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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: Indifference Curves
July 30, 2009 - 8:41pm

There is a concept in economics called “indifference curves”. These are a graphical picture of combinations of goods that would leave the consumer indifferent between the different combinations. Are two apples and one orange just as good to you as two oranges and one apple? If so, these points can be combined on a graph to form an indifference curve, along with other combinations that also leave the consumer just as happy, or indifferent, among the various outcomes. The result is a graph of lines, similar to those found on a map depicting altitude or weather patterns.

I thought of this when I realized that I would be writing for today, and that today is July 31st. As my two degrees are from Jesuit universities, I am well aware of the fact that July 31st is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.

St. Ignatius came to the conclusion, as he went about founding the Jesuit order, that life is best lived when one does not approach it with any pre-conceived ideas of where one wants to go in life. He suggested that we strive to be indifferent among different option is life, and developed a series of meditations to help people get there, known as the “Spiritual Exercises” of St. Ignatius. These meditations were designed to help someone reach the point where, for example, they did not care if they went to China as a missionary or stayed in their own small home town to live out their life. While I am not a Jesuit (and never can be, at this point in history), I found this approach to life occasionally useful, especially when I made the decision to teach outside of my own field in order to take a job that was in the area where we lived, was more “family friendly” and did a good job at encouraging its employees to grow as whole people. However, I found this approach useless when I made the decision to marry my husband. And, while I think this is certainly a goal that one could strive for, I am aware that my own ability to do this was almost completely lost once I became a mother.

I remember the evening that we went to visit a little baby in foster care over six years ago. I approached the visit trying to stay calm. I knew, however, that there were two options open for the child, two paths that she could follow in her life, and that she and I had almost no control over which her life would take. One path involved a series of foster homes until she was either adopted by someone else or became too old for the foster care system. The other option was for her to come home with us as our daughter. I managed to stay calm until we entered the foster home, and saw her sitting in a wind-up swing, surveying the world, as if she owned it. The regal look on her face quickly earned her the nickname “princess baby”, a name that she sometimes gets called even today. Her foster mother took her out of the swing and placed her in our arms, and I looked down at that most beautiful baby I had ever seen. The baby looked up at us and stuck out her tongue. My husband saw that and remarked “yah, she is ours”. In that second, I became a mother. And, in that second, I knew that I could never attain what St. Ignatius encouraged. I knew that, as I looked down at the baby who would become my daughter, that my ability to be indifferent had been completely lost.

I suspect that many mothers have similar tales to tell of the moments they fell in love with their own children.

To all of the Jesuits, especially those who influenced my education, happy feast day!


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