We Put the “Mad” in “Mad Scientist”

It’s April—Weird Science Month, apparently. At least in this asylum it is, particularly given that my fifth-grade progenies were recently assigned a school project that was deemed categorically intoxicating. An exercise in academia devoted entirely to my brood’s abiding love of science-y type stuff. One in which inane curiosities would not only be nurtured, but patently celebrated. Hence, the ensuing delirium.

That said, Jekyll and Hyde could barely contain their enthusiasm as they shared with me the sordid details of what would prove to be both epic in scale and absurd in nature. Like a clown car, droplets of insanity kept spilling from their mouths in giddified bursts, rendering me at once fascinated and horrified by their plans to test two of the oddest hypotheses I had ever wrapped my mind around. Fascinated, of course, because the notion of reading aloud to a houseplant (to compare growth rates) and/or sniffing fetid socks among other things (to determine what makes people sneeze) is, well, fascinating. I was horrified, by contrast, because I was certain I’d be commissioned to read aloud to said plant on occasion as well as sniff the aforementioned socks. Oy.

For the record, the socks were egregiously foul and the reading-aloud-to-the-stupid-plant gig bordered on disturbing—particularly when I found myself pausing to check for understanding and apologized more than once for mispronouncing a word. To a cussed plant. I can’t begin to express how utterly wrong (read: foolish, awkward, nay, deranged) it felt to do so; but I persevered—in the name of science and in the name of making my child happy (aka the Plant Whisperer). In a similar manner, I humored her cohort by shoving that-which-was-clearly-ill-advised (read: house dust, cinnamon and obscene quantities of black pepper) up my nose—once again, to further the field and to please my child (aka the Sneeze Captain).

Granted, there’s nothing new beneath the sun. Bizarreness—especially as it relates to the many and varied experiments my children have conducted for the sake of scientific discovery—has lived and reigned here for a very long time. I suppose I should be used to it by now, unfazed by my charges’ compelling desire to marry ingredients that have no business being together, to test the limits of things that ought not to be tested and to boldly go where no man (or inquisitive child) should go—namely, within the confines of a dryer, an occupied dog crate and a certain basement crawl space. I could go on.

Admittedly, I’ve been the chief curator of a fair number of studies described above, inviting substances of undetermined origin and wide-ranging viscosity to sully my windowsills, sinks and countertops for interminable stretches of time. Never mind the Shrine to Vileness (read: insect-related captivity) housed in the garage and the noble causes I’ve adopted over the years “…because so-and-so’s Mom won’t let him experiment at his house.” Needless to say, I don’t know what it’s like to live in a home without some sort of glorified laboratory-fest going on. I’m surrounded, it seems, by creatures with a crippling affinity for that-which-is-repulsive-yet-wholly-intriguing. If nothing else, it’s familiar—and probably vital to my kids’ development.

Lord knows how important it is to test the validity of theories that involve decomposing food, fermented dandelions and the microwavable nature of Hershey’s bars. Or so I’ve been told. Likewise, the gravity of pioneering research on the half-life of whateverness currently buried in our lawn (to include Barbie doll stilettos and a beloved Hello Kitty Band-Aid box) cannot be underestimated. Nor can the monumental body of data my charges gather almost every summer, which definitively answers the question: “How many ants does it take to haul away a single Cheeto?”

With any luck, such studies may change how we view the world, possibly enhancing our understanding of community-based synergy—or perhaps enlightening mankind relative to the hazards of exploding chocolate. Which isn’t such a bad thing, methinks, during Weird Science Month and every other moment devoted to the wonderment of discovery.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (channeling Bill Nye, the Science Guy). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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