Prometheus: The Home Movie


In an interestingly serendipitous sequence of events, within three days last week, Mbot set fire to a paper Spiderman napkin, Husbot and I saw Prometheus, and the family caught a discoverment at the Arizona Stomach Center entitled “Combustion.” What do these things have in common? Read on.

The first event occurred just after Nanny and the bots set the table for my birthday party. Uncle Marty and Grandma were coming over for dinner. Nanny was busy in the kitchen boiling lobsters. (She was not wearing earplugs, as, fortunately, their screams are silent. (Z, that was for you.) I was shucking corn. The bots were behaving, by which I mean kind of watching Caillou and kind of playing with balloons and kind of doing crafts. I laid out the cheese and crackers, I opened the wine. I moved a giant candle to the center of the table–a table whose center is farther from its edges than bots’ arms are long–and lit it. The bots tried to blow out the three flames from their positions on the chairs. They couldn’t. I told them to stop trying. That fire is dangerous. Blah, blah. blah. Then I turned around to do whatever I had to do to continue getting dinner ready.

Moment later, as I was taking a serving plate down for the corn, I heard Mbot’s voice. “Uh, Mom? There’s a fire on the table.”

I whirled and yes! Lo and behold, there was a fire on the table. A small one, exactly the size of a paper Spiderman napkin. I rushed over and lifted the single unburned corner and dropped it on the serving plate that was still in my hand, then dropped it into the sink and turned on the water. And then I attempted to explain how he could have hurt himself, and us. Blah, blah, blah. He remained unfazed. So Nanny had a go at it. She explained that he might have hurt Junepbear by mistake. And that’s what got through. There was crying, and promises to never play with fire. My heart rate was still about 160. I washed the serving plate and piled lobster on it. The guests arrived and dinner was served while Uncle Marty and Husbot discussed Prometheus, Ridley Scott‘s prequel to Alien, which Uncle Marty (an author and screenwriter) had just seen at the IMAX in 3D.

The next day, Husbot decided we had to see it. And here is my completely uneducated review: It was okay. There were problems. It was also confusing. But fun to discuss and try to make sense of. Prometheuswas the name of the spaceship that arrived on a distant planet seeking the origins of mankind. Students of mythology or art history will know that Prometheus is the name of the god who took fire from the heavens and gave it to man. As punishment, he was chained to a rock, and every night an eagle flew down to eat out his liver, and every day it grew back. This happened for all eternity.

It’s an old, old story. Shown here: Prometheus bound, Laconian black-figure
amphoriskos C6th B.C., Vatican City Museums (via

One thing about the movie isn’t confusing. One of the morals of the story is: Don’t play with fire. Not to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie yet, but fire, in this case, is the biological weaponry that a superior race with a god syndrome (or are they god???) had developed in order to destroy whole planetfuls of other carbon-based lifeforms. Perhaps in order to start from scratch with the hope of a better outcome (a world without the color mauve? Without reality TV and the Hilton sisters?)

Of course, the characters don’t KNOW at first that the animate sludge on the distant planet peopled by large dead guys will turn into large gross monsters that will shoot large gross appendages down their throats. (Again, I hope I’m not ruining something for someone.) The humans are seeking knowledge, and that is their downfall. Like knowledge, fire is a thing that must be used carefully and that can destroy more than paper Spiderman napkins and stuffed bears.

Which brings us to the Stomach Center. We visited it the next morning because Nanny had never been. The bots loved showing her the waterworks, the exhibit on nanoparticles, the giant telescope you look through and see your own eye projected on a big circular screen on the ceiling. Mbot wanted to see the kitty brain. No one except Nanny was brave enough to go into the giant stomach (from which the Arizona Science Center takes its bot-given name). I won a game of Mindball against Nanny, but solely because I knew she was worrying about where the bots were while we were playing, and so I didn’t have to worry about where the bots were. And then a demonstration began, about combustion.

Mbot dragged me to an empty seat and sat, riveted, while two college students explained the three sides of the fire triangle (fuel, oxygen, and heat).


They poured alcohol into a clear plastic twenty-gallon water bottle, pumped in air, and dropped in a match. Mbot jumped about two inches at the fireball that momentarily filled the bottle. Then they threw lycopodium powder into the air and aimed an acetylene torch at it. Then they held a flame to Peter Cottonball and we all watched as it was reduced to a blackened puff of its former self. Then they explained how to use a fire extinguisher. And then, they told everyone in the audience to put their hand over their heart–Mbot did so immediately–and solemnly repeat after them: “I promise to never play with fire.”

Mbot repeated it. “I promise to never play with fire.” Then he glanced sideways up at me, and added, “Again.”

And the next day he was back to his discoverments with liquids, pouring his cup of milk at breakfast into the mouth of a deflated balloon to see if it could be done (yes, to a point), and if, after it was done, he could drink out of it (yes, to a point). As I was mopping up, I banned (again) all discoverments involving liquids to the bathtub.

But it doesn’t look like there will be any more discoverments involving fire. Not until he gets his first chemistry set, or falls in love.

The Octoped Goes Into Space at the Stomach Center

Image taken by the Hubble telescope of a "baby star nursery."

Yesterday we went to the Arizona Stomach Center. Which is what Mbot calls the Arizona Science Center, because of the giant plastic stomach in the permanent exhibition about the body. Mbot has a love-hate relationship with the stomach. He loves to talk about it, looks forward to seeing it, remembers it rapturously…but when we are actually within visual contact of the giant stomach, he is terrified of it. The giant stomach grumbles, groans, and gurgles. The last time it belched, Mbot shot out of it like a flu bug into the toilet.

It was our first family outing to ASC sans wheels. We were a walking family unit, an octoped. And what was more, I wasn’t carrying anyone, so I actually had a chance to put on lipstick. We were an eight-footed being with makeup on. It was a momentous occasion on all fronts. It was a good change. The kind of change I like, instead of a bad change, the kind I fear.

Before we left home, I bought us a family annual pass online. It almost paid for itself in one visit.

When we got there, it was to find that the Van Gogh Alive! exhibition and the IMAX movies were $8 and $6 extra, respectively. I didn’t mind paying the extra, although by midafternoon, the Bots made it abundantly clear that they would prefer to return to Van Gogh in not less than ten years.

We always try to include an IMAX movie–partly because they are fabulous, and partly because they give me forty-five minutes to sit down. I cherish such moments of stillness. Yesterday, “Hubble 3-D” was in town. We bought a supply of water, caffeine, and peanut M&Ms, and grabbed four pairs of giant 3D glasses.

The lights went down. Gbot laid back in Husbot’s arms, both of them limp as overcooked stringbeans, Gbot looking like a miniature Elton John. As the first strains of the overly loud, overdramatic soundtrack filled the theater, Mbot bolted into my lap. “Can we go now?” he asked. Over and over again for the next forty-five minutes, he asked this. I held him tight, tried to distract him with M&Ms, and assured him that we could go right after the next rocket went into space. (And the next, and the next.)

Meanwhile, I stared awestruck over his shoulder at the images of space clouds trillions of miles across, the birthplace of stars. Scientists had christened the shining pinpoints of new light “tadpoles,” because the solar wind caused by their formation blows so hard it gives them a tail. Computer visualization brought the still shots of embryonic stars and galaxies to whirling life.

At the end, Mbot expressed relief that no one in the movie got hurt. The ominous music had led him to expect a monstery plot. He announced that he liked the movie, and opened up his hand to reveal a palmful of half-melted M&Ms that he was now relaxed enough to enjoy. I whipped out a wipie.

This morning, Mbot asked, “Why does the Earth not stop turning?”

My mind groped in emptiness. “Because we were born in motion,” I said, rather helplessly. I was thinking of the images of those stars, all that matter, rotating into being. I was thinking that motion was as much a part of them as the mass that was in motion.

In that moment, I think I found religion.

Ever since reading Chinua Achebe‘s “Things Fall Apart” as a college freshman, I have understood that change is a constant. Chemistry class confirmed it.

But I have always hoped that it can be different.

I always thought that if I did the right thing, if I were careful enough, I could trump change.

But this morning, in those six words I said without even thinking, I really understood it. We are born in space, we are born in time, we are born in flesh, we are born in motion. If you want to groove, you gotta move. I’m not on the ride. I’m in the ride. I am the ride. And no, I didn’t buy mind-altering drugs along with the M&Ms.

Somehow, I’m not as afraid of change now.

Not bad, for some taxpayer dollars, six bucks, and a wipie.