Family

When Your Parents Are a NASA Scientist and a Geophysicist

Featuring Charlotte Boyce, age 7.

Caroline Beghein, Jeremy Boyce, Charlotte Boyce, and Maggie Boyce (younger daughter)
Caroline Beghein and Jeremy Boyce with daughters Charlotte Boyce and Maggie Boyce.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Caroline Beghein.

In this series, kids (and not-exactly-kids-anymore) review how well their parents balance life and work. To nominate a potential subject, ideally between the ages of 5 and 17, email humaninterest@slate.com.

Charlotte Boyce is 7 years old, is in the second grade, and lives in El Lago, Texas. Her parents are Jeremy W. Boyce, a NASA planetary scientist, and Caroline Beghein, a professor of geophysics at UCLA. Beghein commutes to Los Angeles every week.

Rachelle Hampton: Do you know what work-life balance is?

Charlotte Boyce: No.

It’s when you are trying to juggle things like going to work and doing laundry and cooking, but also playing with your kids and having quality time together. Do you think your parents have good work-life balance?

My dad kind of has the opposite. Because his boss, Dave, lets him leave work early so he can pick me up. My dad’s boss says family first.

And your mom?

My mom, definitely. Because she wants to be spending time with us before she has to go to work on Mondays.

When your mom lives in L.A., do you talk to her every day?

Not every day. We try to talk by computer. FaceTime.

What do your mom and dad do for work?

My mom works at UCLA. She is a professor, and she studies Earth science. She studies what’s in the middle of the Earth and what’s happening in the Earth. She was part of the mission that landed the Mars Rover.

Do you know a lot about space?

Yeah, and here’s another amazing thing: My dad works at NASA.

That’s so cool! What does your dad do at NASA?

He is a geochemist. He studies space rocks and all kinds of cool rocks. He has a pretty cool rock collection.

What do you think they like about their jobs?

I think my dad likes his job because he really likes rocks and how fascinating they can be. And I think my mom likes studying Earth because of how many awesome things Earth has. Earth is so unique. If all planets were people, I bet they would be jealous [of Earth] because they don’t have life on them! Earth is the only one that does.

Have you met any astronauts that have been in space?

Not met them all by myself, but I do have something very special about where I live. I live in Ed White’s house. Here’s the coolest thing. I go to Ed White Elementary, and here’s something pretty cool: We have pictures of Ed White with his daughter, his wife, and his dog.*

Have you ever been to work with your parents?

I went to my mom’s work when I was littler, and we lived in L.A. And I’ve gone to my dad’s work at NASA a couple times already. It was pretty cool.

What do you think your parents do all day at work?

I know that my dad has to do lots of work about rock science, and he also has to do lots of sign-up sheets. I forget what they’re called.

And what about your mom?

She pretty much studies Earth science, and at some point she studies Mars, like when she was doing that Mars Rover thing.

What’s your favorite thing about your parents’ jobs?

My favorite thing about my parents’ jobs is that they’re both science-y. I love science. Even though it’s not my specialty, I kind of love it. And I do lots of research that involves animals. So pretty much I’m a zoologist right now. I study zoology.

Do you think your parents spend a lot of time on work?

Yes. Because my mom and dad have their own office, and they do a lot of work, and they even do work during the holidays.

Do you think they do too much work?

Nah. They need to do work. Because if they want to learn more about what they’re studying, they have to do work on it. And I know my dad really wants to know more about rocks.

What do you think makes your mom the most stressed about her job?

That she has to fly [to L.A.] every Monday through Wednesday. Except for holidays. And she feels ashamed sometimes. She feels like she’s doing something wrong. Or my dad feels ashamed. Because he thought he did something wrong to the family by moving us to Texas. But actually I enjoy it here. But I miss my friends in California. And my preschool teachers. [Charlotte’s dad, who was an academic, suffered from a near-fatal illness in 2012. He now has neuromyopathy and lives in constant, debilitating pain. After his illness in 2012, he had to learn to walk again and rebuild his career as a scientist. When he was offered a job as a planetary scientist at NASA, the family felt they needed to make this move for his work. While the goal is for her mom to find academic work in Houston, she currently continues to work in L.A.]

Why did your dad feel ashamed about moving your family to Texas?

Because he feels like he did something wrong by getting a job here that’s away from the family, away from my grandpa Jack and my grandpa Tom, and most of my cousins.*

How do you feel?

I feel stressed because my mom has to leave every Monday through Wednesday, except for holidays.

What’s it like when your mom’s gone?

It’s actually a big deal because my dad has to take care of everything. Like dinner, and he has to deal with every single problem. And also it’s my sister too. She feels really mad at my mom.

Are you mad?

A little.

What else makes it hard when your mom is gone?

It makes my mom unhappy. It makes all of us unhappy. We try to hug it out, but it doesn’t always work.

What do you think makes your dad the most stressed about his job?

That we had to have our mom fly every Wednesday except for holidays, and he has to do work. It’s such a tight, tight schedule. And we have no time to make dinner, so we have to go to McDonald’s or Wendy’s and stuff like that. It’s not good for us.

Do you have to do anything to help take care of your little sister?

Sometimes I try to comfort her.

What do you mean?

I try to comfort her. I try to deal with things. Sometimes I make her unhappy, and I don’t want Daddy to have to walk over here because he has feet owies that are really bad, and it also is such a big deal just to take one step.

Do your dad’s feet owies ever make it hard for him to take care of you?

It makes it a little hard when we get fussy. You know how I feel? Stressed. It gets me and my sister a little more settled down when there are two parents watching us.

It’s easier when your mom is there?

Yeah, and also when a babysitter comes.

What is your day usually like?

My mom or dad usually packs my lunch. I don’t usually have anybody helping me get dressed. Except for when I don’t know what the weather is. Or if I’m super, super tired, and I don’t want to get up. You know that kind of feeling?

I do. Who brings you to school?

Usually my dad.

Do your mom and dad take care of different things?

My mom normally cooks when she’s around the house. And my mom normally does the laundry. And when my mom’s gone, we usually go to McDonald’s. And my dad usually does the laundry when my mom’s not here.

Are there any other things that they each do around the house?

They help us fall asleep. And they brush my teeth and my sister’s teeth after we brush. They read us bedtime stories. A story helps me go to sleep. They usually help us with bedtime.

What do you wish your parents could do more of with you?

I wish my dad could come to more special school events. On the turkey walk, people’s parents come, and my dad was busy and couldn’t come. And also field day.

Was that because his feet hurt?

Yeah, his feet owies.

What about your mom? Is there anything you wish she could do with you?

I wish she could be home more often.

What are your favorite things to do with your mom?

Favorite thing to do with my mom is usually just spending time with her.

What’s your favorite thing to do with your dad?

Favorite thing to do with my dad is cuddle on the couch with him!

How would you describe your mom?

She is a very smart, beautiful, elegant person. And she is caring. Loyal. And she is very tiny.

How would you describe your dad?

He is a very nice, wonderful, amazing person. And he cares for us a lot. And one thing to add [about] both of them: They don’t want me to hurt myself or get hurt.

Correction, Jan. 22, 2018: Due to an editing error, the author originally misidentified the interviewee’s grandfather Jack as Danny. The name of the school Charlotte attends was also misidentified as Ed White Academy. She goes to Ed White Elementary.