Friday, June 10, 2011

not smarter than lab rats

At the Maker Faire this year, I spotted a reasonable looking line. Meanwhile a nearby line for watching the "Battle Boats" was intimidatingly long. It turned out that the short line was for a sensory exploration environment housed in a truck. This sounded fun to me, but no one else wanted to wait in a line, even a short line. The day before the Sober Husband and Lola had spent over an hour and a half waiting in line so Lola could go into a "Space Treehouse" for kids. Lola still felt that the Space Treehouse was the best thing she'd done at the Maker Faire and worth the wait, but the impatient, line-hating Sober Husband (who was too large to go into the Space Treehouse) didn't want to spend one more minute waiting in any line.

I encouraged Iris to try the sensory exploration project, and I got into the line. Although the line was very short, it was a very long wait. The people in charge of this exhibit often walked along, silently holding up a sign which explained that the activity took five minutes per person and encouraging us to count the people ahead of us and calculate our waiting time accordingly. There was also something heavily crossed out on this sign. The delicate, pashmina-swathed woman holding the sign explained to someone that "this was a rule we had to have yesterday, but we don't need it today. It's a different population we're getting today." Intrigued, I asked. She rolled her eyes and laughed. "Yesterday we had a lot of people making out in the middle of the maze, so we had to make a rule: no making out for extended periods of time. Today we're not having that problem." We looked at the line together. It was all pre-making-out-aged kids and tired-looking, middle-aged parents. None of us in the line looked ready for a moment of passion. After she moved on with her sign, Iris and I turned to each other. "So it's a maze!"

While Iris and I waited and waited, the Sober Husband and Lola napped on a nearby patch of grass. They looked happy. Iris sometimes felt like quitting our line, but I encouraged her to stick it out. Ahead of us a young teen freaked out when it was her turn and came out without finishing the maze. She was really upset looking. "There was something by my foot, and I just couldn't handle it!"

The boy just before Iris bolted through the maze and came out in record time. I fully expected us to finish quickly as well. Iris went in ahead of me, after I asked if we could go in together. I thought we'd have more fun doing it together. The pashmina-wearer turned out to be the creator of this environment, and she recommended that we go in separately. "It's better to do it alone. We like to have someone get halfway through, then we let the next person in." Iris went in, and I waited. The creator shared a funny story with me. "My dad was here yesterday, and he couldn't solve my maze! He was in there so long. Finally I told him we needed to get him out, because it was taking too long and there were so many people waiting. He couldn't do my puzzle!"

Finally it was my turn to go in. She put a whistle around my neck so I could call for help if I freaked out. I climbed awkwardly up some boxes and slid down a short slide into complete darkness. I fumbled about, crawling and groping. After some time I found a sliding doorway, which I managed to open and crawl through. Around this time I heard Iris blow her whistle ahead of me. She shouted that she was stuck and couldn't get out. I didn't worry, because I knew from my conversation with the artist that people could be extricated midway through and because I heard a calm voice from one of the assistants (who was outside the maze, monitoring people's progress) reassuring Iris.

Then I became stuck. I could not figure out how to progress, but I stayed calm. It was completely dark where I was, and I concentrated on methodically fumbling in every direction. After a while, a voice asked me if I was okay. "I'm fine, just figuring it out." After a while longer, evidently I was judged incompetent to do this unaided, and the assistants turned on a lighted arrow showing me which way to go. What I had failed to figure out was that I needed to climb up and out of where I'd been crawling.

After I got out, I felt humiliated that they'd needed to turn the arrow on for me. Iris felt humiliated that she'd felt stuck and called for help. Humbled, we discussed our shortcomings together. "I really thought we'd be better at this," I said. "We are dumber than a pair of white rats in a lab." Iris agreed heartily. We took a moment to ponder our relative moronic-ness compared to the boy who went through just before us (whom we now considered a genius), as well as to lab rats. "Still, that was really great", we said. "Best thing we did today."


hughman said...

you should be so proud of raising a brave, awesome daughter who's not afraid to try new things and who also learns from it at the end. i'm so proud and happy for both of you.

the Drunken Housewife said...

I am, I am indeed. She is a very brave girl.

GodsKid said...

Remember - even the murder mysteries I read say "everybody forgets to look up".

I'd probably forget too.