My Hypothesis

Science Project

I have a hypothesis:  The Science Fair is a pain in the butt.

I have another hypothesis:  Most parents hate their child’s science teacher during the weeks prior to the Science Fair.

Here is my proof –

Today I spent three hours coloring with magic markers.  Michelle’s hypothesis is that Sharpie markers last longer than Crayola or the Target generic brand.  She is correct.  I have the marker stains on my kitchen countertops and my middle finger knuckle to prove it.

And how did testing magic markers become science?  She’ll probably grow up and get a job at Consumer Reports.

At our school, science projects are mandatory for all 4th and 7th graders.  Since my children were born in three-year increments, we typically have two mandatories at a time.

When DJ was 8, my overeager third grader decided she and her friend would enter a project into the Science Fair for extra credit.  Who needs frickin’ extra credit when they already have an A?

Her friend’s father was an engineer so he spearheaded the project.  We met at my office.  The experiment had something to do with conductivity.  I thought we were going to the symphony.  Imagine my disappointment when we met at my office, and he pulled out a bunch of wires.

He meticulously explained each step of the electrical process, and if I recall correctly, at the end he told us we were right about our hypothesis.  The problem was that neither third grader, nor one of the third grader’s fathers understood what we had done.

When he left my office, DJ looked at me puzzled, “Dad, I didn’t really understand that.”

“Me neither.  Wanna go to the symphony?”

When Lisa was sick, Stephanie decided her project would be to determine if Zip Lock bags, fold over sandwich bags or plastic wrap kept vegetables fresher longer.  It was January, and Lisa was recovering from surgery to remove her tumor.

On this Sunday morning, Stephanie and I decided it was about time to tackle the project which was due in three weeks.  We headed to the grocery store to buy our goods:  baggies and plastic wrap – check; green peppers – check; onions – check; tomatoes – check.  As we were standing in the check out lane, my phone rang.  It was Lisa.

“Honey, I blacked out in the shower.  I don’t know what’s wrong with me.  I feel dizzy and weak.  I had to crawl to the phone.”

“I’ll be right there.”

I quickly paid, and we ran to the car.  Thinking back on it, perhaps I shouldn’t have taken the time to pay.  But the damn science project was about to be due, and we had weeks of rotting vegetables we had to observe.

When I got home, Lisa was in bed and was waiting for a call back from the surgeon – it could be hours.  So I began the process of chopping up our veggies while Stephanie made labels to identify each one.

For the Science Fair, you have to complete your experiment three times.  The teacher wants to make sure that you are fully tortured – a slight torment just wouldn’t do.

We cut 9 pieces of pepper, 9 pieces of onion and 9 pieces of tomato.  Each piece was labeled and put into its container – Experiment 1, onion, Zip Lock; Experiment 1, onion, sandwich bag; Experiment 1, onion, plastic wrap.  Oh, and we took a photo of each of the 27 veggies along with its label.

We put all of them on a tray and set them in the refrigerator.

About the time we finished, Lisa got the call.  The surgeon wanted us to check back into Duke for a couple of nights so he observe her.  I called my mother-in-law and asked her to come stay with the kids.

About 6:30 pm, I was sitting in the hospital room watching the evening news when my phone rang.


“Yea Steph.”

“You’re not going to believe this.”


“Nana started making a salad with our science project!”

Oh $%&#!  “Seriously?”

Lisa laughed so hard she nearly fell out of her moveable bed.


“How did that happen?”

“I don’t know.  I just walked in the kitchen and she was pulling tomatoes out of the bags and tossing them into a big glass bowl.”

Son-of-a- “Just toss them back into  bags – and make sure the onions go into a bag labeled onion!”

I hung up, unable to speak.  I’d spent three hours chopping, labeling and yes, even photographing vegetables, and Nana was well on her way to creating a scrumptious garden salad with our study.

Lisa consoled me, “This is your first year with the Science Fair baby.  You’re doing a good job.  And seriously, are they going to flunk a kid whose mother has stage IV cancer?”

Both of my kids got A’s that year – probably a nod of sympathy.

This time, Stephanie decided to prove that girls were smarter than boys by seeing which sex could perform better on a word search.  It looks like the girls might have won the 4th grade test.  The planned 7th grade test has hit a snag.  All of the boys have refused to return their parental permission slip to be a science project lacky.

Either they’re scared of the potential results or they are indeed the smartest!


Red White and I’m so Blue

Posted by Danny

Today was Red, White and Blue day at school for Michelle.  Why is this so difficult for me?

I’m not exactly sure why we’re celebrating red, white and blue in March – I would have thought we’d be dressing in green this month.  But I don’t care – my attitude has become “just tell me what to  do and I’ll do it.”  I don’t need any explanation.  I don’t need a reason.  If you need my kid to be at the circus at 5 pm on Wednesday wearing a tutu, so be it.  You want me there in one too?  Fine.  Just give me the time and an address.

I think I have issues with costumes.  I was Dracula in the third grade for an October birthday party and cried the entire time.  My red eyes worked well with the rest of the outfit.  When I return to my hometown and drive by that kid’s house on Dartmouth Road, my skin crawls.  It’s a horrible memory.

Two weeks ago I taped the flyer about Red, White and Blue Day to the back door to remind us to dress up.  There has been more than one time this year when every kid in class was prepared for an event – with show and tell or special clothes or a special snack – and Michelle was without due to her father’s lack of organization.  She’s actually learning to remind me of her special events.  Do you think 8 years old is too young to manage an outlook calendar?  She’s going to make someone a really good administrative assistant one day.

So last night she told me that we needed to pick out her clothes for this special day.  She was leaving this to a taped up reminder.  We headed upstairs to make our plan. 

I pulled out a pair of jeans. 

“We can’t wear jeans dad.  It’s not allowed at our school.”


I pulled out a pair of red Soffe gym shorts.

“We aren’t allowed to wear those either.”


The Great Clothes Migration hasn’t yet reached her room this spring.  Our choices were limited.  I hit DJ’s closet.  “Here’s a red scarf you could wear!”

“You said it was going to be really hot tomorrow.  DJ wears that in the snow.”


We head back to her room.  I dig deep.  Finally – a pair of light blue pedal pushers with white polka dots.

“I guess those will work Dad.  But I think it’s supposed to be the blue in the flag.”

“I think this is the blue in the Canadian flag.  It’s a country real near here.  I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter which flag.  See if they fit.  I can iron those wrinkles right out.”

We choose a white long-sleeved tee to match – the sleeves were turning brown. 

“I think it looks good with the sleeves rolled up like daddy does when he goes to work,” I suggest.

She picks out a big red bow for her hair.  It’s squished – it looked like an Elephant slept on it since Thanksgiving.  But I didn’t say anything.

I head down with the wear.  I plug-in the iron and go to town.  Things are looking pretty good.  But what can I do with the bow?  Lisa used to stuff our Christmas bows with newspaper to keep them puffy during their 11 month hiatus. 

I nab the News and Observer and shove the sports section into the largest loop. 

I wasn’t sure that the paper was going to puff it up enough by morning.  Apparently it was a big elephant.  So, I decided to put it in the freezer for the night.  Freezers make things stiff – think about what it does to water.

This morning the bow was taut.  I put it in her hair.

“Dad, why is this bow so cold?”

“Get your bookbag.  I don’t want to talk about it.”

I can’t wait for theme days at summer camp.

“She Is As Pretty As A Flower”


Last weekend I helped Stephanie with a school project. I was fishing around for some unused poster board when I found this:

Michelle's poster

It’s a poster Michelle made of Lisa a few years ago. Danny has some paragraph framed above his desk at home that Stephanie wrote in first grade. The kids were supposed to describe something using their senses, and Stephanie picked her Dad so it says things like “he is squishy” and “he tastes salty” or something like that. It gets read aloud about once a month. It also reeks of something her Dad helped her write, thus the framing.

I’m not sure if this was the same assignment, but it also smells suspiciously of something Danny was helping the child craft. Yes, it is sad to read. But it is also very funny. I laughed because I can see Danny poking fun at Lisa’s elegance and class by suggesting things like “she likes to cook spaghetti-o’s” and “she likes to eat pizza” and “and bring some clothes.”

Michelle is pretty funny. And smart. She probably wrote most of it.

I’m not sure why the one about Lisa didn’t get framed and the one about Danny did. So I figured I’d hang this one on our wall, so to speak. We’re in sort of a “remembering Lisa” mood this month anyway. Oh, and how else could I tell that Danny helped Michelle with this poster? Because it says, “She is as pretty as a flower.”

And she was.

Lisa with nephew Sam at Capon Springs

When The Cat Is Away….


The mice work on school projects and go to the mall. And need a lot more chauffeuring.

The division of parenting labor in the Tanner household is greatly misrepresented by this here blog (although Danny has been grumbling about how much more than me he’s been writing, so maybe the blog is representative). It is not a 50-50 deal. I wouldn’t even say 60-40. No, if you totaled up the time spent with kids, chores, driving etc. to calculate the total parenting time and then split it between us….I’d say it comes out closer to 80-20. Or 90-10. And then on weekends it goes to about 95-5…or sometimes 99-1.

But there is the occasional weekend when Danny is out of town, like he was this past weekend with Michelle. Here’s a recap of how I held it down with Stephanie and DJ:

Friday night Stephanie had a basketball game. I had to use a picture of her on the bench because I was using my phone’s low tech camera and all the action ones stunk. Sports are not the Tanner family forte (more posts to come on this for sure), but I think she genuinely enjoys team activities and you could tell she had friends on the team. And she got a rebound! She didn’t remember it, but the first shot of the game that went up bricked off the rim, hit the floor, and bounced into her hands. And that, my friends, is a rebound.

Stephanie also has become aware that she’s not wearing cool mesh basketball shorts (I think she payed in pink soffe shorts all last season) and wants to get a pair. I completely respect this, and even tried to find the smallest pair of mesh shorts I had to cinch on her for the game, but she said they were still too big. I need to remind Danny to pick up a pair of black mesh ones for her.

Afterwards we went out to dinner with friends who had a game on the other court at the same time. Bruce actually paid a babysitter to stay with the girls Friday night (because he didn’t want me to give up two weekend nights. as if I got plans.) and was peeved that I was late bringing them back because it meant he was paying the world’s best baby-sitter (she is. I have mentioned her before. we are not giving up her info because we want her as available as possible for when we call. sorry.) to just sit at his house. But you have to go out to dinner on a Friday night after a YMCA basketball game, right? I’m pretty sure it’s required. Besides, the world’s best baby-sitter was holding court with DJ and her friends when we got there. All joking aside, it reminded me how “non-female” Danny and I are (and I mean that in the most biological sense. we’re not macho by any means.). That despite the fact that he is a super-caring and attentive and a doting father, and I can be a decent listening ear at times, neither one of us can hold “girl talk”. Fortunately we have a rotating cast of characters who fall through the house to do some of that. We need to make sure we continue to.

You can knock her hoops game, but the girl can do some WORK. I smell a Sallie.

On Saturday morning DJ had to go sort potatoes for community service hours for a club she’s in, so Stephanie and I worked on her Helen Keller book report timeline project. I am not all that helpful with school projects and it’s not because I take a principled stance against parents who do their kids’ work for them, it’s because I’m lazy and easily bored (but sometimes I do hide behind my “fostering independence” justification).

I am, however, great at suggestions for projects (I’m like a golf caddy for life). I explained how the illustrations didn’t have to be literal interpretations, so for a picture of Helen Keller’s mother dying, we didn’t have to find a picture of Mrs. Keller’s actual coffin, we could merely cut out a picture of a graveyard from a magazine. And I helped make her a little chart to organize which points on the timeline go with which years, and which pictures, and which captions so we could then see what we still needed to collect.

She cut them all out perfectly in, like, 3 minutes. See? I AM fostering independence.

She asked for help in cutting out all the pictures, and I didn’t even have a good basketball game to say I needed to watch. But I was saved by the rubric: 4 points for neat cutting . “I really don’t think I should cut pictures if that’s part of what you’re getting graded on.” Whew, that was close.

I texted a friend that I was working on a Helen Keller biography project. The text I got back: “Are you going to throw in some Helen Keller jokes to show she’s still a cultural icon?” I didn’t have the heart to tell Stephanie that those horribly cruel jokes are the only thing I can recall about the poor woman.

Later that day Stephanie went with Nana (my mom) to get a haircut, and then I took her to a birthday party. She said this birthday party was for one of her BFFLs (best friends for life). There are a lot of things that are different about the way the Tanner girls have grown up and the way I did, but I realized a glaring one this weekend: as a child my closest friends were literally my closest friends (the latter geographically speaking). I could ride my bike, if not walk, to all of their houses in under five minutes. None of the girls’ closest friends live within a 30-minute driving round-trip of them. Score one for public schools, I guess.

The second half of Saturday had only two objectives: finding DJ a dress at the mall, and watching the N.C. State-UNC game. Unfortunately, these events coincided. My only hope in winning out in this conflict was if DJ couldn’t find anyone else to go to the mall with, because she had told me, “I’m not going to the mall with just you.” Well then.

I don’t know if she put out an emergency all call “stuck with UNCLE for mall trip! please help!” text or just got the first person she tried, but she quickly had someone. Darn. Off to the mall we went.

I dropped off and parked and assured them I would try not to be on the same floor, much less the same store, as them. But I got bored after looking at some basketball shoes, so I started cruising some of the stores I thought they were likely to be browsing to see if I could embarrass them. Therefore, at 2:10, the approximate tip time of the Pack-Heels game the, here was my view…

…of H&M. But they weren’t there. I tried J. Crew, too, but gave up when I didn’t see them there. We were supposed to meet up at the food court so I texted with DJ and eventually we did. Honestly? I didn’t mind not being in front of the TV at tip, and I kind of enjoy being the person that makes it possible for DJ to technically be at the mall without any parents. In today’s world of DVR, I’m a lot less up tight about seeing things live (and, really, it was just the State game).

DJ and Kimmy Gibbler entertained themselves when we got back while I watched the game on a slight delay (I was caught up by mid-second half). Side note: the scheme to convert all three girls into full-fledged Carolina fans is going swimmingly. Thank you, Sidney Lowe.

If you bought this dress to wear to Friday night's dance, TAKE IT BACK because DJ's wearing it.

Later DJ and I went to get some yogurt at this place called Freshberry, where you get as much frozen yogurt as you want and can pile on your own toppings. My favorite part about one-on-one time with DJ is how much she is like an adult. You can level with her, gossip with her, she fully understands sarcasm in humor, you don’t have to change the song because it has one bad word in it, we can make fun of Danny, etc.

Then she rode with me to pick up Stephanie and we tried to steal things out of Steph’s party favor bag. I can’t even remember the comment, but Stephanie said something that made me laugh out loud. It also made me realize how close she is to being an “almost adult” like DJ.

I tucked Stephanie in that night and tickled her a lot because I realized that as they become more fun to talk to like grown-ups, the sacrifice is you can’t pick them up as much. By contrast: I stuck my head in DJ’s room (she was doing homework because she had missed some days being sick. what a kid.) and asked her if she needed me to tuck her in. She said “nah”, she’d probably be asleep soon. I said “cool” and fell asleep on the couch watching Saturday Night Live.

Sunday was another busy day for Stephanie: early service and 11:00 church because her group was doing a moment for mission (but someone else gave her a ride down for the early service. THANKS!), then eat lunch and change for basketball practice, followed by another outfit change for cotillion. For lunch I made grilled cheeses with DJ on my back about how they weren’t the way Mae (Danny’s mom) makes them.

After I dropped at cotillion, Danny was back in town, so we resumed our 90/10 ratio. All in all, though, a solid weekend.


Posted by Danny
We studied for Stephanie’s history test AND her science test on Monday night.  It snowed on Tuesday and school was cancelled. 

We studied for Stephanie’s history test AND science test again on Tuesday night assuming it would be administered on Wednesday.  Both were postponed to Friday.

We have now studied, for the third time, for Stephanie’s history and science tests.


Ask me a question about The Bay of Pigs!!!  Ask me about the Contra Rebels or Sandinistas in Nicaragua!  I know the answer. 

I like to say Nicaragua.

Rocks Are Everywhere

Posted by Uncle Jesse

Getting ready for school is not the easiest thing for the Tanner family, though I suspect it’s not any more or less of a hassle for us than it is for others. DJ is generally pretty efficient and autonomous. Stephanie tends to drag her feet a bit, but for the most part is good-natured and usually remembers what she needs for the day’s activities (though the addition of earrings to the equation has been a bit of an adjustment). And the “wild card” of most mornings is Michelle. One morning she may traipse down the steps before the other two, singing out loud and making jokes about my outfit. The next day, she might have a meltdown over her ribbon not matching her shoes. It is impossible to guess which it will be, but not very difficult to discern once you see her morning face.

Oh, what a beautiful morning!

One morning recently, Danny had an early meeting so the morning rush was a solo job for me. Our big task for the morning was having to transport Michelle’s class project, a giraffe in its habitat, to school. It happened to coincide with a Tuesday, which meant we also had to get piano books. And it was cold, so coats and gloves were a last minute addition as well. All of this was proving too much for Michelle, who in addition to being a little frazzled was also not thrilled about how the giraffe was looking. The other girls tried to help.

“It looks great!” said DJ.

“I’ll grab your piano books,” offered Stephanie, often a very helpful, selfless child.

But while minor problems could be fixed, Michelle had seemingly decided this was just not going to be a good morning.

“It’s falling apaaaart,” she whined, almost on the verge of tears.

“The giraffe is just heavy,” DJ countered. “You can re-assemble it once we’re there and it will be fine.” It was at least enough to get us out the door. But two turns into the drive to school, Michelle had found another thing wrong:

“It doesn’t have any rocks! It’s supposed to have rocks because I said in the report…” and the rest was hard to make out because the tears had started in earnest.

“We can find rocks at school, I promise,” I told her. “We’ll find some.”

“But…” She continued to cry.

Though my play here is typically to brush off seemingly major issues as minor ones, and though I knew it would not be difficult to add some rocks once we got to school, I made an astute assessment. This was not about rocks. This was about changing the direction of the morning, and it needed to be done before we arrived at school.

When we arrived at the next stop sign I braked a little harder than normal and threw my sister’s minivan into park. The crying stopped briefly and the other two paused, not sure what I was doing. Truth be told, I think they all thought I was about to turn around and tell Michelle to suck it up and quit crying (and truth be told, I had considered–it would have been justified).

Then, with an air of mystery, I got out of the car, left it running, walked the few steps to the small park we were passing and picked up a few rocks. Seconds later I was back in the car, and as I placed them gently next to the giraffe, with a smile and a tone that suggested I had no idea Michelle had even started crying I said simply, “See? Rocks are everywhere. No biggie.”

Like a prince’s kiss, the spell was broken and the evil morning mood was lifted, and Michelle and the giraffe lived happily ever after, rocks and all.

This project rocks.

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