Adult Algebra

In 11th grade I took Algebra II. Well actually I took Basic Algebra II. Often in high school people take advanced classes. And if not advanced, regular classes, but I was in the Basic class. I had a solid D in Algebra I, did ok in Geometry, so when my adviser said I should take Algebra II because I would need it for college admission I grudgingly signed up.

My first test, I scored a 20%. That is a big fat F in case you were curious. So the tutoring began. My dear patient mother sat down with me every night and we faced story problems together. Night after night after night we did this. I cried, I yelled, I may have thrown a book across the room, but I worked on this stuff. When I got my next test back my teacher set it upside down on my desk and said “Big improvement!” I flipped it over to see my grade: 50%, still F. I don’t know a lot about math, but a 20% fail and a 50% fail is meaningless. It is still a fail.

Professional tutors were hired, and did not help. I was called up to the board to complete a problem one time and I did not know what to do. I told my teacher I did not know what to do, but he said “try anyway”. The issue was, I did not even know how to try. So I just stood in front of class, facing the board, chalk in hand, doing nothing.

I got a D- in that class ( I got points for writing my name on the paper and turning in my assignments on time) . I was admitted into college on probation (I failed the math entrance exam) and had to take Math 001. Not 100, but zero zero one.

Algebra makes my stomach flip. I makes anxiety crawl up my next and my brain swell with chaos. It makes me want to break something or scream at the top of my lungs. It is not hard, it is, to me, impossible. Like if someone said to you, stand up right now and read to me this passage from the Koran written in Arabic. You could not even get out a syllable. That is Algebra.

And here is where I pause, because when I set out to write this post the algebra story was to set up how I have a new Algebra in life and was going to compare it to the new computer system Child Welfare Social Workers in Michigan have to use. Because it really is that horrible. But I had to put this blog aside for a few hours before I could finish it and I began to think about standing in front of that chalkboard with no idea what to write. And the feeling of panic and embarrassment and horror. And yes, I do feel that when I am trying to close a case or add a placement in the new computer program (MiSACWIS), but I realized it is way more than that. Just existing as an adult can bring me the same feeling of confusion and fear.

Because growing up is like Algebra. It is one big story problem that just keeps adding new variables. Every day, at least once, I feel like I am facing a problem on the chalkboard of life and I have the chalk in my hand and everyone is waiting and I have no idea what to do. Work, parenting, budgeting, home ownership, being a wife, balancing any and all of that… And it’s not that I do not know the answer, it is that I don’t even understand the question.


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