Friday, November 9, 2012


I was sitting in our living room one afternoon, when my wife walked in the door with a then eight year-old Anna, who, for the first time in her life, was wearing glasses.  Cute glasses – red ones with white polka dots – but glasses nonetheless.  I remember the first thought that rushed to my mind.  It was:

“Phooey (though I didn’t say “phooey”)!  The girl got my eyes!

(Note:  I was born with cataracts, as a result of my mother’s having rubella – German measles – while she was pregnant with me, thus making my eye condition not genetic in origin but a product of prenatal unfortunateness.  Still, to a man with guilt-leaning proclivities, “Bad eyes is bad eyes.”)

You try to be a good parent, a shining example for your children to emulate.  But then, there’s this DNA mishugas (nonsense) that you have no control over.  And when it rolls “snake-eyes” – no pun intended; it just came out that way – when your kid demonstrates signs of having inherited your bad stuff…

It don’t feel so good.

This flinching flashback came to mind as a result of a recent project Anna initiated, involving the arranging of a “Crafts Fair” to be held in our backyard, devised as a fundraiser for the psychological Institute her mother works at, where they train new therapists and offer low-fee treatment for indigent wackos.  (I know that’s mean, and I apologize; I just liked the sound of it.)

Anna spearheaded the entire “Crafts Fair” operation.  It was her idea, and she took complete responsibility for its execution – setting the date, recruiting the vendors, advertising and promotion (both “Old School” – she had flyers made up and distributed them, and “New Tech” – she procured a prime spot– the first one listed – on a website promoting interesting local activities.)

She was on top of everything, her positive attributes gloriously on display – capable, hardworking, imaginative and energetic.    

But there was one other attribute on display, a condition eerily familiar to her imperfect Daddio.

She was stressed to the max.

“Phooey!  The girl got my temperament!

“Crafts Fair” or the TV series – you want it to be great.  And there’s no certainty that it will be. 

In such situations, the arrow points directly to “Stress.”

The symptoms are transparent: a shortness of breath, and patience.  A greenish pallor.  Stomach discomfort.  And a mind teeming with anxiety and self-doubt.

Been there, done that. 

And, apparently, passed it along.

Okay, “Dictionary Time.”

Stress – “the physical pressure, pull, or other force exerted on one thing by another.” ­

There are other definitions, but that’s the salient one – the generic original.  “The pressure exerted on one thing by another.”  My sense is that “stress” is a term used, and possibly originated, in, engineering.  “How much stress can that bridge take, before falling down?”  (Though they’d probably say “before collapsing”; I, again, prefer the sound of “falling down.”)

There is traffic on the bridge, and if the collective weight of that traffic goes beyond it capacity to support it, the bridge may be unable to accommodate the “stress”, and it falls down. 

Engineers work hard to avoid such situations, as they are not at all good for business.  “Didn’t you build the bridge that fell down?”  It is hard to get more bridge-building jobs after that.  As a result, engineers try to be super-careful, building bridges in such a way that they do not be inordinately stressed, and fall down.  There’s a trick to doing that, but not being an engineer, I have no idea what it is.  (Though that does not stop me from wondering about it.)

The point I am heading towards is that the bridge has no idea whatsoever about its predicament.  The bridge is entirely neutral in the matter.  It’s just sitting there, spanning the appropriate distance of pre-determined “bridge-length.”  (Please excuse the lack of technical jargon.  I’m ignorant.)

If the bridge has any consciousness at all, such consciousness does not include issues of fear, concern, apprehension or doubt.  It’s a more casual arrangement.  Observational, rather than judgmental.

“Big truck.”  “Another big truck.”  “A lot of big trucks.”  “And an unusually heavy amount of traffic.”  There may possibly be some speculation about the traffic.  “I guess there’s a ballgame somewhere.”

That would be about it for the bridge.  I would call it “easy-going”, but that would be anthropomorphizing.  The bridge, though unquestionably stressed, no judgment or temperament.  It’s just a bridge being a bridge.  Doing its thing, and watching things happen.

Imagine, however, if that bridge had a father, and that father was me.  Then you’d have a horse of a different color when you’re talking about stress:

“No more big TRUCKS!!!  “That’s too many big TRUCKS!!!  “I can’t hold any more big TRUCKS!!!  “Oh, no!!!  Big trucks and traffic?  I know I can support the big trucks – I mean, I’ve done it before – but big trucks, plus a neverending stream of traffic? – there is no way in the world!  You have to stop it!  You have to turn off the traffic!  Oh, God!  I can hear the bolts loosening.  I can feel the girders buckling.  It is only a matter of time now.  Huge cracks in the roadway, and I’m tumbling into the abyss!

That’s how a bridge would handle stress if its father were me.

I am happy to report that, in the end, Anna’s “Crafts Fair” was an unqualified success – we made a thousand dollars for the Institute.  Anna’s electrified face said, “I am proud and delighted and thrilled and relieved.” 

This is now an experience she can put “in the bank”, an encouraging sample of personal accomplishment.  With this triumph under her belt, she can take on subsequent challenges, working just as hard, but with less accompanying stress.  Lesson learned?  “I can handle it.”  Next time, it’ll be easier.

Nah, she’s my daughter,

It won’t be.

I add only one thing.  I always reveled in my work.  But I dreaded the stress that went with it, and couldn’t wait for it to stop.  The thing is, when it finally did, I created this blog, submitting myself to the pressure of writing five stories a week.

I hate stress.

But I apparently need it.

And, being my daughter,  Anna probably does too.

1 comment:

GRayR said...

I like your metaphor using stress. As a materials engineer I can tell you that stress is indeed “a measure of the internal forces acting within a deformable body”
And stress can cause strain, which is the deformation of that body.

Engineers look at stress-strain curves to evaluate materials. Stress up to a certain point and the body deforms, sometimes it returns back and sometimes it stays deformed.

Using your analogy, you and your daughter (and me too) get stressed, get strained (deformed) and then return back to our original state. Except sometimes we get stressed to the point of permanent deformation. Something like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. (PTSD)

I had never thought of people having a stress-strain relationship but you have a good analogy there.