The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result
This according to Albert Einstein, one of the smartest human beings to ever walk the earth so it must be right, right? So if it’s as simple as trying something different each time until you get the result that you seek or hope to get, why do some of us – namely me – have so much difficulty understanding this and are prone to rinse, repeat, redo, rinse, repeat, redo, rinse, repeat, redo…caught in a spincycle of insanity?
I’ll offer up a quasi-hollywoodesque-scientific reason: Chaos Theory.
See, I became the proud owner of a very big screen television – a dream come true, really. So now I get to watch The Bachelor, Survivor, and my favourite movies virtually in life-size. While most people would be excited during a renovation with the prospect of a gigantic closet, full automation or the latest and greatest kitchen appliances, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this TV. I dreamt up a list of all of my favourite movies that I would watch on this giant TV. As an official member of the Arsenal Canada fan club, Mr. Niceguy had a simple request: to watch the Arsenal vs. Hull City soccer match. The 10 year old was keen to hook up his video games – NO – and the 6 year old just wanted anything Netflix. Top of my list, Jurassic Park. The idea of watching a gigantic T-Rex on the screen both excited and thrilled me at the same time.
Needless to say, in a house full of boys, I’m still waiting for my turn.
But I digress, one of my favourite characters of all time is Dr. Ian Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum in said movie. He is a mathematician and devotee of Chaos Theory. So what is chaos theory? It is a branch of mathematics and the key to understanding the cause of my insanity. In fact, I say this to all the moms out there, it may also be the answer for you.
Physics has had great success in explaining certain kinds of behaviour, like the regular movement of the planets in our solar system, or the way a pendulum swings. These are what’s called “linear equations”. Think of it this way: if you have 5 apples and you eat 1 apple you are left with 4 apples; linear. But physics does not handle another type of behaviour, described as “turbulent”, or non-linear, quite as well.
You know what’s “turbulent”? Boys. Boys in September. When they go back to school and everything is new and exciting, frightening and freaky, and their personalities are completely out of whack because I, their mother, still haven’t figured out just how to enforce an earlier “school time” bedtime and have been beaten down to now hoping that the time change, and with it, the dark will do my bidding. All of a sudden I am once again dealing with umbrella sword fights in the car, backtalk, insubordination and a general feeling like I’m undervalued, unappreciated and just irrelevant and the 10 year old and 6 year old have already turned into pimply faced, hormonal teenage boys for whom I am simply the large megaphone from Charlie Brown (for those who are not familiar with the “megaphone”, it’s Charlie Brown’s teacher and when she speaks, the children only hear, “Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah”). Incidentally, and just as a side note, I have a healthy fear of teenagers. They can turn on you on a dime and before you know it, you’re wishing you were never born.
But back to chaos theory. If turbulent events are described as non-linear equations, then is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result really insane? Perhaps being in a spincycle, then, is not a predictor of the final result. My favourite example is that which is used in the movie: a drop of water is placed on the back of the hand – the water, rolls down a certain path. When the same drop of water is placed at the same spot, again, on the back of the hand, it now travels a different path because the hairs on the skin have risen or the microscopic cells on the surface of the skin itself have changed. Thus, a non-linear, turbulent event. Physics can only explain that the water will drip down, but which path it takes, is determined by numerous factors which may, or may not, come into play – chaos.
Now for a real-life example. My kids like to play a (dreaded, awful) game – it’s called, “Opposite Day”. Usually it comes up when they’re starting to get annoyed with one another and they’re on the cusp of yet another fight in the backseat of the car that I’m forced to referee through the rearview mirror during rush hour traffic on the way to school. “I think you’re the greatest…” starts the 10 year old, “…on opposite day!” To which the 6 year old replies loudly, “So what you’re saying is, I SUCK?! Well YOU suck! MOMMY!!!!”
So when I YELL at my kids to STOP YELLING at each other because good, decent people DON’T YELL over and over again and I’m going insane because this is the umpteenth time I’ve asked them to stop and I’m afraid that one of these days I’m going to get into a car accident (yes, I’m a hypochondriac and yes, that’s a very linear equation when it comes to me) is it fair for me to expect that at some point I’ll get a different outcome because children are non-linear equations? I mean, they are turbulent and ever changing so perhaps at some point they will just please stop yelling??!!
In conclusion, while it may appear to most that I, like other mothers, am insane for trying to mold my children into good and decent contributing citizens of society by repeating the same requests the same way over and over again, I ask you to remember Chaos Theory. Eventually, we will get to the right outcome and therein lies the secret and answer to all my doubts about my abilities as mother…at least for now….until some part of the non-linear equation changes again….