Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

April 08, 2002

The Physics of Crayons

Lucy’s career as a scientist continues. She learned recently that if crayons are placed carefully in front of the fireplace, they will melt. This is not an insignificant discovery; melted crayons spread far more smoothly over floors, walls and upholstered furniture than they do in their natural state.

As Lucy’s lab assistant, I have learned something important about crayons: I hate them. Their only redeeming factor is that at least now I can say the floors have been waxed.

Lucy’s experimenting has not stopped with crayons. For Easter, we bought her some foil-covered chocolate eggs. I pause every year at this time to ponder who thought it was a good idea to have rabbits deliver small, brown pellets for children to eat. No one who’s ever had a rabbit for a pet, that's for sure.

Lucy doesn’t just unwrap the eggs and eat them. She strips them bare, mashes them against her nose and inhales deeply, as one might smell the cork of a prized wine. Then she puts them in her mouth, pulls them out and passes them from hand to hand until she has chocolate smeared from her chin to her fingertips. This, she has discovered, leaves no candy for her stomach. So the experiment starts over with another foil-wrapped egg. I’m not really sure what the goal of the experiment is, other than to determine whether chocolate can be tasted through the skin.

Here, my role as lab assistant requires me to eat as many of the eggs as possible myself. I’m not really sure what my goal is here, other than to minimize the all the smearing. Otherwise, I’m just taking candy from a baby, something that’s already been proven easy to do by countless lab assistants before me.

Her other primary food experiment involves rudimentary calculus. Lucy is figuring out the volume of her mouth by stuffing it as full of food as she possibly can. Is her mouth the same size as a bowl of goldfish crackers? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to eat them all at once. If I try to stop her, or encourage her to chew, she gives me the look she always gets when she experiments. It’s a look that says, “I dare you to revoke the funding on this project. If you even try, I will scream until my face turns purple, and I might kick your neck.”

With as much intensity, Lucy is also studying gravity. Did you know, for example, that cat food, dropped from the back of the chair in the family room, can bounce all the way across the room? Or that when you shake your sippy cup very hard, you can spray milk?

Lucy knows this. She also tells me in her outside voice exactly what it’s called: “BIG MESS.” For some reason, however, she describes pen on the wall as a “TINY MESS.” Clearly, her scientific experimentation is running just a bit ahead of her ability to comprehend adjectives.

It’s also running ahead of her ability to understand expletives, which is lucky for me. I let one that rhymes with snap fly out of my mouth last week when I came upon her making a concoction in the dog’s water dish. She’d taken cat food from the bowl next door, one pellet at a time, mixed it into the water, and was scooping handfuls of the resulting sludge and rubbing it in her hair. She smelled like tuna and socks.

I suppose rubbing it in her hair is a notch better than eating it. She does that too, only not as much as she used to. I think she fears her lab assistant will go on strike if such experimentation continues.

Little does she know, though, that I wouldn’t go on strike, even if I could. Though it’s often terrible to behold and messy to clean, there is something quite wonderful about watching a child get to know the world using every limb and sense she has. As her assistant, I’m getting to smell and touch and taste it all too. Except for the cat food slurry, of course. That’s just gross.


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