My fellow Berkeley natives know that one of our greatest local resources is the Lawrence Hall of Science. Oddly, until last weekend I hadn’t yet accompanied Dar there. He’d been there, but only with his school. I didn’t want to deal with paying only to watch him screaming throughout the place. But his brother is 4, meaning it was long since time for him to go, and so we all went together as a family.

As a kid, I remembered the Lawrence Hall as an endless series of activities and hey-check-this-outs. As it turns out, LHS has three main areas, and Dar vastly preferred the one that’s outside. No big surprise there. For four hours on Saturday, I dragged him to the indoor exhibits; for four hours, he dragged me outside. Now, if Saturday had been an average beautiful Bay Area day, I wouldn’t have minded breathing the fresh air and staring at the panoramic view of the Bay. But the view was mostly clouded over by the absolutely freezing fog.

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Sometimes it’s like Dar doesn’t feel the cold. He pulls his jacket off as fast as I can put it back on him. Not only that, but outside the Lawrence Hall, Dar repeatedly rushes right past all the earthquake-related exhibits and right to the almost Japan-esque curated stream. The kids pick up these plastic boards, not unlike kitchen cutting boards, and put them in specially built slots so they can see the effects of damming up the water flow. Dar’s sleeve is getting wet. It feels like it’s 40 degrees Fahrenheit. I have to keep waving him off the river. My bones are beginning to ice over. And yet if I take him inside he’ll just yelp. Oh is there nowhere he can be where I can turn off my mind for three seconds?

I slightly exaggerate. In the more toddler-oriented indoor room, Dar loves playing with one of those large plastic conical things…you know where you roll a penny and it goes in 20 circles as it descends toward the bottom? Only this one uses ping-pong balls. At first Dar just tosses the ping-pong ball into the middle of the vortex. Then I show him that you’re supposed to spin it around the cone. I do this in a perfunctory way, assuming he won’t get it. Lo and behold, he does! He begins spinning the balls. Actually he’s better at it than some random 4-year-olds. Meaning he’s better at it than kids that are his brother’s age. Can’t often say that Dar does things better than his brother.

Then…Dar goes over to these track-ramps, kind of like the ones that you race cars on (complete with loop-de-loop), but made for tennis-ball-sized balls. Dar grabs the tennis-ball-type balls, drags them to the cone, and drops them in. Oooooops. Or: maybe this is innovative thinking outside the box! Either way I rush to grab the balls out before they clog the “black hole.”

IMG_3611 IMG_3612 In the other big room, Dar has his choice of many different activities, but only one interests him: a sort of cylindrical, three-foot-high vent that’s blowing air just hard enough to keep well-designed paper plates aloft. Actually, they spin, which Dar loves. By “well-designed,” I mean there’s a rocket design station where all the many junior engineers have flocked…well, all of them except Dar. They use paper and cups and pipe cleaners and popsicle sticks and…you get the gist. Most of the “launching stations” more resemble pneumatic tubes; Dar doesn’t care about those, he just wants to watch paper spin in the air one inch above the vent. The thing that impresses me is: I take him away from the entire room for more than an hour, and when we come back he runs right to that station. At least he knew where he was.

Do I know where I am?

With Dar, who knows. But there’s also the larger question of the Lawrence Hall. I hadn’t been there in decades. Walking down the angled steps to the cafeteria floor was as heady as sniffing a box of crayons. The memories were flooding back. And in my memories, we could go to the Biology Lab anytime. However, LHS’s rebranded “Animal Discovery Room” is only open 1:30 to 4:00, and that only on weekends. I have to keep Dar busy until 1:30 (we had been there since 10:00). He has zero interest in the many interstitial exhibits, while I could stare at the T-Rex’s head all day. Movies? Please! (No really, please, I would like some.) Dar can’t sit for more than a second inside their awesome theater. So I have to keep convincing wifey that the Animal Discovery Center is gonna be SO worth it.

My fellow Berkeleyan 1970s and 1980s kids: were we really forbidden to pet any of the animals, except for the one being held by a specialist? That is NOT how I remember that place. Why do I feel like some evil kid drowned a turtle and ruined it for the rest of us? Oh well. So anyway Dar and R got to see some caged animals. And pet one snake that a white-coated teenager was holding for kids to pet. They can only keep the place open for five hours a week because of that level of awesomeness? Geeeeez.

Of course I’m glad we went. Who knows what kind of science may rub off on Dar, if just by osmosis. How do I even know about osmosis? Probably I learned it at the Lawrence Hall.

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