I sit in a blue canvas chair and watch my five-year-old son experiment in his field laboratory under our deck. I used to read while Philip played outside like this, but I left my paperback inside this morning. I entertain myself by gazing into our neighbors’ yards, voyeurism made possible by our homeowners association’s decree that fences would ruin the aesthetic. At 8:00 am on Sunday, there’s not much to spy on.
Meanwhile, Philip studies surface tension and buoyancy. From his wading pool he scoops rain water in a dish and then sprinkles dirt harvested from alongside the house on top. He drops a yellow plastic square in the cup and notes the water’s displacement. He empties the container and repeats the process. Then he does it again.
I can’t help but smile at Philip’s broad grin in response to the cause and effect. No physicist would permit himself such a display of emotion. There are no pristine white lab coats here, either. Instead, there is an endearing smudge of dirt on Philips’s cheek and two muddy prints on the seat of his pants where he wipes his hands.
Yet, there is a reason why America’s Next Top Scientist isn’t airing on cable TV: watching this is boring. I’m tempted to run inside and grab a thriller off my bookshelf.
Just as I think this, Philip provides all the drama I need. He drops the dish and bolts toward a neighbor’s yard. I jump from the chair to chase him.
“No, Philip! This way,” I huff.
For once, he turns back toward our house. I run with him in case, as in the past, he changes his mind and his direction. There is no barrier to stop him from sprinting into the road or the lake except my heart-pounding effort to keep up.
One lap around the house sates his impulse to run. He returns to his experiments.
I should be grateful that I am back to sitting. Most days Philip is more athlete than scientist. If I’m lucky, he circles our house. If I’m not, he dashes into our neighbors’ yards, and I trespass to catch him before he gets lost or hurt. While chasing Philip to ensure he remains safe, I’ve injured my heel. My foot is resting, but my mind is wandering.
Last week, to combat boredom and be an involved parent, I tried to assist Philip in his botany studies: pulling weeds from one spot and replanting them in another. I didn’t follow his undisclosed protocols, so my participation was rejected. Today, Philip follows similarly stringent procedures. If the ground isn’t level where he places the dish of water before adding the dirt, he dumps the container and starts over. If he hasn’t added the precise amount of dirt, he tosses the contents and begins his ritual anew. I don’t bother to help.
I resign myself to sitting in this blue canvas chair, feeling my butt grow wet as my trousers absorb the morning dew. I hear a cow moo and contemplate how quiet it is. I watch Philip cycle through his experiment. I stay on guard in case the need to run overwhelms him.
I have nothing else to do except pull weeds and tie them into bundles.