Monday, January 24, 2011

Mentor To This Monkey

My undergrad mentor, and the designer of the elementary math classes that I teach, stopped by my office today.  It was the first time I've seen her since she retired a year ago.  She taught me how to write mathematical proofs, sponsored me for an undergraduate research grant, and introduced me to the best thai restaurant in town.  God, I miss her.  She was the only female faculty member and made a point to encourage me and any other female students in math to pursue our degrees and careers, especially since she didn't always have that support.

The woman is amazing.

At age twenty-two, she began her graduate studies at Berkeley.  She was married and had a one year old son.  In her second year, her husband was diagnosed with schizophrenia, which led to their divorce.  Somehow, she managed to earn a PhD in mathematics while caring for her son with no other help.  Honestly, I cannot even begin to imagine how damn near impossible that was. 

When her son was about twenty, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and while her career flourished, her family life was a nightmare.  She struggled with helping her child, now legally an adult, navigate a system fraught with often ridiculous rules and treatment requirements.  Giving a crazy person a long, carefully timed list of things to do in order to get treatment is a surefire way to set him up for failure.  Her son is now in his mid-forties, still somewhat dependent on her though he lives by himself, but she can't do for him what needs to be done because, well, he's forty!  She often feels powerless because the only thing she can still legally do is have him committed, which she had to do two years ago.

As of today, he's doing well.  He's compliant with his meds and living on his own again.  She just got back from visiting her sister in Seattle, and she dropped by to see how my courses were and how my research was coming along.  I told her I missed her and asked if she missed Ye Olde Math Building.

"I miss the idea of teaching, but not the reality of it.  There was a time when I couldn't imagine not teaching.  I just got so burned out, and I think these elementary ed classes sped up the process."  She ran her hands through her hair and rubbed her shin (her nervous ticks).  "Now that I'm not teaching, I've fallen in love with research all over again."   

She looked happy, which made me happy.  Love you, Cecelia.

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