The other morning, just as I was leaving, I set something on the table that bumped into something else on the table, which knocked over something else, which spilled blue liquid all over everything.
It soaked papers. It splashed on the long-haired cat, who sprinted away in shock, spraying blue droplets as she went. It spread under and around my pocketbook.
Blue liquid dripped into the mechanisms of our 1940s porcelain-and-metal table, onto the fabric of the chair and onto the floor.
My heart sank in grave disappointment.
Do you think I went into a panic because blue water was soaking into my stuff? Was I frustrated about being late for work, so I could clean up this disaster?
No. The real problem was that I just had ruined an experiment that had been weeks in the making. Everything else could get cleaned up in several minutes, or even stretching out into morning – but the effort and anticipation of more than a month of the scientific method had been destroyed.
There’s always some experiment or other going on around the house, testing out the hypotheses of my 10-year-old or preparing to provide answers.
As it just so happens, many of them involve water.
This particular one involved some items being soaked for many weeks in water into which my daughter had mixed lots of blue food coloring. The image of my papers, pocketbook, cat and floor soaked in blue still dominates my mind so much I don’t even remember what the original test items were.
A lot of these experiments take forms that some people would consider to be hassles, or in the way, or (no surprise here) accidents waiting to happen. To me they are learning in its purest form, and I get out of the way to let it happen.
These are the classic experiments, such as putting cut daisies into vases of colored water and watching the color be drawn up into petals. They are unique experiments, such as putting bowls of sugar mixed with yogurt under the sun, in the refrigerator and in the freezer to see what will happen over time.
Often they are variations of regular recipes or methods of food preparation.
Sometimes I can anticipate the results will be unpleasant or not what she expects. I ask her: “There are some factors that would affect the outcome” (or some such thing). “Would you like me to explain them to you?”
Every now and then the answer is “yes,” and I do, and she alters the course of the experiment based on the information received.
Usually, however, it’s “no, thank you. I’ve got this” or “I want to see what happens myself.”
I’m fine with letting it go. After the first few times of biting my tongue in the interest of the power of learning, it became easy and natural to defer to the scientific method.
Only on rare occasions do I intervene.
When she got excited about making a new kind of frozen dessert, I offered my suggestion on what the results would end up being. She politely declined my input, saying it was going to be great, and she already knows enough about cooking to make it.
She enthusiastically beat sugar into the eggs, poured the mixture into ice cube trays (of course, we have them in several different shapes, not just your standard cubes) and put a toothpick into the mixture in each well.
The next day she was excited as she took them out of the freezer.
Normally, I would let her try something on her own. These were raw eggs, however, so worth a warning. Because they were from our healthy hens, I wasn’t worried about diseases – but I can’t let a trial go so far as to knowingly let my daughter put something as gross as frozen eggs into her mouth.
She could if she wanted to, but she deserved prior knowledge to make an informed decision on this one.
I told her what they would be like if she were to try one. She was surprised and disgusted hearing about the result – and also curious.
“But eggs don’t stay raw when we cook them. Why are they still raw after they’re frozen? They’re not liquid anymore.”
Her question opened up a great conversation about chemical reactions, temperature and various forms of food preparation.
Life is a wonder, and the lessons out there to learn are limitless.
Although it’s easy to tell children everything, it prepares them well for life to set back and watch how they find the ways to answer their own questions.
Even if the experiment for Mama is something along the lines of: Which is the most absorbent paper towel? And the best kitchen-cleaning spray?
Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.