First, line up with the parents and the strollers outside the doors, wondering what’s going on. A mass of parents is milling because none of them know what to do about the sign in sheets. Sign in to show your support as well as your perspicacity. Then sign up for the Star Lab, because your daughter is bouncing off the walls to go (she went once already during the school day).
Then walk around the exhibits for a while. Your daughter will show you her class’s exhibit, which is about water: animals need it. Small fish swim in tiny plastic containers, and millipedes and pillbugs rest on dirt and moss.
Start to count volcano exhibits, and naked egg exhibits, and crystal formation exhibits, and give up.
Stop at the Oreo exhibit, about how Oreos love milk. The girl contacted Nabisco to find out whether a special ingredient was added; there wasn’t. The girl tested four types of milk (whole, 2-percent, soy, and almond) to determine best absorption. More fat meant more absorption (although the whole milk, she decided, was a bit much). Tell the girl how much you liked her exhibit when she walks by, bragging about her awesome exhibit.
Your daughter is engrossed in the salamander and frog exhibit run by two dissimilar-looking brothers. But it’s time to go, so start walking while you look for your tickets. You hate tickets; you always lose them.
Stand in line for the Star Lab. You have to put booties on over your shoes so you don’t scratch the canvas over the floor. Get down on your knees and crawl into the womb of the sky, a canvas hemisphere tent onto which a volunteer projects the stars with a twenty-five-dollar lightbulb the size of a grain of millet. Your eyes take a long time to adjust, and you begrudge every second of it while the stars spread over you in a way you haven’t been able to feel for years. You cannot see the Milky Way, and you miss it.
The top of the tent is flat, because the ceiling isn’t high enough, but you don’t mind as the ex-teacher volunteer talks about how much everything costs. You see stars and Greek myths marching across the bubble of the sky and a projection of the world, with the Arctic Circle cut off at almost exactly the right latitude.
You crawl out again, in order, despite the protests of little boys who want to Go First, and edge your way out of groups and groups and groups of people standing in line, hoping to get to see the stars, even without a ticket.
You go upstairs to the older kids’ exhibits. One of the exhibits is a fake; it’s a bogus experiment off the Internet copied right down to screen shots from YouTube videos. You were disappointed the experiment was a fake when you found out; it seemed perfect for your daughter’s birthday party.
More volcanoes, more eggs, more salt.
Most of the exhibits are hand-lettered, showing either understanding or a lack of understanding of what a hypothesis is, but not professional or parental. You are proud of that, even the girls who have written their hypotheses with circles and hearts and stars for the dots of their is.
You hang around the salamander/frog boys with your daughter, who is hoping to touch the animals again. Another little girl, apparently a teacher’s daughter, tries to scare the frogs out of their cage, and you have to tell her to knock it off several times before her mother shows up, oblivious to how much of a jerk her daughter is being to the boys and the animals. You want to tell the mother to spank her daughter, but you know she will say, “For what?” even as she watches it. But the girl leaves with her mother, both whining, and you chase your daughter off so the boys and their mother can go home.
People are sweeping the floor fifteen minutes before closing time and your stomach is rumbling. You go home and think about what you would like to do for a science project, if you were in school again. Something, you think, having to do with cooking. Your daughter tells you she wants to do a science experiment about animals. She just doesn’t know what yet.