My mother had a PhD in math, and so did my best friend’s mother. So I reasoned (by induction) that this was true of mothers in general.
It wasn’t till I was much older that I realized how unusual my mother was. That not everybody’s mother went to graduate school in math. Not everybody’s mother taught herself to do systems administration. Not everybody’s mother ran the computers for a department of eighty faculty and hundreds of graduate students.
It was also at this time that I began to understand the pride my mother took in her work, the joy she took in helping people solve their computer problems, and in figuring out new things.
It is because of my mother that I approached my career as I did. Of course I could go to graduate school in science. Of course I could learn to program computers. Of course I could learn to think in the Fourier domain, if that was what it took to complete my project.
Part of the reason my mother is retiring (she tells me) is to spend more time with her grandson. Going back to work after Joey was born was one of the most challenging things I have done. But I knew I had to do it. So that one day I could be an inspiration for my son in the way that my mother was for me.
So when my father told me that the math department was throwing a party to celebrate my mother’s retirement, I knew wanted to be there. So I could tell her that— as much as her career meant to the mathematicians, to the graduate students, to the retired professors and the academic staff— it meant as much to her daughters.