Unlocking the Door of Curiosity

We arrived at an AirBnB at about 4pm this past Friday afternoon to spend the long weekend in one of our favorite spots, Mutiny Bay on Whidbey Island. Within 90 minutes of getting here, my three-year-old Mr. D was stuck in the bathroom. Out of curiosity, he’d fiddled with the lock on the door and then couldn’t get out. It reminded me of Brian’s post about getting locked in the bathroom and I chuckled as I crouched down to see whether it was a bobby pin kind of lock or a key kind of lock, and then grimaced to find out it was the latter.

Watching my kids in a new environment like this condo is fascinating. Which could be another word for annoying, but fortunately they are mostly non-destructive. They run around in a curious whirlwind to figure out how everything works. They open the doors, peek into cupboards, slide open the windows, manipulate the blinds, adjust the thermostat, touch all the electronics, peer out the windows to see who else might be staying at these condos, crawl up and down the ladders of the bunk beds, squeeze themselves into every tight spot (this seems to be Miss O’s specialty).

As we watched my kids explore, my friend who is traveling with us this weekend, Eric, and I discussed the research of Dr. Alison Gopnik. She’s a professor of psychology at UC Berkley. Listening to her descriptions of the cognitive development of a human brain has changed how I face these moments. I thought it might be interesting to Eric, who has spent a lot of time with my kids but doesn’t have kids of his own.

Dr. Gopnik describes kids’ brains as wired to learn. Children’s brains seek out what can teach them the most. Whereas adult brains are focused on what we can get done. Children’s neural pathways look like the streets of old Paris – narrow, criss-crossing, and winding all over the place. Adult neural pathways look like boulevards – faster but they only go to a limited number of places.

And in-line with Dr. Gopnik’s research, Eric and I seemed to be trying to get everything to work the way it does at our respective homes. I was on my way to the store and he asked, “Can you pick up a sponge?” Because washing with the dish rag they’d left for us seemed lame. Ditto with the cooking, eating, and sleeping.

When life seems routine and dull, I try to remember it’s because I’ve stopped wondering how everything works in my quest to be efficient. It isn’t that the world has become less interesting – but just that I’ve become less curious about it. When I focus on “what’s next,” I often sacrifice the curiosity of “how” and “why” and “wow.”

Thinking back to childhood discoveries like how colors mixed to make new ones, my first taste of Thai food, and how glorious it was to run my first simple computer program, helps me reconnect with complete wonder of all the facets of this world.

And as I crouched down at the door to softly talk Mr. D through twisting the metal bar at the center of the knob to unlock it, I found my curiosity helping me. Instead of getting stuck in the worry about being a person who has to call in the management company so that her three-year-old didn’t have to spend the whole weekend in a bathroom, I thought through how it must look to him on the other side. I imagined the fear, but also the agency he must have been feeling. Soon enough, curiosity and calm won and Mr. D was able to open the door, free himself, and then continue on his journey of discovery.

Please visit my personal blog at https://wynneleon.wordpress.com and I also post on Wednesdays at the Wise & Shine blog. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @wynneleon

46 thoughts on “Unlocking the Door of Curiosity

  1. Fueling curiosity in adulthood is, I think, a gift of nature. Many find routine to be comforting and safe, but there is a choice to be made. It also applies to our relationships. If we ask others questions about themselves, many will share remarkable stories. In sum, if we want an interesting life and free the curiosity you’ve described, Wynne, we will never be bored.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. So enlightening. This may be why I enjoy art and making jewelry. The creative pathways shutdown the everyday freeways that run incessantly in my brain. As a grandmother, I am constantly reminded of the joy of discovery — overcoming the fear of holding a bug, or deciding the joy of climbing a tree is worth the risk.

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    1. Oh, Maggie – what a great comment about how art and creativity helps bypass our over-used streets. That makes so much sense! And I love how you put it – “the joy of discovery” is so abundant! Thanks for adding this comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I want to never stop learning Wynne. There’s so much world and so many ideas to explore we can never know it all. I will do everything I can to continue to be curious and to ask why…so many whys to ask I think!

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  4. “When I focus on “what’s next,” I often sacrifice the curiosity of “how” and “why” and “wow.”
    Thanks for the needed reminder Wynne that life is most fully lived in the exciting ‘”What’s now?” perspective of children, than in the humdrum “What’s next?” adult venue.
    I hope to die young at a ripe old age 😄

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    1. Oh, what a brilliant way you’ve put it – “What’s now? instead of “What’s next?” Yes!!

      I think you are well on your way to succeeding at dying young at a ripe old age! Love that, Fred!


    2. And I love the “I hope to die young at a ripe old age”!

      As I was reading through your explanation, I couldn’t help but admire your patience at not tearing out your hair at the shenanigans, and wonder if this is the explanation for the “we don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing”?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I totally agree – that is a great line from Fred!

        Wow, I love how you always extend my thinking, EW. I think you have a great point about this as the illustration for that great quote. Knowing that it is a form of learning for my kids completely changed the way I relate to the shenanigans. Because I have a lot more tolerance for learning and curiosity that I do chaos. So perhaps it is the perfect explanation for understanding the quote!

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  5. Oh Wynne, Mr. D is my new hero. You too. Both so brave. Meanwhile, I’m an older parent, who locked myself in the bathroom, and I was going crazy. I’m not ashamed to admit it, I let out a few f-bombs and some other not-to-nice words when I was locked in the bathroom. Yes, I need to wash my mouth out with soap, haven’t gotten to that yet. You guys were so calm. That’s a great reminder, there’s always a solution, stay calm and work the problem. Love it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m laughing about washing your mouth out with soap. Well, you were in the right place to do it. If you swear when no one is home, does it still count? 🙂 Thanks for your kind words, Brian!


  6. Your story reminded me of my kids at that age. We rented a house in Laguna Beach in the summer and my son locked himself in the bathroom. I went to a neighbor’s house — who was a stranger to me — and she gave me a little tool she had used 30 years earlier when her son locked himself in the bathroom. Also, growing up in Snohomish, my best friend and I would get dropped off at the ferry and ride our bikes for the day on Whidbey. That was a treat!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s funny that your son locked himself in the bathroom, as did the next door neighbor’s son, and my son…am I sensing a trend?

      How cool that you got to ride your bikes on Whidbey as a kid! I’ve done that as a grown-up – it’s a great place to ride but I can only imagine how fun and the delight to do it alone growing up. That’s awesome, Elizabeth!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The couple of times we got to ride bikes on on Whidbey Island are treasured memories!

        Also, our guest bath in our house we sold and moved from two years ago had a bad doorknob. So many of my children’s friends would get locked in throughout the years — no fault of their own. Funny, when we were getting ready to sell the house we FINALLY replaced the doorknob!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. What a great reflection. It’s kind of too bad we are less curious, but I suppose that’s a human evolution out of necessity. We can’t set up the shelter in the woods before nightfall if we’re too busy exploring the woods. I’m glad you ended with how D got out of the bathroom. I was getting a little stressed out for him. I hope you’re having a delightful time! So nice you have a constant adult companion to help you!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Great point about the necessity, Betsy! Right, my kids might still be putting on their shoes and socks (and finding everything on the ground within 5 feet interesting) when nightfall happened in that scenario. Yes, Eric is a great travel buddy. We’re back home now but it was a fun little break!

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  8. I love this Wynne. Curiosity is a gift I love tapping into. As you say, as adults we are so focused on getting things done. We need to give ourselves permission and time to develop curiosity

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  9. Dr. Gopnik’s research sounds fascinating. It’s so clear that the brains of adults are wired completely differently, and it’s beautiful that you and Mr. D. were able to combine the curiosity and logical thinking into a little adventure and perhaps a lesson learned. There is so much we can learn from children, isn’t there?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What an insightful comment, Erin. You’re right – Mr. D and I did put our heads together to come up with the solution. Yes, it’s endless what they can teach us, I imagine! Also, I couldn’t help but think of you as I typed up this post and the curiosity you’ve needed to have about your health in order to stay open to solutions. It’s a great tool, isn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

  10. The neural pathway scenario reminded me of a puppy that I walked when she was tiny. I called her “the gnat.” Now that she’s an adult, she’s mended her gnatty ways. I wish I could say the same for myself. Some days I feel just like her and your children, running all over the place—not so much exploring to learn, but more like trying to figure out what I’m doing, where I’m going, what I should be doing next, and looking for stuff that I lost. Sigh. Maybe someday I’ll grow up and get over it. If puppies and kids can do it, there’s hope for me, right? 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, ha, ha, Julia! You always make me smile. And what a great point about puppies – yes, they do the same thing! I know the wandering of which you speak. Well, if you rebrand it as curiosity, all of a sudden you are wisely using your time to explore the world! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I am guilty of dropping my curiosity in order to be efficient. Learning isn’t a linear process so it takes time to navigate the curiosity curves, some of which go nowhere. Good message here for me, a grown-up child.

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