Feb 15, 2008

The Universe Is A Crazy Person

Nancy Dancehall once told me in a comment or some such that the Universe is a singularly perverse place. It's sentient and it really likes to play cruel jokes on it's inhabitants. Douglas Adams once said that a little healthy paranoia is a natural reaction to being alive. I think they're both right--the Universe is one crazy broad.

If you've listened to the radio show you know that my daughter and I have been dealing with a school science project for some time now. We had two or three weeks of time to work on it. We even started with the best intentions; she had her first hypothesis shot down but we fell back on a second. Growing moss in beer-soaked ground. I'd heard it on HGTV as a way to grow moss on rocks in your garden, you see, so I knew it'd work and it'd be an interesting result to monitor. You simply blend moss with stale beer and paint it on wherever you want moss. The blending spreads the spores, the beer serves as food, moss grows. Easy.


Now, keep in mind that our history with fair projects is a spotty one. The last Social Studies fair we had we went all out--busted butt for weeks on a lovely, in-depth study of the Roma (Gypsy) people. The teachers were agog over it as a subject matter because no-one had ever tackled it before. We went into it with a fervor, learning, writing, rewriting and rubber-cementing photos to tri-fold boards.

It failed to make a stir with the judges.

For the science fair project we sort of fiddle-farted around and did a mediocre job on testing if bottled water was purer than tap water. A lot of the work was tied up in the $110 water test kit we bought and the actual EXPERIMENTAL part was completed in about ten minutes a few nights before the due date.

It won second place at her school-level fair and went to Regional.

Regional, for those of you who don't know, is kids from 6th-8th grades of about ten local schools locked in a gym with their projects, parents not allowed. They're in their best clothes and sitting to wait for a grilling by a barrage of professional people about their projects, their processes and their results. If they're lucky enough to have their project judged right out of the starting gate they still have to wait until ALL the judging is complete, so there's no way out until it's all done. It's a long, boring process, especially for them, and not one to enter into lightly. Last year's judging took almost 5 hours. BTW, she didn't make it past Regional. I've never been more thankful for my daughter's failure in a school activity. If she'd won and had to go to State I'd have torched the board and the results. And the gym, just for good measure.

This year's Science Fair project we started out really well. We harvested moss. We got pans to grow moss in, and we bought cheap wine and beer and got milk and water and isopropyl alcohol to make sure we'd have some widely varied data at the other end of this project. We started the experiment with a bang and some high spirits (no pun intended.)

It didn't last.

The first evening the five carefully prepared and labeled pans of spore-soaked fluids were out on the back porch to grow. Belle pulled down the milk-growing moss pan and ate the sour, milk-soaked moss dirt out of it. One down, four to go. I moved the pans up to the second ledge and breathed deeply. Having to fake results for 1/5 of the project was okay.

We waited a week and nothing was growing in the surviving four. My darling daughter had forgotten to keep the soil moist so the moss would have something to grow with other than a tiny batch of beer. Things getting a little dark around the science lab at this point.

A day or so passed after that horrible realisation and a rather large armadillo somehow managed to get into the fenced-in back yard. Furthermore it got onto the back porch, climbed up the door frame some six feet up and pulled down a SECOND tray. At this point I didn't care which it was, the experiment was simply sunk.

Now, all this time I'd been gently nagging my sweet child to get started on her tri-fold board and the decorating. Two days before the project was due I stopped nagging her gently and start nagging her directly about working on it. I printed up some 8x10 photos taken back at the beginning of the experiment as proof that we'd actually done SOMETHING, brought them to her and found out that she'd not been keeping the journal she was supposed to be writing in each day: "Day 17: examined remaining trays, no growth seen, very dry. Father seems very dejected, Belle having some stomach ache, armadillo not to be seen." That sorta thing.

Guys, I desperately try to teach my child not to lie, try to teach her to live in a forthright and honest manner. I try to teach her to be fair and honest and respectful. All that teaching went to hell two nights before the project was due. We faked the journal. We faked the results. We faked everything but the initial harvesting of moss and the mixing with beer and assorted other liquids. (It's astoundingly easy to fake data if you know what SHOULD have happened.) We faked more numbers than Enron. Glued the photos onto some green construction paper in a sort of off-set manner to give it a funky moss green shadow effect, printed up some headers with the last of the green ink in my failing colour printer, punched out some bulletin board letters reading "Drunk Moss?" and rubber-cemented the whole shebang down. Wrote the abstract (more lies! moss died!) and recorded the faux results and we were done.

This afternoon she called me at work. She NEVER calls me at work. The school had foregone the award ceremony that was postponed from last night and announced the winners in class.

She's won second place. Again. Which means she's going to Regional. Again. All on the back of a project that is mostly a thin tissue of lies. Now we have to pack up our bag of faked data and entirely absent results photos (I can see it in my mind's eye now--three dry trays, one chewed up and one empty) and go to Regional.

The Universe has to be laughing her ARSE off right now.

I think she and I (the daughter, not the Universe) are going to have another long talk about lying and what we had to do to make sure she didn't fail the project. She realises we couldn't just tell the teacher "Sorry, the moss that survived the dog and the armadillo simply didn't grow, therefore no project. Please don't fail me?" Yeah, that'd fly. She realises it's wrong to lie, but I can't let my child go into school with her A-B Honor Roll standing and fail a fair part of her science class grade because we didn't think to water her plant life. Could I? We're going to skip Regional this year but not go so far as to make a public confession of guilt. I guess she's learning more than I hoped she'd learn at this tender age.

I can honestly say I never EVER thought parenting could get this hairy.

If you'd like to hear more about this topic (maybe) and have an argument with me, please be sure to join myself, Vulgar Wizard and hopefully a host of call-ins on The Irrelephant Show. This Sunday at noon CST, right HERE. Thank you, won't you?


Gordo said...

Oh. My. God. My eldest is 10 and he hasn't had to do a Science Fair project yet. When he does, I'm sure it will be an unmitigated disaster: for all of our nagging and encouragement, that boy has inherited the absolute worst of my inclinations for homework.

All I can hope for is that our faked data will be just good enough to get him a pass and not an award. Excellent cautionary tale. :-D

meno said...

I can work myself into a real snit about these "student" projects.

More like "parent" projects. They should work on them at school with the kids to provide them with the structure they need in order to succeed.

I imagine that most of the projects were mainly done by psrents.

Mother of Invention said...

This was such a delight to read! I'm a teacher who doesn't have kids and I can so appreciate your side! And I agree with meno, that they should be done totally at school so that we can be sure we are assessing the kid's work, although I do think there is something to be said for tecching homework skills, for that's part of reality for many jobs in life...especially teaching!

Good luck! And if all else fails, maybe you can just crack open a beer and wash down the whole darn issue!

Nancy Dancehall said...

lol....sorry, I'm laughing at the armadillo. I've never seen one of the critters in person, so I never suspected that a little armored tank could climb anything.

I am DREADING these projects. And I'll have them times two. Ugh. Oh well; a least they already have microscopes.

You make me sound like I have a low opinion of the Universe, when in fact I love her sense of humor.

Irrelephant said...

Gordo, I can honestly say that I've had fun with...no, okay, I hate to lie. They're aggravating. We have enough to do with homework and after-school activities, not to mention housework without adding in projects. Here's to fake data!

Meno, I'm CERTAIN a number of them are. You can walk the hall and see which weren't--they look like kids did them. Which of course cannot compete with the glitzy ones that parents did. I didn't mention that the writing part of the project was supposed to have been done in her English class. They postponed it, then never did it, and word never got home (via whichever method) that it wasn't being done in class anymore.

Hi, MoI! I'm glad you chimed in from the teaching perspective. I know that you folks are swamped with all the iLeap preparation and so forth, so I don't know that you COULD fit in two fair projects a year with your kids but lord. *s* And I agree that in theory it should help with homework skills but then again those projects are, in theory, done by the kids. I hate to admit that I have spoken personally to at least two other parents whose kids did these things last minute with major parental assistance. Who are we kidding? *g*

Nancy, they're really quite interesting in person, so to speak. As for how it got six feet up a vertical door frame to get to the tray simply to knock it over (I guess it preferred the rose' and not the white zin) I've got no clue. Having seen them do things like walk and dig and trundle about I cannot picture them climbing vertical surfaces but there he (she) was on the back porch, looking guilty. And sort of pinkish grey.

Didn't mean to put words in your mouth re: the U, it simply made for a better tale. *g* I think this go-round She was getting in some major jabs at me and I was feeling pretty used.

Daisy said...

What Meno said.

And, Martha Stewart would have told you to use milk.

Shit -- I thought I missed the radio show cuz I got up late today, when in fact, I JUST missed it. Okay. Next week.