Family Man: She Blinded Me With Science

I’m holding baby Ari while finishing dinner as Benjamin, 7, and Jacob, 3, run around the house, inflicting pain on each other, when my wife calls out, “Science experiments!”

Immediately, the little demolition men trample to the kitchen table, where what’s left of my enchiladas is whisked away in favor of a tall glass and a bottle of cooking oil.

“Tonight, we’re going to see what happens when oil and water mix,” Wendy announces like some kind of feminine (and infinitely more attractive) refugee from Beakman’s World.

“I want to pour the oil,” little Jacob says as he climbs on top of the Formica tabletop.

“I want to add food coloring!” Benjamin chimes in.

“Wait a minute, nothing toxic is going to happen here, is it?” I say, only half kidding.

Actually, the whole scene is anything but toxic as Wendy leads us on a chemistry journey to watch oil and water separate and food colors blend to form different hues. Being scientifically curious plays well for my wife, in her work as a professor of early childhood education, and as a mom trying to entertain a houseful of boys.

As someone whose own mother taught him not to play with chemicals because the wrong mix of rubbing alcohol and baby powder could melt off a limb, I have to wonder why my wife thinks science is so much fun. When did moms go from, “Don’t play with those chemicals, they might hurt you” to “Let’s blow something up?”

I don’t know, but, certainly, my children’s personal Marie Curie has wowed them with such tricks as a clay volcano that erupts from a concoction of vinegar and baking soda and the ever-amazing hard-boiled-egg-in-a-bottle trick. She’s taught the boys botany with plants around the garden and read them books on everything from geology to zoology.

But she’s not the only source of chemical-physical-biological fun. By now, Benjamin has attended half a dozen birthday parties headlined by the Mad Science® company. At these functions, various nutty-professor types perform experiments that entertain young children and send them home with their own dish of green slime (that sits on a shelf until your toddler opens it and turns your kitchen floor chartreuse).

And that’s not all! At school, Benjamin learned how mealworms turn into darkling beetles and, at camp, he built a battery-powered vehicle from scratch. For Jacob, he tested how long he could sit on his baby brother before Daddy noticed Ari was turning purple. In less sadistic situations,

Jacob has spent hours in an empty bathtub – with his clothes on – performing water displacement experiments.

All of this boggles my right-brained personality. I’m the artsy guy, the dad who prefers Lichtenstein to Einstein. Yet, the pull to dazzle my children with the magic of science has managed to suck me in, just a little – if only to keep up with my wife.

On a recent Sunday, Benjamin begged me to open a chemistry set marked for children 10 and older. I tried everything to dissuade him from delving into its disastrous possibilities. Wouldn’t he rather play some catch, watch mindless cartoons, or eat candy? Nothing would deter my little Dr. Jekyll.

“Let’s take this to the patio,” I said, gingerly moving the set from the dining room. “This way we can hose down the poisons.”

“No one’s going to get poisoned,” my wise 7-year-old assured me.

Outside, on a plastic table, wearing latex gloves and goggles, I proceeded to open up the box with Benjamin. It was then that Jacob padded out in his underpants, wearing my good glasses for his own safety.

“I want to do speriments, too!” he exclaimed.

Anxious that someone would get hurt, I went over all the written precautions, preaching to my son that, “Science is not like playing with soap and water,” I warned gravely. “This stuff can irritate your eyes, put holes in your jeans, and worse.”

Benjamin pulled out a mini beaker and some test tubes while I read the labels on the bottles of powder. On the first one, I ripped off the goggles and shouted, “Calcium hydroxide! Do you know this stuff is fatal if inhaled!”

Benjamin laughed. Jacob nearly cried as he picked up my goggles, “Quick, put them on or your eyes will turn into FIRE!”

At that point, Wendy came along to save the day. We boxed up the chemicals, but used the nontoxic plastic paraphernalia to perform an experiment with various liquids and some Play-Doh®.

Once again, Wendy made sure we were all entertained, happy and safe. It’s a talent she has both in science and in family. So it is for her, and all the other moms out there who manage to keep their husbands and kids in perfect chemical balance, that I wish a Happy Mother’s (of Invention) Day.

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