Lesbian and Gay Parenting book coverIn a Family Way

A column by Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

In the Interests of Science

Posted By on July 1, 2009

In the Interests of Science
By Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev
It is a rainy afternoon, and it is so quiet in the car that I almost forget the 3-year-old is in the back, securely strapped into his car seat. "What is a laboratory?" he asks with perfect enunciation. "Well, a laboratory is a place where scientists do experiments, "I answer innocently, not realizing that he was plotting the creation of Frankensteinian research facility, while nonchalantly sucking on his pacifier.

It started with my jewelry. Like a crow, he sought out shiny objects, grapping them and hiding them, under his bed, in his pillowcase, tucked securely into his pants pockets (I guess he forgot that I’m the one who changes his sheets, and washes his clothes). I’m far from a wealthy woman, but he managed to find whatever gold I had, and squirreled it away. It was only later that I realized he needed to sell the jewels to pay for his laboratory supplies.

One night I heard him puttering around his room long after bedtime. This was not unusual, as he has never needed much sleep, and often has a vivid and busy after hours’ schedule, singing to his stuffed animals, reading books in bed, and coloring himself from head-to-toe in magic marker, preferably red or black. "What are you doing?" I ask in that know-it-all maternal voice, that has inflicted me in recent years like an alien virus. There is no answer, but the foot puttering increases rapidly. I ask twice more, and then announce, "I’m coming in to look," and in the flash of an eye he is standing in front of me, hands behind his back. "I don’t have anything in my hands," he assures me. Indeed, he has hidden whatever was once in his hands, perhaps the locket my grandmother gave me when I was a few years older than him? I slowly get up and start to walk towards his bedroom, while he starts to explain. "It’s a tie-dye ‘speriment," he says. "Tie-dye?" I echo. I didn’t know he knew what tie-dye was, but indeed he has figured out that if you wrap magic markers in wet diaper wipes they kind of "leak." There are glasses and cups of various sizes filled and overflowing with water and his room is decorated with hanging, colorful diaper wipes. He shows me that the ones on the radiator are drying faster. I take a deep breath. He looks awfully cute telling this story, his eyes flashing back and forth, unsure whether he is in trouble or not. I’m not sure either. I smile and compliment him on his ingenious project, and suggest that we now get into bed. He starts to throw a tantrum. Apparently, he has cookies in the oven that need to bake. He shows me the wet lumps of paper towels, hidden carefully under the small plastic desk. I put on the Winnie-the Pooh tape and rock him till he falls asleep.

The next night he assures us there will not be any more water sports. About midnight he comes into my study and announces that his sandbox isn’t "working." "Your sandbox?" I groan. I follow him into his room and discover that he has taken a large size container of Gold Bond Powder and decorated his room from end to end. His bed, the laundry, and of course, his body are covered with this white powder. "Don’t touch your eyes," I yell, reaching for the cups of water that are still sitting on the floor, in various stages of experiments. He shows me how he has tried to clean the mess up, using his brothers’ inhaler as a kind of bellows, blowing the powder from one side of the room to the other. The next day, as I am dutifully washing loads of laundry and sweeping (ah-choo!), I find a hidden stash of ….shoe polish! Small jars, neatly stacked, in the corner of his room, part of some elaborate project. An experiment.

When my older son was small I used to call him vacuum cleaner eyes, since he would suck in the whole world through his big brown eyes, scanning the territory, taking mental notes, learning all the time. My younger son is all-hands. He studies his universe through touch and feel. If you suggest that something is hot, he immediately reaches out to touch, "How hot?" "OW! Oh, you mean very hot!" He needs to learn about his world through his hands, by touching, manipulating objects; he imbibes his world by licking and biting it into submission.

I remember as a small child (older than him, I think) playing Catwoman in my room, pretending the switches on the unplugged vacuum cleaner and the keys on my typewriter (remember those), were important buttons for my electronic technological something-or-other. I grew up to be a writer, whose vacuum cleaner is mostly still unplugged. I can’t help but wonder who this child will become. He is very busy right now, concocting his ‘speriments, utilizing whatever chemicals he can steal and hide. We keep telling him how dangerous it is that he is taking things without asking. He nods, knowingly. He reassures me, patting my hand, "Don’t worry, Mom, I just working on a few projects." So, I dutifully put all the chemicals on very high shelves, and keep the bathroom door closed, and leave bottles of colored water on low shelves to be discovered and ‘sperimented.