26 March 2014

Things I won't work with

I found this series of hilarious chemistry blog posts by a chemist called Derek Lowe. His series is titled "Things I won't work with" and it covers compounds that are too hideously stinky or volatile to consider sharing a lab with - everything from "simple little things like, say, fluorine azide and going up to all kinds of ridiculous, gibbering, nitrogen-stuffed detonation bait." It's worth a read, even if you don't understand chemistry because he is a brilliant writer. Highlights include:

- "Hexanitro? Say what? I'd call for all the chemists who've ever worked with a hexanitro compound to raise their hands, but that might be assuming too much about the limb-to-chemist ratio."

- “You can isolate [titanium tetraazide], it seems, as long as you handle it properly. It turns out that brutal treatments like, say, touching it with a spatula, or cooling down a vial of it in liquid nitrogen - you know, rough handling - make it detonate violently. I think that staring hard at it is OK, though.”

- “The safety literature is just full of alarming stories about old lab benches that had had perchlorates soaked into them years before and exploded when someone banged on them. They're a common component of solid rocket fuels and fireworks, as you'd figure.”

- “This, folks, is the bracingly direct route to preparing dioxygen difluoride, often referred to in the literature by its evocative formula of FOOF … FOOF is only stable at low temperatures; you'll never get close to [room temperature] with the stuff without it tearing itself to pieces.”


12 March 2014

In Ten Years

In ten years, I will say, "It was really hard ten years ago, but it's okay now."

In ten years, I will say that Buzz's school journey was a difficult one.  He always seemed to be such a bright child, eager to learn and happy to help his teachers and his peers.  But I'll say that ten years ago, he was misunderstood, particularly in one of his favourite places: school.  He was criticised for his daydreaminess, his good qualities were overlooked, his imperfections were made into mountains and clearly, it was his mother's parenting that was to blame.  In ten years I will look back and say that he was just a little boy who hummed to himself while doing his maths and got in trouble for it.  Who lost concentration during tasks both at home and at school, and was redirected at home but made an example of at school.  Who read widely but made lots of spelling errors, leading to miserable marks.  Who could solve complex mathematical problems but who couldn't tell you what three times seven was, again leading to miserable marks.  In ten years I will look back on all the sleepelss nights I spent crying into boxes of tissues as I wept for the intelligent little boy whose self-image as a learner was brought so low by the exacting expectations that he would be the perfectly smooth, round peg fitting in the perfectly smooth, round academic hole.  I will look back and remember how terribly hard it was.

In ten years, I will say that Jessie's life journey was a hard one.  Being the perfectly smooth, round peg in the perfectly smooth, round academic hole, she was adulated, praised and built up to expect that she would never have to put effort in to achieve success, and when effort was inevitably required, how she raged against the injustice of it all.  I'll remember how receiving praise and honour at school caused her to expect it in every area of her life, and how bitterly disappointed she was to realise that her brothers disagreed and fought with her, and her parents corrected her and didn't allow her to show a bad attitude when corrected.  I'll remember how the bitter fights between siblings became impossible to referee because they all had such a perfect cover story, each one conflicting with the other siblings' stories until my mind was whirling and confused, trying to sort out who did what to whom over the cacophony in my house which I couldn't stop because I couldn't make myself heard.  In ten years I will look back and remember how terribly hard it was.

In ten years, I will say that Woody's fighting and screaming drove me up the wall.  I will remember how the quiet meek little baby turned into an angry dervish, whose main motivation was to avoid being dominated by his two older siblings with their strong personalities.  I will remember how, in order to establish himself as an individual who was not to be squashed, he used his voice as a weapon to shock and awe.  And I will remember how every single parenting trick in the book was inadequate against his desire to stamp his authority on the world using nothing but anger and decibels.  In ten years I will shake my head and remember how awfully hard and loud it was.

In ten years, I will say that Rex was pleasant and self-directed most of the time, but when things really mattered (e.g., when I was helping two children do their separate homework activities in that 15-minute window when they were sitting, books open, thinking about the work, and intellectually engaged, or when I was having a critical conversation with another child at the perfect "teachable moment", or when I was enjoying the only five-minute period of the day when I could actually talk with my husband, or when I was negotiating the difficult intersection in rainy weather in a fogged-up car full of sweaty, chattering bodies) - when it really mattered, he moaned, screamed, complained or he grabbed onto my legs and asked to be picked up, put down, picked up, and to be taken over to the light switch so he could switch it on and off and on and off.  And I'll remember how I did it all on a total of two and a half hours sleep which was snatched in three separate intervals the night before in between Rex waking up and crying because it was dark/he was lonely/he'd lost his toy iguana/it was nicer in the womb and he wanted to go back. I'll remember that, and how I could never find the words to really explain how revoltingly hard it was.

In ten years, there will be different challenges.  But I suspect that today's tears, anxieties, frustrations and sleepless nights will have paved the way for everything to be okay.  I think that in ten years time, Buzz will have taught himself to tame his imagination and discipline himself to sit and work.  And because of that, he will have risen and shone.  I bet he's done well at school, music, sport and also in his personal and spiritual life.  I bet it's all okay.

In ten years, I'm sure that Jessie will have harnessed her natural abilities and learned that if she puts in effort, she will conquer anything she sets her mind to.  I suspect that her current career wishes of being (1) a teacher, (2) a baby photographer and (3) a dolphin trainer may have refined somewhat, but whatever she decides to do with her life, she will do it with grace and humility, along with the competence that comes naturally for her.

In ten years, I think Woody will be mellow and cool.  He will have done well at school due to a combination of natural ability and no fear of hard work.  He may even be a peacemaker, as his natural personality shines through.  And in ten years' time, Rex will be able to use words to express himself and exist in a different cubic meterage to me without moaning.  I'm sure he will be all other sorts of nice things too.

In ten years, I don't think people will look at me and wonder where I went wrong, and I don't think I'll try to change my parenting to please them any more, either.  I think people will see I was doing the best I could at the time, and I wasn't doing it all wrong in the first place.  I think people will finally see that bringing four strong and very different children from infancy to competent and productive adulthood is a process, not a matter of telling them on Monday how to be perfect, and having a perfect child starting on Tuesday.

I think it's all going to be okay.

In ten years.

06 March 2014

Blog Post

I was thinking to myself, "Hey, how about I write a blog post?" Then I thought, "Nah." Then I made myself a coffee.