Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The children do chemistry

The kids are back to school now, thankfully, but last week, in the days before school started up, we hit the end of summer slump. You know it’s the last week of break when your six and four-year-old are doing chemistry experiments unsupervised in the kitchen.

The snippets of conversation coming form the kitchen are pretty troubling and were it any other time of year, and not the last of a marathon stretch of weeks with no child care, I’d gotten off the couch to inquire. But, as it was, I just stayed alert for burning smells and the cries of panic which accompany a chemical explosion.

“And THAT,” explains Primo triumphantly, “is how you make carbon dioxide!”

“Ooooh,” murmurs Seconda, “Its really bubbly.”

In fact, I can hear the vigorous bubbling and see cloudy mists rising from a Tupperware, when I lean forward to peer into the kitchen doorway.

“Ah, carbon dioxide is harmless,” I figure, “Isn’t it? It’s the carbon MONOXIDE I have to worry about. I hope they’re not making that. But if they d, we have an alarm, the kind where the batteries never run out. That was good thinking.”

Back to my laptop.

Later, I hear, “WOW! These polyacrimide crystals are great!”

THAT’S how long the kids have been doing chemistry in the kitchen – long enough to get familiar with the term “polyacrimide” -- just rolls of his tongue like it ain’t no big thing – he doesn’t even stumble over it.

I don’t know what in the hell polyacrimide crystals are but

Its just a beginner’s chemistry set and everything looked non-toxic so I’m assuming its probably OK, as long as its not ingested. Which, upon further thought, might need clarifying.

“SECOOOOOONDA!” I yell. She runs in, a white powder all over her nude torso.

“Listen to Mommy. Do not eat any of the chemistry ingredients. You understand?”

She nods but I am not convinced. This bears repeating.

“DO NOT EAT ANY of the ingredients. Not the polyacrimide crystals or the carbon dioxide potionor ANYTHING. Got it?”

She nods and runs back into the kitchen, far too eager to resume the experiment for my comfort level. But then again, it’s the last week before school starts and I. Just. Can’t. This week, I take a vacation from helicopter mothering and go all free-range.

A few minutes later, my ears perk up because I hear whispers.

“Oooooh Priiiimo!” murmurs Sec, “You made a biiiiiiig mess! Mommy’s gonna be –“

“Just be QUIET! I’m PICKING it UP!”


“Just get the vacuum cleaner!”

Clearly, my children’s science experiment, as well as my own free-range experiment had come to an end. I sighed loudly, extremely annoyed at having to get off the couch and interrupt an already non-productive work session to care for my young children.

As I entered the kitchen, my sigh broke off into a choked gasp.

“You have got to be fucking kidding me,” went my brain, and possibly my mouth.

I don’t know what image I had in my mind of my six and four-year olds chemistry set-up. I don’t know if I imagined lab coats and an eye wash station and surgical gloves with an antiseptic countertop or what, but I definitely did not expect the Greatest Mess on Earth.

The y hadn’t bothered to move any of the crap which live son our kitchen tale out of the way before beginning the experiments so piles of mail and boxes of tissues of stickers, Sharpies and CD cases, fruits snacks and miscellaneous hardware items were now stuck t the tablecloth which was covered in a purple sea of stickiness. I The various bags of chemistry ingredients were strewn amidst the purple sea, most of them open and half-spilt onto the table. But this wasn’t even the “mess” Primo and Seconda were referring t. That was just ordinary working conditions. The “mess” was a pile of coarse white powder that had spilled off the table onto the floor. Primo clearly didn’t notice for a while because he’d been tracking it all over the kitchen so that the whole floor was coated in a thin white sticky paste. You could lie on your belly, rub your face it in and get a great exfoliation scrub.

“What the hell is that?” I asked, in my super-calm-totally-about-to-lose-it voice.

“Don’t panic Mommy,” said Primo. Its never a good sign when he says that.

“Its just citric acid,” he went on.

No I know citric acid is harmless because as you may recall, the maniac kid had me making DIY bath bombs a few years back so I got up close an personal with citric acid. But still, harmless or not, I don’t want it ALL OVER MY KITCHEN.

“I’m cleaning it up!” he pointed out. And he was, pinching little pinches of it in his fingers BACK into the bag. So he could use it ANOTHER day. To RECREATE this mess.

“This is too much,” I said, clearly revving up my lecture engine,” This is too much even for us. I mean, look at this kitchen! It’s not even a mess it’s a disaster area. There are chemicals ALL OVER THE PLACE!”

I shooed Seconda away and delegated some small cleaning tasks to Primo while I tackled the floor . Thankfully, my grandmother had insisted on buying me one of those vinyl tablecloths from the 99 cent store (not the $40 drop cloths sold in my neighborhood, but their older, more affordable relatives) so the purple mess hadn’t leaked through onto the table, which may have cost $150 from Ikea but is still beloved by us. I was able to toss almost all of the chemistry ingredients though the polyacrimide crystals will live to see another round of experiments. Then I took the whole Ziploc bag of chemistry stuff and the waterlogged, stained set of instructions which looks like a pirates treasure map at this point and I stowed it on a high shelf where it would be out of sight, out of mind.

At the end of the day, I’m just not the free-range type.