Pamela Perkins and her daughters, Aleah, 9, and Leda, 12, Friday at their home on Bruins Lane in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Pamela Perkins will never forget what it was like, struggling to help her daughters learn math at home.

It was September and the coronavirus pandemic had forced Waterville schools to go to remote learning part of the week.

Perkins, 29, felt helpless and frustrated.

“I couldn’t remember long division to save my life,” she said.

Having dropped out of school at 14, she also felt inadequate as a tutor. Her father died when she was 12, and by the time she was a freshman, her mother kicked her out of their Aroostook County home. She moved in with her boyfriend, Andrew, who now is her husband and a full-time mechanic. She had her first child at 17.

She tried taking adult education classes in Machias where they lived at the time, but it was too difficult, and she soon quit. Later, they moved to Oakland and then bought a mobile home in Waterville earlier this year.

It wasn’t until her daughters, Leda, 12, and Aleah, 9, started doing remote learning that she decided she needed to try going back to school again.

“The kids were struggling. I really couldn’t help them. I made a promise to my older daughter and said, ‘If I go back to school, I’ll do my best to help you if you will do your best …'”

The decision to return to school wasn’t easy.

“I was very nervous. My best friend said, ‘Just do it — it’d be good for you and good for your kids.'”

Pamela Perkins and her daughters, Leda 12, and Aleah, 9, Friday at their home on Bruins Lane in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

In September she enrolled in Mid-Maine Adult Community Education classes in Waterville where she studies English, math and science.

Taking the plunge proved to be a godsend — and has made a world of difference in her ability to help her daughters.

“Now, I’m like — why didn’t I do this earlier? I’m doing quite a bit better with long division. I’ve actually learned quite a bit as far as math, and the math teacher gave us games we can do with a deck of cards. It works wonderfully. It just gives them something to do that’s not like, one plus one and two plus two, and monotone and boring. They think it’s a game. It’s great.”

Perkins said her teachers are patient and kind, and she is able to learn at her own pace.

“Oh, my God — they are so supportive. They are so involved, and they try so hard to help us in any way they can.”

She is especially proud of  herself, as she has dyslexia, a learning disability that causes difficulty with reading, writing and spelling.

“Learning for me is a hoop I had to go through,” she said. “My youngest has dyslexia and has a hard time with reading and spelling. The teachers really reassured me and helped me bring back things I had forgotten.”

Upbeat and energetic, Perkins keeps an eye toward earning her high school diploma next year as she juggles school, caring for her family and working part-time as a cashier at the Rusty Lantern, a market and gas station on West River Road in Waterville. Before that, she worked at Walmart as an overnight stocker. She dreams of having her own business one day.

“My heart is really into retail,” she said. “I really, really like retail. I’ve been in it for 11 years now.”

She also is a gifted dancer, though she gave up the dream of making it a lifetime career long ago.

“When I was younger, I was a dancer. I danced for eight years. My goal was to be a professional ballerina. I was at the Maine Dance Academy studio in Caribou. I actually got a scholarship to Juilliard, but I gave it up because my father passed away. The scholarship was for four years. It was a prestigious four-year program.”

Things happen when you lose a parent, Perkins reasons, and life can go in a different direction. She laughs when asked if she would ever consider reviving her dream of becoming a dancer.

“I don’t think about going back,” she said. “My husband wishes I would. He said, ‘You always dance around the house.'”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 32 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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