Friday, July 09, 2010

Spring, Summer, Science and... Gender!

Summer is moving along reasonably well. Ahmed went to his cub scout camp on Wednesday, along with a few hundred other kids, and he comes home this Sunday. We all miss him, and we're hopeful and happy for him. But a lot has been happening, and I will try to log some events from the past couple of months. In hind sight, I guess the only connecting theme in this post is science.

In May this year, Take Your Kids to Work Day fell on the 19th. Our elementary schools do not actually "recognize" TYKWD, they leave it until middle school when the kids are a little older and more receptive to career related education, etc. So the school required that students missing school for TYKWD turn in forms reporting on what they learned, and signed by the parents and their work supervisors. My kids love the idea of going to Dad's or Mom's work, in part because of curiosity and having fun, but also (in my case, at least) because they cherish the opportunity to tell on Dad to his coworkers. But, along with telling everyone how Dad once slept in his daughter's girly bed, and that there is a picture of it on the blog, they also managed to have fun on campus. We melted and cast some aluminum ingots, went to an exhibit for rocks and fossils, and had horrible food at the student union...

The big hit on TYKWD was the "golden fly." We looked at a house fly in the scanning electron microscope, after it had been coated with gold so the electrons would conduct away... We had help from a colleague of mine whose last name is Begg. For the rest of the day, Tala kept referring to "Mr. Bug" :-) Tala has a way with words. This is the one who defined a nap as lower-case sleep. The other day she joked, "Does ground beef come from the ground?" Hana calls it "her logic," and takes genetic credit for it. I think it is the poetry genes she inherited from a certain side of her family... :-)

June starts with Moody's birthday on the 2nd, school lets out and summer begins. This year, we enrolled the kids in a couple of camps. The first was a week-long day camp called Camp Invention. The kids bring in items from home that can be recycled and/or cannibalized and converted into other things. People took in all sorts of stuff, old DVD players, other electronics, bottles and other plastic items, paper boxes, you name it! The kids spent the week taking them apart and building other things out of them, for a specified purpose. For example, they worked on building a manifold of pipes and gadgets to transport water from one place (a "lake") to another. They also made things like models of "blood vessels" out of a pair of old CDs and some colored liquid in between. When the CDs are squeezed between fingers, the liquid is displaced, and when released, the liquid flows back but its front breaks up into small, branched "capillaries." It is actually a cool example of a phenomenon called morphological instability and Hele-Shaw cells, but "blood vessels" is a much more attractive name. The kids had a blast, really. Moody's group had to build devices and make up an advertisement to sell them. Welcome to America, where at the end of the day everybody's gotta make a buck!

Ahmed the double-digit man! This year he turned 10. A whole decade has passed since he came out of Mom's belly squinting his eyes, his lips twisted into a "whereda... did you people come from?" kind of expression. Last year, I wrote that the big interest of 9-year-olds was who had a crush on whom. This year, the question of the Spring was, "Dad, how are babies made? Giggle giggle!" OK, so that's the "natural flow" of things! The questions and giggles continued, then I started to hear their own theories like "Babies are made when grownups take off their shirts and wrestle each other." Aayokay! That was it, I sat them down and tried to level with them. I said, the male deposits a sperm which unites with female ovum and forms the baby. "But Daaaaaad!" Tala cried, "Don't tell us with scientific words, use normal words." And the questions continued... They had to hear me say that babies are made by sex. Then, Moody ran to his room for this encyclopedic type of book we got a few years back, called The Book of Questions and Answers. At the end of the book there is a section on reproduction. Ahmed knew exactly where the pages were, and he presented it to me. He let me glance at it, then asked, "So is this pretty much the whole process?" I said, yes. Then, in his present-day politically correct speech, he asked, "Can the same gender have babies?" I asked what he meant, as I quickly dismissed fearful thoughts that the question of the Spring will someday be about who's "having gender" with whom... Ahmed elaborated, "You know, like gays?" And just as I got myself ready to discuss the science of artificial insemination and cloning, my wonderful wife jumped in and cut me off. Shew! Life with kids can have its moments, and it will without wait.

Tomorrow the family gets to visit Moody at camp and have dinner together. We have not had any direct contact with him since he left. I got an e-mail update from the leaders, but that's all. We'll leave him there to spend the last night, which will probably mean very little sleep, and lots of fun.The boys deserve it, after a few days of trekking in 90+ degree weather and muggy nights sleeping in tents.

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