Saturn's Rings and Armageddon
0 comment Saturday, September 6, 2014 |
We experienced our first science project this weekend. It was hell. Pure, torturous hell.
Two weeks ago, Mr. M was given the choice of writing about black holes (his idea) or the topic suggested by his teacher: Saturn's rings. He quickly figured out that black holes are way complicated -- a PhD is required to even read about them -- and opted for the rings.
Despite my gentle reproaches for two full weeks, Mr. M chose to wait until yesterday, the day before the report was due, to even start his research.
The instructions for this odious undertaking were onerous: the report was to be typed or NEATLY handwritten. It was to be presented in a folder, accompanied by a model. Moreover, the topic was to be extensively researched.
In other words, the parents had been assigned a one-page science report. More specifically, the mothers had been tasked with researching and writing a one-page science report. I mean, come on. What non-genius seven year old knows how to type? Or constructively google?
So, yes, I was irritated. Frankly, I don't do well in Alphamomville; I'm just not that competitive. But it felt like I was going there. Nor do I have the time or inclination to research Saturn's rings.
But hells bells. I had to give it a whirl, at least jump-start the poor kid. I couldn't just sit idly by, hoarding research skills honed from years of legal research, while my first-grader laboriously pecked out S-A-T-U-R-N, struggling to master Google. Bet the other kids don't have a Westlaw wizard for a mom. I am mother, here I roar.
Besides, the on our Childcraft encyclopedia is, umm, well, 1964. My mom bought the set for us at a garage sale. The volume called "World and Space" devoted one meager paragraph to Saturn. Clearly, we'd need to consult more up-to-date sources. In the sixties, you see, scientists believed Saturn's rings were made out of ice. Get out!
Alrighty then. This was not going to be as easy as I thought.
Still, this was Mr. M's assignment, whether the teacher liked it or not. I was determined that he do the work himself. So I found an astronomy website for kids, clicked the article on Saturn's rings, and told him to have at it.
And make it good, I admonished him. No silly "Saturn has many rings. It is a nice planet. The end," report was going to come out of this powerhouse think tank. Oh, no.
Except . . . there's a raging debate about the age of Saturn's rings. GD it. Who knew?
Turns out, the particles in the rings are shiny, which suggests the rings are young-ish. The shiny particles haven't been around long enough to collide with meteorites (or was it asteroids?) and collect dust, so goes one argument. If they were older, they'd have dark spots. Astronomical signs of middle age, I suppose.
The other school of thought is that the rings are in fact old. They are re-forming all the time, due to some complicated gravity-pulling merging-with-other-matter clump thing going on. So naturally, indeed this should be intuitive, the dust from prior collisions is knocked off. Thus the particles, old as they may be, remain shiny.
Got that?
Mr. M certainly didn't. And neither did I, not completely (thinking about gravitational pull hurts my head). Mr. M and I became frustrated by the entire topic and with each other. Enter Science King Husband. But he didn't get it either, though he was loathe to admit same.
Then all three of us got flummoxed and frustrated. There was yelling, weeping, gnashing of teeth. I got so stressed out that I grabbed the Economist and headed outside to relax, to read about the economy.
But through the screen door, I could hear Science King and Mr. M hashing it out at the kitchen table.
Science King: Write down that Saturn is the most gaseous planet.
Me, yelling, from the backyard: Says who? You are totally making that up.
Mr. M: Dad, I'm only supposed to write about the rings.
Science King: I think this paper should at least say something about the planet Saturn.
Me, from the backyard: We have already spent hours researching the age of the rings. If you want to change topics mid-course, reinvent the wheel and spend all of Sunday investigating Saturn, be my guest. But I'd suggest you stay on point.
Science King (to Mr. M): How many rings does Saturn have?
Mr. M: Dad, I have no idea.
Science King: Well, let's look it up on google.
Science King: Okay. Just write down, "Saturn has many rings."
Me (from the backyard, now a shrew at fever pitch): The point here is that there are two competing views on the age of the rings. He needs to explain both of them and the significance of the shiny particles.
Science King (shouting to me): How do you spell Voyager?
Me: Is it not in the article you just read on the internet, or are you just making "Voyager" up?
Science King: You're my net, baby.
Expediency has quickly overtaken substance in importance; they are now unabashedly making it up as they go along.
Science King: Okay, so what are the rings made of, anyway? Probably gas. Yeah, that sounds right. Write, "The rings are made up of gas."
Me (from the backyard, having totally lost my composure): PARTICLES! The rings are made up of particles!
Science King: But gas can have particles in it, can't it?
Me (now insane): Hell if I know. All I'm saying is that the particles are shiny and there's a lot of controversy about the age of the rings. Just say no one knows how old the stupid rings are, few people care, and put forward the two competing views. This doesn't have to be hard.
Science King: Umm, Mr. M's pencil just broke. We're going to walk to the store to buy a pencil sharpener.
Me (calling out from the backyard): Did you get the folder?
King: Folder?
Me: Yes! The folder! For his report.
King: You didn't say he needs a folder. They didn't have a pencil sharpener, anyway.
Mr. M: Mom, they were selling Girl Scout cookies up there and I told Dad you wanted Thin Mint and he just refused to buy them.
Me (to Science King, now rabid): You mean there were Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies up there and you REFUSED to buy me any?
Science King: Umm, Mr. M, let's go make the model. I think we've researched enough.
Talk about trials and tribulations. Jesus H and a flat pancake.
Why can't it be like it used to be, back when I was growing up? My parents didn't stand around arguing about Saturn's rings. There were no family meltdowns over piddly-ass science projects. So what's changed, I'd like to know.
And to think this is only the beginning, the second semester of first grade.
P.S.: Stiletto Mom? Girlfriend, you've had it easy. Book report, schmook report. Sage mother at Mothers Handbook, what sayest ye?