Math Geek Mom: A Meeting 140 Years in the Making

The idea of a tangent line is central to many aspects of mathematics. In geometry, we study when a line rests on another figure at just one point, the point of tangency. In calculus, the slope of the line tangent to a curve at a point becomes the “derivative” of that curve at that point. One can even think of tangencies in more than one dimension. Imagine an (x,y) plane drawn on a table with a three dimensional object resting on it. One can therefore find a point of tangency in the x direction, and also one in the y direction. I found myself thinking of this recently when two dates almost coincided this past week. This past week, I celebrated my birthday and in a few days I will celebrate Mother’s Day. In many ways, these two dates are tangential in two dimensions.
They are tangential in the sense that this year they both appear in the same week, with my birthday on Tuesday and Mother’s Day on Sunday. In the years in which we wanted to be parents but could not, Mother’s Day was a painful day that I often wished would just go away. I was most disturbed when the church I went to focused on mothers and Mother’s Day, leaving those of us without children feeling like second class citizens. I would often leave crying, with my heart even more broken.
It was during those years that I discovered the true history of Mother’s Day, which made the pain of the day seem less stinging. For, despite what the people at the greeting card companies want us to believe, Mother’s Day began as a day of Peace, with a call to all mothers to pause for a minute to work to create a world in which peace could thrive. I have a copy of the original declaration of Mother’s Day, written in 1870 by Juliet Ward Howe, hanging on my office door. It invites mothers to take a day away from their chores to help build a better world for all of our children. The celebration on Sunday is therefore much more than an excuse to buy flowers or chocolate (but I will still happily take the chocolate, thank you!)