Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Failed Science Project

The data collection portion of The Storm's fourth grade science project is due tomorrow. The objective of her project is to determine which bread molds the fastest. She has predicted that the pumpernickel loaf will mold more quickly than the others (rye, wheat, sour dough and white) because she believes that darker, denser breads mold more quickly.  She also means to test whether the breads mold at a different rate out in the sun, versus in a dark cupboard. And she is curious as to temperature's effect on mold, so the fridge will become a science lab, too.

Notice I said "will"?

In December, a week before Christmas, when The Storm chose her subject matter, I knew immediately that this could go wrong. You can't grow mold overnight. We would need to be prepared, start early.

I  remembered science projects of previous years: the time Balthazar and Hollywood stayed up all night making crystals to present to the class the very next day; and another time when Sunshine and I drew color wheels and mixed food coloring in egg cartons until long past her bedtime.

"Remind me to buy your breads as soon as the holidays are over," I told The Storm.

She did.

I didn't.

In fact she reminded me several times, and each time she did my heart skipped a beat with worry.

"Yes, shoot, we need to get on that." But each time it was early in the day, hours until my next grocery trip. Or late at night, when I would say, "I'll buy them first thing in the morning."

Then I would forget all over again.

Anyway, here it has arrived, the day before her data collection portion is due and I've yet to buy her breads to mold. I've screwed up.

"Don't worry," I said, to calm her tears this morning. "I'll write a note to your teacher. The actual project isn't due until February. We'll make it work."

Here is the note I would like to write:

Dear Ms. Fourth Grade Science Teacher,

Please excuse The Storm for not submitting her data collection today. I forgot to buy the bread. Or rather, I forgot to remember to buy the bread.  

It would seem a simple thing, the purchase of a few extra loaves of bread--for a woman who visits the grocery store almost daily, in order to feed her family nutritious  homemade meals. However, alas, I did not remember.

It seems odd, doesn't it, that I could continually forget to remember to purchase the bread to mold? When I never would forget the bread to eat? Nor the many tasks that needed to be done to earn the bread, to buy the bread to eat, or mold?

In fact, everyday, since the science project was assigned, I was able to remember the thousands of things necessary to manage the lives of the five of us in our family: the cupboards were filled; the laundry was done (the blue and black soccer uniform for Tuesdays, the orange and white for Thursdays, the white game jersey for weekends); the kids were always delivered and picked up from school and their various activities; there were presents under the tree at Christmas; and multiple feasts set at our table to accommodate our holiday guests; orthodontist and dentist appointments were kept; as were the dog's grooming appointments (although my own roots were let to grow); the kids received the help they needed with their daily homework; and the chastising they needed to ensure they themselves tended to this work; I read to them; I counseled them; I scrubbed behind their ears; I pulled countless ponytails through colored elastics; I kept the house clean enough to fend off mold (in hindsight, this was perhaps an error in judgement); I smiled pleasantly across the table for business associates; I bandaged knees; and served up spoonfuls of medicine this flu season; I wrote several articles; and edited just as many; I checked regularly for lice (a paranoid habit, perhaps); I flipped at least 360 pancakes since the science project was assigned (both wheat and white--I should have let these mold); poured juice; spilled juice; cleaned spilled juice; mopped floors; changed sheets; reminded them to cough into their elbows; I've cheered on the sidelines and cried on the sidelines of soccer fields; and life; I've pulled my son out of the middle school where he was being badly bullied to implement a new homeschooling curriculum (free of science projects, for now); I've had several serious conversations with my 15-year-old daughter about sex, and trust, and the dangers of peer pressure; I've made New Year's resolutions; new family budgets; new schedules for 2013; replaced four faulty appliances and a car; negotiated with two car salesmen; answered to six different editors; I've made countless lists (some even included "buy breads"); and reminded the kids to write lists, keep track, get done all that they needed to get done; "Do you have a sweater?"; "Where's your lunch?"; "Did you take your vitamins?"; "Make good choices out there,"; I've hugged them; stroked their heads; patted their backs; wiped their tears; and tucked them into their beds at each day's end; I've locked the doors and set the alarm; and I've lain awake making more lists. I've even cleaned cupboards and tossed into the trash molding breads (that had not been properly observed or recorded)--but for the life of me I could not remember to buy the damn breads to mold! 

I thought temporarily of helping The Storm to falsify data for submission, and would have had no problem doing this myself, as a young student in dire straights--it would be easy--but I'm a mother now, and my priorities are completely changed: 

Growing strong, healthy, good and honest children is my primary objective.  So, I won't be teaching The Storm to cheat, this week. 

Instead, all I can do is beg for your mercy, and an extension. How long does it take to grow mold anyway? That's how long we'll need..., assuming I remember to buy the breads this time.

Yours Truly,

The Storm's Mom 

But that isn't the letter I sent. Instead, I wrote this--

Dear Fourth Grade Science Teacher,

The Storm is still in the process of collecting her data on molding bread. We would be grateful for an extension of approximately two to three weeks.  

--with this quote, from J. D. Bernal (a well-known scientist of the last century), in mind:

"It is characteristic of science that the full explanations are often seized in their essence by the percipient scientist long in advance of any possible proof." (Or mold!) (The Origin of Life, 1967)

I'm hoping The Storm's teacher is a percipient scientist!


Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Lesson Called Angelica (Revisited)

Early into the new year, as I struggle with new schedules and all the 2013 resolutions I've set for myself--toward improving me, my life, the life of my family, and the world in general--it seems an ideal time to revisit this lesson I learned (and wrote about) a few years back:

  A Lesson Called Angelica  
This posting finds me running around Target on a Saturday, grabbing things I would have picked up weeks ago, if I was a more organized woman.  It’s been one of those days, so I haven’t showered; I’m wearing yesterday’s t-shirt—it was right there—and no make-up.   I’m hungry, because I didn’t get any breakfast, nor have I had any caffeine.  But, I’m so late that I don't have five minutes to grab a cup from Starbucks—which has me a wee bit cranky, on top of it all.  Oh, and it’s been one of those years, too, so I’m all but busting out of my fat jeans—to my own thorough disgust.

I’m having just this horrid sort of morning, when, low behold, I see her: The woman I would be, if I could just get it together.  I always see her when I’m having a bad day—although she arrives in various forms. 
Today, she’s tall in a pair of sleek black leather boots--to make me feel even shorter and dumpier than usual--when I step into the checkout line behind her.  She’s thin and fit; she could be a dancer.  Her jeans are the expensive kind, made to look old, except the elaborate stitching on the pockets assures me they aren't.  Her hair is long and dark and smoothed.  On her face--a very pretty face--there rests a serene, almost sleepy, expression—a hint of smile, when she begins to unload the items from her cart. 
There are no children with her, but, as well as Christmas decorations, she buys a pair of tennis shoes—a boy’s size six—and various other things to convince me that, despite her knockout body, she is the mother of at least a few children.  I imagine them at home with their father.  It’s a big, beautiful, clean house—organized a la Pottery Barn, and the children are dressed for the day, although it is only ten in morning.  Perhaps they’re decorating a gingerbread house, or playing a board game—of course, they all get along.  There would be a dog, too, a golden lab probably, resting lazily at their feet.  Classical music plays softly in the background.      

I watch the woman I would be—if I could just get it together—as she, almost in slow motion, sips coffee from a travel mug monogramed with a curvy swooping A.  And on this morning, standing behind her--feeling old, sloppy and inadequate--a thought that has never occurred to me, suddenly does: A is a much better letter than C—not only is it a much fancier letter, it’s the very first in the alphabet. 

This is an irrational thought, I know, but, nevertheless, here and now, on this miserable morning—when I just can’t seem to get it together—it does occur to me, for a split second. 

Then an announcement from the overhead speakers interrupts my thoughts:“If there is an Angelica in the store, could she please come to the customer service desk?  Angelica, please come to Customer Service.”
She looks like an Angelica—she looks like an Angelina!--she could be Angelica, I think.  I watch for her reaction.  There is none—except, maybe, yes, she blinked.  She definitely blinked; a slow controlled blink of registration.  Maybe?  Maybe not. 

I watch A load her bags into her cart.  They are the environmentally friendly canvas bags, the same ones that I have forgotten in the trunk of my car—again! 
Why, oh why, can’t I get it together? 
The announcement sounds again.  A doesn’t blink this time, doesn’t even seem to hear it. 
I'm still watching her when she leaves, curious to see if she’ll go to Customer Service.  Her strides are long, but her steps are patient and composed.  Her black boots sound off delicious clicking noises.     
When she passes the exterior doors to move towards the service desk, I am satisfied—I knew I saw her blink—Angelica is a suitable name for the woman I would be--if I could just get it together. 

I check my watch.  I'm really late.  My frenzied state returns.  I bite on my thumb nail, as if this might speed up the cashier who's working at a snail's pace.

The voice is loud and guttural and mean.  And it isn't mine. 

It’s Angelica’s.
She’s marching, fast and furiously, now, out the door, screaming over her shoulder at a boy who is approximately eleven and rushing behind her. 
He's flustered, panicked.  He wants to obey, needs to obey, but he keeps glancing behind him.

“C’mon,” he calls to another boy of about seven. 

There’s terror in his eyes.   
Angelica is outside now. 
“C’mon,” the boy calls again to his brother, and the younger brother moves more quickly.  But he, too, keeps watching over his shoulder.
Another boy appears. 

It's a toddler.  He's following about ten steps behind the seven-year-old, who is five steps behind the eleven-year-old, who is almost out the door—although still looking back with that pitiful and panicked expression. 

Angelica is long gone. 
Then so is the eleven-year-old.
Then so is the seven-year-old.
Then, after a few brief seconds when he is alone in the store, so is the two-year-old.

And so is my notion of the perfect women, the women I could be, if I could only get it together