“You know,” I say to Justin as we’re out shopping for presents, “I’ve always wanted one of those.”
It’s a kit that lets you grow your own crystals. On the box it says that it’s suitable for ages 10 and up.
“Probably sounds silly,” I say. “But yeah. Lusted after this kind of thing pretty hard when I was a kid.”
“That doesn’t sound silly at all,” Justin says.
I think he’s trying to be reassuring, and it’s appreciated. But I’m still low-key embarrassed. I shrug.
“You should get it. Grow yourself some pretty crystals,” he says.
I freeze. I consider arguing with him. Since I’m still not comfortable for some reason that I’m so interested in it. But as I’m holding it in my hand, I can remember being a little kid. Sitting with the JC Penney Christmas catalog open. Looking at all the toys.
I always liked the science toys. There was a first lab kit. And a kid’s microscope with a set of prepared slides.
I’d asked about them, but my mom had put the kibosh on that. “You’ll blow up the house,” she’d say. Which I guess was a fair concern about the lab set (maybe, depending on what they put in it exactly, whether it was watered down or the real deal). As an adult, I can look back and puzzle over how the microscope would allow me to blow things up… since that was far less clear, the danger a microscope would pose.
But my grasp of science was pretty fuzzy in elementary school (part of why I wanted the toys), and it didn’t occur to me then to try to overcome that particular objection.
Instead, I pointed to a few other science-based toys and asked about those. These were geology themed: a rock tumbler and a crystal growing kit.
Mom shrugged, was non-committal. That was her other standard response when it came to Christmas presents. “Absolutely not” or “eh, who knows, maybe.”
Because saying, “That looks like a good option” ruins the surprise. Suggested presents were always a “no” or a “maybe.” And sometimes the ostensible “no” gifts turned up under the tree anyway. Since between the Santa ruse and present-based deception, Christmas was the one time of year where you could reliably lie your face off and receive instant absolution for it since it was for a good cause and all — the pleasant surprise.
So I didn’t know what my mom meant by her non-committal shrug. Not until Christmas morning when there were no science toys.
I wasn’t immediately deterred. I did ask for them a few years in a row. But after the same result a few times, I stopped asking for them.
I gave up on ever having them.
This sense of resignation is funny in hindsight. At any moment, it could have been easily reversed when I started making my own money in junior high and high school, playing gigs, handing out programs at hockey games, selling strawberries that I’d picked on the side of the road.
I could have bought the kits on my own.
But I didn’t.
I’d convinced myself that the opportunity had passed. That there was no going back. It was an odd thing to be so final about. But I was.
And as I stand there in the store, I’m faced with a choice: Do I stick with this story I’ve been telling myself for 30 years?
Or do I buy this kit, go home, and make crystals (or try to)?
Justin looks at me. “Get it,” he says again.
I almost say no. But I catch myself. “You know… okay.”
I mix a packet of monoammonium phosphate powder in warm water. Pour it over a granite rock. Cover it with a lid for an hour, and then the lid comes off. I set the mixture aside in a safe place. In a week or two, I’ll have crystals.
I tried to follow the included directions as closely as I could. But it’s possible that I screwed up somehow. And it’s also possible that my kit is low quality, a dud.
It’s possible that the experiment will be underwhelming, a disappointment. I’m almost certain that it won’t look as good as the pictures in the box, and certainly not as impressive as what I imagined it’d be like when I was a little kid.
But I’m doing it. Even though I convinced myself it would never happen.
By itself, picking up the crystal kit is a tiny thing. Trivial. But it occurs to me that I likely have dozens of things that I’m telling myself I can’t do that aren’t so trivial. Ones that are much bigger opportunities that I’ve convinced myself have passed, that I think are lost forever.
And now that I’m looking for them, those opportunities that I’ve convinced myself have passed, I think I’ll recognize that feeling when it happens again. That angst, that conflict, that paralysis. And maybe the next time I feel it, I’ll be a little more likely to realize that I’m full of it when I tell myself that it’s impossible.
Maybe I’ll be a little more likely to realize that there’s still time.
And that nothing is stopping me but my own fear that I’ll screw it up or it won’t be as good as I hoped it would be.
Update [1/7/2019]: I wrote a followup post about how my kit turned out. Here it is.