'Satiable Curtiosity

Are you familiar with Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, a wonderful collection of bedtime stories Kipling originally told to his little girl? She insisted each night that he tell them exactly in the same manner, or, “Just So.” If ever a book calls to be read aloud, this is one, and this volume which is so filled with rich vocabulary and humor is certainly a favorite in our home. One of the stories tells the tale of Elephant’s Child, who had no trunk, but did possess “ ‘satiable curtiosity.” Elephant’s Child is always questioning everyone about everything, though for his queries he continually receives only spanks.

He asked his other aunt, the Hippopotamus, why her eyes were red, and she spanked him with her hard, hard hoof; and he asked his other uncle, the Baboon, why melons tasted just so, and his other uncle, the Baboon, spanked him with his hard, hard, paw. And still he was full of ‘satiable curtiosity. He asked questions about everything that he saw, or heard, or felt, or smelled, or touched, and all his uncles and his aunts spanked him; and still he was full of ‘satiable curtiosity.

But what Elephant’s Child most wants to know is what Crocodile eats for dinner. His “curtiosity” lands him in a hot spot, though all ends well. Naughty Elephant’s Child ends up with a very useful, albeit ugly, new trunk, and all his relatives decide they need one as well.

I, too, have a child with ‘satiable curtiosity. My Elephant’s Child’s questions have more to do with how things work than why people look the way they do. He wants to understand what makes the vacuum cleaner suck up dirt, what causes the dehydrator motor to work, and what we could do to capture more electricity coming into our house so we could save money on our electric bill. What’s the best way to answer these conundrums? If it’s not in David Macauley’s wonderful The Way Things Work, his solution seems to be to disassemble the mystery object! For the most part my Elephant’s Child has been very good about waiting until an appliance has ended its useful life before tearing it apart. But recently we had a rather painful exception.

The bearing on our nine year old front load washer gave out, and the repair on it was estimated at $600. Tim and I decided it was time to replace it with a new one instead.After doing research and talking with appliance repair folk, we ended up choosing a Bosch front loader. (You can ask me why that and not some others if you really care.) Tim installed it on a Friday evening and we were up and running again.

The following Monday, always a heavy laundry day, I filled the first load and tried to turn on the machine. The door refused to catch. Since the machine is totally electronic, the door must be latched before it will turn on. I tried various things to no avail. Then I decided to ask the kids if they knew anything about it. Hmmmm. One youngster mentioned he had seen Elephant’s Child fiddling with the door the day before.

Upon questioning (interrogating?) Elephant’s Child, I learned that he had taken a screwdriver to the door latch because he wanted to “see inside.” Apparently he had either broken the latch or (more likely in retrospect) knocked a piece off a little hook. Regardless, the washer was unusable and a repairman had to be called.

Oh my! Was I upset! It took a while before I cooled off, but then I was able to have a very constructive conversation with Elephant’s Child.

But what sort of discipline should be applied in this situation? I talked with Tim and we both thought about it before making any action. Elephant’s Child is a boy who shows every sign of becoming another “gearhead” as my sister affectionately calls engineers. (She’s married to one.) We don’t want to squash his inquisitiveness or make him stop searching for answers to how things work. Sometimes he comes up with outlandish ideas, but I wonder if one of them just might work. Gearhead #1 in our family designs radar that can see around corners and other things that I barely understand, things that could be dismissed as crazy, but he and his lab mates are bringing to reality. On the other hand, Elephant’s Child needs to know that he cannot mess with working appliances, and that he must ask before he takes a tool to just about anything. Maybe most of all, this impetuous child needs to learn to stop and think before he acts.

So we decided that in this case the best discipline would be 20 hours of “Community Service,” or more accurately, Family Service. In half hour increments, E.C. is paying his debt by weeding the gardens , washing woodwork, and any other tasks I come up with. He’s been working with a good attitude, and doing this helps him remember every day that actions have consequences. Hopefully he’s learning a bit more self-control.

We ended up being without the washer for 11 days. (Repairman thought he should order the part first. Part was back ordered. We did laundry at laundromat and in bathtub. Sheets in tub – great! Other laundry – not so good.) When the repairman eventually made it to our home, he fixed the machine in less than 10 minutes. I don’t think he even needed the part as he refused to let me pay him anything.

I never thought I could enjoy doing laundry so much, but each load I start up seems a pleasure. Now if I could just get Elephant’s Child to invent a device that would fold and put away clean laundry, we’d be all set!


Anonymous said…
Hi Anne,

I was wondering, is there anything left that *is* good for little boys to take apart? Other than a flashlight, I'm stuck on this one. I guess we should make our own contraptions to disassemble...

Lydia Carter

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