"What are we going to do for your science project?" I asked.
"Tornados," Jackson replied.
"Tornados," I said pensively. "Or fire. Or sharks."
"Or sharks on fire!"
"A burning shark in a tornado!"
This was our conversation on the ride to school last Thursday. About 15 minutes earlier, Brandy handed me the printout about the science fair. I was pretty excited. These are the moments dads live for, right? After returning to debate later that day, we agreed that we'd do fire. No sharks or tornados. Just fire. I'm sure that if a shark had been on fire in a tornado, the video had already gone viral, and the shark had been on the Today Show and made a cameo in a Super Bowl commercial. I didn't want to do anything passe.
The idea: create a diorama in a cardboard box, which would display a burned-up house, its front yard adorned with model-sizes trees and people. We went to Michael's, and bought a bird house that resembled Abe Lincoln's childhood home.
We placed the house in the driveway. I sprayed it with a little lighter fluid. Jackson served as the fire department: he had two big cups filled with water at the ready. I struck a match and up it went (see right). The gunmetal gray smoke swirled around in the air. Jackson watched with glee, his face frozen with a look best described as "Christmas morning, 8:12 a.m." Once the house reached a perfectly charred, diorama-ready state, I gave Jackson the signal. He dumped the two cups of water on the house, and said "Awwwwwesoooooome!" as Honest Abe's dwelling sizzled like a plate of Chili's fajita trio, a delicious combo of grilled steak, chicken and spicy garlic and lime shrimp. (Pop Culture is still looking for a sponsor. This could be you all day every day, Chili's. Call me.)
"Brandy! Brandy! Come outside!"
A moment later she came through the garage and looked at our burned-up house.
"You're going to blog about this, aren't you?"
"No way. I'll get hammered."
That's when I realized: let them hammer away. In our world of SPF 85, toddler leashes and backseat sunshades, have we taken the life out of their life? We live in an increasingly complicated world, one that requires our kids to have more rules, more boundaries, more lines in the sand. That also leaves many people murmuring about how it used to be. It's a time period we seem to hold with warm, wistul nostalgia. How It Used To Be. Sure, that meant sharp metal toys, lead paint, choking hazards, and countless other dangers to our kids. But at some point, we have to let our kids live in this world. A few months ago I interviewed Dr. Alan Greene about what parenting was like back in the 1950s and 1960s. "There was a confidence that things would work out okay," Dr. Greene said. "Today we have more knowledge and tend to get overconcerned."
Fear not: the dangerous part of the science experiment is over. But I will be breaking out the hot glue gun for the diorama. I sense a viral video coming on.