Fossils And Family Traditions

What do you do when your son insists that science trumps everything—even festive occasions and school?


AsianScientist (Mar. 11, 2016) – I love tradition and family rituals. Festive holidays are a big deal in my house. Now that we live in New Zealand, I find myself—more so than ever—yearning to give my kids a taste of what I experienced growing up in multicultural, multi-religious Singapore.

The first day of Chinese New Year especially, is imbued with special meaning. New clothes, special breakfast dishes, paying respects to elders, handing oranges over to my parents and getting red packets in return, indiscriminate snacking—always against a backdrop of sound and color.

So imagine my shock when my science-obsessed seven-year-old son Jordan asked me if he could go on a fossil hunt with his astronomy club on the first day of the Monkey year.

“What do you mean, ‘go on a fossil hunt’? It’s Chinese New Year!”

“But everyone is going, and it’s in a limestone quarry, so the chances of us finding fossils are much higher than the last trip to the muddy quarry,” he calmly explained.

“But, but, but … it’s Chinese New Year!” I mumbled incoherently.

“It’s also Waitangi Day* weekend. It would make me very happy if you would let me go,” he said firmly.

[*A public holiday observed each year in New Zealand to celebrate the signing of The Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document.]

When science trumps everything

Ever since it became evident that I was raising an aspiring volcanologist-mycologist-cosmologist (and more recently, Minecraft devotee), I’ve tried my best to be supportive and go along for the ride.

I’ve carted stacks of library books home, played dinosaur-themed “20 questions,” read bedtime stories that consisted solely of lists of fungi and lichen (both the common English and Latin names no less), stood outside in the freezing cold to help Jordan make a short documentary about the conjunction of Jupiter and Venus, you get the drift …

But letting him go on a fossil hunt on the first day of Chinese New Year? That’s where I draw the line.

Absolutely not. No way.

At least that’s what I thought until he came to me with a compromise.

“How about I wear the new clothes and do the bai nian** in the morning before the fossil hunt? And Daddy can come with me instead of you? And we can come home right after lunch?”

[** Family visitations during Chinese new year, in Mandarin]

In the end, he wore me down with his unrelenting logic and focused appeals.

You should have seen his smile when he got out of his new dress shirt after presenting me with two oranges, and put on his faded khakis and t-shirt in preparation for the dig.

It made me wonder what other so-called unshakable foundations in my family life would give way down the road in the name of scientific endeavor?

Aurora chasing in the witching hour

It didn’t take long for the next science-related parenting decision to come my way. The subsequent week, after yet another Friday night Astronomy Club meeting, Jordan came to me with another request:

“Can we go aurora chasing when the magnetometer readings are more than five?”

“Huh?” I replied.

“Amadeo (Author’s Note: the genuinely wonderful leader of the astronomy club) said that when the readings are more than five, we should go somewhere dark like Tunnel Beach to see the Aurora Australis. It is at the tail end and won’t happen again for eight or nine years!”

“But this might take place after midnight, correct?” I asked.

“Of course. But catching the aurora is more important than going to school in the morning. School is the same everyday. But the aurora comes once in a long time.”

“We’ll have to play it by ear ok?”

“Ok. We really will have to go. It’s a rare event.”

And once again, his unflappable certainty presented itself.

I still haven’t received the text message alert about magnetometer readings yet. But I do know that when I do, I’ll wrap myself up in four layers of clothing and drive to the closest lookout and go chase auroras with my son. And most probably let him skip school the next day.

Just another adventure in the life of Mushroom Mum.

As for the fossil dig, the Fire Monkey must have been showering an abundance of blessings on Jordan that first day of Chinese New Year. He came back laden with some amazing specimens he’d unearthed—a bounty of brachiopods and shells.

And it occurred to me then: what better way to usher in prosperity and longevity than with some 20-million-year-old preserved sea creatures? A belated Gong Xi Fa Cai to my readers!

This article is from a monthly column called Mushroom Mum. Click here to see the other articles in this series.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Robb Hannawacker/Flickr/CC.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Dora Yip lives in Dunedin, New Zealand, and is mom to six-year-old Jordan and two-year-old Jonah.

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