The Conservation of Momentum

It's amazing how many zoos and museums you discover within a 75-mile radius when you only get to see your kids a part of each weekend. Divorce forces you to be more creative because you'll be damned if that Xbox, Netflix or Yo Gabba Gabba will define your day. This is why Google searches like "I've been to all the museums in the SF area, so HELP ME GOOGLE I'VE RUN OUT OF EDUCATIONAL FUN THINGS TO DO" exist.

Even better, these results also exist: Mythbusters: The Explosive Exhibition at the Tech Museum of Innovation.

Google, I am feeling lucky.

Wasting no time, I got the kids into the car, hit the drive-thru for lunch and headed down to San Jose. I even timed it so Lessi's nap coincided with the 90-minute drive. I am a highly effective and efficient parent (especially when you, dear reader, cannot see the chicken nugget in her hand, rising and falling in cadence with her snoring). 

We eventually got there, found parking some ways away, and headed toward the big orange building, ready to bust some myths.

Turns out the myths weren't ready to be busted. The Mythbusters Exhibit starts October 13 (I know it's Oct 15 today - this story took place 2 weeks ago. I just hadn't gotten around to writing it.). Like it says on that huge banner in the lobby, or everywhere on the museum website, or like the lady at the ticket counter tells you after you pay for your tickets and remark on how awesome it is that no one is here and you'll have the Mythbusters exhibits to yourself.

At least we did have the museum to ourselves. And luckily the Tech Museum is pretty cool, even without Jamie and Adam blowing stuff up. We learned about genetics, sustainable technologies, space and underwater exploration, earthquakes and best of all, they have an infrared camera. Or as Fury and I more aptly deem it, the Predator cam. 

On our way out, we stopped at the gift shop, where Fury picked out a Newton's Cradle. Being that these are educational, as well as the requisite desk accessory for every high powered executive and/or criminal mastermind, I bought him one. 

As kids are wont to do, Fury took it out of the box and set it up on the sidewalk. 

As he watched the metal balls clack back and forth, I told him "that's called the conservation of momentum. The energy you put into one side, comes out the other side, with a little loss due to friction."

You have now witnessed the strength of street knowledge.

Since Lessi and I wanted ice cream more than a science lesson, I told Fury to pack it back up. We trekked to the parking lot, got in the car and drove off in search of ice cream. The ice cream was easy to find. The parking, not so much. So of course Fury took his new gadget out of the box again.

"Dad, can you help me? This is all tangled up."

Apparently my boy should never work in a restocking room. Those balls and their corresponding strings were gnarled up into a latticework that could rival that of kevlar. 

"Fury that there is beyond hope. I'm going to drive you back to the museum and park outside while you run in to exchange it."

As with anything worth blogging about, things were not as easy as the statement above implies. I had already thrown the receipt away, and outside of school book fairs or his impromptu fruit stand, Fury has never done a retail transaction before. It makes no sense that he'll wheel and deal with customers in his front yard, but be too self-conscious to pay for something at a store. I guess that's the beauty of kids.

"Dad, can you just pleeeease do it? I'll watch Lessi in the car."

Any other situation, I might have caved. He just looked so fearful. Also, this was a tricky transaction. He had no receipt, the tangled mess wasn't entirely the item's fault, and he had already thrown most of the packing material away. The odds were stacked against him. I would be sending him into a retail suicide mission.

But there was no parking outside the museum, and we would have to trek to the parking lot all over again, at which point it would just be easier to order another one for him from Amazon. So I parked in front of the museum, hazards on, and started coaching him.

In our household, I am the customer service whisperer. I can profile a rep within the first 5 seconds of an interaction and find a way to speak to them in a way that will have them giving me refunds, free stuff, upgrades and their first-born before they can ask me for my account number. 

"Ok Fury, you tell them your dad is parked out front with a baby in the car. You tell them you just bought this a few minutes ago and all you want is an even exchange. You don't want your money back. They will ask you for a receipt and you tell them 'my dad threw it away' and you just wanted to learn science with this. You offer them all the packaging that comes with the new one, so they can properly process the return with their supplier. You use all your polite words. You ask, you don't demand."

"But dad, I can't--"

"If you can't, then you have to live with the fact that your Newton's Cradle is going to always be a tangled mess of balls and fishing line. It's now or never. I can't stay parked here."

He took a deep breath, gathered up his Newton's Cradle, exited the car and headed into the unknown. But first, he paused in front of the door and made the sign of the cross.

That's his mom's doing.

A few minutes later, Fury came bounding out the door, all smiles. As he got into the car, I high-fived him with as much pride as I would had he scored a goal in lacrosse. 

"NICE GOING FURY! I am proud of you! How did it go down?"

"The lady said that this is the 5th time this month someone has returned one of these all tangled, and it happens all the time. Then she just gave me a new one!"

As I pulled away from the curb, listening to the silver balls clacking rhythmically from the back seat, I wondered how much of this latest victory was due to my coaching, and how much of it was due to that momentary pause before he stepped into the store. It doesn't much matter, I guess. Friction be damned, I just want to conserve this momentum.