Science Experiment Gone Wrong

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I spent 17 years as a research scientist before I decided to become a stay-at-home mom with my four kids. Needless to say, science was, and still is, a big part of who I am as a parent.

When the kids were young, I wanted to share my love of science with them. We often visited science museums in Philly such as the Franklin Institute and the Academy of Natural Sciences. In Delaware, we would go to the Delaware Museum of Natural History, which closed in 2021 for renovations, but has partnered with other Delaware museums for exhibits, and is still selling memberships. The best tip I can offer parents, and even grandparents is to get a membership to a museum so that you can visit multiple times. Not only will it quickly pay for itself, but many museums have reciprocal benefits, so you can often use your museum’s membership to visit other museums all over the country. I used our museum’s membership to visit other science museums throughout the tri-state area for free.

And you can’t beat free.

One of the other science projects we did every spring was our butterfly habitat experiment. This is a fun way of introducing kids to science. You can order these kits online—which contain a butterfly cage, food, and live caterpillars. Kids get really excited watching the caterpillars go through their metamorphosis and eventually turn into butterflies. The process takes a few weeks, and once they become butterflies, you can take them outside and have a ceremony to set them free.

I loved doing these types of experiments with my kids when they were little. Most experiments went as planned, but occasionally some would go wrong.

When my oldest daughter, Kristen, was four years old I bought a tadpole kit. The kit contained everything needed for tadpoles to grow into frogs—all we had to do was order the tadpoles. I thought this would be a great scientific study for my daughter. When the tadpoles arrived, we placed them in water, added their food, and watched them grow. It wasn’t long before the tadpoles grew into frogs. Kristen was extremely excited about the success of this experiment. Yep, another awesome biological demonstration courtesy of mom, the super-scientist.

But there were some issues.

Unlike the butterflies we grew the previous year, and set free within three weeks, the frogs needed more upkeep. The water had to be changed frequently to prevent the frogs from smelling up the house. The new water had to be extremely hot and then allowed to cool before the frogs were placed back into the container. This procedure eventually became time-consuming, and I secretly wondered about the lifespan of frogs, but Kristen truly enjoyed the experience and watched me each time as I dutifully cleaned the container.

Then one day, as I was cleaning the frogs’ container, I got distracted and accidentally forgot to let the water cool. As Kristen watched, I dumped the frogs back into the container of hot water (it was pretty hot) and I immediately gasped as I watched their little bodies convulse for about five seconds and then go completely limp. Thankfully, it was a quick death for the little guys. As you can imagine, I felt like the most awful mom in the world because my young daughter witnessed this whole episode. Once again, there goes that Perfect Mom of the Year award. Horrified, I quickly turned and looked down at my daughter.

Our eyes met.

There was complete silence as we both began to process this event.
I searched her tiny angelic face for a reaction, wondering how I was ever going to comfort her and get her through such a traumatic experience. I don’t even think I exhaled.

She looked back up at me with big round eyes, blinked several times, then wrinkled her brow and calmly said, “Some scientist you are.”

And with that, she turned around, walked into the family room, and began to watch one of her favorite cartoons. I, on the other hand, stayed in the kitchen with the dead frogs for more than an hour, crying my eyes out. Obviously, not everything in life goes according to plan. Best advice I can give you is to accept it, forgive yourself, and go from there.

Kristen seems to have gotten through the whole frog experiment okay. I haven’t received a bill for psychotherapy as of yet. In fact, I’m happy to say that she grew up just fine and went on to graduate college.

And no, she was not a science major.

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