Monday, January 21, 2013

Hypothesis: Unless June Cleaver Rescues Me, I’ll be Melting Down by February

by Susanne Dietze

I am so not joking with that title. Gah, January is Science Fair Month.

Everybody’s kids have school projects, right? And there are three types of parents: those who don’t help kids with their projects, those that do help, and those who HELP, if you know what I mean. Most of us won’t admit to being the parent who pebble-tech’d a display board for our kids’ second-grade dolphin report (it wasn’t me, honest!) but we’re nevertheless involved, happy to lend some guidance while our kids put in the work. 

You know, just like the Cleavers would, if the Beaver had Science Fair.

"Beaver, I think you've got the right idea with your hypothesis, research, and plan. Let me know when you boys are done with your science fair projects, and I'll bring you cookies."
Ha. Double ha. Experience has taught me Science Fair is a parent family project if I ever saw one. If I could write our district’s Science Fair Guidelines to be an accurate representation of what Science Fair requires, they’d read like this:
  1. Parents Families should begin scouring the internet months in advance to research an age-appropriate project—the more “life or death” the application of the project, the better.
  2. Budget for the necessary materials. This learning experience could cost you as much as an Xbox.
  3. Study Pottery Barn catalogs for ideas for decorating the Display Board.
  4. Pick a day when the whole family is well-rested and fed so they have plenty of stamina and grace to execute the experiment, ‘cuz honey, you’re gonna need it.
Number 4 on the list is especially true, because Science Fair has a way of straining things between everyone, even husbands and wives.

My friend Suzanne (jokingly) says Science Fair actually leads to divorce, but my husband and I insist we won't succumb to frustration caused by our kids’ school projects.
"We never argue about Science Fair!"
We're deluding ourselves, of course. These sorts of big projects, where kids can have grand ideas and grades hinge and time pressures constrain us, have a way of exposing pre-existing fractures in any relationship. Hence Suzanne and her divorce comment. And yes, in our house, we get tired and frustrated when things don't work, which leads to grumbling and--


Later, after we've apologized, we notice how Science Fair has aged us. 

I look in the mirror. Sigh. “Did I have that wrinkle at Christmas?”

Sad, pitying look from my husband. “Let it go, dear."

Science Fair is supposed to bring us together.

"Science Fair last year sure was swell!"
Yet we finally got the clue and accepted a few facts about ourselves. We are not perfect. We all have buttons, we all have weaknesses, and we don't always compose ourselves as righteously as we wish. If we're aware of these potential issues, we can work on them.
"Oh my, this project is a little more stressful than we anticipated! Now we're all grumpy. And I still have to cook a pot roast for dinner!"
We also accepted a few facts about Science Fair. It is not an event a child can do with a parental pat on the back and supervision. And we should just buckle up, because things never go smoothly.

The first year my son did Science Fair, he wanted to do a project on plants. Citing her own opinions on plant projects, the teacher nixed it at the last minute and told him he needed to come up with a new project by the next day. So yeah, it was a cranky night as I helped him pick a new project that required materials we already had at home because we were out of time to buy anything new.
"Gee, Mom. We wanted to do a Science Fair project on flesh-eating bacteria grown in a petri dish. You're so mean for saying no! But of course we respect you and we won't talk back!"
The second year, my son picked a project requiring dirt—something we had in our yard for free! But lo, our loam was not loamy enough, so we had to buy dirt from a bulk yard.

Guess what was lurking around our his dirt experiment! A black widow spider! My kid was bit on the thigh. Cue the stifled scream! Oh, the cost of science fair, to both pocketbook and health (physical for him, mental for me).

"Aww, tetanus shots weren't part of my Science Fair plan of action."
It turned out that both years, my son found Life or Death Applications for his projects (not related to spider bites) and oh goodness, he placed at the school level and moved on to the County competition.

What an honor! We were so proud of him. I went along on each of The Big Days, of course. Looking around the convention center at the other projects made by kids from around the county was fun, exciting, and educational to this Non-Sciency Mom.

It was quite clear, however, that no child arrived on his or her own, and I don’t mean they took the bus.
"These projects are amazing! Say, did your mom pebble-tech your display board?"
Some kids definitely have inquisitive, scientific minds and Science Fair sparks them on to grand thoughts and greater things. That's worth investment, isn't it? Your kid is interested in geology or chemistry, so of course you want to encourage her. Give her the tools and set her free to grow and learn and become.

But of course I can’t help thinking about the way of the world, the competition of it all and whether I help my kids too much or too little compared to everybody else. And maybe I need to stop comparing and trust I'm doing what my kids need so they can learn while feeling supported, guided, and safe.

After all, we all just want our kids to learn something.
"Thanks for your help, Mom. I love you. PS, you're pretty, a fabulous writer, and I love your tuna casserole more than I let on."
And as far as our relationships go in this house, we're more prepared this year. We'll say a prayer that this brings us closer rather than provides an opportunity for discord to grow.

Meanwhile, we forge ahead. Today is Science Fair Experiment Day at my house. Prayers are appreciated as we (er, I mean, our son, with our help) execute the experiments.

Questions for the Day:
What sort of parent are you when it comes to helping? Are you hands-off, a gentle guide, or do you run the show? Do big projects like this bring your family together or initiate arguments?

"Leave it to Beaver" photos from except final photo,


Susanne Dietze has written love stories since she was in high school, casting her friends in the starring roles. Today, she writes in the hope that her historical romances will encourage and entertain others to the glory of God. Married to a pastor and the mom of two, Susanne loves fancy-schmancy tea parties, travel, and spending time with family and friends. She won first place in the Historical category of the 2011-2012 Phoenix Rattler, and her work has finaled in the Genesis, Gotcha!, and Touched By Love Contests. Susanne is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. You can visit her on her website,


  1. oh Susie... I hope you have a much smoother time of it this year!
    but it makes for a good story.

    I like the challenge of these things, but not the last minute stuff. Ugh!

    Please share a photo of the project when you are done. I mean when your son is done...

  2. I HATED science fair when my kids were in school! Fortunately, my oldest is a scientist by nature, so she did it all herself. Not that it was perfect, mind you. Her board usually looked hideous (I am NOT a helper parent!) but her experiment was always great. Or so I learned by her winning awards. In 8th grade she won the gold medal in the regional science fair with a project on the Ph balance in dogs. The judges asked if her parents helped. Her reply? "My parents don't even understand this experiment." And she was right!

    The funniest thing is my middle child--NOT the scientist by any means did get some help from me. We came up with an easy but interesting project and his was chosen to move on. He and I both took the good grade but respectfully declined the honor. The last thing we wanted to do was put any more time and effort into the silly thing!

    Hang in there, Susie. They do grow up and move on. In fact, I asked my youngest (a senior) if he had to do a science fair project this year. "All done, Mom," he said. "And we didn't even have to do a board--only a power point presentation."

    So there you go! :)

  3. I'll help, but I won't do them. Science fair is mostly an 8th grade thing in our school district.

    Christi is really super independent. She came up with an idea to test the short term memory of 8th grade boys vs 8th grade girls, which blessedly, had to be conducted at school. I mostly helped with her poster, because it would have been messy otherwise. She actually won both school and local district (looks nice on college applications).

    Jonny came up with a supercool idea, which fortuneately my husband loved and got into. That one definitely was a family project. But he built a leaf-blower propelled hovercraft, and we still have it. He won for school but not district.

    Adam has been allowed to do voluntary projects in elementary, but he hasn't wanted to, and we're so fine with that. He always opts for the musical and performance opportunities.

  4. Thanks Deb! Things are much easier this year. In fact, he started early, and it's almost done!

    It's common for fourth graders in our state to have the project of building a model of a Spanish mission. My daughter's teacher stopped it in her class because it had clearly become a parent project. Some of them were electric with things like working doorbells or moving figures.

    But my son had to do it. He needed a bit of help with the spray paint and chiseling windows, but he did really well with the rest.

    I'll send you a pic!

  5. Anne, that's hilarious! I love it. Thank the Lord for power point. My daughter loves power point and I rarely even see her school projects that require it.

    My son really does know his projects inside and out. I think that's why he moves on. He likes science and is able to articulate why he did what he did and what he learned and how to apply it. And hopefully soon he'll just have to stick it in a power point!

    Thanks for the encouragement, Anne. Nice to know I'm not alone!

  6. Dina, Christi and my daughter sound like they have a lot in common. My daughter loves it now that she can use power point--I rarely see her projects now. She's very independent.

    My major contribution to science fair is helping with the board, I admit it. We used a paper cutter and there was no way my son could do that without my help. Nevertheless, our boards are downright dowdy!

  7. No comment on what kind of parent I am... But this year's "collaboration" has been smoother than usual!

  8. Susie, this was so fun to read. (Sorry, but it truly was. ) We never had Science fairs at my son's school. I guess that was a good thing since it would have given me wrinkles and possibly unearthed poisonous spiders!

    I did always help him with his history projects, though. So much fun! I kind of miss those days.

    So - what does pebble-themed mean?

    You and Karl are awesome parents and I admire you for the amount of love and support you give your kids.

  9. I had to laugh at this post. Not that I have science fair memories as a parent. We homeschooled those years. (Whew!)

    HOWEVER, I did spend 6 years teaching science in a Christian school, and may have run a science fair for exactly one of them. The first, then no more.

    I personally hated assigning any project so large the parents ended up doing it. It was so unfair to certain students whose parents were uninvolved, and also unfair to those whose parents were too involved. (I had one where everyone recognized a girl's father's handwriting all over her display.)

    My "favorite" story involved the research paper, which was due a week before the fair itself. I had given students WEEKS,and they were to hand their papers in on Wednesday. One girl came up to me, saying she forgot it at home. Could she bring it tomorrow? I told her yes, but I'd have to take 20 points off (my policy) for turning it in late.

    The next day her mother came at me, livid. How dare I assign such a huge project on a Wednesday night, when they had church. She must have yelled at me for a good five minutes before I could interrupt and set her straight on the facts. It seems her daughter had skipped church and stayed up all night to do it, saying I assigned all the work the day before.

    Yep, sadly I don't miss those days. Writing is much better. LOL.

  10. no experience with this.
    no science fairs at the school i attended growing up.
    my child is three years old. i guess i'll learn soon enough.

    right now, i'm just confused on how to take care of the pre-K thing. i've a stubborn little boy who doesn't want to potty train *sigh*

  11. Karl, we've all learned from experience, haven't we?

  12. Aw Suzie, thanks! You are so sweet. I think you're a good mom, too. <3

    Oh, pebble tech. It's something people put on the bottom of their swimming pools--I think it's real rocks but they're bonded and smooth-ish and the floor of the pool looks like rocks. When our daughter was in second grade, they kids made dioramas of ocean animals. Her dolphin was made of construction paper, but somebody's was huge and the bottom was covered in pebble tech.

    I wonder where that project is now? Languishing in the attic?

    I prefer history projects, too.

  13. Oh Barb, that story is too much! Gah! I can just imagine you: "Er, sorry, ma'am, but before you get me fired, you should know your kid didn't quite tell you the truth..." Ooh, busted. LOL. I wouldn't miss that aspect of teaching, either.

    There certainly is quite a spectrum of involvement when it comes to parents.

  14. Oh DebH! Potty training is its own crazy thing, isn't it? I am not ashamed to admit I used a bit of bribery. Not extensive. But a bit. Good luck with it!

  15. OK, now that I have (almost) stopped laughing... Sending hugs your way for supernatural grace during science project season.
    I have to be honest... my first experience with this kind of parenting trauma is one of the things that prompted me to homeschool for a decade.
    My daughter, then a second-grader, was required to produce a written report and a model of a local business. New to the community, and to public school, we came up with a reasonable facsimile, which I made her do almost all by herself (I used the X-acto knife).
    I was horrified to walk into the school the next morning, hauling her project, and meet up with the mother whose daughter's model had REAL WORKING CHRISTMAS LIGHTS.
    At Thanksgiving, DD was asked to use old-fashioned wooden clothespins to create pilgrims and/or Indians for Thanksgiving. This time, I did it for her while she watched. She (I) got a B.
    Needless to say, we never made it as far as a science fair project.
    Grace to you in this trying time!

  16. Excellent post, Susie. And great comments.

    Pssst DebH - my boys were like that too... it's because they make the diapers so comfy nowadays, the kids don't see - er - feel a reason why they should expose themselves.

    My kids came up with great ideas and carried them out. My contribution has been:

    - buy the display board

    - use glue gun to glue fabric to recycled cardboard box (cut) so it wouldn't look like a recycled cardboard box when we forgot to buy a display board and the closest store was 1.5 hrs away

    - buy the rare-earth magnets and nag at JJ to keep them away from electronics

    - buy the pop, help drink the pop, and take the big mirror off the wall so Nick could shoot his laser gun at the mirror and have the beam ricochet back and knock the empty cans over

    - help cut apart Titles, sub-titles, etc.

    - drive kid to school so project doesn't get wrecked on the bus

    Let's face it, I make the kid do the work, but I'm there to jump in those rare times when help is needed - usually at the last moment.

  17. Niki--real lights?? Gah! LOL. That's a bit how I felt when my daughter brought her shoe-box diorama of a dolphin, made of construction paper which she cut out and glued herself, to second grade and had to set it on the table next to the giant pebble-tech'd diorama with fake plants and real, dried starfish in it. Your kid's sweet face deflates and you feel astonished.

    Just a B? Aw. I'm sure your clothespin dolls were adorable.

    Thanks for the encouragement!

  18. Nice, Anita. It sounds like you give excellent guidance and help where needed.

    When we bought the project display board this year, we noticed how many "additions" were for sale to "enhance" the projects. Flashing LED lights. An apparatus to make things spin on the board. Crazy!

    And yes, the kids definitely need a ride to school on the days those projects are due, don't they?


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