The Science Fair

I always knew it was only a matter of time. It runs in my family. My dad was in his late 20s. My grandma, story goes, was in her early 20s. I guess I should count my lucky stars that the years have been kind to me. But as I stood staring in the bathroom mirror, I realized that the clock was ticking, and my time was running short. Two white hairs. That brought the total up to 11. In the last five years I’ve pulled out 11 thick, white hairs! As I stared at the strands in my hand, I cursed my thin, strawberry blonde head and wondered if something had triggered this fate. Then the realization washed over me like an ice-cold shower.

THE SCIENCE FAIR.

In the past five years, I have helped my children with no less than 11 science fair projects. I quickly did the math in my head. 11 white hairs. 11 science fair projects. Coincidence? I think not. It added up too nicely, and the fact that I had just yesterday drug my battered and bruised body out of the science fair ring for the fifth year in a row seemed a little fishy.

I think that the science fair is somewhat like delivering a baby. The first fair you just don’t have a clue. You go in all gung-ho and excited, dreaming of that gleaming 1st place trophy that is most certainly going to be his. You google and google and google, asking your child which project they like (“No. No. No. Not that one. No. No. Nope. Maybe. No.”) until your fingers are sore and that perfect project is uncovered from your 157th open tab on your computer screen. After weeks of finding subjects to test, putting together the perfect questions, and carrying out the experiment, you wipe the sweat off your brow and beam at your child for accomplishing what you are sure is the hardest part of the project.

But it doesn’t take long for you to realize how very wrong you were.

Suddenly the science fair is a mere three days away, and you quickly realize that you forgot to get the science fair board. You rush to three different stores, only to discover that the last board in town is about a foot smaller on all sides than the ones your child will be competing with. That’s ok though, because he can spruce it up with amazing embelishments and creative paper. Who needs a big board, anyway? 56 boxes of scotch tape, 3 packages of cardstock, 97 glue sticks, 2 containers of glitter, one roll of string, 5 pages of chemistry stickers, 1 small science fair board, and a diminished bank account later, you are on your way home. You drag all 9 bags into the house and pull the child (the one who convinced you two months before that he desperately wanted to enter the science fair) kicking and screaming off the trampoline to finish his project.

As the next seven laborious hours crawl by, you find your patience wearing dangerously thin. By three hours in, you and all of your surroundings are covered in purple glue. Tape is in your hair, shreds of paper cover the carpet like confetti. Not to mention the glitter (need I say more?). Your child types away at a rousing two words per minute on the computer letting out sad groans and whimpers. By hour six, as he lays on the floor and your voice is hoarse from more nagging than you have ever done in all his six years of exhistance put together, you question if you are cut out to be a science fair parent. You wonder how you ever were talked into this, what your child would think if you curled up in a corner and cried, how you get glue out of carpet, and what kind of horrible person invented the science fair anyway. And, worst of all, why you EVER bought glitter. But then, just when your relationship with your child is on the brink of disintegrating, he tapes on that final piece of computer paper. You decide to overlook that he spelled “Conclusion” wrong, and throw yourself on the floor with a heavy sigh of relief. You promise yourself you will bribe your child with anything, ANYTHING it takes next year to NOT enter that extra curricular activity from you-know-where.

Finally the day comes. You peek through the crack in the door and see the judges buzzing around the gym like little bees. You spot your child standing next to his masterpiece, and sneak a quick wave. He gives you two thumbs up and flashes a nervous, “Look at me, Mom!” smile. As you approach the table, you hear him chatting amiably with his neighbor about photosynthesis and androgynous plants. He throws around the words “etiolated” and “herbaceous” (what the heck does that mean again? You’ll have to ask him later) and you realize he just might have learned something after all! After sneakily googling what requirements he will need to get into Harvard, you admire the other posters and wonder if the moms behind those projects just about lost their souls in the process as well. Then the principal announces the awards. Everyone crowds around, and you cross your fingers for good measure. Doggonit, with all the nagging your child endured, you he desserves one of those trophies!

When you pull out of the school parking lot, your future scientist is positively beaming buckled in the back seat holding his second place trophy. You, misty-eyed and bursting with pride, are happily brainstorming ideas with him for what his project should be next year, having lost all memory of the last hellish 72 hours.

Of course after delivering a baby you are left with something inexsplicably more wonderful than a trophy. And for that, I totally understand why the pain becomes irrevelant after you hold that sweet little bundle in your arms and you would do it again in a heartbeat. But I don’t quite understand why there’s something about exiting the doors of the science fair that brings similar amnesic results. Beyond all reason, you begin plotting the next project. A strange phenomina that baffles me to no end.

I suppose looking back I should simply be grateful that I have hair left to turn white–that I didn’t yank it all out in the days leading up to the fair. I should be glad that my children want (at least initially) to do something challenging, that in the end they learn something new, and that their confidence gets a little boost as they accomplish something kinda cool and talk about it to others.

I can’t help but wonder if all the parents helping their children with a science fair project should get an award too. Like a sticker. Or a candy bar. Or a luxerious weekend getaway with massage and unlimited netflix included… Just some food for thought, Science Fair Organizers.

For better or worse, I very likely have a decade of science fairs left. My hair might be white as snow, but I have a feeling that won’t stop us. Science fair, here we come!

P.S. To all my fellow science fair project parents, you have my deepest empathy. I feel your pain.

Projects we’ve done in the past if you need some inspiration!

-Cracking Geodes: Can you tell what’s inside a Geode from how the outside looks?
-Rockets: What shape of parachute is better?
-Rockets: What shape of rocket nose makes the rocket go higher? The year of the rockets was hands down my favorite! I’m 99% sure my kids would agree.
-Do Left Handers have a better memory than Right Handers? This was my second favorite, mostly because I’m left-handed. And yes, according to our results, we do!
-Code Breakers: How scrambled can letters be before you can’t read easily any more?
-Boats: which keel keeps the boat from tipping best?
-Can you tell what something is just by the smell?
-Mindstorm Lego Robots: How to build a robot.
-Mindstorm Lego Robots: How to program a robot to do a maze.
-Moldy Bread: What area of the house is the dirtiest?
-Magnetic Magic: Making a pencil stand up and spin on it’s own using magnetism.

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