While Cummings' daughter Alice was still in public school, she struggled with long division throughout the third grade. However, with a combination of help from her teacher and Cummings, she finally mastered it near the end of the year. Cummings was then flummoxed when, during the first week of fourth grade, she realized that Alice had told her teacher she couldn't do long division and – to prevent herself from having to advance to new challenges – was planning to pretend not to know how to do it the rest of the school year. "By now I had observed her zoom through a page of long division problems in under three minutes when promised a bribe-Barbie," Cummings wrote. "Quite miraculously, Alice re-conquered long division with remainders during her last week of fourth grade. She was fond of her teacher, and I suspect this was her year-end gift to him."