Wednesday, May 12, 2010

MommyLand Physics: Are We Rocket Scientists?

I recently overheard my four year old try to describe why it hurts more to fall off a bike when going fast as opposed to going slow. I don’t know what I was expecting. Maybe something about the faster you go, the harder you hit the sidewalk. No. Not even close. Here’s what he said:

“When you are riding your bike really fast, probably you’re not holding onto da handlebars and probably you’re doin’ dis: [waves arms around like an orangutan] Weeeeeeeeeeeeeee! And so den you’re gonna fall off and it’s gonna hurt. If you’re goin’ slow you would fall off like this [pretends to fall to the ground in extreme slow motion, taking about 5 minutes to complete the reenactment]. And dat would really not hurt. So you should always ride medium. Like me.”

That makes perfect sense. But it also presented what better moms than me would call “a teaching moment”.  My little brother graduated just last week with a BS in engineering and physics.  I am very proud.  He has been interested in nerdy scientific things since he was very young boy. I thought perhaps I could explain momentum and force to Hawk in a way he could understand.
[Sidebar: He did not get it. Hawk thought I was trying to be funny and shook his head and told me my words sounded made up and then walked away. I love being patronized by a four year old who still occasionally poops in the tub. Typical male.]

Here’s what I know about physics: NOTHING. I do understand statistics, though. When you talk about statistics, about 50% of the time people’s eyes will glaze over. They assume that (1) they won’t get it and (2) I’m really smart because I just said “confidence interval.” I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the idea that it’s complicated. Obviously, if I understand it, it's not hard because I am outwitted on a daily basis by my dishwasher.

So I went to Wikipedia to look up the basic principles of physics hoping that it would be the same way as with statistics (sounds hard but actually pretty straightforward). You know what? I was totally right. In fact, I think physics and being a mommy are practically the same thing. I think we may actually all already be Physicists. [Editor’s Note: If you are an actual Physicist, you might want to click off now before you have a actual seizure. - Kate]  Let me take the stuff I found out about physics on the internet and apply it all to MommyLand, so we can better understand all the ridiculous crap that we deal with every day. Plus, we can then go around saying physics-y things all the time and everyone will think we’re all really, really smart.

Physics is a natural science, conducted in order to understand how the world and universe behave. Applied physics is a general term for physics research which is intended for a particular use.
Oh my Gawd y’all, we were totally doing applied physics already. This is going to be so awesome. I should get an on-line degree or something.

A body which does not move is said to be at rest, motionless, immobile, stationary, or to have a constant time-variant position.
No kidding. For teenagers, that constant time-variant position is lying on their bed texting. For small boys, it’s playing super Mario Brothers until their bladders explode. For husbands, it’s ESPN and their special chair. Physics is easy.

An object's velocity cannot change unless it is acted upon by a force, as described by Newton's First Law, also known as Inertia.
No kidding. We call it turtle herding. I’m the force. My children might never have made it to a single day of school without me applying force to their inert hindparts in the form of a litany of: “Get dressed! Brush your teeth! Put your shoes on! Where’s your backpack? Today, people, no time for lollygagging!” Then thirty minutes later you find them in their rooms barefoot playing with Polly Pockets or Legos and you realize you must not have used enough force.

In physics, power is the rate at which work is performed or energy is converted.
This one totally cracks me up. Power is determined by the rate at which work is performed? Really?  Apparently, the slower the progress and less productive you are the more power you have. Because I work my arse off all day long, buzzing around like a busy, busy bee. And I still get stuck with all the crap jobs and have basically no autonomy at all.  Because I am the herder of small turtles and their needs come first. Is that fair? Am I the boss really? Or am I the wiper and driver and cooker of dinner?  Does this power equation factor in an early bedtime? Because that’s pretty much the only time I get to enjoy being the Queen of this Castle.

When a substance undergoes a phase transition (changes from one state of matter to another) it usually either takes up or releases energy.
Have you have ever attempted to remove your child from the playground or Chuck E. Cheese or a friend’s house before they were ready to go? Then I’m pretty sure you know all about the “phase transition” and the “release of energy” referenced above. In the form of screaming and crying and throwing what we professional physicists call “a Hissy Fit”. The energy that is taken up is yours. Which is why after you strap your screaming, writhing toddler into their Graco or Britex, you slump into the driver’s seat exhausted, sweaty and ready for a martini.

An elastic modulus is the mathematical description of an object's tendency to be deformed elastically (i.e., non-permanently) when a force is applied to it:
Yes. I know. This is obviously a description of what happens to your body while you’re pregnant. Are you sure Isaac Newton wasn’t actually a chick? I also think this could apply to your brain after having kids, because I used to be smart but now I can barely read.

If you apply this formula to my IQ and my gut starting the moment after I gave birth to my first child, it would look like this:

It’s also happened to about 16 pairs of my sunglasses.

Entropy is a measure of how disorganized a system is.
Seriously? Then my house should be called Entropy Manor. We’ve been over the fact that my design style is called "Demented Preschool" and that there are piles of laundry and books and paperwork everywhere and sneakers tossed here and there and kid stuff coming out of the woodwork. Add in tumbleweeds of dog hair and you have a big, steaming pile of entropy. Thank you, Physics, for giving it a name.

Single Slit Intensity What the heck it that? Well, I think it sounds porny and I don’t want to write about it. This one is not even suitable for Mommyland After Dark.

Interfacial Phenomena: between two phases in equilibrium there is a narrow region where the properties are not that of either phase.
Oh yes. I know all about phases. One week your kid is acting like herself. The next, she rolls her eyes, stomps around and appears to be developing premature Hair Trigger Bitch Syndrome (which I totally have but did not think was hereditary).  When she exits this phase, she may be herself again for a little while and then decide (true story) that her heart’s desire is to grow up to be a janitor. That “narrow region” in the middle? That’s the interfacial phenomena. What’s phenomenal about it is I guess that she might act normal for a few days.

Sound waves are characterized by the generic properties of waves, which are frequency, wavelength, period, amplitude, intensity, speed, and direction.
This is another super easy one. The more amped up and hyper your kids are, the louder they’re going to be. Everyone knows that. Why do people think this stuff is hard?  Aren't astro-physicists also rocket scientists?  Because all of a sudden that seems a lot less impressive because I think I might be one, too.

An object's weight, henceforth called "actual weight", is the force exerted upon it by a gravitational field. By contrast, an object's "apparent weight" is the normal force exerted on it by a body with which it is in contact. A greater apparent weight results in a heavier or greater sensation of our weight, and vice-versa.
You know what I think this means? I’m pretty sure it means: I was thin before I had kids. I am now all too familiar with the “heavier or greater sensation” of my apparent post-partum weight and my actual fat ass. Thank you, Einstein.

“Time dilation” is a phenomenon described by the theory of relativity. It can be illustrated by supposing that two observers are in motion relative to each other. They each carry a clock of identically similar construction and function. Then, the point of view of each observer will generally be that the other observer's clock is in error (has changed its rate).
Dilation? That word means one thing to me: squeezing out a baby. Time Dilation? Obviously refers to my husband’s role as “observer” and his significantly different opinion of how things went in the L & D room. He remembers it fuzzily as a beautiful experience. I remember him chatting about baseball with one of the nurses while I was pushing and almost having to stop what I was doing to square up on him. Except I couldn’t, because of the stirrups. So yeah, I get this one. And his “clock was in error” and his clock almost got cleaned.

I think I've made my point, mommies.  Physics is easy.  Being a mom is hard.  Thank goodness we have each other and T-boxes and the comfort of knowing we’re all scientific geniuses.

Peace out, Rocket Scientists!
xo, Lydia

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