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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: Reflections on a Heat Day
August 4, 2011 - 7:15pm

The idea of “reflection” is one of several Euclidean motions in a plane that are studied in geometry. Along with it are concepts such as rotation and translation. It was reflection, however, that I found myself thinking of recently as I watched my child at the public pool. I did this for two reasons. The first was that the pool has reversed the set up of the “lap” lines and the available lower diving board across an imaginary line of reflection down the center of the deep end of the pool. The second was that the entire day at the pool seemed to be a reflection of an ordinary snow day, reflected across the spring and fall seasons.

In this part of the country, we are used to snow days. I was surprised, however, when I found myself caring for my daughter recently on what would be best described as a “heat day.”

My daughter’s camp had planned on going to a baseball game even as a “heat dome” sat over most of the U.S., making weather in the Dakotas much like that in Houston, Texas. I recalled the days of cheering on the Red Sox in Boston (yes, fellow Clevelanders, I admit to that) while sitting out in the sun in the heat and humidity. With those memories in the front of my mind, I listened to the advice of the weather forecasters who said to be particularly careful that day about the health of children and the elderly. And so I decided that it would be best to keep her home from camp just that once. Since she agreed, I arranged to work at home that day, and then to take a few hours detour at the public pool.

When my daughter woke up that morning, she said it reminded her of a snow day. I had to agree, since it had the same laid-back feeling of not having to rush to get anywhere. I even made French toast, as I traditionally do on snow days, since I have the time to do that with no bus schedule to meet. But instead of being cooped up in the house as snow fell outside, we ventured out, only to find the temperature and humidity were almost as uncomfortable as the single digit weather we find on snow days.

I had warned her that I needed to stop into work for a while, but promised her that we would head to the pool after that.

I remember the first few months in Boston, often calling the Boston Public Garden by the incorrect name of “Boston Garden.” Of course, the Boston Garden is where basketball games are played, and is very different from the Public Garden, featured in the children’s classic “Make Way for Ducklings.”

The Public Garden, instead, began as a place for people to meet and relax together, and I thought of it as we headed to the pool on one of the hottest days in centuries. It seemed that everyone in town was there, and it took only a few minutes for my daughter to find people from her school to run off with. As for me, I found a coveted seat in the shade and sat down to relax and get some work done. As I did, I reflected on two things.

As I watched my daughter splash and laugh with her friends, I grew sad that the days of her wanting to play with me in the pool were obviously over. However, she seemed to be having such a great time, I would not want it any other way. I also realized one of the paradoxes of academic life. While our jobs are in some way completely inflexible (if you can’t make it to your 9AM class, you need to find a substitute, which may not always be easy, especially for more advanced classes), they are, in other ways, very flexible. Since I have finished teaching my summer class, I could choose to do my work anywhere. Indeed, on that day I had done just that, in three different venues wearing clothes appropriate to each.

Several hours later, I had to drag her away from the pool, although she was somewhat less reluctant to leave once the last of her friends left with their parents. As we left, I was very grateful for the availability of the pool on such a hot day, and know that I will probably “reflect” back on that relaxing day once the weather becomes cooler. I only hope that my daughter remembers this heat wave with such fond thoughts.

By the way, a gracious reader of my entry last week has informed me that the Jesuit schools I attended were actually among the slower ones to admit women. It seems that some, especially in the Midwest, admitted women as early as the late 1800s and the turn of the last century!


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