The science fair

I have written before that we are each living a choose-your-own adventure. You get to tell your story, your way. But you are also a character in other people's stories. You can't control those very much, but sometimes it can be helpful to hear them.

While decluttering my parents' house, I'm unearthing a lot of old stories. One in particular shed light on my past, and present.

Cleaning out the dining room the other day, I found my science fair project from eighth grade hidden behind a shelf. I recognized immediately the red construction paper backdrop and the font from the old printer.

Over dinner that night with my parents, I brought it out with an extended Guess what I found...?

They both nodded, as if of course that's where it was, and confirmed with each other that my plaque was still hanging in the hallway.

I won first prize for the experiment on IQ tests and the plaque has been on display ever since, along with a wood block with dried beans glued to it that I must have made when I was six.

Note to self:  frame my book. Otherwise these were the last good things I did worth displaying.

They shared a moment of nostalgia over the science fair. Though I'd been there too, I didn't feel about it what they clearly did.

I barely remember it, to be honest. I can picture the auditorium where the fair took place and what it looked like filled with tables of other cardboard displays like mine. The din of the room.

That's it.

My parents, on the other hand, remember a lot.

Dad proceeded into great detail about the premise of the experiment, how many IQ tests I administered to students, and how he had helped me plot out the results using a mathematical equation I have already forgotten though this conversation happened two days ago.

He is not generally the historian in the family, though he is the mathematician, and there he was reciting the whole project. He even remembered which friend of mine had the most right answers. In 1989!

Several things struck me about all of this.


1)  Your view as a child is very different than as an adult.

I was most definitely embarrassed by the whole thing in eighth grade. I liked winning, but winning a science fair wasn't going to seal my popularity in junior high. Nor did I want it, really. I was focused solely on surviving those years unnoticed.

To my parents, this was a shining moment. They had watched their quiet daughter explain the experiment to the judges all by herself, and win for it. This science fair project was the first time they'd ever seen me speak for myself, or maybe it was the first time I'd ever done it period.

While retelling the story, Dad mentioned that I didn't want to go on to compete in the county science fair, and they decided not to push me to do it.

In retrospect, I'm a little ticked that they didn't push me. I feel all helicopter tiger mom over my younger self.

I could have been a genius! Or at least been to a county science fair.


2) Your story can mean more to someone else than it does to you.

That came through loud and clear watching my parents the other night. I thought the plaque on the wall was just like the ugly Santa, hidden in plain sight with no one remembering it was there.

I was very wrong.

They both knew where it was, and why it was there. I may be a major character in it, but this is THEIR story.


3)  Your adult self is in your younger self all along.

In every aspect of this story were signs of who I would become years later.

I even see myself in how I didn't want to compete in the county science fair. I was probably - definitely - intimidated by the thought of it.

I get that way now too. Once I receive a little recognition, I can turn back before things get bigger...and scarier...and potentially more successful.

I wish that wasn't the case in 1989. But it's really good to know, because I can do something about it now.

I can recognize the part of me that feels intimidated, and understand why it's happening.

Then I can choose to keep going.


Maybe that's the best part about hearing a story about yourself. What you can do now to change what comes next.