Thursday, August 10, 2023

Better childrearing through chemistry

TINY TYRANT TIME: Me, doing my morning paper route
Here's what was going through my  mother Huena's head when she bought me my first--and only--chemistry set. And oh no, it was definitely not, "this should spark young Peter's interest in science so he'll grow up to be a health-care professional like me."

I'm pretty sure mom was like, "A chemistry set! Peter will have a great time!" 

Huena was fun-oriented that way.

She spoiled me. Something perfect. 

The chemistry set? Just another example of how she seemed to take great personal glee in watching me try new things.  When I arrived home with my first motorbike, a gold '72 Honda 250, Huena said she wanted a ride. 

(Incoming late brother Ed channel: "Yup," said he. "I always say, try anything once. Once is research, twice is perversion.")

SNEEZY RIDER: During allergy season, the
fairing on this, my first Honda, was both
 a curse and a bless-you-ing. 
I didn't start writing this blog to tell you about how spoiled I was but--before we return to the story of the exploding chemistry set--that's what you're going to get.

Exhibit "eh?" of Peter's indulgedness? When I was a little kid I whined one Spring day that I had to wait ALL THE WAY THROUGH SUMMER UNTIL late September to have my birthday. Chimes in my darling older  brother Tom, who was born May 17th: "You can have my birthday. I'm not using it." Pretty spoiled, eh? 

Not once did I hear "You are going to eat everything on your plate, young man." 

Neither did Huena--a registered nurse--discourage me from pouring, on to a bowl of Sugar Frosted Flakes--spoonfuls of grade-A granulated white refined Redpath sugar.

Throughout all of elementary school, whenever I wanted to stay home from school, all I had to do was tell my nurse mom that I had a sore stomach, and she let me.

Did it happen a lot? When our grade eight class put together a yearbook, my classmate Michael Kohut or maybe Tim Gallagher wrote something along the lines of, "Rumour has it Peter actually attended one full week of school this year." 

I had an early morning Globe and Mail paper route; but whenever I didn't feel like getting out of bed Huena shanghai'd one of my older brothers or sisters to do it for me.  I still got the pay. 

Jeopardy answer? "The House." Jeopardy question?"Growing up, what did Peter have run of?"

My nickname--as invented by one of those same older brothers or sisters--was "Little Hitler." 

My parents never yelled at me..

POLYMATH-A-MATIC: Not only do I design scientific experiments,
I draw badges for people like me. (Prototype by the author.)
Even the day Mike Blondin and I set the house on fire.

We were playing with the  chemistry set I was just talking about. (Hadn't mom seen the word set right there on the box? As in set a fire? Hahahaa.)

I can't remember what grade we were in. I'm thinking six. Mike and I were in the boys' room on the second floor of our one-and-a-half-storey home, farting around with the chemistry set's so-called Bunsen burner. I use "so-called" because that one-and-three-quarters-inch-tall and one-by-one-inch-square glass jar with a screw-on cap was no closer to a real Bunsen burner--the scientific device invented by the German Chemist Robert Bunsen in 1855--than this blog is to real journalism.

If anybody recalls what else was in those chemistry sets, besides test tubes, I'd like to hear it. Who knows what might have been? Given the chance, me and Mike coulda built Northern Ontario's first meth lab!

But the only thing we were interested in was fire.  

One of us decided he wanted to see what would happen if you poured alcohol directly on to the flame . Here's the answer. It splashes on the bedroom wall and the whole thing lights up.

Fortunately, our laboratory had a huge workng sink in it. 

The Carter household had three bedrooms. The bedroom facing our street was the girls'; the backyard-facing one was the boys', and my parents slept downstairs. Way before I and most of my brothers and sisters came along, my parents rented out the second storey and that's why there was a sink.

So when the house wall started burning--there was at least four square feet of wall aflame--I ran downstairs yelling "fire fire!" and Mike turned on the water and blew his lungs out and miraculously doused the flame. (It could have something to do with the religious statues and icons my mom filled all the spare space with. As I believe Ed once said--except I think he was talking about the hired help-- "every cook and nanny." We had more holy pictures than did St. Clement's, our local.) 

The outcome could have been worse.

Still, I didn't get reprimanded. 

Maybe my mom, after having raised nine kids before me, was just  tired. Perhaps she was secretly hoping the place would go up in flames and she'd get a bigger replacement.  

My sister Mary was on hand that day.  And she still lives in the same house. 

I could phone and ask her if she remembers what ensued, but what good would that do? She'd probably just tease me and laugh.  

More at than with, but that's what siblings are for.

1 comment:

  1. Why do your tales of family life remind me of the kids’ book Pippi Longstocking?