C got this little kitchen set for her birthday from my MIL Sidney. It is a talking and singing toy, and unlike all her other talking toys that sound like a grocery store PA system that hasn’t been updated since 1973, you can actually understand what it’s saying, and therefore it doesn’t make me want to abdicate the Throne of Mother whenever she makes it sing the alphabet song thirty-two times in a row. It basically has Bose speakers inside it. Score one for Wee Cee and Bubby.
There is a switch on it where you can toggle between four settings: Learning, Spanish, Music, and Play. The joke’s on the kid though because she is going to learn no matter what setting it’s put on. Shapes, colors, manners, the function of a faucet. All these *critical* skills and concepts are imparted to her via the singing refrigerator even if she only sets it to Music. Muahaha.
When you set it to Learning, the first thing it announces is, “It’s learning time!” Oh good, now I will pay extra close attention. Let me just put my serious learning face on and take out my notepad. What’s that? The cow says “moooo?” Got it. Will that be on the exam?
I am slowly comprehending that Learning Time is all the time. Learning just happens, whether or not I put on some arbitrary “thinking cap.” I never much liked the idea of a thinking cap anyway. When I was a kid, I always felt like when adults told me to put it on, they were saying that I wasn’t trying hard enough to be smart when in fact my mind was going full tilt. I am still not a fan because the idea of a thinking cap implies that ideas and learning only come when you will them to, which isn’t true. My brain is always going whether I want it to or not. Despite my best efforts to read, write, and observe the world with sincere intention and to force inspiration, the learning I do is organic and largely passive. It is within and without me, like heat radiating from me and filling the space surrounding me. Since having C, I have become more attentive and aware of life in general and I am pretty sure I have become a better person. Learning is exhausting and tedious but it just naturally occurs if I open my eyes, relax, and humble myself.
I still force it, though. I click the button onto Learning and impatiently wait for it to just happen. I read read read and I write write write and I pore over the details of a walk down the street, all for the express purpose to get inspired and to be a better, more useful human. Sooner or later, though, I realize that by constantly looking closely at everything contained within this vast sphere and hunting for that one thing that will enlighten me, I have just overwhelmed myself. I get angry that I just made a bowl of cereal and nothing about the experience taught me something. Damn you, bowl of cereal! You were supposed to nourish me and inspire me! A strongly-worded letter to General Mills ensues, and all the eloquence I could have channeled into writing something more useful is then spent. Sometimes I feel like my good words are as limited as a carton of milk. They are quantifiable and I can run out of them, and making them come back is far more complicated than just walking down to the store to get more.
But then it occurs to me without me even forcing it that I cannot be inspired by ALL the things. You cannot focus on everything. My eyeballs and my brain are not equipped for that kind of work. I can barely maintain my Twitter account. And just like that, the bowl of cereal tricked me into learning, right when I laid off of it.
This is basically the story of my life: getting pwned by a bowl of cereal. Being tricked into understanding. It’s reassuring that I can rely somewhat consistently on these little serendipitous distractions to teach me something, all while I was focused on learning something more “substantial” from a book or a moment of massively concerted thought.
I am at play, toggling up and down the dial of a baby toy. Miraculously, I make sense of some of it.