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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Geek Mom: Time
November 5, 2009 - 9:39pm

Last week was a difficult one in my family, as all of us got hit with a bug that is going around. I suspect that my daughter brought it home from school, and she was the first to be hit, followed closely by me. My husband eventually got it, but only on the weekend, when it conveniently would not conflict with any “billable hours” in his practice. I managed to re-arrange my teaching so I could grab a few hours of rest, and was doubly lucky because I multitasked by taking care of my daughter at the same time. I managed to have her asleep upstairs with me downstairs with a box of tissues, typing away at the computer, writing last week’s column between sneezes. But, as I said, I was very lucky, since I could re-arrange my schedule easily to get a few hours of needed rest. Not everyone can do that, and, certainly, not every mother employed outside the home, inside or outside of academia, can count on being sick at the same time their child is sick. The whole experience reminds me of an article by Ellen Goodman of the Boston Globe from last February.

In that article, Ellen Goodman said that the economy is close to reaching the point where there are actually an equal number of female employees as male ones. This is the parity that we have worked years for, but it doesn’t feel so good, after all, since it came at the expense of males as they were laid off in the recession. Some sectors, which include academia, have been hit relatively less hard, and, since they tend to employ more women, have tilted the ratio towards women employees.

With more women employees, we can only assume that it will be those sectors that will be hit hardest as the current flu season descends on us and sets off our cell phones ringing to tell us to please pick up our sick children. And how will academia handle this? Can we rely on the fact that most of these women will be sick the same days as their children? Most likely, we cannot, and so this sector with more than the average number women in it will be hit even harder than others by the progressing flu season.

As well as the “sick time” worked out last week, in that column I typed between sneezes and coughs, I once again made a very public math mistake. This time, it was probably one that very few people caught, although I was taken to task by one professor in the comments to my entry. I made mistakes in explaining how adjustments for leap years are made in computing changes in days of the week that dates fall upon. Of course, it is the leap years that are divisible by 100 that are skipped, unless they are also divisible by 400, in which case they are kept. This all helps to make sure the calendar year comes very close to the actual number of days the Earth revolves around the sun each year. I wanted to make corrections clear, and to admit my mistake. As my students would say, “my bad.”

Just as I was beating myself up for the mistake, in a way that only a woman in a male dominated field can do, I realized that the actual story was not in the mistake, but in the circumstances that led me to make the mistake in the first place, since I was sick as I wrote it. This all brings us back to the question of what to do when your child gets sick. If my daughter’s school calls me, I need to hope that it is in the part of a day that I have blocked off for research, and that I have work that is transportable that can come home with me when I pick her up. If not, I am in a difficult situation. However, I must admit that this is still a better situation than most women employed outside of the home face when they get that call from their child’s school.

By the way, THANK YOU to everyone who sent in suggestions about maternity leave policies. I will summarize them soon.


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