Saturday, March 10, 2007

Science Fair

Spring is around the corner and in Chicagoland this means parents everywhere are getting ready for—you guessed it, The Science Fair. This is the time of year when we, as conscientious parents in solidarity with our children, formulate our own personal hypotheses, something along the lines of: I will be out of my misery much more quickly if I stick my head in the oven than if I hang myself from a ceiling fan.

But, as any ten-year-old scientific mind can attest, we’ve formulated a hypothesis that is impossible to prove! I think this ability to choose impossible hypotheses must run in my family, because it seems my children are good at it too. And I’m pretty sure we’re the only people on the planet who couldn’t get food coloring to climb the stem of a white carnation and turn it blue. Even with the second batch of carnations, which I had to run out and buy because, as I told my five-year-old son, “The first carnations were ‘bad.’” He looked at me and then the flowers as if perhaps I might give them a time-out.

I don’t know why Science Fair is so hard. All the work, the time, the frustration. And it’s tough on my kids, too. Although I have to admit this year, they’re finally at an age at which they’re capable of doing most everything without my assistance. But this hasn’t always been the case.

In those earlier, carnation-in-food-coloring years, they just had to give a short speech on their scientific topic, not actually form a hypothesis or follow any scientific procedures. Not that you would know it from any of the presentations I saw. I remember my son Ethan gave his Science Fair speech on the different types of rock, you know, igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic. I was just impressed he could pronounce them. Until we got to the Science Fair and I saw the other project displays. Lab equipment, poster boards with outlines, digital photos, all the graphs and data.

And then there was my son, watching his classmates give their PowerPoint presentations while his mother had sent him to school with a pocketful of rocks.

There really is no way around helping your kid with the science fair. You have to buy supplies and help them get everything set up. Last year, as I grouchily cooked agar over my stove in preparation for the “Sickly Germs” experiment, I was cursing under my breath. I‘m a busy lady. I’d worked all day. I had dinner to prepare. I shouldn’t be required to cook agar on my stove. And let’s not talk about the fact I had to store twelve Petri dishes full of sickly germs in my cupboards for two weeks.

Over the course of past Science Fair years, I’ve had bloody chicken bones dissolving in my dining room, plants under black lights in the attic and paper airplanes flying through the front hall. At one point, while measuring the flight distance of a tissue paper airplane, I looked at my girlfriend, the mother of the boy my son was doing his science fair project with, both of whom were seated contentedly on the couch. Watching us measure. What’s wrong with this picture? I don’t mind helping my children with projects; it’s when I end up doing them that I get pissed. I understand the idea of challenging students, but I think they shouldn’t be allowed to take on projects that are not entirely within their means to execute.

I’m thinking about all this, my Science Fair Manifesto, as I test the holding power of the ceiling fan in the kitchen.

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