Math Geek Mom: A New “Normal”

Recovery and change.

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July 21, 2016

In Statistics, we often use a probability distribution, the “Z” distribution, that is usually called the  “normal” distribution. This is because the mean of this distribution is set at some value that is agreed upon as being the most common value of the variable in question. What is the average height of a grown woman in the United States? Data shows that the normal height is currently equal to 63.8 inches. While it has become common to use the term “typical” to replace the word “normal,” the name of the distribution has not changed, although people tend to no longer talk about children being “normal.”  I found myself thinking of this recently as I realized that, in the three years since a tornado tore through Ursuline College in the early hours of July 20th of 2013, our college has returned to a new normal. I think that we all agree that it is a better normal.

A few weeks before a tornado sped through our suburban Ohio campus exactly three years ago this past week, our college president was heard mumbling. She said that, since we had just been accepted to Division II of the NCAA, we needed a new gym. Lest anyone think that the Ursuline Sisters don’t have connections in high places, it was hardly any time before our old gym lay in ruin and it became clear that we would need to build a new one, one that would be, it was clear, appropriate for a college with our new standing. And so the plans began, plans that put me and my department in exile while construction took place on the damaged Math and Science building. The math department is back home now, and we have a shining new gym to show for our college’s efforts.

Lest our previous president be outdone, I found myself muttering similar words not long ago, about how the family room in our home needed some sprucing up. Again, it was only a few weeks before I learned that a pipe that ran through the walls in that room had begun to leak, and that we faced some major construction to fix it. That involved moving all of my daughter’s childhood toys out of the room so a carpet could be replaced. Rather than move them back, my daughter decided to donate many of them to a sale to raise money for charity run by our church. It became my job to help sort through the toys destined for the sale.

As I organized the they toys, I became aware of a striking fact. Most of the toys were educational in some way. There were tiles of letters, word games, and puzzles of creatures in the sea and the rain forests with only a handful of toys that were purely for play. I know this happened because I am a teacher, and such things were toys that I saw as pure “fun.” However, I became sad when I realized that I had not bought her many toys just to play with. Had I deprived her of a childhood that she deserved?

Of course, there were other aspects of her childhood that were not being donated. Her favorite stuffed animals, her bikes and equipment for sports, and the fact that she grew up on a street where children wandered in and out of each other’s homes, often staying for dinner with a neighborhood family; all of that was still hers. However, I wonder if I forced my own vision of what I wanted for her on a child who is, in the end, very different from me. The realization of this led me to tears, as I stayed up late putting together puzzles, lest I donate ones with missing pieces.

The new rug is in the family room, and we will soon be moving what is left of that stuff back into it. It is probably fitting that most of the Fisher Price and Dora toys have been removed. Now that my daughter is a teenager, she is, after all, living life in a new place, a place with a completely new “normal.” Like our campus, it is, in many ways, a better place.

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