The Dadball Era: Science Fairs And The Nadir Of Life

The dreaded middle-school science fair season is upon us. It is a terrible time to be a parent, maybe the most terrible.

Some of you don’t have kids—or you do and they’ve not yet become the foul SighMonsters they’ll be in sixth or seventh or eighth grade—and you lucky bastards are completely unfamiliar with this raging, unwavering tsunami of stress that is “The Science Fair.” You’re likely reading this like I’ve gone mad.

Others of you have gloriously passed this godforsaken time in your lives and weathered these wretched storms, more or less … or at least survived, if only physically. You’re smugly reading this while sipping your brandy and cackling maniacally in your empty-nested, zero-lot line, maintenance-free townhome as you’re preparing for your mid-afternoon game of pickleball at the Indianapolis Racquet Club or Meridian Hills. You can go straight to hell, Dale. You too, Linda.

Still others of you are in the absolute thick of the storm right now, as we speak, except you’re probably not reading this at all because you’re at Office Max for the eighth time in three days because li’l Xxayviër or whatever keeps misspelling “Lichtenberg figure” on the poster board. Once home, you are frantically adding sparkly, eye-catching science beakers to the board that have nothing to do with the project at all, gluing wayward graphs and charts back in place, and generally making the whole thing look quasi-professional … or at the very least like it wasn’t all frantically heaped together by a bunch of enraged, exhausted, screaming lunatics at the last minute. (It totally was!)

These are highly panicky times. This is largely because the middle school science project is, for whatever reason, a very public projection of our basic, fundamental abilities as parents. There are judges involved, yes, but the most fearsome ones are teachers and other parents, and they are judging us. It is pass-fail. Do or die. We are either capable or gross deadbeats who Child Protective Services should have locked up long ago—there is no middle ground. As the clock ticks down to go-time the morning it’s due, this dreary thought hangs heavy in the tense kitchen air.

Everything should have been done two months ago, by young Jaxtyyn—except Jaxtyyn was busy TikTok’ing and watching stupid YouTubers hang LED lights in their rooms and otherwise not doing science-fair stuff. Stupid kids.

(There are a precious few anti-Jaxtyyns out there, make no mistake—the highly motivated, science-loving all-star kids who have spent the past two months diligently creating a weather-having biosphere out of nothing but Blue Buffalo dog food, charting their findings using only the stars, and consulting with Stephen Hawking’s estate regarding various licensing arrangements for their presentation. Those kids don’t live in my house, though. I bet their parents aren’t even aware of any upcoming science fair. Holy hell, that sounds dreamy. It’s probably how Jesus’s parents always felt. Or Fred Savage’s. But never mind those lucky freaks.)

Very not-coincidentally, science recently discovered that people all over the world—the rich and poor and CEOs and bootleggers, non-parents and parents alike, the sane and insane, men and women—their happiness hits ROCK BOTTOM at the very specific age of 47.2, which sounds about right. Then it starts to swing back up, according to the research.

There are a thousand different reasons for why 47.2 is what it is, and I don’t need a fancy Dartmouth economics professor to explain any of them to me, and neither do you. We are coming to grips with some ominous shit at that point in life.

For one thing: we are what we are at that age, for good or ill—there are no more cards to exchange from the figurative top deck of life. The hand we have is the hand we’re forced to play until the bitter end. That is a dark realization when you think about it for too long, or even briefly. We used to have eons to work on becoming a good person, for example, or a professional hot-air balloon pilot. Not anymore, Jack!! We are land-bound assholes now and forever. Fun!

Also, don’t forget that our joints are disintegrating into rusty shards of limestone and arthritis, which is a relatively new problem to have. No more pickup basketball. No more Ultimate Frisbee. No more thoughts of hiking Kilimanjaro. No more fun. It’s pickleball and elliptical machines for exercise for the next 30 years … unless we die much sooner than that, WHICH WE VERY WELL MIGHT AT OUR AGE! LOL!

There is the omnipresent stress of our jobs, of course, and mortgage payments and colonoscopies and needing to go to bed at 6:30 pm every Friday night because—ugggghhhhh—it’s been a long week. They are all long weeks in this crime-ridden 47.2 neighborhood as we’re bottoming out on this reverse bell-curve of happiness.

But this week? This week is way more dreadful than usual—way more stressful and achy and exhausting—because it is science-fair week, after all, the most terrible week of imaginable, and a significant reason for why being even remotely close to 47.2 years old is the absolute WORST.