When I was 8 or 9 years old, I wanted to be a scientist.
Someone gave me a microscope for my birthday around that time, which was probably one reason why. I would use the tweezers to pull out a hair from my head or tear off tiny pieces of leaves, put them on the slides and examine them. I’d fiddle with the covers for the slides as I tried to figure out how the professionals were able to flatten out a piece of twig between two small pieces of glass or plastic, often breaking the slide covers in the process. I’d play around with the focus and the zoom lenses and pretend I was doing experiments even though, in my head, I was wondering why it mattered what a leaf looked like when it was magnified at 16x.
I never really knew what scientists did when I was that age. I knew they studied things in laboratories and worked with cool equipment like microscopes and safety glasses and beakers and that was about it. But I was able to play around with my microscope, use the tiny scalpel and other tools to prepare specimens and pretend that I was analyzing cells, water molecules and the other building blocks of matter. I was interested in seeing how things worked and playing with the microscope helped me satisfy my natural curiosity.
Fast forward just over 25 years and you’d find me with my son conducting a science experiment of our own.
Eitan received a “Disgusting Science” kit for his birthday and we had finally found some time to work through one of the activities together. After skimming through the options – making fake snot; how blood forms scabs; creating the gross creatures that make your feet smell – he settled on learning what happens to food when we swallow it.
We followed the directions, using a balloon as our “stomach” and oil and vinegar to simulate the digestive acids. We “swallowed” some small pieces of bread and squeezed the stomach walls to activate the acid and break down the bread. Then we emptied the balloon to see what was left. (Spoiler alert: it was pretty gross.)
Eitan doesn’t always show the same enthusiasm for science or examining the inner workings of machines and human systems that I did when I was his age. I don’t know if it’s that I can’t read his facial expressions or that his eyes just don’t always light up with fascination the way I imagine mine did. But, as we were mixing the ingredients and following the instructions, I noticed him following each part of the process intently. He enjoyed pouring the vinegar into the balloon and gave the exact reactions I was expecting each step of the way. He knew we were working toward a goal and that there was going to be a payoff worth seeing. More importantly, we were working together toward that payoff and we were having a great time doing it.
He may not necessarily remember exactly how the human digestive system works (or he might; the activity was a really good explanation). But I’m fairly confident he’ll remember spending the time with me and having fun learning together.
I know I will.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aaron Yavelberg is a father, husband, son, brother, cousin, friend, writer, social worker and part-time teacher. He lives in Queens, New York, with his wife, son and daughter. Follow him on his blog, Sleeping on the Edge, where a version of this post first appeared, and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.