If you’re an engineer, thank your mom

-May 09, 2013

There’s a popular Dilbert sketch in which, when Dilbert is a child, his mom takes him to the doctor. In short, Dilbert’s mom is concerned because “he’s not like the other kids.” His tendencies toward engineering, mechanical and electrical, make him “different.”

My son, now a full-blown toddler, is also different. But for me, his tendency toward science, math, and engineering isn’t something of concern, more a cause for celebration. Even as a little man, he’s showing signs of advanced science and math skills. I consider this a pleasing side effect of my pregnancy when, willing or not, our in-utero baby was subject to my reading aloud deep technical content from EDN, with “TED Talks” playing during breaks. (Some moms-to-be play Mozart. But, hey, that’s what you get when Mom works at EDN, kiddo.)

My son will soon be old enough to attend World Maker Faire, and we’ll make the trip into Queens, NY, for it. In the meantime, we’ve been to every “please touch” children’s museum in a 50-mile radius, do at-home science experiments, and sing songs about math. My husband and I also answer (or try to answer) each and every question he throws at us, often by involving my son in research to discover the answer.

We’re still 15 years away from college, but I’m wagering that he’ll grow up to be an engineer. That’s a wonderful, wonderful thing in my opinion. In the meantime, I’m finding being the mom to an engineer in training can be a little challenging, sometimes socially awkward, and requiring of a certain type of patience.

Like, when you’re at the park and your son makes all the kids sit in specific spots on the teeter-totter so he can experiment with weight distribution. Or when he corrects his preschool teacher’s math. Or when he asks you why the sky is blue and you know the BS you were fed as a kid won’t cut it and have to go into a whole explanation of how light scatters and it doesn’t matter that it’s 10 p.m. because he won’t go to sleep until he understands why the sky is blue.

Holidays have their own kind of joy. Like when his grandfather says the Christmas tree lights are brightened by “magic” and he points out that, no, those are LEDs. Or when he asks if Santa can shop on SparkFun.com instead of relying on the elves and their workshop goods. Or when you’re baking cookies and he wants to know what makes the rattling noise inside the can of Pam cooking spray, and when you turn your back to answer the phone, he empties the can, trying to get whatever is in there out.

Actually, being the mom to a young engineer can be outright hazardous to one’s health, not to mention expensive. I’ll be doubling our homeowners insurance when he’s old enough to start messing around with anything that involves a blowtorch. We’ve had to replace numerous household items that he’s taken apart. And I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve accidentally met the business end of a screwdriver the little man was wielding.

But I do all this -- taking the hazards one by one, encouraging the at-home teardowns, smiling politely at embarrassed teachers, and telling the Elf on the Shelf to report back to the North Pole—because he’s my little one, and, like any good mom knows, sacrifices are made and parenting gets weird, all for the benefit of our 3-foot-tall engineer.

It’s all worth it, and I’ll survive (or so I’m told) to see him shine as an EE. There are tears of pride and joy when I think about the opportunities that will be available to my little guy. If you ever see me crying, this is probably why … or it could be that I’ve just stepped on another Lego barefoot. My young engineer’s love of Legos, yet inability to pick them up, in itself, provides a level of pain reminiscent of the labor process.

So, engineers, remember your mothers this weekend. Think of them (and their Lego-scarred feet) and celebrate them, just as they celebrated what made you different at every science fair, holiday, and school event through the years.

Here’s the Dilbert “The Knack” clip for those who’d like a chuckle. And happy Mother’s Day to all the moms of engineers and engineers who are themselves moms out there!

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