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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: Human Capital Investment
May 3, 2012 - 8:32pm

In economics, we talk about purchasing machinery that is used in producing a product as “investment”  in capital, and in acquiring skills and experience that will help an employee perform a job more efficiently as “human capital investment.” It is this later type of investment that seems to be on the forefront of the minds of many of my fellow parents who I run into lately. This was especially the topic of conversation when I was reunited with a group of people I had not seen in many years. To my surprise, people I remember as putting their best energies into being the life of the party were now openly fretting about the future of their children’s education.

When I was planning my wedding many years ago, a former professor told me that we don’t marry a person; we marry a family. He was right- it was not long until I found myself with a group of brothers and sisters, something that I had not experienced growing up with just one sister. However, in my case, the change was even greater, as I inherited not only a birth family from my husband, but also access into a large, boisterous family with whom he socialized.

My husband survived one of those miserable sales jobs that are designed for people right out of college and seen as temporary, to be held until the employee grows tired of trying to meet sales goals or until they are fired from the job. To his credit, he was not fired, but the experience of constantly having to prove himself in that kind of job convinced him that he wanted more for his professional life. He eventually found himself attending law school, but not until he spent some time in yet another sales job, that time as a textbook salesman. He not only sold many books, but he also met a young professor along the way, and we have built a life together ever since.

In that first sales job my husband met a group of fellow salespeople that he has kept in touch with over the years. One of the women in that group was particularly fun loving, and came from a family that really knew how to throw a party. In our dating years, I went to many parties thrown by that family, and the laughter and liquor always flowed freely, a huge change from the quiet, liquor free life that I normally led, which could be described, as one person said, as a life in which “my best friend is my computer.” They all came to our wedding, where his friend read a reading in the service.  We continued to socialize with them for several years, until career changes of her own took his friend out of town. We had just adopted our daughter when we saw her last, and we wished her well as she set out to warmer climate and we stayed in the “snow belt” of Cleveland. The Christmas cards continued over the years, but the parties were definitely going on without us.

In the past few months, however, she moved back to the Cleveland area, and bought a beautiful home, almost designed purposefully for throwing parties. And this past weekend, she did just that. It was an emotional experience to see what had become of those people from both of our pasts. The brothers and sisters, and their spouses, had all aged gracefully, but it was the children that surprised us the most. When one woman entered the party with two men, I recognized one as her husband, and asked my husband who the other one was. I was shocked to hear that he was her son, whom I had last seen when he was in grammar school.

There was considerably less alcohol flowing and this time the conversation gravitated to the lives of our children. I was intrigued to learn that the issue at the top of everyone’s mind was the challenge of sending our children to college. Despite the bad press that higher education seems to be receiving lately, sending one’s children to college is still a priority in our corner of the world. I realized at that party that even for people outside of academia, the value of human capital investment is recognized. As someone whose life revolves around a college, that is good to know.


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