Esther and her Merrie Miss classmates have a hard time liking Janet. She is a bully and often calls them embarrassing names at school. When they try to fellowship her, she accuses them of trying to bribe her to come to Primary. The teacher realizes that Janet must have a point, so she asks the girls to think about what Jesus Christ would do. Esther’s mother gives her some good advice that she later shares with the Merrie Miss class. Even though it won’t be easy, the girls agree that they need to pray for Janet and to try to make her their friend. However, when Esther invites her to play kickball, Janet walks off, sneering, “That’s a sissy game.”
I flinched and had to remind myself to be patient. I just hoped that it wouldn’t take another ten years for her to change her behavior.
Mandi called to Janet to come and sit with us in the lunchroom. Janet gave her a look of surprise but went to another table.
The rest of the week, we tried to get her to join us in some kind of activity, but she never did.
On Sunday we reported our lack of success to Sister Card. She said, “I’m glad that you are trying so hard. Don’t get discouraged. It may take Janet a while to understand that you really want to be her friends.”
The next week in school, Mrs. Shell moved Janet into the desk next to mine. Janet leaned over and whispered in my ear, “I hope those freckles aren’t catchy. One polka-dot face is enough in this classroom.”
I could feel the red creep up my neck and into my cheeks. “Please, Heavenly Father,” I prayed, “help me ignore this remark and be nice to Janet.”
And the answer came. “Don’t worry,” I whispered back, “I’m not contagious anymore.”
She looked surprised, and then she actually smiled at me! I felt triumphant. That was the first friendly response she’d given me since she’d moved here.
As we began our math assignment, I noticed her drawing pictures instead of doing the problems. “Aren’t you going to do your assignment?” I whispered.
“Me? Do an assignment?” she whispered back. “I don’t do math assignments.”
I was going to ask why, but I saw Mrs. Shell looking at us. I went back to working on my own assignment.
The next day, I again noticed that Janet didn’t even make an effort to work on her math assignment. After school, I touched her arm and, speaking softly, said, “Janet, if you don’t start doing your math assignments, Mrs. Shell may not promote you to the sixth grade. She’s a pretty strict teacher.”
“Oh, I’ll take my chances—I’ve always made it before.”
I was really puzzled by her attitude. That evening I told Dad about it. He said, “Maybe she doesn’t know how to do the math. Rather than admit her lack of knowledge, she might be pretending that she doesn’t care.”
That possibility had never crossed my mind. Maybeshe really doesn’t know how, I thought. I wonder if she would let me help her. “There’s only one way to find out,” I mumbled out loud to myself.
The next day I asked Mrs. Shell if Janet and I could work on our math together. Surprised, Mrs. Shell said, “I’ll be glad to let you work with Janet, provided you work. You can use the table in the back of the room so that you don’t disturb the others.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Shell.” I started to walk away.
“Esther, does Janet know about this?”
“Not yet,” I confessed.
“I hope it works,” she said with an encouraging smile.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to get Janet to do math with me, but it was much easier than I expected. When I told her that Mrs. Shell said we could do our math at the table in the back of the room, she just grinned, got up, and went back there.
I soon discovered, however, that she had no intention of doing math. She was drawing a picture of a horse. It was really quite good, but I knew that she was supposed to be doing math, not drawing.
I didn’t know what to do. Then an idea came into my mind. “Janet,” I said, “I’ll help you get your math assignment done if you’ll show me how to draw a horse like that.”
“Do you like it?” she asked shyly.
I was surprised at her sudden change in manner. “Yes,” I answered truthfully. “It’s really good.”
Again came the shy smile. “I’ll show you how to draw a horse,” she said, “but I don’t think you can help me with math.”
“Why not? Anyone who can draw a horse like that can learn to do math.”
“You don’t understand,” Janet said. She looked embarrassed. “I can’t even do simple add-and-subtract. When I was in first grade, we moved three times. When I was in second grade, we moved five times. It was hard enough for me to learn to read. I didn’t get around to learning arithmetic.”
Dad was right, but I didn’t know what to say next. Then almost as if I could hear someone telling it to me out loud, another idea came into my head. “I’ll help you memorize the math facts,” I said. “You’re smart, I can tell, so it won’t take you long. Then you’ll be able to do the assignments.”
Suddenly the old Janet returned. “Why do you want to help me? I can just hear you telling everyone what a dummy I am.”
“Come on, Janet,” I said. “I wouldn’t do that. Besides, I really do want you to teach me how to draw a horse.”
“Well,” she said, struggling not to smile, “I guess we could try it and see how it goes.”
“I think we ought to tell Mrs. Shell, so she can help too.”
Janet’s face fell. “I’d rather have just you help me,” she said. “Teachers make me nervous.”
“OK. I’ll make some flash cards with addition and subtraction facts on them, and you can be memorizing them a few at a time while I do the math assignment. Then I’ll quiz you to see if you know them.”
That was the beginning. Janet was very quick. She learned all the addition and subtraction facts in two weeks. I told Mrs. Shell what I was doing, and she was excited to know that Janet was willing to learn. She gave me lots of help and ideas.
Janet still called me Redhead-Wet-the-Bed when other kids were around, but somehow it didn’t seem so bad anymore. I knew she liked me, because she actually came over to my house after school sometimes to help me learn to draw, or so I could help her with her math.
Mrs. Shell displayed some of Janet’s drawings in the front hall by the principal’s office. Janet looked proud!
One Sunday as I went to my Merrie Miss class, I heard the familiar greeting—but with a slight change: “Hey, Redhead-Stay-in-Bed!” Janet stood there grinning from ear to ear, pointing at the gold heart necklace around her neck.
I laughed as I walked over to her. “Oh, Janet, now our class really is complete!”
Christina and Mandi were right behind me. We all laughed together.