December 28, 2002

Baby Physics

Physicist Abby Marie Well, that'll about do it for travels this holiday. We drove down through some nice country between here and far western North Carolina since Thursday morning. It was good to be there (in the home of my daughter's in-laws, who are very easy to be around, Thank Goodness!) and it was good to get home to this cold house tonight and build a cheery fire in the woodstove. I am starting to feel my fingers again already. It seems like weeks since I was able to formulate any kind of topic and sit down and write it out. The holidays are most disruptive of routine, and in that is both a blessing and an aggravation, I suppose.

Having seen our 23 month old granddaughter Abby again for the first time in a few months, I am reminded of the grace by which God gives small children to young parents. I had mercifully forgotten since my own children's babyhood that small human persons are the embodiment of the physics principle of entropy, the personification of the passage from order to disorder, from organization to chaos.

Like the gradient followed inexorably by electron states and heat energy, young Abby can go under her own steam only from the high energy state to the low, from the top of the hill down the steep sidewalk three blocks to the low energy state at the park at the bottom. But not vice versa, requiring an external source of energy to return the body to its original state. Were it not for this External Source, the low energy object would remain in the swing, at the park at the bottom of the hill until well after dark, swinging happily. Fortunately, two External Sources were available for the return to the high energy position for the gradient was of great steepness and the tiny body did gain density and become more liquid to the hold as it moved further away from the desired state (park, swing, outdoors) to the less desired state (home, inside, boring).

Little Abbster, in further demonstration of her entropic abilities, is capable of introducing maximum disorder to a deck of cards or stack of paper napkins, and this can be accomplished in just under 4.3 nanoseconds. However, she is demonstrably not capable of putting order back in, requiring this same external energy source to recreate the original complexity. These constant requirements for energy and order transfusion help explain why her parental units (and especially but only briefly her grandparents) are exhausted at the end of a day of Abby. Parents, and very occasionally grandparents, are the sun to that tiny disorderly world of the child, the source of perpetual energy flux without which all would decay to chaos.

Also observed, in the world of baby physics, is their ability to create action at a distance. Only a few examples will be offered to illustrate this principle as exemplified by the young Abbster. Take a sturdy box (or flimsy) or a steady piece of furniture (or unsteady, it doesn't matter). Watch the small toddler climb expertly to stand up on the said box or coffee table. Now watch as the toddler leans backward, stiff as a board, headed to the floor and every adult in the room launches out of his or her seat to keep said toddler from smacking the floor (most of the time). Such control over adults at a distance is a principle of baby physics that seems most delightful to the toddler, the more so if two of the fast moving adults bump heads in their Stooge-like efforts to save a baby from herself.

Unfortunately, the Backward Fall of Doom may soon lose its effect on adults-at- distance, who after some while seem content to let the well-padded baby bounce off the carpet a few times, and toddler will thus lose interest in the Save the Falling Baby Game. But all is not lost, and there are other methods to achieve said action at a distance. From the gathering at the dinner table on Christmas night, the father of the toddling unit notices that across the room "She's taken off her jeans". No action is taken. Moments later, in a slightly higher pitch, father notes "Now she's taking off her diaper". Still no action, although the threshold of response is lowered and baby has succeeded in capturing the rapt attention of at least one of the assembly. Finally, the father, unable to articulate his urgent concerns beyond a "Oh No! Oh No" frantically leaps over one or more dining room chairs upon noting a dark shadow from the recesses of the diaper on its way to the light colored carpet. Mission accomplished, the wily toddler having demonstrated that small objects can exert great force across a distance.

And now, it is time for bed, whereby grandpa (Dumpa Dumpy) hopes to demonstrate the physical principle stating that an object at rest tends to stay at rest. Good night!

Posted by fred1st at December 28, 2002 06:43 AM | TrackBack

I always find these accounts of toddlers' behavior fascinating because we so often imagine that this is universal. Even the WAY you talk about it, Fred, as Physics, lends credence to the idea that THIS IS THE WAY THEY ARE at 23 months. In fact, this is a wholly American phenomenon, especially the "action from a distance" part of your discussion.

I had both my babies in France, having married a Frenchman and moved to his country of origin to beget the progeny. (It's many hundreds of dollars per child cheaper to have them in France than in America.) For the next three years, my children were subject mainly to French Rules.

Kids in France get much more direct attention than American kids, more interaction with adults, more conversation. French adults, faced with a 23-month-old kid, will spend a long time talking to her as if she were perfectly capable of carrying on a conversation. Then she will be expected to sit still and become inconspicuous while the adults interact.

French children actually DO this. It is not impossible (as we Americans believe it is) to expect a child of 2 to sit still while the grown-ups visit.

We were so fascinated by the vast difference in child rearing techniques that we had occasion to discuss the issue with a French sociologist living in Detroit. She told us that the French "repress" their toddlers by American standards, while we believe they should be free basically to express themselves. But then Americans tend to try to get back control over their teenagers, while by the age of 13 or so, French teens are considered free and are left to do pretty much whatever they want. The sociologist felt that the "repression" of French little kids made them much more responsible by the time they reached teenhood, so that THEIR parents had less to fear in the sex, drugs and alcohol categories than we do.

Posted by: travelertrish at December 28, 2002 10:47 AM

Found you! Nice photo and story.

Posted by: meg at December 28, 2002 11:57 AM

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