I've learned a few things about being involved with Parent-Teacher Organizations in the past several months. Never let your pissed-offed-ness about not being informed of something important get the better of you. Because what that means is you might allow yourself to raise your hand when they say, "If you serve as an officer on this PTO you'll know about things before everyone else does and we really need volunteers to..." Beware! It's a carrot! A carrot at the end of the stick! And at the other end of that stick is a bomb waiting to blow and destroy all your free time and faith in humanity.

But if you, like me, are too stupid to follow the above advice, here are some helpful hints for serving on a PTO board: Never agree to be on the board of a PTO before you've even been involved in the program. Never let them bump you up to Vice President of that PTO because someone else would rather serve at the Secretary level. And never, ever, post your home email address on the listserv of that PTO in an attempt to get volunteers for a project, because the entire listserv will write it down and then email you random questions, kvetches, and comments about which you have not clue one for answering. (Fortunately, I've been smart enough not to share my home phone number... yet.) These things should have been obvious to me and truth be told, they ARE obvious to me. At least they would have been before I had kids. But once children enter your life, a great deal of your perspective is destroyed.

I'm often really hard on parents who seem to be pushing their kids to learn and perform above their age level and ability. And I have to say that in the community of parents I'm now a part of, it's often well-deserved. Like the educational version of a certain genre of TV shows I won't allow on my television machine. Last year, I was talking to one parent who volunteered to the conversation, - out of the blue and completely apropos of nothing - "My second grader and I have kind of a fun little project going in my basement. We're building a working satellite which we will then launch into space next Spring." In this group, that translates to "I am so much a better parent than any of you will ever be, you should just all give up right now." Which is really just the grown-up version of saying, "My kid is smarter than yours, nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah."

So here's where I confess my own sins to the interweb: sometimes, just sometimes, stuff happens to make you look like the parent of a precocious kid and it's totally not your doing whatsoever.

Case in point, this is what The Dormouse and I have been working on all summer:

Yes, that's the Periodic table of the elements.

If I were you and you were me, I'd look at me/you and roll my/your eyes too. This is way over a six year old's head, I'd say. There is no way this activity is a child-directed activity. This is a simple case of a pushy parent. And those are just the things I'd say out loud. What I'd be thinking is much worse. I admit it, I'm a judgmental biotch.

But somewhere in the middle of the summer, when I was doing a pretty crappy job administrating Camp Sweatshop and letting them watch way too much TV, The Dormouse wandered off somewhere in house and found the board I'd never gotten rid of when we made made this activity for Daddy's birthday.

"Momma, look what I found! You're not using this anymore, are you? Can we use this chart and learn about a different element each day and I'll write the element in the box?"

"Wow, honey," I said, "that sounds like a really.... bad idea."

"But if we do this then I will know more about science and I really want to learn more about science. Can we? Huh? Can we? Can we? I want to know more about science. Can we? Pleeeeeze???"

And then, partly because I was feeling guilty for not having worked harder to stimulate her mind this summer, partly because somewhere in the back of my head, my college training in Montessori methods reared up and said, "Follow the child, dumass!" and partly because Elmo chose that exact moment to go on TV and sing, " Jacket jacket jacket, jacket jacket jacket, jacket jacket jacket jacket jaaac-keeeeeeet... ♪," (my thoughts on Elmo are clear). I told her, sure, we could do that.

The inherent problem should be obvious here: how to discuss the Periodic Table of the Elements on a six-year old level. I scoured the web for lesson plans that might help me figure out how to present this to her in a way that she could understand. Not surprisingly, there aren't any second grade level lesson plans about the Periodic Table because in most thoughtful circles, people realize it isn't a second grade topic. The closest thing I found was aimed at 8th graders. I decided to wing it and have just a very (VERY) light overview of the elements, stressing the idea that molecules can combine to form other "things." They Might Be Giants were a big help. We started with easy things like Oxygen, Gold, Silver, Sodium... things that we have around the house and I could show her. That was exciting, until we got to things for which she (and I) have no reference. Seaborgium, for example, is one of those things that I surprisingly don't have in plentiful supply in my kitchen. The gasseous elements - argon and radon, for example - are also a little difficult to approach because you can't exactly Google up a picture of what xenon looks like. Krypton comes with a completely different frame of reference.

We still haven't gotten through the entire table and I really didn't push it once we got past the simpler ones that were easy to explain, mainly because I'm pretty lazy. When she thinks about it, she'll pull the chart out and we'll do one or two more so she can write them in. I'm quite confident that a) I've learned more about the elements this summer than she has, and b) none of this will be useful to her until at least middle school, by which point in time she will have forgotten everything. (Which is probably OK because I'm not sure how accurate my information is. I'm a therapist, not a chemist.)

I didn't really even think about how it came off outside our house until she started coming home from school last week telling me how she was telling her teacher that her necklace was silver and silver was an element, and that element is metal and it's symbol is Ag, and one of her interests she presented in the "getting to know me week" was how she liked science and was learning about the elements. It was then that I started thinking how this little "project" probably looks from the point of the teacher. As in, "My stars in heaven, this child can't even spell multiplication, maybe her mother should hold off on the comprehensive study of the Periodic Table until we have a few more of the basics in place."

I guess what I'm trying to say here, is maybe that parent who's building a satellite in their basement deserves a little more slack.

Our model of a water molecule.

Building blocks of... OK, at this point, I think they are just playing with Legos