Math Geek Mom: Randomness

Mother's Day reflections.

By

May 9, 2013

As someone who teaches and works with statistics on a daily basis, the idea of “randomness” is central to my academic life. This concept explains that actual observed values may differ from expected values, either positively or negatively. The idea of natural variation in nature is important, and continues to interest me, even though I (and others) have begun to question the importance we give to any “true mean” that exists apart from collected data. Randomness in nature can be used to explain the unexplainable earthquakes, hurricanes and even miscarriages that make our life difficult at times. Alternatively, randomness is central to describing positive events, such as the process of evolution and the amazing intelligence of Einstein. It is such positive randomness that has been on my mind this past week, as our city celebrates what seems like an impossible miracle that occurred the evening of May 6th. Three young women, all abducted while they were teenagers, were found alive and brought to safety after ten years of captivity when a neighbor heard screams for help. After years of yellow ribbons and “missing” posters cropping up around the city, we are all taking a deep breath of joy.

When my daughter was a baby, I used to often get comments from strangers about how cute she was. I sometimes felt guilty in responding “thank you,” since I knew that, since she was adopted, I had nothing to do with making her so adorable. Still, I was polite to her fans, while at the same time a little suspicious of them. I knew that she was too young to have any sense of stranger danger, and that I alone needed to make sure that she was safe as we ventured out in public. This past week, those nagging feelings about her safety came flooding back as we discovered that three young girls who had been abducted ten years ago had been held hostage for those years only miles from where they were last seen. It took a passing neighbor hearing their screams to rescue them. As thrilled as I was to learn that they are safe, I was horrified that such things can happen in broad daylight in the 21st century.

As I think back over my daughter’s life, certain images come to mind in which she took steps of independence away from us, her protective parents. I have one gorgeous picture in my mind of her as a baby waddling away from us towards the ocean. At that time, her journey seemed safe enough, if only because we were right there. However, I remember the day when she was about four years old and she broke away from me in a department store to get lost among racks of winter coats; that seemed less safe, and was more frightening, if only because that was the day I realized that she could out-run both me and my  husband. And since then, there have been steps to independence that have frightened me; learning to ride a bike, walking to friends’ homes that are a few blocks away and even things a simple as being picked up from school by a friend’s babysitter. I try not to be too overprotective, but I realize that I can’t always be there making sure that horrible things do not happen to her. Still, as I said when she was a baby, “I want for nothing bad to ever happen to her.” Of course, that is the unattainable goal of every mother.

I am lucky to live on a street where neighbors watch out for each others’  kids, and where big kids watch out for (and play with) younger kids. However, as I learned this past week, such things do not mean that the unthinkable could not happen here. My daughter is not a baby anymore, and she now understands me when I remind her not to talk to or take rides from strangers. I only hope that she remembers that lesson when it matters. In the mean time, I pause often, as I have done these past few days, to give her an extra big hug and wish that I could somehow protect her from all that is horrible in the world. I know that the mothers of the missing women felt the same way about their own daughters. And so I ask my readers, how do you teach your children to be safe in an increasingly dangerous world?

While I always like to remember the original meaning of Mother’s Day, I still want to join in the celebration this weekend and take a minute to wish all of my readers who “mother” in any way a

Happy Mother’s Day!

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