Friday, March 02, 2007
Tuesday, Bigglest Boy was, to put it mildly, having a bad day. He could not tie his shoes – not that he was incapable of it, or forgot how – he just didn’t want them to be tied. It bothered him. One loop would always be bigger than the other, or the ends would not match, or they touched the floor when he walked, or they made too much noise.
His shoelaces made too much noise.
I took a deep breath, choosing my battles carefully, and allowed him to go shoeless all day. He walked around in his socks, even in school. The other kids didn’t say anything; I think they are now sufficiently cowed by his withering intellect and no don’t challenge him the way kids do when confronted with his odd or abnormal behavior. He can be quite overpowering when challenged.
The next day, after school, he wanted to do “a science experiment.”
“I need some charcoal,” he announced, as we were at the kitchen table doing artwork.
“Okay,” I said. “There are some charcoal pencils in the art supply box. Do you want to do charcoal drawings?”
“No,” he replied. “I need some charcoal that I can make into a powder. Also some potassium nitrate. Do we have any?”
“Potassium nitrate … h’m … I’m gonna say ‘no’. What is potassium nitrate?”
“Well, its common name is saltpeter, or niter. We might have some in the shed,” he suggested.
“Wait a minute – what do you need this for?”
“I want to make some solid propellant for my rocket,” he explained. “I think I can adapt this formula for it but I need to start with the basic formula first and then alter it to try to get it to burn at a higher temperature.”
“No burning, [Bigglest Boy]. You know the rules. What is the formula?”
He showed me the formula. It was entitled “Formula for Gunpowder”.
“Um,” I said, “I think that, without talking to your daddy, the answer is no.”
“No what?” he said, his eyes narrowing.
“No, you may not manufacture, possess, or store gunpowder, nitroglycerin, plastic explosives, gasoline, kerosene, or any other highly flammable or explosive chemicals or compounds.”
“I’m not going to blow anything up!” he cried. “I’m just going to make a fuel cartridge for my rocket!”
I took a deep breath, and said, “[Bigglest Boy], you can have a pressurized water rocket, and you do have one. You can do experiments with it if I’m watching, or if your daddy’s watching. But you may not make any fuels, or anything else, than could burn or explode. My answer is no, and I am very certain that your daddy will say the same thing.”
He looked at me. He turned around and by the way his shoulders hunched up I was prepared for an emotional eruption. He turned around again and faced me.
“I’m very, very angry at you,” he said.
“I understand,” I said. “It’s okay if you’re angry. But you still can’t have gunpowder or anything else unsafe. It’s not because I think you’re going to start a fire or blow anyone up. It’s just that I don’t know that much about gunpowder, but I do know it’s pretty tricky stuff, and I don’t know how to work with it and keep everyone safe. My job is to keep you, and your brothers, safe.”
He didn’t say anything, but looked at his formula. I went back to pastel coloring on my art paper.
“Well,” he said, after a while, “I’ll just have to do something else.”
“All right,” I said.
Later when I was checking on him, he was reading about Skylab. “Are you still angry at me?” I asked him.
He shook his head.
“I’m very proud of you,” I said.
“Because even though you got angry, you kept your temper and just told me you were angry without losing control. I know how hard that is for you and I think you did a great job. I’ll even tell your daddy that you did that. I bet he’ll be proud of you, too.”
“Can I make some solid fuel now?”
“No, sir. But you can talk to your daddy about solid fuel,” I suggested. “He may be able to explain how it’s made, better than I could, anyway, and why it’s so dangerous for young scientists to work with.”
“Okay.” He looked at his Skylab schematic, and then said to me, “I am going to make a rocket, you know. A real one, not a water rocket. And I’m going to put it into sub-orbital trajectory.” He seemed to be challenging me to say “no”.
“You know what?” I said. “I think you will, too. But, you’re going to do it with the cooperation of the federal and local authorities. And those authorities include me. Is that a deal?”
“Yes,” he said vaguely, without looking up from his book.
“Hey, [Bigglest Boy], guess what?” I said.
He tried to keep a straight face, but laughed in spite of himself.
“Guess what else?” I asked.
“I love you.”
He didn’t reply, but looked down at his book. Then he smiled.