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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: The Economics of (seasonal) Candy
December 16, 2010 - 7:09pm

My daughter seems to be naturally picking up the nuances of my husband’s field of law. Not only did she pick out a room for her future office among those he now occupies, but she has show that she has a natural ability to argue her case, whatever it might be (and often to our frustration!) Once, when her class was preparing to learn a new topic that she knew from her previous school, her teacher told them not to try it on their own, because no teacher had taught it to them. My daughter, "the lawyer’s daughter," as her teacher put it, quickly told the teacher that she HAD been taught the new topic by a teacher, in her previous school. Alas, the same is not always true for her being able to pick up math, as she, like most people (including me) needs to work hard at learning mathematics.

Last week, however, she showed me that she might be picking up some basic concepts in economics without explicitly needing to be taught them. For example, in economics we teach that people will enter into trade when there is a mutually agreeable exchange that might take place. In the classic case, if I have apples but prefer oranges, and you have oranges but prefer apples, we will trade apples for oranges until we are both better off. I don’t know if she has ever heard me talk about this concept, but she exhibited an intrinsic knowledge of the idea this past week, when I brought home two holiday gifts, both consisting mainly of candy.

One was from my dean to thank me for my work throughout the year, and one was from a nonprofit organization on which I have served on the board of directors for the past three years. When I brought home the first gift from my dean, my daughter quickly delved into the candy, claiming it for her own. However, I was careful to not let her see the gift from the nonprofit organization, since I wanted to keep (at least some of) it for myself. As careful as I was, she found it, and decided that she wanted the candy canes included in it for her own enjoyment. I told her that she could not have them, that they were mine, to thank me for my work. She seemed to believe this, and left me alone with the gift.

However, she came back in only a few minutes. She brought with her two small candies that had been left in the (multiple pairs of) shoes she had left out for St. Nicholas’ Day last week. Both were small dark chocolate bars, which she knows are my favorite. She offered to give them to me in exchange for the candy canes. I quickly understood what she was thinking. She realized that she could get the candy canes, which she liked but which I didn’t really enjoy, by trading them for dark chocolate, which is my favorite, and which she does not particularly care for. I suppose that I should have told her “no”, that I wanted to keep the candy canes, but the dark chocolate was awfully tempting, as was the opportunity to take advantage of a “teachable moment”. And so I agreed to the trade, pointing out the economic concepts behind the exchange.

A few weeks ago, she was visiting my office and wrote her name out on a sheet of paper, with the prefix of “Doctor” in front of it. She then taped this title to the door of my office closet (yes, I have one!), and declared that this would be her office. It is not as nice as the space she picked out in my husband’s office, but I am thrilled she can envision herself in an academic office. Who knows, maybe, just maybe, there will be another generation of “Mama, Ph.D.” some day!

To everyone who celebrates the holidays next week, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I’ll see you back here in 2011!


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