Sunday, July 29, 2012

It is intuitively obvious to the most casual observer...

One of my favorite probability demonstrations is a "magic trick". Ask a group to flip a coin 100 times and record the results in order - H for heads and T for tails. Half of the group uses a physical coin, and the other half imagines they're flipping a coin. Shuffle the results, and, with surprising accuracy, the brilliant teacher can separate the fake results from the real ones. The fraudulent results will not include long enough runs of consecutive H's or T's.

I've decided that doing local missions with kids is similar. If you're doing it for real, there will be some stretches unpleasant to the eye - things that make you want to tweak reality to look more like a "Serving the Community as a Family" brochure. I want to get out there and serve other people with my boys. Truly, I do. But, the real life version often looks nothing like what I played out in my mind. Sometimes it's better than what I imagined - grittier and less eloquent, but true-er. Other times, it's just disastrous.

Our project for the summer was to gather children's books for a local mission to needy families and then foster a two hour story time and book distribution for children whose parents were waiting in line for services. Wait, you might ask, don't you have a toddler? Isn't two hours kind of a long time for a two year old? Thank you! After four boys I don't understand why that doesn't occur to me until 45 minutes in. Friends, it was a humiliating experience. I had the loudest, screamingest child there. One of my kids kept asking why he couldn't take a book home. Another one complained when I declined his repeated suggestion of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone as a read aloud for the preschool children waiting patiently for a book. Another one of my offspring kept goading Rand by notifying him every time he picked up one of Rand's favorite books. One of the boys kept trying to crawl on my back - not my activity of choice when I'm STRESSED. By the time I finally admitted defeat, recruited backup and bailed on this absolute fiasco, I think the people in line would have pooled their assistance money to just pay me to leave, which brings me to another fun math item.

In an upper level math class in college, a professor taught us a very useful and colorful phrase to be used in place of a formal proof of an obvious (or particularly difficult to prove) assertion: "It is intuitively obvious to the most casual observer". It even has an abbreviation: iottmco.

So, it is intuitively obvious to the most casual observer that a passive, sedentary, two-hour service project with four boys in a public place IS A BAD IDEA. In the future we will be moving boxes, packing canned food, riding bikes for Living Water, delivering food...


  1. Papa: highly intelligent people need to do something stupid on occasion; that is iottmco as well.

  2. Recently my husband and I saw a feel good commercial about families spending more time together. In the commercial the family bonded together learning a valuable work ethic while painting the fence. Inspired my husband asked our six year old to help him wash the large front window (we have a vinyl fence). To her credit our daughter had spent the morning cleaning her room, bathroom, and playroom. However we had the exact opposite of family bonding. It was more weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth.

    1. Well, you were enacting something from the Bible. That counts for something right?


Popular Posts