Home School Chuckles: Science of the Squeamish
- 2009 29 Jul
"As a homeschooling parent, I am an independent thinker. A unique individual. I do not have to give in to peer pressure. Just because ‘everyone’ is doing it doesn’t mean I have to subject my children (or myself) to the experience. I don’t want to. I don’t have to. My children don’t want to. My children don’t have to. We have not, nor will we ever, dissect an owl pellet. And that’s that."
That was me. Before the homeschool-friendly biology book. Steadfast, firm, and stubborn. Not to mention squeamish. There was no way, at that point in my life, I was going to subject myself to the crusty, crunchy, hairy skeletal remains of an owl’s fine dining. Not even in the interest of science. And the idea of a cow eyeball on my kitchen table? Completely out of the question. The children can wait until high school and then do the decent thing . . . dissect a worm.
Hence, our science explorations remained in the realm of distracted children watching fuzzy caterpillars crawl across our blankets as Teacher Mom tried to get them interested in a very engaging library book about forms of energy. As the years passed, we found ourselves immersed in a variety of baking soda and vinegar explosions, but the owl pellet and eyeball stayed safely tucked away . . . at the science store. Even with the pesky pellet kits on display, their big owl eyes advertising inquisitiveness and discovery, I was able to press past the glaring aviary chastisement and leave the pellets where they belonged . . . on the shelf.
But when the Big Brown Truck arrived with our new curriculum, our scientific lives metamorphosed. The supply list for the elementary level biology book included, to my dismay, owl pellets. Understanding that I, the teacher, am to master the curriculum and not the curriculum master me, I kept up the good fight. I resisted not only peer pressure, but now text-pressure. I remained firm. I then did what every excited homeschooling parent does with a new book . . . I glanced through it. I found myself reading the section on dissection. I read the "why" behind the "what." The reason for ripping into owl pellets was—oh dear!—valid! It not only made sense, it actually roused my curiosity. I gave in. I ordered. And I bought an extra can of lovely scented spray disinfectant. I knew we’d be needing it.
Covering the table with several layers of newspaper, donning latex gloves, and repeatedly reassuring my children that this was safe to do, we began the process of discovery. "Oh, I only bought enough pellets for you children to dissect, sweethearts," I explained when they shared their surprise that I was not joining in the hands-in-the-pellet project. Reassuringly, I added in the safe semi-third person, "Mommy will be here if you need me."
As they grimaced and groaned through the first step—unwrapping the pellet from the foil—I quietly stepped away, controlling the gag reflux as inconspicuously as possible. Regaining my stomach for science, I watched from a slight distance as the children cautiously poked and prodded until they were convinced there was no life left in the odd mass in front of them. Soon after, their shrieks of "Ew! Mom, do we have to do this?" and "Yuck! Look at that!" brought me closer to the table. "All of THAT was in THERE?" my non-specific question sputtered out. As they pointed out an undigested avarian beak and the small bones of what the chart defined as mouse bones, my interest was piqued. I must admit, still armed with that can of disinfectant, I was hooked, like the beak of an eagle—er, I mean, owl. I brought out dark construction paper on which I asked the children to glue the parts and pieces of their finds for a display. Knowing the mailman would be impressed with our scientific discoveries, I insisted the projects be displayed OUTSIDE on the front porch . . . for the mailman’s educational benefit, of course.
As the project was cleaned up and the table, equipment, hands, arms, elbows, and sink were sprayed down several times with that good ol’ germ-killer, my children begged for vegetable soup for dinner. What? No BBQ ribs tonight? How about roasted chicken?
Thinking I had severely disrupted their curiosity for all things scientific, I wondered if dissection had been a good idea or not. As we progressed through the biology book, we did find lubber grasshoppers interesting and the starfish fascinating. But something stuck in our craw about that pellet. Somehow it just seemed gross and my children couldn’t get over their repulsion for the owl expulsion. Did I overreact in my own sputtering and gagging? Did I turn them off to the whole study of biology?
Reassurance was just around the bend, a few months later, as we drove home from a day of picking citrus fruit and interacting with several wild animals, a graceful egret, a lost seagull, and a personable, yet wary, hawk. No wonder Marjorie Kinan Rawlings found Cross Creek so enamoring.
A few miles down the road from the state park, just after asking the Lord if He had anything else special to show us, some white blotches caught our attention ahead on the left. As we approached, one of the blotches took flight right in front of our windshield, turning to look us in the eye. We were amazed to identify the creatures as enormous bald eagles munching carrion on the marshy bank.
Carefully turning the car around, we came to a cautious stop where the eagles had been dining. The birds were gone, but the large piece of carrion remained. When I opened the door of the car my quite-surprised husband said, "You aren’t getting out, are you????" Before I could answer, one child was bounding out of the car announcing "But Daddy! This is SCIENCE!" Even the squeamish sibling slinked out with inquisitive eyes glittering to see the large rib cage picked nearly bare with bits of fur and flesh still lying under it.
Getting as close as we thought disinfectant-deficiently safe, the children analyzed the fur, the skeleton, the position of the animal remains, and the surrounding environment. Unfortunately, the skull was not to be found and when I carelessly stepped downwind of the carcass I didn’t hang around to look very hard. The children’s enthusiastic conclusion: it had been a Florida black bear. My relieved conclusion: Getting grossed out gutting owl pellets prepares a family for the glorious discovery of gooey guts on the side of the road.
*This article first published May 6, 2006.
Suzanne Broadhurst, homeschooling mom of two iniquistive children, Grant and Winter Marie, resides in Jacksonville, FL, with her husband, Robert, who never quite knows what to expect on the kitchen table when he comes home at the end of the day.