Keeping Childhood Curiosity Alive

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

As a child, I embraced curiosity and imagination. I climbed the maple tree in my front yard and looked at passerby with binoculars, pretending I was Harriet the Spy. I hid slices of bread and sleeves of crackers in my room and fed them to the ducks in the stream in my backyard. I would yell “Quack Quack,” and the ducks would come flying toward me from the other end of the stream. The quack-quacking was a secret language, one that signified food and fun.

I collected trolls when I was little — I had 365 of them. Once, they were displayed in the children’s department of the Holliston Public Library. A local newspaper columnist wrote about me and my collection, which barely fit into the library’s glass display case. I tried selling them at a yard sale years later, but when my grandma saw them lying next to Barbie dolls on blankets in my front yard, she confiscated them. The so-ugly-they’re-cute creatures now live in boxes in my grandma’s basement. I collected stamps, buttons and costume jewelery pins. I had extravagant lemonade stands, which I’ve written about before. I sold paper fans, plants, bookmarks and pins made of eyeglass lenses at the end of my driveway. One summer, I made $76.

I used to twirl the baton competitively and would perform for neighbors and passerby in my front yard. I used to dress up in leotards while twirling and would bring my big boom box decorated with stickers on it outside. Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking On Sunshine” was one of my favorite twirling songs. I used to play the clarinet, too, and would sit outside with an old music stand my grandma used to use when she played the accordion in New York City in the 1930s. I used to plop myself in a plastic pool in my front yard and read, just for fun. I used to listen incessantly to Mr. T’s “Peer Pressure” music video. (Seriously, check this out.)

I played imaginary games, which I named “Medieval Times” and “Sissy Little Rich Girls.” For a while, I was obsessed with “Bridge to Terabithia” and “Tuck Everlasting,” and created imaginary games based on the characters in these books.

I don’t do any of these things anymore.

I often think back to my childhood and share my memories of it with friends. They laugh, and say they can still see the child in me, the girl who gets excited about reflecting on the past and tries to keep parts of it alive. Innocence. Curiosity. Excitement. Creativity. Imagination.

I don’t want to lose the parts of my childhood that meant so much to me. They’re part of who I am, and they remind me to take time to ask questions and really be curious about the world. Now, I’m not hiding in a maple tree with binoculars — I’m talking on the phone with reporters, interviewing them about their craft. Now, I don’t collect trolls — I collect books. I don’t twirl to loud music outside my apartment — I wear out my vocal chords in the car and dance in my seat. I don’t play imaginary games — I walk around the city and look for unusual people or stories on back roads. I make wrong turns. I get lost to find what I’m looking for.

This curiosity about the world, this desire to look at the world from a child’s perspective, to question things without apprehension is worth preserving. Perhaps George Orwell says it best in his essay, “Why I Write” when he says: “I am not able, and I do not want, completely to abandon the world view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the Earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information.”

Well said, George.

What are some of your favorite childhood pastimes? Do you still see them played out in your life now?