Thank you, Susan Wright, Nancy Elliot Edison, Ann Child Franklin and other moms who showed us (at least as far as I know), how to be good mothers to children who think outside the box, who always have a new experiment brewing, made big messes, and who probably got in a lot of trouble.
I often write about how we should encourage our kids to spend time building, innovating and inventing things. I do not always think about what that means for a mother who does so.
This weekend, my fourth grader had to invent something for an Invention Convention at school. Last weekend, we went to the da Vinci exhibit in Denver to get inspired, and since then, he as asked every single day to go again. During the week, my son drew pictures of his invention and made a list of the materials he needed.
Then to kick off this weekend, the boys and I hit Home Depot – a place you should never go with three young boys. They became instantly high-strung, and we left with one injury and one stomach ache. But as my son said, “Most great inventions these days start at Home Depot.”
Back at home, work on the invention began immediately. The garage was emptied of its electric tools, only one of which was required, though I was not sure how to use it. He cut. He glued. I searched for the bungee cords to hold the pieces together while the glue dried. I took photographs of the master inventor at work so he could use them for his display at school. I followed him around, cleaning up scraps of foam and cardboard, helped find the scissors every time they mysteriously moved, and provided water when the inventor grew thirsty.
More importantly, I said “No!” a hundred times to the preschooler who kept grabbing steak knives out of the kitchen drawers and trying to invent something on his own.
We picked up my husband at the airport at 7:00 p.m. While I cooked a late dinner, we put him to work teaching the fourth grader how to use a power drill.
By Sunday morning, all that was left to do was finish the display and paint the invention, because we decided that people only buy inventions that look cool.
“Can I help paint? I wanna help!” chanted the preschooler, to which the inventor cheerfully replied, “This is my invention. It’s against the rules to get help.”
And then he was done. Peace… until….
“Mom, can we go in the garage and make another invention?” All three boys stood smiling before me.
“Really?” But then I remembered how often I wished they would use their time in more creative pursuits. “Be careful, and no using anything dangerous.”
They were off. I heard hammering. The power drill. And I heard my three guys talking, working as a team. When the preschooler ran in the house asking for a big spoon, I didn’t think twice. He sounded serious and was more than thrilled to be part of the team.
I was a happy mom.
Then suddenly, they were all inside. Quiet. Hovering.
“Um, uh, mom, where are the paper towels?”
When I got to the garage, I discovered that they had opened a large pan of oil-based house paint and spilled it all over the garage floor.
The third grader started to cry even before I started to yell about being smart and responsible and “why did you think this was a good idea?”
But after a call to my husband, we all calmed down. He reminded me that a garage is a great place to spill paint, and a team of happy inventors standing in a big mess is far better than three zombies fighting over the iPad.
And I just keep reminding myself that the Wright brothers had a mother. Susan Wright, mother of Orville and Wilbur, let her boys skip school when they were working on an exciting experiment, and encouraged their kite-making, flying machines, bike repairs, and even their own printing press. Mrs. Wright must have been patient. One of our books says the brothers got their building, fix-it genius from her.
Not so with my guys.
Still, I am content to trade a clean, calm house for the excited grins of three brothers working on their next invention in a garage covered in spilled paint.