Why You Shouldn't Experiment on Your Sibling | Teen Ink

Why You Shouldn't Experiment on Your Sibling MAG

September 27, 2017
By MaddyEllis BRONZE, Bell Buckle, Tennessee
MaddyEllis BRONZE, Bell Buckle, Tennessee
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

In hindsight, my mother really ought to have hired a babysitter. The trust she placed in my sister Stella, less than three years my senior, to keep me from endangering myself or others was truly astonishing. Stella often left me to my own devices, meaning I spent most summer days running experiments based on the latest episode of “Mythbusters” I had seen. Some days I grew samples of mold in sticky notes, other days I constructed balloon-powered rockets. The day I learned birch bark was highly flammable was the same day I learned what a burn-ban was … and nearly poisoned my sister.


Adam Savage once stated, “The coolest toys don’t have to be bought; they can be built. In fact, sometimes the only way they’ll ever exist is if you make them yourself.” This proved true one summer day when my mom left for a routine grocery trip and I ventured outside to see how I could entertain myself. An idea sparked when I wandered past our birch tree (being the largest one in the county, I never could get my fingers to meet when I hugged it). I recalled that birch tree bark contained a flammable oil that made it ideal for kindling in a survival situation. I peeled a hefty armful of papery bark off the massive tree and set it on the gravel driveway. Of the various objects hiding around the property, a cinder block sat, covered in ivy, beside the garage. I brought the block to the driveway, cleaned it off, stuffed the two sections with shreds of birch bark, and ran to get my magnifying glass. You can probably see where this is going. As I headed back outside, I grabbed a package of hotdogs and a metal skewer. I went to work, angling the magnifying glass just right – and in no time, I had a nice little fire in my cinder block. I roasted a couple of hotdogs before quenching my makeshift firepit. Head held high, grinning like a fool, I proudly presented the hotdogs to my sister who was reasonably impressed with my feat. I soon discovered it would be years before she would eat anything I prepared for her.


I did not understand why my mom was so exasperated when she arrived home that day. After all, I made Stella lunch. However, an icy wave of panic spread through me when my mom explained that she had recently treated our record-sized birch tree’s bark with a pesticide to keep it healthy. How ironic, I thought before bursting into tears, horrified that I may have poisoned my sister. Poison Control instructed my sister to drink plenty of water and only seek medical help if symptoms developed. Thankfully, Stella was completely fine after ingesting the tainted dogs.


Although I was grounded from my “research equipment,” including my magnifying glass, I gained a higher appreciation for my sister that day. Eventually, she forgave me and now we share a laugh about the birch bark hotdogs. Every cruel prank, experiment gone awry, and emotional harassment that took place in our childhood has brought us closer together. Having a babysitter may have prevented many questionable activities, but inhibiting a child’s natural curiosity of the surrounding world stunts the live-and-learn element necessary for personal development. As the Mythbusters frequently said, “Failure is always an option.” Because without failure there is no room to grow. 

The author's comments:

This is the true story-turned-college application essay of my biggest flop of an experiment (at my sister's expense). 

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