falling in the woods.

We argue constantly and I go through a bottle of Riesling with each chapter.

Do good chemists make good parents? I hope so because I am learning more chemistry this week than I learned in one year of high-school chemistry. I keep telling myself I have to listen better and take better notes because every hour of tutoring I can do myself I will save $189. (More evidence that it doesn’t work to pay kids to get good grades.)

The tutor for this week teaches how to sort questions by type, and how to manage time by grouping. So I practice cello with my younger son while my older son takes more practice tests. The hotel room is so full of homeschooling that I’m suffocating, but getting a second hotel room for the week would cost ten hours of tutoring.

I see my son is stuck. I tell him to text the tutor for help. He screams at me that he’s not stuck. We have invented a modern mashup of Bach’s church music and screeching family fights.

Next we walk the dog and I quiz off flash cards. I tell my son walking the dog refreshes his mind. But really it’s because he gets so angry when I try to help with chemistry and I know he won’t throw a fit in public.

“Glyceric,” I say.



Harrumph. Growl. Hand slam on sides. “You know so little about chemistry this isn’t even productive! It’s glyceric. The emphasis is on the second syllable.”

He storms off. I pay for more hours. Because three days before the AP chemistry test is not the time to be thrifty in homeschooling.