• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: Notes from the Past


December 15, 2016

A professor who is a Philosopher of Mathematics once asked her class what they thought the “middle” number might be. Of course, it is zero, as the negative and positive numbers line up towards infinity in both directions, with the zero point grounding the position that marks the transition between those types of numbers. I found myself thinking of this recently as I unpacked a sack of ornaments that we have assembled over the years. Each bears the name of the year it was acquired, and each is packed away with a letter describing the events of the year. The bag represents the past, but is saved for tomorrow. Stored in a large gift bag, I filled in the attached tag with the words “To: the future.”

The ornaments begin with the year we were married, with a figure of two birds sharing one scarf. In a few years, there is an ornament of a sports car, because it was a discussion about whether we should buy a sports car that led us to purchase our first home that year, at true “fixer upper” that we could not occupy until quite a bit of work was done to make it livable.

My father made us an ornament that is shaped like a gavel the year my husband passed the bar exam and became a lawyer. And the year I began my life at Ursuline College is recorded by an ornament with an outline of the college on it. It was the first year in a long time that I had a job that I felt allowed me to be who I truly am.

As the years wore on, the ornaments began to speak of a desire for a family. There are ornaments with “Winnie the Pooh” characters and one of a teddy bear. However, those were not the years that a child would join us. When she did come home, many people gave us “baby’s first Christmas” ornaments, including one that is in Lenox china. The letter from that year speaks of not only the arrival of our daughter but also the fact that I was finally awarded tenure, a professional goal that I had worked towards for many years. However, joy in that accomplishment paled when I admired the beautiful little girl moving among the gifts under the Christmas tree.

The ornament from 2000 reads “Merry Millennium” while the year of 2001 recorded the purchase of our current home as well as the terrorist attacks that had shocked the country. Would life ever be the same? We were not sure. As the years unfolded, several other events rocked our stable world, as we dealt with the death of my grandmother, my sister and finally my mother. These years are marked with ornaments in the shapes of angels.

 Family travel is recorded in the ornaments, from figurines of baby otters from our trip to Alaska to ornaments bought at our recent trip to Disney world.

 Many of the ornaments mark milestones in my daughter’s life. There is the year she started her school, and the year which has an ornament showing a little girl in pink dancing ballet. Once our daughter’s true personality began to emerge, that ornament was replaced with ones of basketball and soccer players. Perhaps this year’s ornament will be of a lacrosse stick.

It is always interesting to pause and read what I wrote about each year as I hang the ornaments. Many of the memories are good ones, but not all of them are. There is one from the year when the sister of a dear friend died in a car accident on her way home for Christmas. At her memorial service, her father told us that the last thing she had said to him was “I love you.” Because of that story, I make it a habit to end every conversation with my family with those words. And, thanks to that habit, I am sure that the last words my own sister heard from me were “I love you.”

And so, my readers, do you memorialize holidays, too, and if so, how do you do it?

                           Wishing all of my readers a wonderful holiday! I will see you back here in January.


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