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The Mother Magazine, Editorial

Issue 32, Jan/Feb 2009

The Curiosity Gene, by Veronika Sophia Robinson

‘Twas the month before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. All was quiet, and although the school bus had long since passed our tiny, sandstone cottage, my home-educated daughters were still asleep. Eliza had spent the night in my bed, and the last I saw of her, she was snuggled up beneath my patchwork quilt.

Suddenly, down the stairs, with the biggest voice you’ve ever heard, Eliza came yelling. “I’m sorry mum, I’m sorry! I’m really sorry. I really am!” I did a quick mental check: no crystal vases to be broken; no fancy clothes which could end up with felt-tip on; in fact, materially, I have very little that she could damage. There was no roar from the lounge room, so I was sure she’d not set the chimney on fire by stuffing newspaper into the fireplace. The cats were nearby, so I knew that neither one had been tossed into the pond like she had done several years ago ~ to see if it really was true that “cats don’t like water”. Hmmm. What could she be so sorry about? Eliza was apologising for her curiosity, a gene inherited from me. Ok, my husband has the curiosity gene too, but his is a ‘good’ gene.

A few days before, a parcel had arrived that I didn’t open in front of them. Immediately, their suspicions were aroused, and they badgered me for hours about the secret contents. As the resident hawks, they’re used to watching every last piece of mail that comes through the door ~ usually looking out to see if their Grandmother in Tasmania has sent me a secret stash of chocolate.

The parcel contained a second-hand flute from Bethany’s cousin. We’d actually enquired about it a year before, when Bethany had said she’d like to learn the instrument. After checking the contents, I hid the parcel safely under my bed.

On that long, quiet, Winter’s morning, while I was downstairs working, Eliza had dropped a book on the floor by the side of my bed. As she bent down, she saw the parcel. And that’s where the surprise and magic of Christmas became a little unstuck.

Like the invisible force that draws toddlers out into the world regardless of consequences, Eliza was drawn to peep inside that parcel. Curiosity pulled her right down onto the cold, wooden floorboards and into that packet. Imagine her thrill to see such a glorious gift! How could she keep that saucy bit of information to herself? She immediately shared the wonder of her find with Bethany, who was torn between being distraught at her ruined surprise and the sheer pleasure of a dream come true!

Eliza couldn’t keep her discovery from me, and knew she had to ‘fess up. My girls are aware that I have zero tolerance for liars of any age, and that no matter what a person does, no matter the size of the ’crime’, they should always be honest, and do so as quickly as possible. With this knowledge etched into her being, and knowing that it was safe to be honest, she came forward, boldly, with one huge piece of bargaining power in her favour. She held information about my childhood that, in hindsight, I perhaps shouldn’t have shared so readily.

As a young girl, I would deliberately go off on my quest to discover what treats awaited me at Christmas. Our built-in wardrobes provided wonderful staging for my agile legs and arms to climb upon as I went a-searching up to ceiling height to see what my mother might have made or bought. I was never disappointed as I looked under jumpers and blankets. Our Christmas tradition involved not wrapping presents, but bringing them out on Christmas Eve and placing them under the tree to look at while we sang carols. Such a tradition is perfect for people like me.

Not much has changed over the years. I can’t leave mail unopened or leave a treat for some unknown time. Delayed gratification isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Eliza and I are ‘want it now’ sort of girls. Don’t even ask how Eliza and I manage to get through December when there are little goodies in the advent calendar pockets just waiting for us to consume them!

On the first day that I went to work on my local newspaper, the editor called me into his office to ask me what sort of clouds were in the sky that morning. He constantly reminded me how important curiosity, as a journalist, was. He wasn’t so appreciative of my latent curiosity when I came back with photos for my articles which weren’t taken in a conventional way. He would often sigh, “But, Veronika, my insurance doesn’t cover you going out on the lake in a speedboat, or up the crane.” My curiosity always led me to seek a better view, a different angle, another way of looking at things. I’ve spent my life always wanting to know more, digging a bit deeper, exploring a bit wider. All of the men I had relationships with before I met my soul mate complained that they had to ‘think’ when they were with me: that I asked too many questions! As it turns out, I’ve never much enjoyed the company of people who aren’t curious to learn more.

They say that curiosity killed the cat. Is that meant to scare us off, to make us stay in line, to behave? As far as the cat snuffed-out by curiosity goes, I say, “Yeah, but satisfaction brought it back!”

Curiosity in parenting goes hand in hand with living a more conscious, ethical, holistic life. We must ask questions, we mustn’t be put off by the dead cat. There’s a reason they’re given nine lives! And not just as insurance against naughty little girls who are curious to know about the whole cats and water mix. We’ve got to trust that our curiosity is taking us on a path to something greater. In the movie, Parenthood, the wise old grandmother says something along the lines of “life’s either a roller-coaster, with all the highs and lows that have you screaming, or a roundabout ~ always the same. I know which one I’d rather ride on”.

I once rode a roller-coaster (the Corkscrew, on the Queensland coast) thirty six times in a row so that I could actually go all the way through a whole ride with my eyes open and not scream. I no longer need the adrenalin rush of a roller-coaster. Parenting gives me more than my share of highs and lows. But whether I’m gearing up for a heady thrill to see amazing sights, or dipping to one of those hellish places that has me questioning why I ever became a mother, I take the torch of curiosity with me.

Curiosity, as a parent, has had me questioning everything I do. This began before I gave birth, and continues to this day. It helped me to find information to back up my intuition and instincts. Asking questions, and looking beyond government propaganda and mainstream agendas, have meant taking full responsibility for my children’s health, education, well-being and happiness. The answers I’ve found haven’t always led to a convenient life, but I don’t regret any of them. I’m glad my daughters have inherited this gift, because I know it will stand them in good stead. On the day of Eliza’s flute discovery, she offered up a potential consequence for her misdemeanour: “You can give me my Christmas present early as punishment.” Punishment? Ha! “It’s ok honey, I’ll keep hold of it till Christmas Eve”. What I haven’t told the girls is that the odds are good that my grandchildren will inherit the curiosity gene and my mother’s mischievous gene. What a potent mixture that would be. The sights from my rocking chair could be priceless.

My deepest wish for you this new year is that you have the courage to bring forth all the joy, love, laughter and fun that you deserve ~ and that the candle of curiosity is ever-present to light your days.

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