• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: Holding Things Together

Work that isn't always acknowledged.



January 12, 2017

I am very intrigued by the infinity of numbers between any two values on a number line. While “two minus one” is indeed “one,” there is also an infinity of numbers between those two values; some rational and some irrational. I thought of this recently when I learned of a new scientific discovery.

I was intrigued to learn recently that a new organ has been identified in the human body. This organ, which scientists named “the mesentery,” was once thought to be just a collection of connective tissue among the intestines. However, it was recently discovered that this is actually one piece of tissue and therefore qualifies to be labeled an “organ” in and of itself. This makes it the body’s 79 th organ, one whose job is to attach other organs to the abdominal wall. Indeed, this new organ may have contributed to the evolution of the ability of humans to stand up straight and, eventually, walk.

When I heard of this new organ, I was reminded of the role that many women, and especially women who are mothers, play in making the world function by holding everything else in place.

The role of this new organ reminds me of the roles played by some of my students who are juggling family duties as they earn degrees. They find ways to care for their families even as they complete the assignments my colleagues and I give them. They study for tests after putting their children to sleep, and sometimes make decisions about how much to spend on text books based on the financial needs of their families. The choices they make certainly allow their families to “stand up straight” and thrive.

A fellow mother who told me about a recent business trip she took. While she was away, her husband and daughter came down with a bug and immediately crawled into bed, where they stayed until she returned. When she walked back into her home, she said it was like walking into a “biohazard” zone, filled with dirty dishes and laundry. She immediately set about cleaning the kitchen and the bathrooms, doing laundry and changing sheets, until, as was almost certain to happen, she also came down with whatever the other members of her family had been fighting off. Like this new organ that provided support without being acknowledged, she helped her family recover from being sick. That is, until she herself was overtaken by the illness.

The story of the United States is one that would not be the same had it not been for the important contributions of Revolutionary War era women, who took on jobs ranging from nurse to maid to spy to help the young republic experience its birth. Once, a young girl was sent by her father to warn the Continental Army of the arrival of the British to a storage depot in Danbury, Connecticut.

We scarcely know her name, even though “Paul Revere” is learned by students everywhere. I shudder to think what her mother must have thought of this assignment.

And then there are the women who run our college, vowed religious women who have made choices in life that allow the educational enterprise that is “Ursuline College” to exist. They do not personally financially benefit from the long hours they put into their work, but sacrifice to provide an education for the students who come to our campus. Sometimes hardly noticed, they help create a space where the education of women in a faith-based environment becomes a reality.

They are like the many anonymous women throughout history who worked quietly and were unrecognized by their assorted brands of faith, helping to keep their religions afloat by teaching children, caring for the sick and providing the structure within which the men who ran things operated. Indeed, I have to wonder what would have happened to these various religions had such women not been there to hold things together, almost always without any acknowledgement of their contributions.

And so, a warm welcome to you, “the mesentery!” May you always remind us of the work done by those in the background, who, like my own mother and her mother before her, quietly held things together.


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