Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The China earthquake.

First Burma, now China. And with this latest disaster, the stories that break every parent's heart: schools buried under tons of rubble, entire families lost. I just read a CNN story about the tragedy at Juyuan Middle School, where hundreds of kids are still trapped. The sound of firecrackers fills the air each time a body is found; it's a Chinese tradition to ward off evil spirits.

A reporter says he hears firecrackers every five or ten minutes.

I think of China's one-child policy, and I almost can't read any more descriptions of grieving parents hurling themselves on their child's body.

The truth of the matter, which a lot of people don't talk about, is that when you have a child after miscarriage and infertility, one of the things that makes you want to have another child is the fear that something will happen to the first. Not that the second child could make up for the loss of the first. Nothing could. (Note: I didn't say that these feelings made sense. That's why another word for these feeling is "neuroses.") In fact, one of the feelings you have to manage, as the parent of a "singleton" (especially a singleton who almost didn't happen in the first place) is fear. Because if you don't find a way to manage the fear, you'll live your life like you're walking around with a gun to your head.

So in an effort to do something other than drive myself crazy and make donations to disaster relief (which I've done), I asked my brother the architect a few questions.

Cynthia: So why did all those schools and buildings collapse? Other than the magnitude of the quake. Don't they have building codes in China? Give me your architect's opinion and I'll put it on my blog. [Editor's note: If this sounds a bit like a sisterly demand, remember that this is the brother whom I once threatened, in my diary, to sue for ruining my childhood.]

Cynthia's Brother: The media is saying it's because of the vast right-wing conspiracy. Just kidding. Don't put that on your blog.

Seriously, I don't know enough about the facts to offer any type of opinion. [Editor's note: As you can see, my brother does not live in Silicon Valley.] It could be due to the amplitude of the quake, just as much as the magnitude. Amplitude is the measure of the quakes wavelength. Imagine ripples across a pond. Either they come in big rolling waves, or short frequent ripples. A building has amplitude also. If the amplitude of the building matches that of the quake, it's bad news. Thats what happened in Mexico City back in the 80s when that big quake hit, and why there were so many failures of a certain building type, such as newer 3-to-8-story apartment buildings, while a 150-year-old cathedral right next door was left undamaged. Sometimes it's just bad luck.

Cynthia: OK. But I don't understand how a building can have amplitude? (Sorry, English major here.)

Cynthia's Brother: A building is either built extremely rigid, or designed to flex. It depends on a lot on the structural system used. Imagine a Bundt cake taken out of the mold. One cake is Jello, the other is regular flour cake. Then you shake the plate it's sitting on. The Jello one wobbles (at a certain frequency/amplitude), the other one stays relatively rigid.

Cynthia: Which is better? The one designed to flex (Jello), right?

Cynthia's Brother: You want the building to flex to a certain point, but again, you don't want the amplitude of the building to match that of the quake. You have to shake pretty hard to get the flour cake to fall off the plate, but if you get the jello one going just right, it will wobble-roll right off.

There's one state-of-the-art high rise being built, I think in Taiwan, where they are placing a giant suspended counter weight at the top of the building to counter the oscillation of the quake.

A structural engineer would really be able to give you better information. If you'd like I can put you in touch with my structural engineer and she could fill in the blanks. [Editor's note: This is loving brotherly code for "I'm busy, sis, get back to work."]

Cynthia: Thanks, dear brother. (OK, I really didn't say that. But I should have.)

So now I understand the science of earthquakes and building a little bit better. I still don't understand the why. Not "why are there earthquakes?" I get the stuff about tectonic plates and all that. I don't understand the why of children buried under earthquakes. The why of firecrackers.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Dance first!

Every day, my son's teachers write a few lines about how his day was. Here's his report from yesterday:

"Loved to dance with his friend. Went [sic] I said "Snack time" he answered "Dance first"*

Indeed. One should always dance first.

* (Note that my son loves music more than anything, except maybe trains or books or his grandmothers. )

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Unnecessary play, and an a-ha moment.

About a week or so ago, I attended Web 2.0 Expo. Lots to talk about there, but that's not what's important right now. What is important is something that happened after the conference one day. Something that had nothing to do with the conference, and yet it did.

On Thursday of the conference, I left early to go to a meeting at my son's school for the parents of kids in "junior preschool." The director of the school, Rachel, has these meetings about once every three months to give us a chance to vent about what little monsters our children are. Ha ha. Not really. The meetings are to talk about child development, and anything else we have on our minds. On this day, the topic was "The Necessity of the Unnecessary in Play," based on a newsletter article Rachel had sent us recently.

So Rachel, a very cool woman who has cropped white hair and great African jewelry, started out the meeting, as per usual, by showing about eight of us "junior preschool" parents video of our kids. And there, right off the bat, was my son, building a Lego tower. We all watched as my son's tower kept breaking apart, pieces flying off out of camera range. He continued to rebuild it, unperturbed, while I waited for him to scream in frustration, which is what he would do if either of his parents were in earshot.

But no, he just kept working on it, even though it broke again and again. I couldn't believe it. "He's so focused," said one of the other parents.

Then Rachel pointed pointed out that my son wasn't building a tower. He was just building. Just building, for the sake of building.

You could have knocked me over with a feather. I had just come from a conference that was all about social networking, and blogging, and Twittering--all for a purpose, whether that purpose was to get recognition, or sell something, or make a fortune, or whatever.
And I had been drinking the Kool-Aid. But now I thought, When was the last time I did something just for the sake of doing it? When was the last time I wrote something just to be writing, and not to meet a deadline, or sell books, or get people to link to what I had to say?

When was the last time I watched a movie without thinking about the review I was going to write? Went for a walk without calculating how many calories I was burning? Helped someone without hoping to be thanked? Or, most poignantly for anyone dealing with infertility, when was the last time I made love without trying to get pregnant? When everything you do has a goal, your whole life is living in the future, and you don't ever get to play, and you very rarely have much fun.

"Children aren't busy," I once heard someone say. Yes. And I'm jealous. I want more Legos, and fewer deliverables, in my life. I want more fun.