Science? Fair enough

My 11-year-old recently brought me a cup of what appeared to be grapefruit juice.

"Here, Dad," he said. "Drink this."

My response? "No way."

I'm an experienced parent. I know better. One, I didn't like the way he was grinning. Two, I knew he'd been playing with his chemistry set.

His grin faltered. "Aw, come on."

"Forget about it. You want someone to drink it, you do it. I'll stand by to call a doctor."

His crest had fallen by this time, but he gave it one last shot: "I'll just set it here on the table. Maybe you'll drink it later."

As soon as he was out of the room, I poured it down the drain.

Does this make me a bad parent? Or, at least, a poor sport? I don't care. I'm not putting something that's nasty (or, worse, toxic) in my mouth just so he can be a happy Junior Scientist.

Most days, our house resembles a sloppy laboratory. Our two sons always are dreaming up some new concoction that's guaranteed to make a mess. Dishes and beakers full of mystery goop sit around on countertops for weeks at a time. I know better than to throw them out; I'll never hear the end of it. What looked like moldy split-pea soup will turn out to be an important experiment -- a cure for cancer, the secret to cold fusion.

We indulgent parents play along, hoping the boys' interest in science will eventually result in a Science Fair project not hastily assembled the night before it's due. We've provided chemistry sets and microscopes and telescopes and geology kits. The kids have numerous books of experiments, including one called -- and I'm not making this up -- "Icky Sticky Foamy Slimy Ooey Gooey Chemistry."

Our philosophy is that any interest in science should be cultivated. Maybe the kids will become highly paid researchers one day.

But you have to draw the line somewhere. And, for me, the line begins at my lips. I'm not drinking some foul-smelling potion just so my son can see whether it will turn me into a werewolf.

The boys' interest in science crops up at inconvenient times. We were late for school one day because the 11-year-old was busy freezing a bug in a cup of water. On more than one occasion, "volcanoes" made of baking soda and vinegar have overflowed, making huge messes and leaving the entire kitchen smelling like pickles. This usually occurs when we have company coming.

My older son has discovered recently that cooking, particularly baking, is similar to conducting science experiments. Most of his kitchen trials revolve around sugar, as does his entire diet. He's made butterscotch pudding and something called "chocolate pots." By all accounts, they've been delicious. I've given them a pass, part of my continuing effort to avoid acting as guinea pig.

Mom supervises the kitchen experiments, though it usually falls to Dad to clean up. She's better in the kitchen than I am, and more tolerant of the boys' adventures, though I didn't see her sampling the "chocolate pot" either.

She was in charge the day the kids used their chemistry set to make something called "flaming goo," which apparently involved a match and a shooting flame. I wasn't home that day. Just as well.

Then there were the sea monkeys. Anyone who's ever read a comic book has seen the ads for sea monkeys you can grow right in your own home. The boys plunked down their money and got in the mail a small plastic aquarium, dried brine shrimp and shrimp food.

They carefully set up the aquarium -- in the kitchen, naturally -- and added water and shrimp and other supplies. Then, in a what-do-you-mean-read-the-instructions moment, our 8-year-old dumped all the food into the tank at once. The water turned a murky brown. This apparently meant instant death for any sea monkeys that might have survived shipping.

For weeks afterward, a tank of brown glurch sat on the countertop, regularly inspected for any signs of life. Finally, we dumped it out.

You can bet I didn't taste it first.

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