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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: Happily Ever After
April 28, 2011 - 8:43pm

In statistics we often talk about an idea of the “expected value.” By multiplying outcomes of something that involves uncertainty by the probability of each outcome occurring, we are able to find a value that is a good representation of the outcome that would most likely occur. For example, in a lottery, a large payoff is often offset by the huge number of people who buy a ticket just that once, in hopes of cashing in on the large payoff. This leads the expected value of a person’s winnings to possibly be less than the price of a ticket to even enter the lottery. Indeed, this idea of expected value is the origin of the snide comment that is often made that a state lottery is a tax on people who don’t understand math. But, as we know very well, life does not always unfold as we expect it, a concept that I am reminded of this week as we anticipate yet another “royal wedding.”

I don’t remember paying much attention to the last “royal wedding”, since I was busy packing to go off to college, an adventure that some around me thought was a “royal” waste of time and money (I was, after all, a girl who was the grandchild of immigrants, and expectations for girls in Italian families were very different from those for boys.) Still, as I assembled my clothes and books for a one way trip to Washington, D.C., I was vaguely aware of the grand ceremony taking place a continent away. What child, exposed to Cinderella or Snow White, could not notice? As the Archbishop of Canterbury said, “Here is the stuff of which fairy tales are made.”

But fairytales have a way of exhibiting a dark side, be it witches, evil stepmothers, or racism and sexism. This was no exception, and that fairy tale did not end well, collapsing first into a sad story and later into a tragedy. As I am aware of the discussion leading up to today’s vows, I am reminded that my life did not work out exactly as I had planned, either. I can’t help but notice, however, that my husband is living a life eerily like the one that I had planned for myself 30 years ago.

Thanks to Disney, it is almost impossible to shield a child from fairy tales, but also thanks to Disney, they have been altered slightly so as not to be as undermining of the values I would hope to pass along to my child as they could be. Indeed, I have seen the princess dolls as reasonable options when faced with choosing among small dolls that represent characters that are less wholesome or less representative of the values I hope to teach. Princesses have therefore found a home on the shelves housing my daughter’s toys. I also laugh that she named a stuffed dog “princess.”

What does this mean to those of us who are parents, who are entrusted to raise children in a world where all the good intentions may not lead to the outcomes we hope for? Teaching our children to deal with disappointment is a central task in parenting. Life, it seems, is not really a fairy tale that always ends well. Still, we approach the future with optimism, and no one is more optimistic than two people who stand in front of friends and family and in this case, the whole world, and promise to support each other, no matter what the future brings.

And so today, we have a chance to get it right, to undo some of the mess that was central to the lives of previous generations and to hope, once again, that a fairy tale can unfold. I know that I will probably sit down with my daughter and watch the event on the news later in the evening, if not as it occurs. I wish the newlyweds only the best. May they, at last, teach us how to live “Happily Ever After.”


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