Curiosity, Cats, and Me

Today is the start of spring break for my kids and I don’t have much planned. Well, aside from letting them sleep in and spoiling them more rotten than usual. But as far as the typical spring break plans of taking trips or seeing new sights goes, we’re not doing that. Rather than invoking fancy terms like “stay-cation,” I’m just focusing on the break part.

Because that is what we need. A break from schedules and hectic and overwhelm. A break from all that stuff that distracts us from what really matters and that’s spending time together.

But one thing we will not be taking a break from doing is being curious.

Because curiosity didn’t actually kill anything. What most folks don’t know is that the old idiom “curiosity killed the cat” is actually followed by “but satisfaction brought it back.” In other words, people use the first part to warn us off of being curious about potentially dangerous stuff. But those of us who ignore such warnings are the satisfied people. This is a case of where knowing the whole picture is a good thing indeed.

A few months ago I was chatting with Biggest about life and stuff. Knowing where he is in his life (he’s a freshman in high school) and the things he’s interested in (he wants to be an astrophysicist), most likely it started with him talking about math and then progressed to some variety of the dreaded “what do you want to do when you grow up” conversation. Before he was frustrated enough to invoke the “no more C word talk, Mom,” he brought up the importance of curiosity. (By the way, in case you are curious what the C word talk is, that is when I talk about the future and College and such things. You know, normal stuff that freaks out kids like Biggest who are focused on life goals.)

Curiosity. According to Biggest, the important thing is to stay curious; that being curious is what leads us to finding our happiness.

He’s right and he probably doesn’t even know the whole curiosity cat idiom. Curiosity is likely the singular thing that separates folks’ aspirations from their realities and how they feel about the distance between those two things. I’m not saying that being curious is the only thing that can make a person happy, but when a body is curious about stuff, it makes them look at the future in a different way.

The curious are the question askers, the taker-apart-ers, the mess makers. They are the folks who see how things have always been done and then try to figure out if there is a better way. They are the people who stay up late or get up early in order to create, learn, do. They, like a curious cat, are always looking forward to the next thing.

Our cat, Lucy, is a good example of a curious cat. A door slightly ajar is a puzzle to work out. A spider on the ceiling is perfect quarry to spend the afternoon hunting. A blanket is a fort begging to be hid within. A bare foot is a toy begging to be pounced. And on and on.

I realize that Lucy sounds playful rather than curious but I ask you this: what is more playful than being curious? I believe that when we are playing with our minds as well as our bodies – we are being our best curious selves.

I was never a very good player as a child. Barbies bored me. Legos failed to fully ignite my imagination. All the “normal” toys of childhood spent only short times in my possession. But give me a library card and I was happy. Give me a junk yard filled with rusted engines and tractor parts and I was happily busy for days. These days, I have a much bigger library and while I may not have a junk yard nearby, I still find happiness in figuring out new stuff. My goal is to learn at least one new thing every day and most days my goal is met before lunch. My play may not look like others’ but being curious has the same restorative effects for me as other types of play.

Curiosity that has always been a part of me and it appears to be the same for Biggest – to the extent I think it must be hereditary. In fact, I believe it made me who I am today. It made me curious about what else life could hold for me. It made me curious about how croissants taste in France versus in the northwest. It made me curious about what makes people the same and what makes them different. Because I was curious, I travelled, went to college, met people from many parts of the world, and found places where I felt safe enough to blossom.

The nighttime skies of eastern Washington during my childhood were such contrasts between inky darkness and white star light that I spent much of those nights looking up, wondering what was out there. Those night skies where a contrast between the now and the other. And whereas they contrasted current and past, I was a contrast between where I was and where I wanted to be. I thought being an astronaut sounded like a fabulous adventure but it wasn’t where I wanted to go. I had my sights here on earth. But I couldn’t keep from looking and wondering about constellations and Aurora Borealis lights and shooting stars.

I can’t help but think that I was practicing for when Biggest is out there. Stay curious, Biggest. It just might be what saves us all. And no matter what, watching you “play” is one of the very best parts of being your mom.