Does anyone but me remember how report cards looked in the 1950s? They were fairly simple: to the left of the fold were the grades, those things you worked so hard for and, you thought, the reason you were in school. But lurking over there, to the right of the fold, was a page of judgments, about good things and bad things you did when you thought the teacher was paying attention to how much knowledge you could soak up.
I would come home so anxious to show my mother and father all my “As.” I was a good student, I thought. Didn’t that prove it?
And then the other side of the card loomed large with its judgments. “Whispers too much.” “Annoys others.” “Fidgets.”
Imagine, a judgment of “fidgets.” I wonder if my mother tried to figure out how to make me stop fidgeting, as I did almost everywhere we went. My mother worried about these marks under the ominous label “Deportment.” Mothers in the 1950s did that.
Thinking back now, I believe my behavior was pure curiosity. I would whisper about things or annoy others asking questions, or fidget when the teacher wagged her finger menacingly at me.
I was, and still am, curious. I constantly ask questions. I want to know why, how, when, what, and what then, and why not about so many things. As I’m getting older, I am getting curiouser. I always want to take Frost’s road not taken.
“They” say that rewarded behaviors are the ones that persist.
The rewards have been many and satisfying. Sometimes I am embarrassed, because I never learned that curiosity should be tempered by thinking first. So, when we learned about space flight as the first astronaut was about to be launched, I raised my hand and asked: “How do they go to the bathroom?” Now, the advantage of thinking first would have held me back long enough to let others ask it. But no, I wanted to know then. I was really, really curious!
I’m thinking about this now because I know that it was curiosity that led me to write a book. Knowing my father and all his good and bad traits, I realized I am very much like him. I set out to find that little boy who became the man. I imagined the events and people that might have created his fears, his beliefs, his determination, his impatience, and his curiosity. Although he was annoyed at his little girl’s poor marks in deportment, I know now he was also proud of me because I did not take anything at face value. “Because I said so,” never worked on me.
If the man behind the curtain isn’t all-powerful, I don’t care! I just want to know, and then I want to know how all those wonderful things happened without him. If birds have many different calls for just as many reasons, I want to know what they are saying. (OK, if that is a bad person making noises in my basement late at night and I’m home alone, I will NOT go down there to check.) I will never turn down an invitation to visit a factory or to see how things work behind the scenes.
Curiosity brings discoveries; it advances science; it creates great art; it makes a recipe better; it gets cats killed. But most importantly, curiosity is fun. I just hope that all the initials children are being labeled with aren’t masking curiosity just because it’s annoying and fidgety. This would make me very sad.