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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: Celebrating Autumn

Signs of the season.

October 29, 2015

One of the central topics we study in Calculus is the idea of a rate of change, asking questions about such things as how fast an object moves as it changes positions.  Such values are captured in the calculation of a derivative. I found myself thinking of this recently as I drove to work in the midst of trees that are no longer green but now all shades of yellow, orange and red. The lawn still needs mowing, but the new carpet of colorful leaves assures us that, to misquote Dorothy, we are not in summer any more.

This weekend, on the East Coast of the United States (and for us, fairly far inland), we will move from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time. This allows us to have a reasonable amount of light in the morning, but limits the amount of light available in the evening. As someone who has spent the last few weeks escorting my daughter to the school bus with a flashlight (“mom, PLEASE shut that off, so no one will see you”), I am thrilled at this change, although I know that it will mean chauffeuring her around in the dark most evenings. An additional benefit from this change is the promise of an extra hour of sleep this weekend. What parent would not want that?

I remember that, when I was not sure I would make it out of the hospital alive twenty five years ago, I reflected back with regret on trips I used to take. I recalled the number of times I had driven mindlessly along the Massachusetts Turnpike to visit my parents and family in Connecticut, a common practice, as I was not far from their homes. I had often focused sharply on the ride and the road, not noticing the beautiful colors surrounding my drive or breathing in the crisp autumn air. I promised myself that, should I make it out alive, I would never again let such scenes pass by me without being recognized. Alas, I found myself ignoring such scenes only the other day.

Sometimes it seems that autumn is a season to be “gotten through” in order to get to Christmas, much like adolescence is a time of life to be survived when, in fact, it should be celebrated. I was reminded of this when I learned that a radio station in my area will begin playing Christmas songs early next week.  I am not sure I am ready for that!

This weekend is the celebration of Halloween, which is a fun evening in our close-knit neighborhood. Most people know each other, and the children often play together on weekends and after school. Indeed, it is not unusual for children to be invited to stay for a meal when play time overflows into dinner hour. Thus, Halloween is often a time for the children to roam the neighborhood together, with parents a few steps behind, often stopping to socialize along the way. One family even sets up a scary graveyard scene on their front lawn, complete with those parents and some of their relatives dressed up in frightening garb. The first time my daughter went trick or treating there, she was alarmed. However, by now, she is used to the presentation, and is more interested in watching the younger children run away screaming.

I was happy that my daughter found an appropriate Halloween costume this year, as there are many potential costumes that make the mom in me cringe. She will be dressed as an “emoji”, from the electronic devices they all seem to have, as will her group of friends. I was recently amused at a column I ran into that described the best ways to make the choices involved in trick-or-treating. It seems that there is actually some math and science behind the process. Just don’t tell her that; they think this is all fun.

I had a few conversations with my students about their plans for Halloween, and it seems that many of them will not be participating any more. The last time I dressed up was in college, when the college I attended celebrated the day with enthusiasm. As I think back to the first time I pushed my baby, dressed as a pumpkin, around the neighborhood, I breathe a sad sigh. Like the leaves on the trees, these days, too, are limited.

       Wishing all of my of my readers a fun and safe Halloween weekend!


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