In 2009 I attended an un-conference called She’s Geeky. I had a great time there networking with dozens of other geek girls. Something I learned there that I hadn’t realized before was that a lot of women in tech feel isolated as a member of the female minority. It didn’t occur to me until the end of the conference, but I’ve never felt isolated like that, and I pondered why that might be. Thoughts of family, friends, mentors, all swirled around in my head, but I never got all my thoughts together. In 2011, I realized the answer, and now, in 2012, I’m finally writing about it.

What was the main reason I never felt like a second class citizen in the geek world?

Two words: My mom.

Although both of my parents were always very encouraging of anything I wanted to do, I think my mom was the more geeky influence of the two. She never earned her bachelor’s degree (which is partly my fault, since she was a stay-at-home mom for many years) but she was always a geek at heart. My dad has done pretty well adopting new technology over the years, but I don’t think he craves it like Mom always did. For example, when I was in high school, she and I sent away for a TS1000 computer so we could put it together and tinker with it. He watched, amused, from the sidelines, but didn’t jump into the project.

I believe that having a geeky female role-model throughout my childhood kept me from assuming that only boys liked math or science. I remember my mom reading books like The Dancing Wu Li Masters, which explained mysticist interpretations of quantum physics, and The Cuckoo’s Egg, a 1989 book about cybercrime. She never made a “honey do” list for my dad, since she liked to fix stuff and build things; she was slowly, but steadily, collecting all the Time-Life books on home repair and improvement. She was always learning new things (like off-set printing and orthoptics) in her part-time jobs. She would happily give my friends impromptu demonstrations of how polarized lenses worked whenever we went to see movies that required 3-D glasses.

But in addition to her geek streak, she was also the epitome of compassion. If there was a stray cat that needed saving, she’d take it in. In fact, she took in a few stray people over the years too. One example: When my brother and I were still in elementary school, she went to the emergency room because of a sewing accident. While in the waiting area, she met a hiker who was there for a broken leg. She offered to let him pitch his tent in our backyard until he had recuperated. And she was always willing to defend those who couldn’t fend for themselves. One of the boys in our neighborhood was complaining of an earache. She asked why he didn’t go to the doctor. He said his parents thought he was exaggerating, so they wouldn’t take him. But she believed him, so she drove him to the emergency room. Turned out his eardrum was perforated. Left untreated, he might have become deaf in one ear. Boy, did she give that kid’s parents a talking to!

My mom was such a dynamic person that it was quite a blow when she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at the age of sixty. She didn’t just roll over and take it, though. She and my dad heard that doing puzzles could help to slow down the disease. So she did puzzles. She heard that learning a new language could slow down the disease. So she started studying Hebrew. Perhaps all that fighting worked, since despite the fact that she lost the ability to verbalize, she retained her good humor and love of music until the disease took her last June, at the age of 70. As the family gathered around her bed to ensure she wasn’t alone for her final days and hours, we celebrated her life by telling stories of how compassionate, forgiving, funny, and geeky she was.

The last thing I told her before she left us was something my grandmother said to me many years ago as I was working through her “honey do” list during a visit to Oklahoma:

I thought you might turn out to be a lady, but it looks like you’ve turned out just like your mother. Only interested in tools, math, and engineering.

I don’t think she meant it as a complement, but all I can say in response is:

Thank God for that!

Today’s Live Sigma Kappa guest blogger is Teri Centner. Teri is an alumna of Theta Lambda Chapter at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the DC Sigmas Alumnae Chapter. Teri also volunteers for Sigma Kappa as online community coordinator.

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10 Responses to Count Your Geeky Blessings (aka My Mom is My Hero)

  1. Rebecca Pope-Ruark says:

    A lovely tribute, Teri. Your mom sounds like a cool lady.

  2. Teri Centner Teri Centner says:

    Thank, Rebecca! She really was. :)

  3. Cindy Thomason says:

    Your mom must have been very proud of you Teri.

  4. Really lovely post, thank you for sharing!

    • Teri Centner Teri Centner says:

      Thanks, Dana! Writing this was kind of cathartic. Very few of my Sigma Kappa sisters ever got to meet my mom, so I’m really happy to be able to her with you all now.

  5. Christine Navin Christine Navin says:

    wow Teri, your mom is a real inspiration that not all mom’s have to be the domestic sterotype to have a lasting influence on thier children. Maybe I should try cooking less often & play wii a smidge more?

  6. Teri Centner Teri Centner says:

    I forgot to mention: in June I’ll be joining the European Alumnae Chapter in a philanthropy project called “The Longest Day.” I’ll be running through DC, past places my mom used to work, to honor her memory and raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association. If you’d like to sponsor our team, please visit http://bit.ly/sklongestday

  7. […] I wrote in my Mother’s Day blog post, my mom passed away last year due to complications from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. I […]

  8. […] and dear to me due to our Sigma Kappa philanthropies of gerontology and Alzheimer’s disease (from which my mom suffered). The junior teams will learn about simple machines as they build a model made of LEGO® elements […]

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