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plan a head

Ed was telling me about his science project yesterday before dinner, and I was smiling happily because the volcanoes and castles of elementary school were behind us. (I used to feel so incompetent.) Ed had to make a helium atom. I'll need some foam balls and copper wire, he said, as I stirred something on the stove. (Don't ask me what. Sausages, and stuff I found in the back of the frig.) I think that's all. Oh, and by the way it's due tomorrow.

I stopped stirring and smiling, and stood there, fork in hand. (If the fork was bigger and I wore a beard I could have been statue of Neptune.) What? I said. Ed had already left the kitchen. I ran after him. When did you say the project was due?


But it's already 5:30. We have to go now! Hurry!

I ran downstairs, then upstairs to get my car keys, then downstairs again, then back upstairs to turn down the stove and give the stirring fork to Imogen, then downstairs, then upstairs to remind Imogen to turn off the stove when the sausages were cooked, and that Ed and I would return in a few moments, then downstairs again and outside to the car. (Some people use exercise to improve their lives. I use life to improve my exercise.) Ed followed, yawning. I did not know whether to be impressed or appalled at his aplomb.

What if the store doesn't have little foam balls for the elctrons? I asked

. They will have them, Dad.

But what if they don't?

Then we'll go to another store, he said.

But what if the other store doesn't have them? I asked.

Then we'll think of something else to make the atom out of. There's probably stuff at home. He patted my knee. Don't worry, Dad.

It's really interesting, being the worrier. What if it goes wrong? is not a question I ask myself very often -- which explains a lot, perhaps. Anyway, I thought of ways in which the helium situation could get tricky -- and I found a bunch -- and then I didn't know what to do with the knowledge. I wish I was better at this.

The Dollar store was out of foam balls. So was the Staples store. So was Craft store. I knew it! I said. I stared covertly at Ed, looking for signs of panic. Found none. Impressive.

How about using tennis balls and coat hangers to make the atom? I asked. He shook his head. Ping pong balls and string? Another headshake. I didn't know what else to suggest, except maybe a fake appendicitis attack and a deadline extension. He grabbed a box of Smarties and headed for the checkout.

What can you do with the Smarties? I asked.

He stared at me, and shook his head. Oh, Dad.

I drove us home for sausages and stuff. Very tasty. Imo nodded at my compliment, and asked what was for dessert. I stared blankly. I had been going to make pudding, and then got distracted.

Oh, Dad, she said.

Ed pulled the Smarties out of his pants pocket. Imo smiled. Way to plan ahead, she told him.

But the helium! I cried. What about the helium? I felt like John in the wilderness, or maybe Jeremiah. John ate lucusts, not Smarties.

So, uh, ... how would you make a helium atom in two hours, using materials from around the home?


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