My son’s favorite camp served up typical geek fare with classes in electronics, roller coaster physics and pyrotechnics. Each session included informative theory and hands-on practice. He hung on his teachers’ every word…or most of them, at least.
Pyrotechnics is fireworks, the beautiful lights in the night sky that we observe on July 4 and trips to theme parks. They wouldn’t be possible without gun powder or other chemicals that cause explosions. It’s obvious, but I hadn’t thought about pyrotechnics as explosives until this little incident.
One day my boy came home asking if he could replicate something they’d done in class. “Of course!” I assured him, always will to go the distance in the name of science.
Later that day I heard an argument between my husband and then-tween son. And by argument, I mean howls of agony, cries of “It’s not fair!” and “But Mom said!” drifted through the house and possibly around the neighborhood. My husband came stomping toward me with an incredulous look on his face.
“Did you tell him he could build a chemical bomb?!” he snapped at me.
“What? No, of course not. What are you talking about?”
I didn’t realize that when my clever child asked about replicating a camp experiment it was a bomb. I mean, I was cool with flaming bubbles, a potentially dangerous, exciting, display of combustion, but not this. Ugh. That kid plays me like a worn-out fiddle.
The boy chimed in, “It’s not so dangerous. We probably have all the ingredients. I just need to get some— (he named a few common household chemicals that we did not have on hand).*”
In all honestly, he *might* have asked me earlier if we had those things on hand, but it didn’t realize the outcome he hand in mind. See flaming bubbles, above. I don’t mind a few managed risks. But, ah, no, no bomb-making on my watch.
Of course, this was not the kind of bomb that would likely shatter glass and cause loss of limb or life, but toxic enough that it could cause a serious burn or, God forbid, blindness.
My husband firmly explained that it was not safe, we wouldn’t do this at home and by the way we don’t make bombs. “What kind of camp is this, anyway?” he asked. What kind of camp? Only my son’s most favorite camp, ever. My boy insisted the bomb experiment it was not only safe, but encouraged to do at home. Oh, the agony of a boy genius denied. Talk about explosive.
I showed up at camp the next morning in a huff, ready to give the teacher and camp supervisor a mouthful about setting limits and boundaries and issuing proper warnings to student campers. I took a deep breath and reflected on one of Stephen Covey’s guiding principles that I try hard to make my own, seek first to understand before you seek to be understood.
And thank goodness for that because guess what? As the teacher walked me through her most destructive lesson, it was clear that there were many safety warnings along the way, including several mentions of the words, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.
My boy has always had selective hearing. Whisper to my husband about him and the boy catches every word. Tell him to take out the trash and suddenly he’s deaf as a doorknob. Apparently he was so caught up in Explosions! that he missed the first warning during the class demonstration. And the second through fifth as well.
He was not allowed to take on the dangerous experiment despite his promises to be careful. You give a curious kid a few tools and you never know what he –or she–is going to do with them. (Though if the tool is a set of tweezers, he will stick them in an outlet eventually. Thankfully the tweezers will be rubber-tipped and the outlet will be a GFI one that shorts out quickly and the child will not be harmed and the house will not burn down.)
Science can be dangerous. I don’t regret sending my son to that camp. Indeed, I’m glad he learned the power of mixing chemicals in a safe environment. And even if he missed it in camp/class, perhaps the ugly moments at home taught him to be more cautious and thoughtful in his approach to experiments. Then again, he’s now a teenage boy and it’s painfully clear to me that the parts of his brain that emphasize rational thought are still under construction. So who knows?
This post has been in draft mode for a while, but ti’s as timely as ever. Did you see this breaking story about a high school student who mixed a few things together at school creating a small explosion. So far, it sounds like she was a curious teen; I suspect we’ll be hearing more about it in the coming days. She facing expulsion and felony criminal charges. Yeah.
When my favorite teacher and her husband joined us for dinner a few years ago, he told us the story from when he and his friend were students at Chicago’s Lane Tech High School. The boys built some kind of transmitter and placed it atop of the school during the peak of the Cold War. Apparently, the signal was so strong, it was suspected as being a tool of Russian spies. It nearly created an international incident. I don’t think any charges were filed, though and he went on to be an engineer.
What do you think about that Florida case?
*An added benefit of
using natural cleaning supplies not cleaning your house often.
Hat tip to my friend Dani for pointing out the story of the student from Florida.