Monday, February 8, 2016

Raising an Evil Scientist

When you watch a movie featuring an evil scientist like Lex Luthor or Doctor Moreau or any one of the many James Bond villains who have created Nobel Prize-worthy devices designed to wreak havoc upon an unsuspecting public, do you ever wonder about their parents? I mean, who raised these unhinged geniuses? Movies generally don’t delve into the genealogy of these characters, so the best one can do is speculate about their upbringing. I’ve always assumed evil scientists were brought up by unusually intelligent, absurdly wealthy, extremely detached parents who have a variety of offshore banking accounts and may have accidentally killed someone whilst fox hunting. I’ve never really pictured evil scientists as being brought up in an average middle class household with loving parents who are trying their best to set a good example for their offspring—that is until the last couple of years.

Now I’m not saying for sure that my six-year-old son is going to become an evil scientist. I mean, he hasn’t expressly stated that as what he wants to be when he grows up, but there are a variety of indications that if he took a career assessment test today, “Evil Scientist” would be toward the top of the list.

First off, my son has an actual super power, which in many movies—especially comic book movies—seems to be a prerequisite for evil scientists. My son’s super power is that he can read at an alarmingly fast rate. Do you remember those FedEx commercials from many years ago with the guy who spoke ridiculously fast? That’s what it sounds like when my son reads aloud. Indeed, when my wife and I went to parent-teacher conferences last month, his teacher told us that at this point in the year the goal is for first graders to read 23 words per minute and when our son was last tested he was at 187. I’m not saying this to be a braggart, but rather to point out that my son has an unusual skill that could possibly be harnessed for nefarious purposes. (Don’t ask me how.)

But my evil scientist suspicions are not based solely on my son’s speed reading skills. My mom read incredibly fast, too, and she wasn’t an evil scientist—she was a preschool teacher. No, beyond my son’s supernatural reading skills, are the various bizarre comments he makes that often give me pause and sometimes have me looking over my shoulder.

A couple of weeks before my son started Kindergarten, when he was a scant 5-years-old, he and I had this exchange…

Him: When I become an astronaut, should I blow up the moon so it's always day time?

Me: If you blow up the moon it wouldn't always be day time. There just wouldn't be any moon out when it's night time.

Him: Okay, then I’ll blow up the sun.

I had a bit of a chuckle about this exchange at the time, but a couple of years later, I wonder if it was my son hatching his first evil plot.

At the beginning of first grade my son asked a question out of the blue that, on the surface, seemed more inquisitive than sinister…

Him: Can germs see the smallest particles in the world?

Me: Well germs don’t have eyes, so I don’t think they can see anything. But even if they did, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be able to see quarks.

The question seemed relatively harmless at the time, but now I wonder what his motive was in asking in the first place. Was he developing a scheme to equip germs with microscopic devices to split atoms? Probably not, but just to be safe I decided not to buy him the Little Tikes Nuclear Fission kit for Christmas that year.

More recently my son and I had an exchange that I found particularly disturbing. About a week ago I was trying to wake my son up in the morning and he was completely zonked out—snoring heavily and not responding to my gentle shaking of his shoulder as I stood over him. After a few failed attempts, I sat down next to him on his bed. No sooner did my butt hit the mattress, then my son sat bolt upright, turned to me and said…

Him: Were you trying to collect human DNA?

Me: Um…no.

Him: Then why were you watching me sleep?

Me: Uhhhhhh. (I then nervously got up from his bed, gave him a queasy smile and backed out of the room.)

The fact that the first thought my son had upon seeing me looking at him when he awoke was that I might be trying to harvest his genetic material, tells me that seems like a reasonable possibility to him. And perhaps collecting human DNA is something that he, himself, has been contemplating. If I ever wake up to see my son standing over me in the morning I’ll be sure to check my body for small scars.

There have been other statements my son has made over the past couple of years that have given me pause, such as when he asked, “How do yams communicate with other yams?” (Is he hoping to harness an army of tubers?) Or when he confidently stated, “I fart in cursive.” (Perhaps he’s developing a second super power beyond speed reading).

My son’s cornucopia of strange statements is only one of the many clues to the unique way he sees the world. His artwork also reveals his skewed view of reality. When most first graders draw a picture of their family, you see basic smiling stick figures holding hands and/or joyfully waving. Not so much with my son’s art, which seems like some sort of twisted collaboration between Pablo Picasso and Gary Larson.

While I’m flattered that my son decided to make me the central figure in our family portrait, I’m not sure why he sees me as some sort of monstrosity with a head 75 times the size of my body and wildly hypnotic eyes. (Although it is accurate that my nose runs a lot.) Or maybe he doesn’t see me like that right now, but once he gets ahold of my DNA, that’s the direction that I’m headed.

So maybe the question I should really be concerned about isn’t “What kind of parents turn a kid into an evil scientist?” so much as, “What can an evil scientist turn his parents into?” I don’t know the answer for sure, but I’m definitely keeping a close eye on my son’s science fair project this year.