a third the size of us

First, one of our favorite bits of dialogue from one of our favorite comedies:


I wish you had the visual for the look on Burgundy’s face (as played by Will Ferrell) when he says, “It’s science.” Blustery, nostril-flaring contempt. And swimming in his eyes: fear. Deep fear.

Our daughter has been interested in “science” lately – leaning toward chemistry – and has been mixing bathroom supplies to make various lotions, soaps, and hair products. Last night she asked me for advice in making a more successful shampoo. I explained emulsions to her and told her since we didn’t have access to nor wanted to use some of the typical synthetics in storebought products (even the organic/Trader Joe’s shampoo that had been gifted to us contained a huge host of massively-long chemical names), our shampoo might look a little different than the creamy samples she was used to seeing on the shelves. I found her a recipe online that involved only a few simple ingredients and we made note of these.

Here’s the thing: Phoenix is subtle. She isn’t like her brother who will tell me he wants a unicycle and if I don’t pay attention he’ll be out in the garage firing up a jigsaw to do some surgery on his bike. There are aspects of my two children’s personalities that make it easier and harder for me to do right by them; in Phoenix’s case, if I don’t take her up on her interests she lets them go by the wayside. And often they do because like in many families the squeaky wheel gets the grease. I’m trying to pay more attention but I don’t always do well with subtlety.

She is also only too conscious of our family’s financial resources and is quick to defer on what she wants if it costs more than a few dollars. So in today’s purchases of castille soap, lemon essential oil, and a pump dispenser (we had the rosemary and sweet almond oil at home already) my daughter’s eyes took in the costs and flickered up to me in doubt. I purchased them, firmly. A commitment to her ideas.

Tonight she did the math to made a quadruple batch and we steeped the rosemary while she and Nels ate strawberries and bananas over pound cake and doused in whipped cream.  We measured the shampoo ingredients one-by-one into the dispenser; a lovely, fragrant mixture now adorns the side of our bathtub.  Her hair smells like lemons and lavendar and is squeaky-clean and shiny.

My husband tells the children I used to be a scientist. That’s right, a Woman Scientist. Of course I was more accurately an engineer – a chemical engineer to be precise. Much of my education involved heavy-duty math, chemistry, and lab work. This stuff was “difficult” but it was also simple, looking back. In school you did what people told you to and got what you were supposed to and if you didn’t you tried to write out why, to scurry for a grade. It felt pressured at the time but also weirdly dissatisfying and dull; there was no “discovery” or true originality in the schoolwork and there was little meaningful person-to-person interfacing (most of my fellow students seemed primarily interested in long-term goals of scoring high-paying jobs and owning a home and a new fast car, fer realz). School was a bit alienating, although I performed well enough.

It’s no wonder I liked the world of Work much more. Work was messy and involved people who could be assholes or ineffective (or both) and scary creaky equipment and old pumps that didn’t quite work and antiquated systems and old codgers and occasionally snooty college-educated white collar folk who thought they were smarter (better) than everyone else (I think the fact I wasn’t an arrogant ass in this regard went a long way towards my acceptance and success in the field).  I did love the world of Work and if I hadn’t started a family I’d likely be still involved in something very similar and I’d probably be kicking ass at it. It’s funny to think about.

I’m not sure if my own children will ever know what it meant to me that I was a SCIENTIST and a good one. They certainly believe I’m capable of just about anything. That’s probably pretty good for them. For me their love is like being a small God. Powerful, beautiful, but also a bit scary and Omniscient.

I can live with that.

6 Responses