Sunday, January 18, 2009

An Open Letter to Ben's Science Teacher

Dear Mrs. Millender--

This is Ben Schaefer's mom. I fully realize that Science Fair projects are due this week. And I understand that Ben has submitted--and been approved for--his project involving the eating habits of Venus Fly Traps. I would like to apologize in advance for the inadequacy of Ben's Science Fair project.

Mrs. Millender, you need to understand that our household has a definite Language Arts bent to it. We're writers and poets, painters, and photographers. We'd gladly take on a Language Arts project, say, Young Authors, and, as we love traveling, we wouldn't bat an eye at a Social Studies project. But clearly, Science is 'not our thing'.

Our initial plan was to observe two Venus Fly Traps (hereafter referred to as VFTs) and study the impact of dietary variations. We purchased two plants at Lowe's Home Improvement Store and then 'boogied' over to Uncle Bill's Pet Center to purchase food for them. Unfortunately, Uncle Bill's only had one type of insect, pin crickets, available for Fly Traps. I suggested to Ben that in the absence of another type of insect, that perhaps we could feed this carnivorous plant hamburger. This was perceived as a good idea--at the time.

We got home and Ben, in the spirit of science, labeled the two plants "A" and "B". He very cleverly named them Audrey (after the plant in "Little Shop of Horrors" and Biolante (after a 50s TV monster). We discussed what variable meant and he was able to identify the 'constants' and 'variables' of this project. And that was basically the last positive occurrence.

Things started out roughly right away. Ben opened the plastic canister of pin crickets and, for all practical purposes, all the ones that were still living hopped out of the carton during the process of trying to retrieve only one to feed to Audrey (the VFT designated to eat pin crickets). When it came to feeding hamburger to Biolante (the VFT designatd to eat meat), I realized that all we had was frozen patties. Hmm. I shrugged my shoulders and fried Biolante a hamburger, all the while thinking it sort of surreal that I'm cooking for a Venus Fly Trap when I barely cook for my family...

Once food had been secured and/or prepared for both VFTs, then came the feeding. Ben ran and got some tweezers (I learned later that they came from MY bathroom drawer), and fed a dead pin cricket to Audrey. The cute little plant closed is spindly 'mouth" over the cricket, and presumably, digestion began. He then picked off a VERY small piece of the hamburger and placed it in Biolante's "mouth". Same response. All is well; record the data and observations--check back tomorrow.

The next day, Audrey had finished her cricket and, like a baby bird, her mouth was open and she was ready for more. Biolante, however, seemed to be having some trouble with the hamburger. Nonetheless, feed Audrey, measure the plants, record observations.

This went on for several days where Audrey was a ready and willing participant, but Biolante, little green plant jaws clenched, simply refused to 'play ball' so to speak. He also seemed to be having trouble with the hamburger. By Day Six, it was obvious that he was clearly 'failing to thrive' as they say. In fact, he turned black, and was drooping alarmingly. What was the problem? He didn't like his burger medium well? His cholesterol level shot through the roof? Was he choking on his own plant vomit? In any case, by Day Nine he was clearly dead, and the experiment was, for the most part, over.

And by now, even Audrey is starting to look peaked. Too much water? Too little? Overfeeding? Underfeeding? Keep them in the terrarium environment? Take them out? Where did we go wrong? Much gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes...! Perhaps it was cooking the hamburger. Perhaps it was selecting hamburger itself. Perhaps it was opting to accept into this decidedly hostile environment for plants two of the most delicate members of the plant species on earth. Our total abject failure to even keep these creatures alive has been a huge and discouraging disappointment to us, and unfortunately, at first glance, his science fair board reflects this.

So, when you gaze upon Ben's science fair board tomorrow, I want you to know that there is so much more there than meets the unknowing and untrained eye. And it wasn't for lack of interest or effort that it came out the way it did. I hope you will take this into consideration when you assign his grade.

Sincerely, and with humor,

Christine Schaefer


  1. Sad... but funny! And it sure sounded like a cool project to start with!

    And his project inspired learning- I'm over on wikipedia right now, learning about the VFT. Pretty interesting! Seems you would have needed to make your house swamp like for them to grow!

  2. Well, I did send it to his teacher. Guess we'll find out if she has a sense of humor or not....

  3. Moral of the story. . . don't eat Chris's hamburgers.