The Science Fair

Ray sneezed. Several times.

“Do you have any Kleenex in here?” he asked, looking around the car. I grabbed my purse and started digging, handing him two — including one that was definitely not used.

From the back seat, Annabelle said, “Grandma always told me to always keep a tissue in my pocket.”

The car was silent for a minute, and I wondered, have I ever given my kids such valuable advice?

And then we were at school.  We piled out and the girls rushed the cafeteria, ready for the annual school science fair.

I love the science fair. The kids really get into one another’s projects, and the judges’ decisions aren’t made til the day after, so for that night, at least, everyone’s a winner. Last night when I tucked her in, I asked Annabelle if she had fun. She beamed. “I saw people looking at my project,” she told me, adding that she told one of her friends, “I have a fan club!”

This was Sophie’s first year. I’ve never heard of a school with a science fair that starts in kindergarten. When I was in school, there was only a seventh grade science fair, and that seems to be the norm among others I’ve talked to.

But at this school, any kid, K to 5, can participate. It’s voluntary, which is nice, because these projects are exhausting. Mostly because of the balance. You want your kid’s project to be good, but you also want the kid to do it all herself.

Of course, mostly the parents do them and pretend they didn’t.

Last year, Ray and I actually high-fived when we finished Annabelle’s science fair project. She got a first place ribbon (everyone gets a ribbon — you’re in the first, second or third place group) but it was a hollow victory.

This year, I swore it would be different. Sophie did need some help, and I drafted Courtney, one of our sitters, because a. I waited til the day before the thing was due and Ray was out of town; and b. I don’t know how to use my hot glue gun and I’m quite sure that while she’d love to try it out, that’s a science experiment we don’t want to try with Sophie.

So Courtney helped to glue and glitter and most important, mastermind. She’s a special ed major and really “gets” Sophie, so she had some great ideas on putting together Sophie’s rock collection. Sophie wrote the names of the rocks herself, traced the rocks in her “log book” and wrote a “report” what she liked about rocks. (Rocks are “cool”, “awesome” and “shiny”.) My most significant contribution was the title: “Sophie Rocks”.


And then there was Annabelle. That kid. My heart bursts. We’d decided on a fossil collection, but when the idea of changing the topic to Down syndrome came up, she jumped at it. As I think I wrote last week, Ray wasn’t so sure about that, and even asked, “Will Sophie have to sit in the cafeteria for a week?” (The projects are displayed all week, culminating in last night’s fair.)

But he played along, and before he left town he explained chromosomes to Annabelle. Thank goodness, since the aforementioned kid books we have about Down syndrome weren’t as much help as I’d hoped. (I never did find my copy of “My Friend Isabelle,” and even that one doesn’t get into science.)

Annabelle titled her project “Up Down syndrome”. Since this was a “demonstration” rather than a “collection” like Sophie’s, she was required to create a model. Luckily, Annabelle did not ask if Sophie could be her model. 

(In fact, she asked me for a photo of Sophie, but she tastefully glued it inside her report. I’d had uncomfortable visions of poster board covered with photos of Sophie, which I was prepared to let happen, since this was Annabelle’s project.)

For her model, Annabelle created a karyotype — a design of the 22 chromosomes of a person with Down syndrome, minus the 23rd, which determines sex.

We discussed making the chromosomes out of yarn, but I stumbled on some Wikki Stix in the craft drawer (check them out: Annabelle made perfect chromsomes out of them, including the noteworthy 21st. I Super-Glued them down (something else I don’t want to see the under-12 set experimenting with).


Then came the report. Here it is, in its entirety, as she wrote it:

“What is Down syndrome”? You may ask. Well I will tell you. You see, if you have Down syndrome, you have one extra chromosome (which is a thread like looking thing that tells your body what you look like and other things.) in your body. Which causes problems. See, I can’t really tell you why it causes problems. Because scientists have not figured it out yet. But I know that I can tell you lots of other things about Down syndrome! When you have Down syndrome you look a little different from every body else. And it takes a little longer to learn as well as you and me do. But even though they look different, it doesn’t mean that you can’t like the same things and be friends. I even know someone that has Down syndrome! And I know her really well because she is my sister! Her name is Sophie. I hardly notice Sophie even has Down syndrome. She knows lots of cool and elegant words like “I think not!” She really cracks me up! And Sophie has lots of friends in kindergarden! And all of her friends like her alot! Sophie has special therapies to help her up! She has a great life! the end




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9 responses to “The Science Fair

  1. I love the enthusiasm of kids, I really do.

    The science projects are both terrific! We did not do any this year, I blame myself, I have way too much going on and just did not want to take it on.

  2. Robert Polk

    A few columns ago you were looking for a special advocate for Sophie. Look no further than Annabelle.

    To have near peer aged siblings in the house forced certain development & socialization upon Ryan. This kind of influence is especially appropriate when the “normal” sibling is so delightfully unabashed like Annabelle.

    Ryan’s brothers, like Annabelle, perceive things to which we parents are blind. They won’t let their DS siblings get by with behaviours that parents would have written off to retardation.

    Think about keeping Annabelle nearby for another decade or two.

  3. Alex's Mom

    How many researchers, social workers, philanthropists and poets have been born through a sibling’s struggle?

    Annabelle with her kind heart and wit offers redemption to the fates that allow a world with disability. My son Andy, younger brother to mentally challenged- brilliant soul Alex, inspires us all with his dedication to his brother.

    Annabelle and Andy are captians of the noble army of champions for our “special” children.

  4. Kathy

    This is absolutely spectacular. I love the elegant “I think not!”.

    And the full circle of “Up Down Syndrome” to the therapies that help her “up”. (ok was that really Annabelle? I mean that’s the kind of thing David Sedaris does–filling in the blank at the end). I’m counting on her becoming a world famous fashion designer and getting in to Fashion Week so please… Annabelle! If you decide to pursue writing, consider it as a hobby?

  5. Those are great projects! I wish I knew more cool and elegant words myself.

    We’ve gotten Wikkistix at restaurants (instead of crayons) and they’re fun, but do NOT bring them home. They’re nasty sticky dust magnets. They look nice glued down though.

  6. Pingback: What is Down’s syndrome? « Welcome to Illinois

  7. Wonderful job to both girls! Very clever!

  8. Wow! I have just been browsing through your blog, taking in every word and nodding or shaking my head as i’ve absorbed everything you said…your girls are just awesome, both of them! I love the natural way that Annabelle is towards her sister, she’s aware of her in a way that she may not be if Sophie wasnt Down Syndrome!
    I grew up with DS people, we have one in our church ward, they are special children of God for different reasons that the rest of us are and are just as capable and important as any one of us!
    My cousin has a DS daughter, she is 7 now and has one heck of a sense of humour, she loves unconditionally, she is intelligent and always up for a laugh, the downside to her is…oh let me see, oh yeah SOCIETY says she’s not ”normal” but you know what? Society breeds anoresics and the like so what do they know?
    I am darn blessed with each and every DS person that has ever crossed my path in life!

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