The numbers won’t keep still. They keep jumping round in my head, and turning and chasing each other, until I can’t even remember which way they’re supposed to be. And I look at my worksheet, and the numbers in my head laugh, and go off to play another game of tag. I tell them to come back, stand straight, keep still. I tell them that out there, there is a number line that can tell them exactly what to do and how to behave. But they know that in here, inside my head, there is no number line. There is no way of stopping them playing ring-a-rosies, or hide and seek. So they laugh and play and won’t listen to me when I tell them to keep still, I’m trying to do my sums.
So I send the monsters after them. And sometimes they come back, and stand in line, and I think, just for a moment, that maybe this time I can do the sum. But then one of them burps, or giggles, or sticks his tongue out at me, and they are off again. Laughing, and playing, and never standing still.
The teacher tells me that numbers always go in the same order. Mummy says I shouldn’t need the number line out there. So I know my numbers are being naughty. And I really do want them to be good. I never told them to be naughty. I never told them it was alright to jump around and swop themselves over, and never ever stand still. But my teacher says that numbers always go in the same order, that sums always have the same answer. And Mummy says the number line out there is the same as the number line in here. But I don’t have a number line in my head. If I stop and think very carefully, and call very nicely, I can make my numbers stand in a row. 1,2,3,4,5. But I can’t make them stand backwards, and I can’t make them jump in twos, or do any of those other things.
So I draw bigger monsters. And soldiers to make them march in line. And even bigger, and scarier monsters. Because maybe that will make them listen. Maybe if there’s a monster standing there, my numbers will stand in line, and I can count them, and do sums. And make a number line in my head. It seems like a good idea, and maybe it is working, because now the numbers are scared. They’re falling over themselves, and pointing and shouting.
And running away.
And now there are no numbers left. My scary monsters have scared them all away.