If it’s fall it must be time for the Science Fair

If I had any lingering doubts that fall is here, they’ve been put to rest by the science projects my kids are required to prepare for school.

You’d think I’d pay more attention to the usual signs of the season.  They’ve been around for weeks.

The frosty mornings have brought an end to the growing season.  Last month’s snowstorm put an exclamation point on that.

Also, the leaves have changed to the splash of reds, oranges, browns and golds that makes living in West Virginia worthwhile.

They’re also falling off the trees, which makes living in West Virginia not so worthwhile. I’ve been cleaning up the mess the October snow left in my yard and generally doing the other chores associated with the season — all in preparation to hunker down for the winter.

Still, fall is my favorite season, but I can’t really appreciate it until we get through the science fair.  It’s exhausting and I’m just on the sidelines.  My wife takes on the brunt of the responsibility.  She’s the one who makes sure the kids stay on track.

My daughter's science fair display board ready for the judges.

This time around she helped our daughter figure out which color candle burns faster and why (It’s the orange one.  It has something to do with the dye, I gather).

The two of them spent hours on something only marginally more exciting as watching paint dry — they did get to light matches, after all. Then my daughter spiced things up by spending a few more hours arguing over how she should organize the notes for her presentation.

I stay out-of-the-way as much as possible unless called upon to rush to the store in search of extra project glue or the letters you stick to those tri-fold display boards that are ubiquitous to science fair competitions.

My son's project as a work in progress.

The goal of all that work used to be to win. Or, failing that, to receive some sort of lesser accolade — a runner-up ribbon or an honorable mention.

Our appetite was whetted for such recognition the first time our son was required to participate.  When he was a 4th grader, he won one of the top awards at his school and went on to compete in the county fair.

But since then, we’ve had to squeeze through the science fair needle so many times that it’s become like dealing with a kidney stone.  We’re desperate for it to pass with as little pain as possible.  The awards don’t matter so much as just getting a project done.

This year, our son — who should be a science fair veteran but who has a laid-back 13-year-old’s attitude toward deadlines (deadline? what deadline?) — caused the first panic attack.  He woke up one morning and got everyone’s pulse racing when he announced he needed some form or other signed and that he couldn’t find it.

“It’s due today,” he said with unusual urgency just as we were leaving for school.

It wasn’t really the fact that he misplaced the form that threw us.  His mother found it almost immediately.  No, it was what we discovered next.

The form needed to be accompanied by the questions he planned to use in the survey that was a key part of his project.

We told him to go print them but he hesitated. That’s when we found out that he hadn’t been doing what he was supposed to be doing.

It’s a good thing that particular deadline turned out to be flexible.

Mercifully, both of our kid’s projects have now been presented, giving us a little something extra to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.


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