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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Math Mom: TMI
May 22, 2008 - 8:04am

On a recent Saturday, right in the middle of our weekly cleaning spree, an acquaintance called to invite my eight-year-old son over to play. She also suggested that I come along and relax in the garden "while the boys play." "I'm sorry," I replied, "I'm leaving the country next Friday and I am trying to get things in order before I leave." As soon as the last syllable left my mouth I regretted it. TMI. (Too Much Information.) I knew it.

A simple "thanks so much for your generous offer but I can't make it today" would have brought an otherwise uneventful end to the conversation. Instead, we wound our way through the requisite "oh are you traveling for business or pleasure?" discussion. Just when I thought my announcement that I am traveling half way around the world for a math meeting had brought the interchange to a close, the other mom inquired with absolute sincerity, "have you ever prayed for organizational skills?'

In the awkward silence that followed while this question seemed to hang, quite literally, in the air, I thought about all the prayers I had offered recently. Let's see, there was the perpetual prayer for the plane rides, the safety of my family while I was away, and, I admit, the success of the talk I would give at the meeting. I also thought about the five-word prayer I had offered for 18 straight hours while I knelt on the cold floor beside my daughter's hospital bed nearly nine years ago. That desperate plea to "give me my daughter back" had reshaped my life. But organizational skills? It hadn't occurred to me to ask for divine intervention with what I considered heroic attempts to coordinate my personal and professional plans. I thought I had that under wraps.

I felt myself wanting to shout into the phone "Do you know what you are saying? Can I tell you about my day yesterday?" I didn't. It suddenly occurred to me that she probably had my best interest in mind and had no idea what it is like to put together a talk for a mathematics meeting and put a family of three in some semblance of order before you depart to go deliver that talk on another continent.

I also realized that I probably make these sorts of well-intended remarks on a regular basis and catapult other moms into the unforgiving world of self-analysis. So, in the end, I admitted that "no" I hadn't recently prayed for organizational skills. She related the success she had enjoyed with this venture. At that point, finally, I wisely thanked her for her call and hung up the phone.

It wasn't too terribly long before my fifteen-year-old daughter and I were laughing about this conversation. That laughter continued when we both remembered an even funnier exchange from last summer. A mom at the pool had asked me about the women math majors at my university. I described these talented, articulate, absolutely gorgeous women to her with the unabashed pride of a parent. Without missing a beat the other mom commented, "Yeah, I bet you were real pretty back in the day too."

I never replied.


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