When Gifts Come Easy

smart

I have been consciously hiding a personal flaw of mine since I was in Grade 2, when I discovered I was not as smart as the other kids. The sixties were a time of rote learning: teachers would drill each child in the class on the multiplication tables until they could recite them backwards, forwards and upside down. Reading was no different: we dutifully sounded out – over and over and over again – all the variants of the written word phonetically and learned to spell with mnemonic tricks such as ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘’c’.

While reading came to me so easily I have no recollection of the process, math was my nemesis from the onset. I couldn’t – and have never been able to – do even the simplest math problems in my head. I never managed to memorise the multiplication tables past ‘3’. To this day, I have to count the simplest things with my fingers. As a child, I became an expert at counting on fingers that – splayed on the table in front of me – moved so imperceptibly no one even knew what I was doing. I felt like a colossal failure. My aim was to be invisible: I didn’t want anyone to find out how stupid I really was. Because I excelled at reading, I had a reputation for being a ‘good student’ and neither my parents nor my teachers ever seemed to notice how I struggled with math. I knew I was in real trouble when we got to long division in grade 5: I recall with bleak clarity the day in class when I bent my head so my hair covered my face and wept silently into my lap. It was getting harder and harder to hide my defect from the world, and it had become much too late to tell anyone that I had been silently lying all those years. I intended to go to university, so I stuck with math throughout high school. Although I was on the honour role when it came to subjects like English and biology, I only just scraped through my math classes, studying like a fiend and rarely getting better than 60% (which I was actually incredibly proud of, under the circumstances).

When my children came along, I was determined that they would do better. I made sure I helped them drill their multiplication-tables homework each evening. I frequently asked how things were going. To his embarrassment, I informed every one of my son’s teachers that he is colour blind, and that many of the colour-coded math tools would not work as well for him.

While my daughter enjoys math about as much as I do (which is to say, not much at all), my son turned out to be so gifted in math that he found his classes boring. When I suggested he choose a career in math, his reply stunned me.

“It’s too easy, Mom. There’s just no challenge in it for me,” was all he said.

And while I was pleased my son hadn’t inherited my mathematical liabilities, it irked me that something that has always been nearly insurmountable for me was so easy as to be boring for him.

It did help me acknowledge, finally, that most of us are not good at something. And most of us only ever show our strengths to the world, while carefully hiding our deficits.

When my Dad died, my sister, who happens to have an easy understanding of numbers, took care of the labyrinth of financial matters that had to be navigated after his passing. It was hard work, she admitted, but certainly not insurmountable. I was so grateful that she – who had never done such a thing before – figured out what needed doing and then efficiently got each item on a long ‘to do’ list taken care of.

She threw up her hands, however, at the thought of answering the mountain of condolence cards and well wishes that had come in after Dad’s passing. When I asked how I might possibly be of help, she almost cried when she begged me to ‘take care of’ the thank you notes next time I came home. I was thrilled to comply: as soon as I arrived, I sat myself at the kitchen table and for three days, wrote dozens of personalised thank you notes, being careful to include a special ‘something’ for each person I wrote to (i.e. Dad always spoke so fondly of the time you…”). My sister and my Mom, who had looked at that pile of condolence cards with the dread one usually affords the cleaning of an outhouse, watched me write with a gratitude akin to awe.

It hardly seemed a fair trade for the efforts my sister had made, but here’s the thing: writing – an effortless joy for me – had always been her nemesis, and the task that made her feel ‘stupid’.

And, I think that may be when I finally got it: I’m not stupid. I’m actually sort of smart. I can say the same about my sister. We’re just smart at completely different things. And when we combine our strengths, well, we can be an absolutely awesome team…

Source of photo

Patti Moore Wilson/© wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com

Author: Patti Moore Wilson, wednesdayschild2

I write what I feel. And I rarely know exactly what I feel until I write. I have lived long enough to have known many joys and many sorrows. I have made many mistakes; I have forgiven myself for a few… I have learned that there are lessons in every step of this journey, if we only take the time to pay attention… I hope you will feel free to pick and choose the stories that resonate for you…

11 thoughts on “When Gifts Come Easy”

  1. I’ve written about the very same flaw – but was out and proud about it a long time ago when I realised that being rubbish at maths (we pluralise it here) was actually no indicator of my intelligence as a whole. You and I are so good at other things…being bad with figures is no flaw! It’s an inconvenience for me though because I’d like to go back to study to be a teacher and here, we need maths for that. I have a number of high graded qualifications but NO mathematical ones. You may be the only one who understands WHY I don’t want to go and learn maths just so I can become a teacher. I suspect I have a form of numerical dyslexia and I’m fine with it now. All 3 of my kids have maths and I’m proud of them for it, but it was definitely a struggle for the girls. My ex is less clueless than I, but not by much.

    P.s.
    This amused me so much, because I identify with it.
    “I never managed to memorise the multiplication tables past ‘3’. To this day, I have to count the simplest things with my fingers.”
    In fact, I have issues with all multiplication of odd numbers, hate (yes HATE) fractions, percentages, angles and stupid math questions.
    If you have 5 blogs and you rewrite 4, how many characters will you have in 3 of the blogs?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 🤣🤣🤣 Oh I missed you! And yes, this post seems to have struck a collective nerve. I hope it’s different in schools now, but when I was a kid, the only school ‘brains’ were the ones who excelled at math(s) 😊 And no, it doesn’t seem fair to be excluded from being a teacher because of only one weakness nestled in with a great many strengths 😕

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I missed you too. I’ve been busy and have neglected writing somewhat. Funnily enough, when I was a kid maths was not even considered important enough to continue with past 2nd year of secondary school (sorry I know you work in years but it’s all just numbers to me haha). Here we HAD to study English and Arithmetic, but I dropped maths like a hot brick as soon as I could. Oddly I recall being less terrified by Algebra and Geometry than by simple(?!) Arithmetic. I was so good at English however that I was offered Latin, but turned that thrilling offer down as it clashed with Art, which as you know, is my real love. At my school art was actively encouraged, as was all creative arts. The school my 3 kids went to was far more academic and still is. (All 3 despised school and none of then went to do further education because of it. I was happy for them to do whatever made them happy. Academia has always bothered me. It’s definitely not for everyone x

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Dear Someone-I’ve-Never-Heard-of,

        Thanks so much for the socks. I can always use socks. If not to wear, then to start a small fire. You’ve always been my favorite aunt because you managed to outlive my other aunts. I’ll be sure to write you next year when you send t-shirts, raw liver or a novelty baseball cap, you senile old bat.

        Lovingly,

        What’s-the-Point-You-Don’t-Know-Who-I-am-Anyway

        (You may be right)

        Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: