Monday, January 30, 2006

My son had a preschool evaluation recently, and suffice it to say, we weren't told anything about him that we didn't already know. What surprised my husband and I, however, was when we were told my son doesn't exhibit much curiosity in class. I was already a bit upset about the evaluation in the first place, constantly having to keep in mind that he was only three, after all. Hearing this coming out of a preschool teacher's mouth, however, was strange to say the least.

My first impulse was to tell the woman what my son did at breakfast each morning. I absolutely had to pull out a folding chair he could stand on at some point in the process of preparing the food so that he could stand on it, look over my shoulder, and ask me questions to his heart's content. A recent trip to the Museum of Natural History with me and his paternal grandparents climaxed in the planetarium's space show, which did not freak him out, as I had feared...on the contrary, he asked a spaceship load of questions in the show and afterwards. Just walking down any main shopping street elicits another barrage. Watching carefully how my son examines toys and other objects gives me the idea that this is a kid who likes to find things out in his own way. My husband just had to laugh about it after a certain point - the best reaction we got was when Dan told our friend Edie about it this past weekend, when he transported our new second car down to New Orleans. A teacher with a few decades of experience under her belt, and a grandma herself who knows our son from his many visits to her house, all Edie could say was an incredulous WHAT?!!???

I say all this not to slight his preschool. Matter of fact, I think his preschool is a good one, and they have basically pegged his personality. Sometimes it takes a few tries to find a decent fit between child and school. Talking to my mom recently brought up a case in point, namely me at three or four: one preschool told her to take me to an orthodontist because I seemed to have too much of an overbite, and she knew then it wasn't the place for me, bless her. I say this because it got me thinking about curiosity and the role it plays in our lives...the role it will continually be playing in life down south.

Curiosity is something we most definitely nurture in our offspring these days, something that was stomped on at an early age in earlier generations. Does "children should be seen and not heard" come to anyone's mind these days? It most certainly crops its head up with regards to where children are allowed in public - any parent who has taken their kids with them for a night of restaurant dining knows what I'm talking about. I have seen it most often with regards to kids and worship services, no matter what the religion. Some religious institutions welcome kids and make provisions for their participation in rituals and services. This is fast becoming a matter of life and death for some churches and synagogues - ignore and disdain the younger generations at your peril, o elders! But I digress...

What I worry about the most with regards to my son's curiosity is how much it will get him into trouble. Curiosity can take you to some pretty awful places in this life...and yes, sometimes the squelching of such a thing can be advantageous. Cases in point: gee, what will this dog poop taste like? Let me walk into that huge body of water and check out where the currents take me!
That bag says "Biohazard" on it...let's open it up and see what the fuss is about! There are houses in those mud flats - let's explore! Our government says to pay no attention to those men behind the curtain - oh, what do they know? Let's peel it back and see!

Did I really include those last two things in the above paragraph? Really?????

Here I am pooh-poohing curiosity, when I'm going to be going out onto those same mud flats armed with a digital camera to check out what life at the edge of the water line is like in the flooded areas of the Ninth Ward and Lakeview, just to name a few places. Here I am, kicking curiosity in the teeth, when all I want to know is how government institutions on city, state, and federal levels could have failed so spectacularly in keeping a great city and its people above water. What the hell am I doing?

I'm running up against one of the things I was most afraid of whenever I contemplated having children. It's a major paradox of the human condition squeezed into the phrase "Do as I say, not as I do." As parents, we send our little beings into the world expecting them to be able to preserve their lives, to support themselves, and to be curious about the world...for the right reasons. "Because I say so " won't cut it after a while - in my son's case, it stopped having any effect a loooong time ago. And he's only three.

After a large amount of thought (profound brain things inside my head, to quote a cartoon character in one of my son's favorite kid movies), I know that my initial impulse to do all the things I'm doing with this blog was simply to check the area out for myself. The curiosity is killing me a little, especially since my husband has been down there twice since Katrina hit and has seen a great deal for himself, and here I've been up in New York holding down the fort. His description of the city really got me. To paraphrase what he said, areas of the city are hopping like nothing ever happened, and right next to them are ghost towns that had formerly been vital neighborhoods.

However, I came across much more than just the "hey, what happened?" factor when I thought about what that city means to me, to Dan, to all those we know down there. We've done our best to try to impart that to everyone we know, whether they've been to New Orleans or not. The news media thrives so much on the news for news' sake - if they don't get the story, revenues decrease for the media reporters and for their system. I find myself thriving much more on getting some kind of truth across through the admittedly biased prism I have - I love this city and I hate what's happened to it.

It makes me even more determined to get my son's curiosity thriving, but to get some sort of value system behind it. Some sense of exploring forbidden places not out of just doing it, not out of peer pressure, not out of ticking Mom and Dad off, but out of having some kind of need to get to the bottom of things for a purpose that contains much more meaning than the Jeff Foxworthy-ish redneck way of saying "Hey- watch this!"

And that is hard. Because doing something just for the "watch me!" aspect of it can be fun. I find that it is also becoming a reason for reward in our society, be that reward in the form of fifteen minutes of fame, a supposedly greater position among one's peer group, or some sort of material windfall.

Curiosity can beat you down in this life even beyond just one's own physical preservation. Following your curiosity and then telling others about what you've found can really bring the hammer down. Look at whistle-blowers. Check out members of the scientific community who have disproven widely accepted theories as to how the universe works (like, say, Galileo). It's so much easier to keep it to yourself.

My little guy is a talker. A three-year-old born schmoozer. I think he quit being curious in his class because he hasn't found much in there to be curious about. A certain familiarity with his schoolroom and its routine may well have knocked that out of him, which is a big mistake on his part as well as the teachers'. In moving back down to New Orleans, Dan and I are banking on a slight chance that some of its familiarity will be there, sure...but it will also be wonderful if it began to develop in ways that some may never have thought possible. All of us need to find that balance with our curiosity - truth or trouble? Life or death? Familiarity or diversity? Security or adventure?

Folks, it ain't a John Grisham novel, but it is life....

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