Saturday, August 30, 2014

Challenges in the Raising of Engineers

My morning, today, started in an unusual and rather unexpected way.  Slowly waking on a lazy Saturday morning, I could tell that Harriet was already up because she was banging on her door, trying to figure out the child-safe sleeve around the handle that we use to keep her in her room while she's still too young to be trusted around the stairs alone.  Little did I know that it could go the other way as well. When I arrived to open my two-year old daughters' door, I found it solidly locked against me, and Harriet giggling at my inability to open it.

Now this, of course, should not pose a problem at all.  Every standard internal door with the little push-button locks has a hole on the other side where you can push a pin or screwdriver in and pop them open.  It's not for safety or security after all, but just to keep people from walking in on you while you're sitting on the toilet or whatnot.  So I explained to Harriet that she'd locked the door, and asked her if she could turn the handle on the inside (more giggling), then said I was going to get a tool to open in.  Returning with a long thin screwdriver, I confidently inserted it into the thin hole... and hit wood. No hole to the other side of the door.  No way to pop the lock.

Before this morning, I didn't even realize that the old-school doorknobs on our upstairs bedroom even had the ability to be locked.  But honestly, the fact that Harriet has discovered it did not surprise me.  She's very good at noticing things that are unusual or out of place, and spends a lot of time trying to figure out and understand the way that things in her environment work.  In fact, just last night she delighted both my wife and myself with a new inquisitive question.  Her bedroom story the past few nights has been a documentary on the Soviet N1 Moon rocket, since rockets are a big thing for her right now, more exciting even than dinosaurs or airplanes.  
Harriet, playing "Rocket toddler" with my father.  First, you stand on your "launch pad" while the grown-up does a count down...
...then the grown-up yells "whoosh" and lifts you high in the air while you scream in delight.
As we finished the documentary last night, she popped out: "How'd they do that?" and we were hooked by her inquisitiveness---we're really suckers for questions from our daughter.  I said we'd look and see, and there on the "related videos" bar was an episode of a show called "How Hard Can It Be?" in which three engineers spent a couple of weeks trying to send a home-made rocket into space.  We watched it together, with commentary, and she was fascinated with every moment---unlike the moon rocket documentary, which made a good bedtime story because it interspersed occasional exciting blast-off shots with long boring periods of old Russian and American engineers telling their old engineering stories.  And so it's no surprise that Harriet found a way to lock her parents out of her room that they were not yet even aware about.  And yet there I was, still locked on the other side of her door.

Well then, I told my daughter that she's done a very good job locking me out of the room, keeping my voice light and playful even as I'm starting to worry in the back of my head.  Playful giggles and taunts from the other side.  But I now know that I'm working with a toddler time-bomb on the other side of the door: she's up because she's hungry and she wants out, and if she starts to get upset while I'm locked out of the room, then we could have a serious crisis on our hands.  So I start bringing more tools up, all the while keeping up a conversation with a toddler who's decided that all this is a lovely game.  The screws come out, and the handle won't come off.  The door is too well sealed for me to exploit my old breaking and entering skills from the days when I did urban spelunking (a story for another time) and slip a card around to pull the latch in directly.  All of which ended up meaning it was time for me to have another new experience.
"OK, Harriet, I need you to step back from the door."
"OK, Daddy."
"Are you standing away from the door, little one?"
"Away from a door."
I hope.  I hope she means it and isn't just repeating what I say right now.  I crunch my hip hard against the door, right by the knob to try to do it right and minimize the damage.  High pitched and excited laughter from inside the room.  I crunch a couple more times, pushing and pulling at the same time to keep the door from popping open fast, and the door jamb breaks and lets me in. The milk I've got with me, poured into her favorite cup in anticipation of this moment, goes straight into her hand, and I praise her and make light of things, and she stares at the fascinating new mess I've made.  

A few minutes later we're downstairs at breakfast, and I'm burning off adrenaline by making pancakes and teaching her the MIT Engineer's drinking song, doggereling as I go to try to avoid all of the drinking, sex, and cursing (which is rather difficult).  And when I tell her that after breakfast I'm going to try to fix her door, she asks me that wonderful question once again: "How'd they do that?" 

So after breakfast, we went back up to the door together. I explained how the lock worked to her fascinated eyes, and she oscillated back and forth between playing on her own and watching me take apart and repair the door (the jamb is... serviceable, and next time it will be possible to unlock the knob from the outside as it should be).  Harriet made drill sounds to help me out, and told me a story about a hungry lion to keep me company, and in the end all was right in the world again.

And so, in sum, the unexpected things that I have learned this morning:
  1. Harriet is now capable of rather sophisticated mechanical activities, and given her curiosity about what things do and how they work, it's only matter of time before she starts disassembling our appliances.
  2. It's actually much easier to break a door down than I had realized previously.
  3. The Engineers' drinking song really desperately needs a clean version that a kid can sing.
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