I got my kid hooked on the white stuff. Baking soda.
One of my friends told me she let her toddler play with baking soda, vinegar and food coloring- also known as HOT LAVA to toddlers. I scoffed at the idea, believing it to be a one trick pony- the third second after I’d finished pouring the vinegar always felt like such a letdown. The trick is to forget about the volcano and just let the kid play. Liam now proudly refers to himself as a “happy scientist” (I made the mistake of calling him a mad scientist and he corrected me) and will occupy himself for an hour or more performing his experiments.
I was surprised at the amount of information we could cover with just a few household ingredients. I started off by having him look at and smell a glass of water and smell a glass of vinegar- asking him how they were the same, and how they were different. I had him scoop the baking soda into a couple of bowls, telling him which spoon was a teaspoon and which spoon was a tablespoon. We added blue and yellow food coloring to the baking soda, and talked about them being primary colors. Now it was showtime!
He used an old eyedropper to squirt water into the first bowl. We made some paste and talked about how blue and yellow food coloring can be mixed to make green, a secondary color. Then I let him squirt the vinegar in the second bowl. I wish I could describe the level of excitement. As the baking soda began bubbling, so did my Liam’s level of interest. He actually shrieked. We talked about how the vinegar was an acid, and how acids react with baking soda. We then tested some other liquids to see what were acids, what were bases, and used other primary colors to create secondary colors. Things got really fun when he decided to taste all the ingredients- doubt he’ll be drinking the equivalent of a shot glass of vinegar again. We even delved into some new vocabulary words as I asked him what his hypothesis was.
This is all pretty standard info, and by now, you are probably bored reading this blog. The real revelation was what I learned from the experiment. No, I’m not going to drone on about how impressed I was with how much knowledge I imparted on him (although I did sort of feel like Bill Nye). No, this eye opener was all for me.
After I bestowed my minimal information on Liam, I just let him play with the materials to see what he would do on his own. I became fascinated watching the colors interact with each other, almost like guests meeting at a party. The green would slowly melt into the yellow, while bubbles exploded in frenzied activity all around. I had to grab my camera. The moment was too lovely not to record.
Every mom I know, including me, complains about not having enough time for herself. Prior to having children, I created collages that were stupidly intricate. I would spend days cutting and gluing individual pieces of grass to create a field (no, I was not on meth. I just am a person that has to be doing something at all times). Coming from that mindset, it can feel like the kids will be in college before I get a chance to create something again. I believed my problem to be time working against me, but I just needed to adjust my thinking.
Photographing Liam’s experiment, I was inspired by the colors and interaction of materials. But I also loved that each picture was a moment. If the lens of the camera closed a mere second later, the picture would be totally different. I wasn’t staging an image, I was capturing it. Sounds very basic, but I think we are constantly bombarded with art in our daily lives and fail to take notice. For once, I was noticing.
I am the most in tune with myself when I create something. If I go for longs spans between creative endeavors, I feel almost manic for the process. This experience showed me I don’t need to wait until I have free time to work on my own projects- in fact, it is important for my kids to see me in that mindset. Not coloring with them, or making play-doh cookies, but engaging in an activity that fuels my spirit as well as theirs. By limiting my creative time to moments when they are asleep or otherwise occupied, they are missing out on knowing their mother as more than the person who folds their clothes, makes their pancakes, and says “No!” when they want to put the tweezers in the outlet.
I think it also fostered pride and creativity in Liam. He saw that I was interested in what he was doing, that it was worthy of capturing the moment. He went and grabbed his camera and we started photographing together. He got his own burst of creativity and asked if he could paint with the water. Why not?
Art is for everyone- not people who are trained, not people who have degrees, not people who make money selling art. Art is for everyone. I heard an interview with an artist saying how when we are learning to draw, we engage in the activity because it makes us happy. As we get older, we begin to think we cannot draw because our drawings do not look realistic. He advised to think of mistakes as quirks and accept them as part of your personal style. I’m not a photographer. Just like every other jerkoff out there, I started getting artsy with my photographs as soon as I got a digital camera that did half the work for me. Another person might look at my photographs of food coloring and baking soda and think “what a hack.” But taking those pictures allowed me to pause and absorb an instance of splendor in my day to day existence.
We have the opportunity to be dazzled at a moment’s notice. Our lives are bursting with color. Swim in it, float along, saturate.