Science of the Times

“Read ‘Red, but Not So Dead’,” Lucas begged enthusiastically.

It is the title of an article about the discovery of methane gas on Mars. He chomps on a wedge of “sunrise quesadilla”, a breakfast he requested; tortilla grilled with cheese and scrambled eggs. He half-stands in his chair, one knee bent upon the seat while the other straddles the floor. It is his normal dining posture, though it drives his mother crazy.

Jordan sips her tea, nods approval, then adds her own request.

“Yah, then read the one about the cranberries.”

It is Tuesday, and our breakfast is a feast of discovery. Tuesdays are when the New York Times publishes Science Times. We read it together, serving reports of innovation with a side of bacon.

I am raising scholars, though I am due little credit. They enjoy learning, and it is of their own free will. It would take all my effort to slow their progress. I am the beneficiary. I learn a lot by following them on their journeys. Like today, I learned methane gas can be created by bacteria, and if bacteria is causing methane to build up on Mars, perhaps life exists on Mars. Who knew?

Lucas thrives on stories of astronomy and exploration. Any article featuring the stars, planets or the far-reaching universe receives his vote for first-in-line recounting. The stories that deal with the universe within – our bodies, disease, cellular anatomy – make him uneasy. “That story freaks me out,” he will say. But Jordan is less discriminating. She enjoys being read to, and finds a bit of interest in all the topics. She retains obscure pieces of information from the stories, then springs them when we least expect. One day on a car ride across town, she said she didn’t like it when the monkeys get sick. I had no idea what she meant, so I asked her. After a few minutes of obscure conversation I finally realized she was referencing a story we had read in Science Times, about monkeys used in clinical trials who were exposed to disease.

Today, at Jordan’s request, we read a seasonally-appropriate story on the cultivation of cranberries. Evidently, she learned about cranberries in her kindergarten class.

“Cranberries grow in the water … on a bog,” she says.

She climbs on my lap and oogles the color photographs that accompany the story; bright red berries clustered in circles floating on a shallow bay. I am bolstered by her interest and her classroom recollection. Last week, we met with her teacher for parent-teacher conference. Jordan is doing so well. Though she continues to struggle with some fine-motor skills, her cognitive abilities are back at full-steam. We were relieved to learn that she is progressing normally. She loves going to school, loves her teacher, loves her class. Apparently, all three love her, too.

Lucas zones out a bit during all the talk of berries. He wants me to move on to a story about intentional flooding of the Colorado river in the Grand Canyon. An accompanying photo shows torrent jets of water firing from the base of the dam. I have to admit, it looks pretty cool. Jordan listens in for a moment, then finishes her tea and dons her Mary Janes. It’s time to stop reading and finish our morning, hair to comb, teeth to brush, backpacks to stuff. We gather at the door ready to face the Tuesday. Jeanette ushers them down the hall to the minivan while I pack my laptop. From the distance, I hear Jordan exclaim, “cranberries grow in Massachusetts.” She mangles the name of the state and Jeanette corrects her. She tries again, and improves a little. I think to myself, “you go, girl.”