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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: Thanksgiving
November 16, 2012 - 8:24am

The last time I taught a class called “History of Math”, a class I rarely teach at Ursuline College, my daughter was a young child in pre-school and was perfecting her knowledge of numbers. I was struck at the time by the similarities between the way my daughter learned about numbers and the way humankind developed knowledge of numbers, and I wondered if history was repeating itself in each child, as they learned to count. For example, both humans and young children begin learning about math by counting actual physical things, be they sheep or cows for early humans or blocks or pieces of candy for young children. Only later did they learn more abstract concepts such as negative numbers or (heaven forbid!) imaginary numbers. It is this sense of counting actual things that I recalled recently as I found myself mentally listing things that I am thankful for as the calendar leads us to the holiday of Thanksgiving.

The first thing to come to mind as I pause to be thankful is that the recent election is over. After months of radio, newspaper and TV ads from various candidates, made all the worse by Ohio’s “swing state” status, I can now count on seeing ads for cars or restaurants when I turn on commercial stations. And I realize that, with the severe polarization that overtook our country those last few months, I can be thankful that, even if everyone doesn’t like the final outcomes, nobody was killed in the process.  As someone pointed out, “no cars were blown up.” I do, however, find myself asking the question of whether the Electoral College is the best way to elect a president. I will leave that issue for consideration by my colleagues who are Political Scientists.

I am thankful for my daughter and husband who bring great joy and humor into my life. I can always count on them to make me laugh, even when I am tired or sad. And I am thankful for the lives of my various nieces and nephews, ranging in age from one to twenty. Indeed, one is going to make me a great aunt in the next few months. New babies are always a reason to celebrate.

This year, I find myself particularly thankful for the life of my mother, who, after spending fifteen years in remission from a very nasty type of cancer, is once again finding herself fighting the illness that has come back with a vengeance. Born into a traditional Italian family, she did the unexpected when she pursued a career in the marketplace, becoming one of the first women in the family to hold a job outside her home. She became a model for younger women in our extended family, who watched her closely as she juggled family responsibilities with duties from her work. She was the driving force in my sister’s life, always encouraging her to try new things and never letting my sister’s disabilities define her. My mother cared for people all her life, first her own parents, more recently my sister and, at times, my sister’s children. Her first priority now is to take care of the one person she has not had time to take care of for many years; herself.

I mourn the loss of my sister, but I also find myself being thankful for having known her and for the role she played in my life. My heart breaks to think that her children did not have more years to spend with their amazing mommy. I am hoping to write a memoir of her life to give to her children. I want them to know the woman who gave them life, and gives me inspiration.

I am once again thankful for the opportunity to teach at Ursuline College, where I can spend the day with students and ideas that make my days fulfilling. I realize that it is not the case that everyone has a job, and also realize that few people’s jobs are as intrinsically rewarding as is mine. I hope that the economy can move to a place where such rewarding jobs are more common, for everyone.

And finally, I am thankful for my co-author who would not let my career as an economist end when I accepted a job teaching not economics, but mathematics. I am immensely grateful that my life took the unexpected turns that brought me to this wonderful (but unexpected) place.

And so I ask my readers, what are you thankful for this year?


Wishing my readers a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!


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