Miss Pettigrew Does Math

Miss Susan Pettigrew doesn’t remember having trouble reading in elementary or high school (maybe her teachers or parents would say different).  She remembers being lazy sometimes and her teachers having to push her to try something more challenging. Like her grade four teacher talked her into doing a book report on Animorphs when Susan would much rather read the series about a bunch of kids discovering people in their community were aliens, vampires, zombies, etc. They were smaller, easier and far more entertaining (She can’t remember the title which is awful as she’d like to read them again). She was also dreadfully un-athletic and did not care about gym at all. All she wanted to do was sit on the bench and yell at people during dodgeball. Her phys. ed teacher recognized her laziness and would make the boys chase her so she’d do her warm up exercises and run lines faster. Susan would never admit it (because it’s an awful thing to have to run for your life) but it actually worked.

Math was the hardest for her. She had to teach herself Math 10 and 20 because she didn’t understand her teacher’s style. However, it became less easy to teach the concepts in Math A30, B30, and C30. Same thing with Chemistry. It was the way the numbers danced and bounced around the equation sign. The rearrangement. Here and there. How they switched back and forth. Who goes where and when? How come?

Susan’s sister, Elizabeth, also struggled with math. At the time there was research to support how music and being involved in the arts helped kids be better in school. The girls’ band teacher would tell them this all the time to encourage retention and enrolment. After the girls’ parents looked at their report card, Elizabeth would respond with optimism:

But Mom, think about how much worse it would be if we weren’t involved with music.

All jokes aside, Elizabeth and Susan had to work hard for their grades. It didn’t come naturally but they both managed to get on the honour roll every year.

University was a different story, however. Susan flourished in her hands-on classes like theatre performance, voice and movement. This was a surprise even to her. She was NOT an athlete but because these movement classes focused more on kinaesthetic awareness and inner impulses, she could read her body better. Action flowed out of this.  Phys ed was never thoughtful like this. All the sudden, there was a purpose behind “exercise” other than weight loss. She liked the way it felt to be “in” her body. This learning was continued in the Globe Theatre’s Actors Conservatory. They learned how to read and comprehend Shakespeare with movement. The text became sharper. She could see the world Shakespeare was creating. This was the way she learned.

On the other hand, Susan was mercy passed through two courses in university. She attempted to avoid her university math credit by taking a philosophy logic class. She attended class, wrote notes, came to the professor for tutoring and still flunked the test. Susan thinks the prof mercy passed her so she’d stop hounding him for help (this is hilarious to Susan as she really enjoys debating and can usually find the fallacy in someone’s argument. But for whatever reason, she did NOT understand this prof’s logic). She was also mercy passed through Music History. That wasn’t math. Susan was just confused and totally overwhelmed the the sheer volume of information she needed to shove into her brain. It just wouldn’t fit. But the prof knew Susan was trying. She thinks this is why she mercy passed her like the logic prof.

Around this time, Susan had begun working in retail and she realized something was off. She’d ring everything through, look up at the register.

Thirteen fifty-two, please.

You mean, thirteen twenty-five, right?

Susan looks over. Rubs her eyes.

Sorry. You’re right. That’s what I meant.

It was a pretty consistent problem. Misreading the register and counting money. There’s a disconnect. It wasn’t a memory problem. She knew her times tables. It’s the part where the numbers link together. The equation process. The intake-of-info process. Something when she sees it and now it’s when she hears it.

I need to book an appointment, said a stern male voice over the phone.

Sure. What’s the property?

992 Oldsway Park.

Sorry. It looks like we don’t have that property.

I have the MLS listing right here. Your brokerage is listed at the bottom.

I’m sorry it’s not in my database. Are you sure it’s with our brokerage? Sometimes our agents switch to another one and their info hasn’t been updated on MLS.

I just spoke with the agent this morning. Check again.

Okay. 299 Oldsway Park, right?

No. 992 Oldsway Park.

Oh… Looks like it is one of our properties after all. Sorry ’bout that.

When Susan was on the phone taking appointments and she was particularly tired, she’d have to ask the real estate agents to talk slower. Now give me your number nice and slow, please. She’d repeat everything they said so she got it right. Even here something would disconnect, she’d be corrected and try again.

Susan had heard of dyslexia before university but she was under the impression it was mostly problems with reading and words. It wasn’t until her studies in arts education that she learned it’s much more complex than that.

Susan comes from a bright family. A family of engineers, computer scientists, economists, pharmacists, nurses, farmers, mechanics, bankers, veterans, political cartoonists, and teachers. Most of them were good with numbers. That gene seemed to jump the line when her chemical makeup was made. In this bright line of intellectuals, there was at least one of them who had dyslexia. They learned how to cope and in Susan’s mind, thrived. He/she had steady career, a couple of degrees, got married, bought a house, had kids and lives a quiet life. If they can, so can she.

For some odd reason, Susan doesn’t feel self pity or shame over this. She does get frustrated sometimes. Why can’t I just learn this? Why can’t I get this already? Why can’t I remember that detail? Why do I keep making silly mistakes? I know I can do this. Why am I having such a hard time?

On a spiritual note, Susan likes to remind herself that God uses weak people so He can get the glory. Not in a selfish way, the way people try to get glory. God’s glory is different. Sometimes when you’re so used to making mistakes, you take great pride when you are right, and then you start to elevate yourself. Make yourself smarter and wiser than everyone else. That’s how people get glory. God’s glory is humbling and reminds Susan she is not God. She doesn’t know everything. She’s not always right or wise. She needs him every day. He has never left her, even in her stupidest moments. He’s never given up on her.

In this vulnerable state of admission of failure, Susan is learning to trust in what Jesus says about her. That she is beloved (1st John 4: 18-19). She belongs (Romans 15:7). How he delights in her (Zeph 3:17).

Susan hasn’t written on this blog all the prayers she prayed. All the provision He provided. All the everyday grace He offered. All the strength He’s offered. All the protection He’s given.  But maybe she should start. Perhaps then people would see how much of it was God’s hand and not her own. She had to put effort in, for sure, and it wasn’t easy but then readers would see how covered she was. Perhaps this is what Paul means when he talks about being weak so God can get the glory.  If so, then Susan would like to take a page from his book, so to speak. She wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Jesus.

He really does deserve the glory.