(a) “Mom, I need a monkey costume for school tomorrow.”
(b) “Mom, I need to bring 100 cupcakes with green icing to class tomorrow.”
Here is the modern high school version of that.
At 9 o’clock one evening, my son said, “Mom, I forgot to tell you – I need a calorimeter for chemistry class tomorrow.” (Let’s say it together: “cal-o-RIM-e-ter.”)
My brain tends to shut down after 9 pm, so for a few seconds I just vaguely wondered what a calorimeter was. When I opened my mouth to reply, all I could say was, “I don’t have one.”
The Common Household Son replied, “I’m supposed to make one.”
Me: “What?! Do we have the ingredients? Where are the instructions for how to make one?” I was still wracking my brain to see if it knew what a calorimeter was. It didn’t.
Son: “I think I need an empty can.” My son started rooting through the cupboard, and pulled out canned pumpkin.
Now I was on firmer ground. I know what an empty can is. That night was trash night, so all the empty cans were in the recycle bin, out at the curb waiting to be picked up the next morning. “You’ll have to go out and dig through the trash. You may not open a new can just to make... the thing you need to make.”
After awhile Son reappears with an empty can. “I think I need another smaller can, too,” he said. Every other mother would have responded with, “Why didn’t you get one while you were rooting around in the trash?” But I was thinking on a higher plane, the plane of intellectual curiosity. I responded, “What IS a calorimeter?”
It just so happened that my brother was visiting that night. (This brother also helped my son with some Halloween Science.) I turned to him in desperation. “Can you help him make a calorimeter? And maybe somebody can explain to me what a calorimeter is.”
A calorimeter, it turns out, is a device used to measure the number of calories in a sample of food. You are supposed to set the food on fire right underneath a small amount of water. (This chemistry teacher seems to like fire.) You measure how much the temperature of the water increases due to the burning food, and get a measure of calories. It’s easier but less fun to find this out by looking it up on the Weight Watcher’s chart.
My brother saved the day. He said we needed a second, smaller can, preferably a thin one. This would be the part where the water goes. We sacrificed one of my husband’s Cherry Coke Zeroes for science. We also donated a pencil to science. After some discussion (measure twice, cut once!), Son and his uncle got out a screwdriver and a hammer, made the appropriate holes and, voila, a calorimeter!
My own mother experienced the demand for a monkey costume [example (a) above] and came through with flying colors, making a great costume from scratch, in less than a day. Some 45 years later, she still has the costume. My husband made me throw out the calorimeter. Where is that Weight Watcher's chart?