Excerpt: Mama Gone Geek

Excerpt: Mama Gone Geek

MamaGoneGeekThis is a sponsored excerpt from Lynn Brunelle’s  Mama Gone Geek: Calling on my Inner Science Nerd to Help Navigate the Ups and Downs of Parenthood.

Chapter 25

Sucking the Bounce

I can’t jump on the trampoline with my kids anymore.

Hell, I know it’s not even safe to let them do it in the first place; but there it is. I think the plusses outweigh the minuses.

Our trampoline, also known as a huge “attractive nuisance,” sits in the backyard right next to the awesome zip line Keith put in when he turned fifty. (Is there a correlation? Maybe.) Anyway, the trampoline has enabled my guys (and myself) to bounce-bounce-bounce in the loveliest of ways. It’s just wonderful to use that potential energy and transfer of energy to get so high in the air. God bless you, Isaac Newton!

“Mommy, Mommy, bounce with us, PLEASE!” Kai and Leo plead in tandem.

At first I thought it was because they just loved being with me and playing together. I cherish these moments, because as they get older, I know it’s only a matter of time before they won’t be able to handle the embarrassment of seeing their mother on the trampoline.

“Of course!” I say. No matter what I was doing, I would drop it and bounce. It’s fun! And not without side benefits. My aerobic capacity has increased, and my legs are downright steely.

It took me a while to realize what was really going on.

Leo’s agenda was to perfect his flips, twists, and other acrobatics. My job was to sit on the trampoline and watch him twist and spin through the air and then attempt my own version of “flipping,” which was a baby roll. Sad, but elegant in its way. Leo utilized my efforts as a benchmark of comparison to which his own stunts reflected like gold.

Anyone would look like an Olympian next to me. I was happy to serve my role.

While Leo perfected his gymnastics and his confidence, Kai was working some serious physics.


“Yes, Honey?”

“How does the trampoline make me bounce so high?”

“How do you think it might work?”

“I bounce down and it bounces me back up?”

“Exactly. Look, there’s a frame made of metal and all these springs. Then there’s the stretchy fabric. That’s a trampoline. Bounce down on it and you are loading this thing with energy. The springs stretch out and are loaded with power. When they snap back, they pull the fabric tight, and all the energy you put in with your jump flings you right back into the air.”

“So a big bounce makes me fly higher?”


“And the more I weigh, the bigger the bounce?”

“Yup. The harder you push down on the trampoline, the more energy is stored, the more powerful the snap back will be that will send you soaring through the air—”

“Come on Mom, BOUNCE!”

We did; but suddenly I was no longer sailing joyfully into the air. I was bouncing and working hard, but getting no lift. Kai, on the other hand, was flying higher than ever. He was figuring out how to jump at the exact spot and time to suck the energy from my considerable bounce and use it to fling himself sky high.

It was brilliant and exciting. It was also physically deflating and exhausting for me. My jumps were no longer high flying, but Kai’s were off the charts. We would go on like that for a time, and then I would collapse in a heap on the trampoline. Kai would join me and we’d look up into the trees overhead. One of us having sucked the bounce, the other sucking wind.

“I go SOOO high when I bounce with you!”

“Yup.” Pant. Pant. “Technically, the entire total of your energy is made up of the moving energy called kinetic energy plus the stored-in-the-springs energy—your potential energy.”

I may make a huge bounce and only be capable of a baby roll, but I could still pull my weight with science at least!

“Mommy, you have a LOT of stored energy!”

What mother wouldn’t love to hear that?

“Thanks, Honey.”

Kai was up and bouncing. Ready to make more experiments.

The fact that Kai used my energy to fly higher was a metaphor I could understand. It was beautiful in its way, but kind of frustrating. I still wanted the air.

Hell, I needed the air at that moment. I lay flat on the trampoline as Kai bounced. I breathed deeply. Still gasping. It was all I could do to keep up with my boys, but to launch them to new heights was exhausting my resources.

I gazed up into the air. It was late summer. The light slanted through the pine trees and the air itself with dotted with dandelion fluff, tree fuzz, and various tiny seeds and spores. It dawned on me that this trampoline dance of ours was more than just a metaphor for the energy that we put into parenting, it was a symbol for the nature of all things. Parents of all sorts stand up to launch their offspring—from the top of the heap right down to the bottom dwellers—as best they can into the world. It wasn’t just me. It was the throbbing life on the planet, all doing the same thing.

Ponder, as I did prone on the trampoline, the microscopic dung-loving fungi (called coprophilous—if you must know). It’s not an elegant job they provide but a necessary one. If not for microbes like these, we’d be up to our eyeballs in cow dung, horse dung, llama dung, and any other array of friendly herbivore dung. Not good.

The mature fungi have a challenge. In order to survive, they need to make sure their spores are eaten by the herbivores that produce the dung. It’s their circle of life. Think about that the next time you’re having a rough day. Spore into the cow—fungus pooped out.

Here’s the thing—even the dimmest herbivore knows not to graze near where it poops. Since poop is where the fungus lives, and it doesn’t have any legs to move around with, that makes it tough for a fungus to get its spores far enough away and into the path of a hungry herbivore. Its job is to make sure its spores are going to be eaten.

So these fungi have developed ways to really launch their spores out into the world: the stalks that grow out of the dung swell with fluid. The spore is perched on top. The fungus matures. It measures about 1/20 of an inch tall. The fluid builds up at the end and then BLAMMO—it explodes, shooting the spore at speeds of thirty-five feet per second! That’s the fastest recorded flight in nature! The spore gets height as well, reaching peaks of over six feet and landing eight feet away from the parent fungus. Technically the fungus can launch its seed over a cow from a dung pile to a patch of tasty grass in the blink of an eye. The mature fungus then collapses. Its job is done. Energy expended. Spore launched.

The irony is not lost on me.

Our boys were experimenting and staring down limitations of physical and epic proportions. It synced up perfectly with the beginning of the bittersweet journey into separation and identity, puberty, and beyond.

Kai and Leo needed me now. I was helping to load their springs. I know it won’t be long before they dazzle the world with the flips and heights they’ll reach on their own.

* * *

Mega Bounce

Use a basketball and a tennis ball to bounce the tennis ball higher than the roof.

What You Need

  • A basketball
  • A tennis ball

What You Do

  1. Hold the basketball at shoulder height, and with your other hand, hold the tennis ball directly on top of the basketball.
  2. Drop both balls at the same time.
  3. The tennis ball should bounce off the charts!

What’s Going On?

The basketball hits the ground, but that’s not all. The ground also hits the basketball giving it the energy for a “bounce.” The basketball is way heavier than the tennis ball, so it’s got a lot more energy in its bounce. With the tennis ball on top of the basketball, the basketball hits the ground, it bounces back up and hits the tennis ball. So now some of the basketball’s energy gets transferred to the tennis ball. It may not be much to the basketball, but to the tennis ball, it’s a huge amount of energy. The basketball kind of flops. It doesn’t bounce high at all. But the tennis ball bounces super high! It gets launched! It’s all about energy transfer!

Read an interview with Lynn Brunelle.


Book Review: Mad Science

Book Review: Mad Science

By Hillary Levey Friedman

hilaryfriedmanBefore I became a parent, I got the most useful child-rearing advice I’ve ever received. While I was interviewing parents for my book Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture, one mother told me, “Raising kids is a big experiment and I won’t know till later [if I did it right].” Thinking of child-rearing as a giant science experiment felt reassuring to me—kids are smart, they teach you things, and you can constantly generate hypotheses and test them out.

Shaun Gallagher’s recent book, Experimenting with Babies: 50 Amazing Science Projects You Can Perform on Your Kids,  takes this idea to the next level. Gallagher describes 50 different activities you can do with your child, from infancy through 24 months, to explore cognitive and emotional development, motor skills, and more. Each of these “experiments” is based on published studies (listed at the end of the book), some of which are based on new technology and others with insights that have stood the test of time. Gallagher presents them in easily digestible form—even for sleep-deprived parents of infants—listing the age range, complexity, research area, hypothesis, and takeaway for each. Not surprisingly as your child ages the experiments become more complex.

I am definitely part of the target audience for Experimenting with Babies; my toddler has participated in about 25 experiments at baby labs in the Boston area (which you can see in action here)—though not at any of the labs Gallagher lists on page 96.

As someone interested in baby experiments what struck me is that Experimenting with Babies is really a book about child development, though in a sign of our times of anxious parenting Gallagher has to issue a disclaimer that if your child doesn’t “measure up” you shouldn’t panic. In fact, this book would likely be interesting to those who aren’t parents but who are interested in human evolution and psychology.

For instance, I was most intrigued by the findings of Experiment 16, “Spider Sense.” In a 2007 study researchers found that babies aged 4-5 months gaze significantly longer at an image of a spider than at a scrambled image of a spider (24 seconds versus 16 or 17 seconds) most likely because “being able to recognize a spider, identify it as a threat, and keep away from it is a skill that increases one’s chance of survival.” Others don’t teach kids to recognize or fear spiders, it’s an evolutionary trait, evident at just a few months of life. This is just one of the many things babies do instinctively, proving they are amazing creatures no matter how much classical music we play them, or not (though if you are trying to create the next Mozart, note that Experiment 22, “A Capella Strikes a Chord,” shows that music without instrumentation is best for the 5-11 month crowd).

Of course not all of the experiments are equally as interesting or useful. Take Experiment 19, “Stress Busting,” which shows that your child is less stressed when you interact with him/her. This seems pretty obvious. While Experimenting with Babies is clearly presented and researched it would have been useful at some point, perhaps in a conclusion which I felt the book needed to tie everything together, to discuss whether or not all baby experiments and research are equally as good. Even a mention of how many children were included in each study would have been helpful. But the special boxes and the extensive website affiliated with the book are great additions chockfull of information.

Thanks to Experimenting with Babies I can now add to my list of useful parenting advice. When describing Experiment 44, “A Questioning Look,” Gallagher asserts: “You are your baby’s Google.” Your child has innate skills and knowledge, and s/he will keep developing over time, but in the end while your child is experimenting you are their go-to search engine. Be there for your child and experiment—and while you are at it be sure to get some cute snapshots, like this one of my own young experimenter in action.

Hilary Levey Friedman, PhD is a sociologist and writer. You can learn more about her work at www.hilaryleveyfriedman.com. She is getting ready to start experimenting with her second son, three-month-old Quenton.

Subscribe to Brain, Child