Here’s a fun fact about parenthood that the “How to Raise a Kid” books omit – sometimes, your children’s interests differ from yours. I had just gotten past the fact that neither Logan nor Tabby were willing to agree that Wham! was the single greatest musical duo of all time when they leapt into my car after school one day and said,
“Hey Mom, we’re going to do the Science Fair.”
“What’s Science Fair?” I asked.
“It’s where all the kids enter an experiment based on science to win first place.”
“Oh, you mean a real Science Fair. Like the one they have in school.”
“Yes, what else would we mean?”
“I don’t know – some weird thing you made up.”
The kids paused and took a deep breath, “No, the Science Fair at school, Mom.”
“Okay, what about it?”
“We’ve entered it.”
“Why on earth would you do something like that?!?”
It never occurred to me that my children would find scientific experiments interesting. I find them interesting – when someone else conducts them and the results allow me to guiltlessly eat food formerly deemed “unhealthy” but to conduct one? What was wrong with my children?
I sent Nate a text reading: “kids enticed the Science Fair. Let’s disguise this with /them when u get gnome.” Somehow Nate managed to misconstrue my text into “let’s encourage the kids in such capricious endeavors” and gave the idea a hearty thumbs up – seriously, how hard is it to understand a text?So we entered. In upper grades – they enter. In elementary school, we enter because parents are encouraged to help, but not complete the experiment for the child. I have learned that operating as a unit has never worked for any other family undertaking so perhaps we should work in pairs on this one. I suggested Nate and Logan work together and I would work with Tabby. I split us this way under the auspice that Nate and Logan thought so much alike but the truth is that many of the “Suggested Experiments” from Tabby’s grade level involved M&Ms and the idea of having chocolate readily available for the next 2 months appealed to me.
The first task was to select their experiments. Nate and Logan began a process of elimination that used the phrases “yeah, but will it blow up big?” and “I bet that is sooooo loud” far too many times. I opened the 1st Grade Science Fair booklet to the M&M page, placed it in front of Tabby and said, “Oh, this one looks interesting.” She didn’t even look. She folded her arms on the table and said, “I know what I am doing.”
“Oh, super.” I said. That was easy.
As I was patting myself on the back for choosing the easy child, Tabby said, “I am going to make a dragon potion.”
“A dragon potion.”
“What is a dragon potion?”
“A potion that will turn me into a dragon.”
Well this could be a problem.
I tried to talk her around the idea but Tabby can be fairly determined (and no – Nate may think he knows where she gets it from… ) I figured the teacher would strike the idea down and we could get back to M&Ms before the week was out so I didn’t come down too hard on logic for her idea.
Unfortunately, I forgot Tabby’s teacher considered herself a throwback hippie (but who, in fact, was born at least a decade after the last hippie put on a tie and tasseled loafers.) Instead of explaining to Tabby that creating a potion and turning herself into a dragon is NOT A VIABLE OPTION, Ms. Alls-Groovy wrote on the proposal sheet “lets see where she goes with it.”
Where she goes with it? How far can a dragon get in this town?I thought on this question for the next 7 ½ weeks. Fortunately I remembered the Science Fair on the Saturday before they were due so we had two full days to begin, research and complete our 8-week projects.
I sat Tabby down to come up with a plan (read: no, seriously, what are we going to do for the Science Fair.) As I nibbled on the 43 bags of M&Ms I purchased (you know, just in case) I watched Tabby carefully list out her “method” which consisted of:
- Find a dragon potion
- Drink it
Whereas I appreciate the efficiency, it seemed like perhaps there was a step or two missing. I thought taking it in a conceptual area would be interesting because, you know, 6 year olds really get conceptual scientific theories. Next I explored the idea of trying to theorize what the design of a dragon might be – examine it from a structural perspective. Each idea was answered with a firm “No.” Tabby was hell bent on a dragon potion.
After scouring the library for potion books, we found none that promised to render its maker a dragon (I did find one scrub that promise to take the dead skin off my heels though.) Tabby suggested we use the Internet since “they have everything.” So we sat down at my computer and entered “dragon potion” into the search engine. Here’s another fun fact, parental controls are subjective, apparently. After coming up with some creative explanations for items I hope to never see again, Tabby and I, in fact, found 1,396 hits for potions that promise to turn us into dragons. Since our passports were out of date, we eliminated any potion that required travel to middle earth or realms not on the Blue Line. I was also successful in arguing in favor of endangered species for anything calling for elf ears, fairy wings or wiggim eyes (not knowing what a wiggim is convinced us that is must be endangered.) In the end we were left with two options: one potion that consisted of food coloring and lemon-lime soda and the other that I am fairly certain is the recipe for Peanut Brittle.
Seeing our dragon potion vaporizing, I wrote “more M&Ms” on my shopping list and ordered a pizza for dinner because clearly I was too distraught about the dragon potion to cook anything.The next morning, Tabby found me reading a magazine.
“I know, Mom. We’ll make our own.”
Another fun fact: if you are engrossed in an article on summer’s new accessories, you sometimes agree to things you maybe shouldn’t have. Before I knew it, Tabby had the contents of the pantry and refrigerator spread out on the kitchen floor and was categorically placing them in a “maybe” and a “no” pile. I became a mere observer to Tabby’s rapidly moving machinations. Items were selected and discarded with the precision of a gem inspector with a loupe. I remembered the Science Fair’s rule of “Parental Help” and wondered if guiding my child away from blowing up the central rooms of my house would get her marked down. In the end, she assembled peanut butter because dragon toes have ridges (Tabby logic), hot sauce for the fire, soda water because the bubbles would make it fly, vinegar to make it sharp, baking soda because when added to the vinegar it foamed up and that’s is just cool and some M&M because dragons probably like chocolate (plus we had a few extra bags.)
Tabby employed a “Grab and Throw” method to her measuring (Mme. Curie she is not.) The vinegar and baking soda proportions were increased dramatically due to the “Makes Me Giggle” principle. Four mixing bowls, several whisks, three spoons and a celery stick later, she had a dragon potion that smelled like our roof’s leaf gutter and looked like someone was going to lose an eye.
“There, it’s done!” Tabby proclaimed triumphantly.
I was relieved that I could get back to my magazine and finish the “Are You Actually Right When You Argue With Your Spouse” quiz (which I was certain would turn up with “Damn Straight” as the result.) Just as I turned to go back to the living room, I saw Tabby reaching for a cup. Every repressed maternal instinct I had rushed to the forefront and I barked out “WHATAREYOUDOING?”
“I am going to turn myself into a dragon.”
You may wonder why it never occurred to me that my daughter, once concocting a dragon potion, would not want to, in fact, turn herself into a dragon; quite frankly so was I. Running through the catalogue of Mom arguments in my mind, I quickly dismissed “because it will send you to the hospital” and “poison control already has a dedicated line for me” and went to the six-year-old logic section. I proffered “not wanting to lose my daughter to a dragon” and that her Miss FancyKitty pajamas would not fit anymore but I could see by Tabby’s face those weren’t working. Thinking the quickest I could, I said, “The Board.”
The Science Board: that most dreaded instrument in the destruction of the nuclear family.
“We should do the Science Board first. Dragons can’t work a glue gun quite as well as you would think and you don’t want to get marked down because you don’t have a Science Board, do you?”
“But we need to put the results.”
“Look at all the work you’ve done – we know what the result are. Let’s just write them up.” It worked, she bought it. Kitchen saved.
Have you ever made a Science Board? Conceptually it seems fine: all you have to do is write down what you intended to do, what you did, what the results were and fill the rest with decals and brightly pre-cut letters that come in a kit. I don’t know what goes wrong during execution but the reality is, every Science Board is made up of tears, muffled curses, exclamations of parental disregard for childhood pathos and glitter. At one point I was so frustrated with Tabby’s total lack of dedication to making the headers straight, I threatened to hide her Barbies; I don’t know why I felt this would produce the intended outcome but as we discussed, that line between “helping” and “doing the project for her” just didn’t get defined well enough. Ultimately, we had a chaotic mess of scrawled missives that read more like free form poetry than scientific method, stickers that were selected on their proximity to reach rather than relevance to our project and glue on every exposed surface except, miraculously, the newspaper laid to protect said exposed surfaces. It was an utter disaster and Tabby was thrilled. I grabbed a glass of wine I didn’t remember pouring (praying it was only my first glass) and Tabby grabbed her cup of potion…
“NO!” What was wrong with this girl?
“But Mmmmaaaaaahhhhhmmmmmm. I have to know if it works.”
“Tabby, if you become a dragon, you cannot take swimming lessons this summer and therefore I will not buy you a new bathing suit.” She considered this and then she held the cup out for me.
I looked at the cup and back at Tabby. “What?”
“We have to test it.”
I looked at Scruffy; I swear he shook his head.
I took the cup and pretended to take a drink. The “potion” rested against my lip just long enough for me to smell smoke and lose the feeling in my bottom lip; I faked a large gulp. Tabby stared at me intently. I made some faces and grabbed my stomach. I dramatically looked at my hand as if it was morphing but Tabby didn’t buy it. Her little head lowered and she stomped off into the living room. I didn’t know if I should feel victorious or defeated.Throughout this all, I had left Nate and Logan unattended. As Tabby curled up in front of the television and I attempted to unglue various items off my dining room table, they emerged from whatever underground laboratory they had been hiding in with a fully functional turbine engine made from soda cans. I glared at Nate.
“Help Nate. We were supposed to help.”
“I did help. This was… Logan wanted to do this. No, really – he’s… “
I turned to Logan, pointed at the ignition switch and asked, “What’s that?”
Logan shrugged and said “a metal thing?”
The night of the Science Fair saw Logan and his friends finding various things to be sucked into his engine once he turned it on. Any question posed to him about his project was answered with a blank stare, even when the answer was glaring above him in purple ink from his Science Board. In her classroom, Tabby sat scowling in front of her Science Board, which had been marred with giant red Xs and the word “LIES” hastily scrawled in her hand all over it and her “Participant” ribbon shoved in the beaker of colored water I had brought for flare.
I greeted the principal when I saw her with, “Hey there! What time did you need me to come in tomorrow to discuss my kids academic propensity?” I thought I would save her the phone call.