• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: Grandparents

Helping to fill in for a mother who can't be there.

November 14, 2013

In Economics, we often speak of the idea of “substitutes.”These are goods that can be used in place of other goods should circumstances change. The classic example of substitutes is that of coffee and tea, with the idea that people would substitute coffee for tea should the price of one changes enough. As a tea drinker, I have to disagree with this example, as I dislike coffee. However, I understand the idea, and found myself thinking of this the other day as I realized that my parents were trying hard to serve as substitute parents for my niece and nephew, as my brother in law works hard to hold things together in the wake of the death of my younger sister.

I am ashamed to admit it, but when my sister gave birth to my niece, her first child, I was more than a little bit jealous of her situation. She was able to conceive with little effort, while I spent a long time trying to become a mother, until I eventually adopted my wonderful daughter. I suppose this difference was only fair, as my sister had spent most of her life in my shadow, usually struggling to do things that I could do easily. However, the truth was that I was most jealous of the fact that my parents, the baby’s grandparents, lived nearby, and were able to help babysit and encourage my sister as a parent. Living hundreds of miles from where I grew up, I had no such support system, and relied on a collection of babysitters to allow me to keep working through my daughter’s early years. I had no way of knowing that one day those grandparents would become a lifeline for my niece, as well as for the baby brother that was to join them someday.

Since the death of my sister, my parents have stepped up and assumed an even larger role in the life of my niece and new nephew. Sometimes, I don’t know who is helping whom. My parents are there for the children, taking them to parks and local events, such as carnivals and parades, while my niece and nephew are there for my parents, providing a link to the daughter that they lost when she was much too young. I realized the important role they play in the children’s lives when my mother told me of her plans for throwing a birthday party for my niece. They are plans that my mother has thought about carefully, and ones that she plans on carrying out, no matter what the challenges.

Two weeks ago, after arranging for a time and place for my niece’s birthday party, my mother, in her 70s, fell and broke her hip. She had surgery and was taken to a rehabilitation hospital to recover, a move that she resented, as it interfered with her ability to attend a school production featuring my niece. My mother is slowly getting better, and was even reprimanded the other day for walking down the hall in the hospital without a nurse to support her. When I talk to her, my mother clearly tells me that she cannot get out of there fast enough, and plans on having the birthday party she had been organizing for my niece have not been cancelled.

In spite of physical therapists who assured her that she would be in the hospital for a long time, my mother had my niece come to the hospital and help her write out invitations to send to friends. Those invitations were put in the mail the other day, days before my mom had any idea of when she might be discharged from the hospital. I learned this week that she will probably be in the hospital a little longer, but also learned that she arranged with her doctor to be able to leave for an afternoon so she could go shopping with my niece to create goodie bags for the party. I have no doubt that the party will unfold according to schedule.

When I was a teenager and needed to learn the Periodic Table for my science class, I had no difficulty learning the symbol for iron, which is “FE”. It was appropriate, since my mother, whose initials are also “FE,” has always been as strong as iron.

I am sure that, somehow, my sister knows what is going on, and is pleased as she watches the party plans unfold. My niece and nephew, after all, were the light of her life.



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