There is nothing to bring on a little journey of introspection like being trapped in the house while a new roof is installed, particularly if you live in a flat roof row house like ours (where the last four attempts at fixing the roof were installed one on top of the other). Real work is pretty much impossible with the tap-tap-pound-pound-rip sounds that have been over my head all day.
But I did have a few minutes (between ka-thumps) to put a few pieces of a puzzle together, a puzzle that has been increasingly worrisome to me for the past couple of months. Most of what I figured out I’ll keep to myself (or at least not put out here on the Internet), but the most intriguing thing that became crystal clear to me in my mental wanderings was this: I’m still so very like I was when I was a child.
Not in every way, but in some interesting ways that I wouldn’t have expected. The truly interesting characteristic that has remained, suprisingly, is what I might call my precocious nature…and what others might call my irritating penchant for projects, or even perhaps, my continual striving to know everything and experience everything.
Let me explain. One of the many rituals of fall that I remember, every school year, was my mother’s pilgrimage to meet my teacher. Now, I think most parents make an effort to meet their child’s teacher each year, but after I became an adult myself my mother shared with me her real purpose each year. She went to these educational summit meetings with a message: keep my daughter mentally and creatively stimulated, or beware.
It wasn’t that I would act out or disrupt class if I got bored, I was far too well-behaved for that. But my mother was repeating a lesson that she had learned the hard way. It seems, and I do remember this, that my third grade teacher, Mrs. Schalker (whom I adored), didn’t challenge me enough. After about two months of school I was totally bored and I began the process of developing a mysterious fever right after lunch. Two, sometimes three days a week, the ritual would be the same — I would develop a fever, I would go to the teacher who would then send me to the nurse, who would then call my mother and send me home. This mysterious fever, I might add, was never identified by any doctor, and in most cases, disappeared magically by the time dinner rolled around.
All of my wonderful teachers after Mrs. Schalker got the “talk” at the beginning of the year, and did their best to keep me completely challenged…I was the queen of the special project. My sixth grade teacher may have been the most creative — I remember delivering my first “extra credit” class paper on the process of making wine in France, complete with pencil sketches of the equipment needed and extensive maps of the regions that grew the best grapes. My second project was my favorite — my first lecture on the evils of dialectical materialism, presented in front of a life-size diagram of Karl Marx that I had made with one of those old machines that allowed you to enlarge a small picture and trace it onto paper.
Needless to say, all of this was in the stone age, before computers. I had to use pencils.
You may wonder why these stories are what came to me when I was waiting for the dust to clear from the roofing project. But the reason is simple — I’ve begun to see that, well, I haven’t changed all that much. I have probably found more acceptable ways to satisfy my performing self than boring my classmates with bad pencil drawings of a wine press, but I’m still always on the hunt for the next project, the next piece of interesting information that I can share, the next new thing that I can learn. Yes, that’s me…synapses firing as fast as possible, filling my plate too full (both literally and figuratively) and doing the best I can to get the most out of every minute.
If I’m not doing that, I’m depressed and bored, and well, as my mother used to tell my teachers, I might just cause some trouble. I have a suspicion that those close to me know this secret already, even though I’ve never heard them say it. But I’m really busy right now, so I guess we are all safe for the moment.
I think, eventually, we all really do have the desire to grow up. And we may even think that will mean that we change. But right now, I’m pretty happy to know that the inquisitive child who asked way too many questions and who needed a lot of stimulation and challenge still lives in my considerably older self. I’m going to continue to need her over the next few years….