Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Curious and Industrious Child

The way children learn has always fascinated me. They grab bits and pieces of information from a variety of sources and integrate those pieces into their previous knowledge base. Their ability to structure their thoughts and form their ideas intrigues and amuses me.

When my oldest daughter, Keeley, was not yet 8 years old, I took her to see Neil Simon's The Goodbye Girl, starring Marsha Mason, Richard Dreyfuss, and Quinn Cummings. The movie came out in 1977 and at that time, Keeley was my only child.

Like most children, Keeley was a very curious child and she grasped the nature of things very quickly. If she needed to know how something worked, she would look for ways to figure it out.

One day, for example, I dropped her off at her grandmother's house. Grandma was always home during the week when I dropped Keeley off on my way to work, so it never occurred to me to think, "Hmm, I wonder if anybody is home." Grandpa, Grandma, and usually lots of other people were always home.

One day, however, Grandma wasn't home, and Grandma, who I depended on for babysitting, hadn't called to tell me she wasn't going to be home. As a matter of fact, though I didn't know it, nobody was home.

Because I was always in a rush, my habit was to drive Keeley to her grandparents' home, hug and kiss Keeley goodbye in the driveway, tell her to be good, and then drive to the bus that would take me downtown to my job.

Back in the 70's nobody worried about kids getting abducted, so I never considered the possibility. Also, never before in all the many times I had been at Grandma's house, had everybody from the family of ten been gone at the same time.

On that particular Monday, though, Grandma and Grandpa hadn't returned from the weekend and, in the days before cellular phones, they hadn't thought to call me to tell me they weren't going to be home. Having no way to reach me, Keeley waited on the back porch steps for them to return, but after hunger struck, she decided to figure out a way to break into their locked back door.

After looking around the yard, she figured out a way to unlock the door using two small but sturdy sticks. An experienced break-and-enter kind of kid, Keeley had previously figured out how to maneuver her way into a locked bathroom door at the age of seven, so this break-in might have been her first deja vu experience.

On the day of the bathroom break-in, I had told her I was going to take a shower and asked her if she needed to use the bathroom.

She didn't.

"OK," I told her. "Are you sure? Because I'm going to lock the door and you won't be able to get in once I lock the door." If I didn't lock the door, Keeley would be in and out for the duration of my shower, and because she was such a chatty child, I needed just ten minutes of peace every day.

"I'm sure."

So I locked the door and got into the shower. When I was soaking wet, I heard her knock on the door.

"I have to use the bathroom." Surprise, surprise.

As everybody knows, it's difficult to talk through running water and a closed door, so I shouted, "I'm in the shower. If you want to come in, you're going to have to figure it out on your own."

And she did. Having never been taught how to break into a room, she somehow figured out how to unlock the bathroom door using only a hair pin. My daughter was now a locksmith prodigy.

On the day of the movie, I wanted Keeley to know that I disapproved of the language spoken by little Lucy, so, as we walked to the car in the theater's parking lot, I tried to make light of it by saying, "Wow, that little girl knew every swear word in the book, didn't she?"

We reached our car, climbed in, and drove in silence for a while (not typical for Keeley). I could tell that she was immersed in thought. With Keeley you can almost see wheels spinning in her head as she tries to make sense of things.

Her mind has always been one of unraveling mysteries and gaining access to every imaginable piece of information through whatever means possible. The thought that a book could actually contain every word she was forbidden to say must have been extremely attractive to Keeley.

Finally, after having given the movie some serious consideration, my industrious daughter asked (probably wondering if she could find it in her school library), "Mom, what's the name of that book?"

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