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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: Midsummer Thoughts
July 12, 2012 - 7:27pm

When the unusual heat gripped my part of the U.S. in the last few weeks, I did the only logical thing to do - I packed up each evening and took my daughter, and often a neighborhood friend or two, to the public pool. It was a great relief from the heat, and provided a wonderful end to the day.

We often play together, splashing in the water that looks like a tortoise shell in the fading sunlight. However, she also likes to go off to swim with her friends, leaving me to either swim laps, to observe what is going on at the pool or to chat with fellow parents, many of whom are also left alone while their children play. As I sat back and took a breath, I found myself noticing several things.

The first thing I noticed was the way the instructors in the “level one” swimming class managed to get their tiny students into the deeper water. They played a game of “Mr. Fox” in which they answered questions from the students of “what time is it, Mr. Fox.” If the instructor answered that it was four o’clock, the students would take four steps into the deeper water, not even noticing that they were venturing into a part of the pool that had previously frightened them. I found myself wondering how I use this technique in my own classes, as I slowly entice my students into subjects that had previously caused fear and trembling. The fact that a full class of students has registered for the notoriously under- enrolled Calculus III this fall suggests that such techniques work for not only swimming but also for integrating in many dimensions.

The second thing I noticed was that many of the people swimming laps next to me breathed when they lifted their left hands. I noticed this because I always breathe when I raise my right arm as I do laps of the crawl stroke. I began to wonder what this means. Are all of these fellow swimmers left handed? Or did they just learn a little differently than I did (perhaps the teachers in this part of the country teach to take a breath on the left stroke, and not the right stroke?) I am intrigued by the idea of “right brain” and left brain” processing, but I am not sure what to make of the swimming preference.

I also noticed that many of the children going off the high dive were quite young, and this observation reminded me of the first time my daughter tried to go off the high dive. I really did not want her to do it, as she was only about seven years old, but I knew that keeping her from danger was not the wise thing to do. She bravely marched up the stairs and walked out the board, only to look down and change her mind. As is the custom at the pool, a lifeguard needed to come help her walk down the steps safely. It was only a few weeks until she figured out how to successfully jump off the high dive, but for that moment I learned what it means to let my child grow in ways that make me uncomfortable. I am sure that there will be many more situations in the years ahead.

The final thing I noticed these past few weeks is something that I have known all along; that I am relatively old to be a mother of a child my daughter’s age. We took my daughter home when I was quite old to be a first time mother. This often leaves me as the oldest mom of the bunch, especially when my daughter finds friends at the pool to play with who are younger than herself. This past week, I became very aware of how much older I was, as I found myself in a conversation with two fellow moms who had attended a rock concert the night before. One had painted her toe nails to match the theme of the band, and they chatted about posting pictures of their trip on the Facebook page of the lead singer, giggling as they wondered if he would respond to their posting. Since I can’t remember the last time I went to a concert, and I have yet to join Facebook, the entire conversation made me feel incredibly old. It reminded me of a conversation I had with another mother whose child told her that she was getting old. This mom told her son that yes, she was getting old, but what was really scary was that her baby was turning into a man. Indeed, I have begun to be able to imagine my own daughter as a young woman in not too many years, and that is both exciting and scary.

The heat is not quite as bad as it was in the last few weeks, but I think I will continue to sneak back to the pool when I have a chance at night. The memories I make with my daughter are priceless, and, as an e-mail from her coach reminded us last week, “it will be snowing very soon.”


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