Byrdmouse is a devoted husband and father that says what's on his mind even if no one else agrees with him.

In fact, especially if no one else agrees with him

Cathartic Big Boy Toys

As a parent, and as someone who's seen two score and a couple years, I've had occasion to learn that I'd rather something happen to me than to one of my kids, or my wife. It's just easier. Doesn't matter if it's disabling foot pain or a splinter under your pinky nail. We can deal with things that happen to us better than we can deal with things that happen to our kids.

So something is happening to one of my kids. The one that's the most like me. Stubborn, hard headed, defiant, and too smart for her britches. I don't know where she gets it from. Now the other thing I've learned is that I can deal with my wife, she doesn't have to know how I'm dealing with it. Except that sometimes something so big can happen that I can't ignore dealing with it to deal with her dealing with it. If I haven't lost you yet I'm going to change gears a bit.

As a kid, we are almost all fascinated by big earth moving toys. Boy, girl, doesn't matter. At some age someone starts differentiating same as with STEM topics and we become gender segregated, but we all like them when we're little. And sometimes we get to grow up and still play with them.

I am an engineer. I'd say like my father before me, but he was a scientist. More specifically a teacher of science, but he planted the seeds that turned into my drive to be a practicing scientist, because that's what engineers are. We take the tools and figure out how to use them to do the stuff that needs to get done. And implant a little bit of ourselves in whatever we do.

Three smells intrigue a civil engineer: fresh turned dirt, new asphalt, and either a landfill or sewage treatment plant. The last one depends on what you do, but there is a lot of money in designing landfills and sewer plants. Enough that when you see the money you love the smell. But even if you argue about the last smell, you can't get to it without having gone through the first two. And you rarely get the second without the first. Fresh turned dirt has an aroma all its own.

Back when I was still in design and plan production I remember spending three solid days designing one corner of an intersection. The road crowns sloped one way, the drainage ditch another, a pipe under the road yet another, and there had to be room for a traffic signal pole. This was a busy little intersection. After three days I had drawn my coloured lines on my black screen and it was finished. Water would go where I wanted, cars would go where I wanted, and everything would work in the dirt. Then I thought about how it would be built. There were no instructions for the builders, just a drawing and the fact that they knew it was going to work. What took me 3 days of blood, sweat, and tears to design would be built by four guys with a hangover and heavy equipment in less time than it took me to print out a simple set of plans (in my defense, some of the plan sets could easily exceed 1000 pages).

The longer you work in engineering the more likely you are to get away from the engineering and more in the management. I've spent the last few weeks working on spreadsheets, databases, and creating plans for what might happen. I haven't gotten my boots dirty in a good while, so today I jumped at the chance to go with one of my engineers to a job site. We looked at a 900 hp tractor, a massive 200,000 euro (minimum) Massey-Ferguson attached to a soil cement machine that stirs up 40 cm of earth. Cue the Tim Allen Tool Time grunts. There was also a massive Bomag roller with huge whacker packer plates on the back. There may well be a technical name for it, but no one uses it. 

The soil cement machine started up. A joy to watch, churning up the dirt, mixing it with portland cement then spitting it out in a fresh chewed wake of soft material. It was impressive. It was going to be a while before they would be ready to compact the new dirt, but I hadn't seen the compactor at work. I'm the boss, it's good to be the king, I asked them to run it and they did.

Standing there within 2 meters of this machine feeling the very earth beneath me shake as it did its job compacting the dirt so we can put down asphalt was cathartic and relaxing. All again felt right in the world. If only for a few moments I got to stand there and play with the full-sized versions of the Tonka toys I had at the age of 5. 

Eventually I had to go and only the memory of the fact that I get to, as a grown adult, do what I dreamed of doing as a small child remains. I can create and construct and mold the world. Fix whatever ails whatever I face.

Reality returned and I noticed the mud on my shoes, the smile on face, and the fresh mopped floor of my office. Everything will be all right.

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