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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: Sick Days
September 30, 2010 - 10:22pm

I recently taught a class in “linear programming”, in which a (linear) objective function is maximized subject to several constraints that are also lines themselves. As I worked several example problems with my students, I remembered the central fact of economics, that we all face constraints in our lives and must do the best we can within those constraints. This truth was brought home to me earlier this week when I received the phone call all working parents hope to avoid.

I was called by my child’s school nurse who told me that my daughter was not feeling well that day. We went on to discuss the fact that, while ill, she was not so sick that she needed to leave the school right away, as determined by her current body temperature. I could choose for her to continue out the day there, if I wished. After contemplating this for a minute, I soon realized that my daughter would be better off in an environment where there were no academic expectations, and so did the long drive from work to her school to pick her up and take her to a (thankfully) willing babysitter. Indeed, when I showed up to pick her up from school, she actually begged me to let her stay for the rest of the day, insisting, through tears, “but I feel better, I really do.” Of course, I made her leave, and, once away from her friends, it became clear that she was happy to be able to spend some time just recovering. . This time, it all worked out just fine, including the timing of the long drive in between two classes that I teach (leaving, however, no time for me to eat lunch.) But the experience left me wondering… what about next time?

I wanted to throw the question out for my readers. What do you do when your child is sick, and you need to take them home or keep them home from school? I remember being taken to my grandmother’s house when I was young, but there are no grandmothers in the immediate area for me to take her to. Indeed, my own parents are several states away. Cancelling classes is not an option, since that is just not done at our college. And finding a substitute at the last minute is not always possible. Even with some lead time, finding a substitute able to teach Calculus or an upper division theory class can be difficult, unless a test is scheduled for a class time, and the substitute need only proctor a test that was already written. I am wondering if I am missing knowledge that is generally known about how to deal with such emergencies. Does anyone have any suggestions?

And if these issues are difficult for college professors, who often have chunks of time in the middle of the day to run all over town picking up children and delivering them to willing babysitters (if they can be found), imagine the difficulty for those with no unstructured blocks of time. I don’t know what I would have done if I was in that situation!

I only know that my normally very active daughter was rather quiet that evening, and didn’t protest at all when I made her go to bed early. She felt much better the next day, but was still not at the top of her game. Taking her home from school was the right thing to do, but certainly not the easiest thing logistically. Does anyone have any suggestions for future instances to share with this struggling mom, and with my readers?


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