The other night my younger daughter, who is 7, pulled out all her Curious George picture books and asked me to read them to her. There were many books, and limited time, so I chose to read my favorite, Curious George Goes to the Hospital (H.A. Rey). While most parents and kids see this book as a tale of a mischief-making monkey in a health-care facility, this story has a much deeper subtext for me. It teaches a valuable lesson of the importance of will power. And if you are trying to find that missing piece to the puzzle called life, look inward—literally.
If you haven’t read Curious George Goes to the Hospital or don’t remember what it is about, the following is a brief synopsis. Curious George finds colorful new puzzle and wastes no time investigating it. He decides the puzzle pieces looks so delectable that he swallows one. Later, when the Man in the Yellow Hat and George try to complete the puzzle, a critical piece is missing. Long story short, George gets stomach cramps, which leads to X-rays, invasive surgery, and an extended stay at the hospital. After wreaking havoc in the children’s ward (and my astute daughter wondered aloud why George is admitted to a human hospital and not a veterinary clinic…), George is forgiven and released from the hospital with his specially-wrapped parting gift—the extracted puzzle piece he willfully digested at the beginning of the book. He finally gets to finish his new puzzle.
George has as much impulse control as a toddler—everything goes in the mouth. And the consequences are pretty dire, inclusive of a barium cocktail. I can relate to this impulsive George. I’ve been this impulsive George. I’ve eaten the metaphorical puzzle piece, and then regretted it later. I have exhibited less self-control than a fictional monkey.
How many times have I gone into The Dollar Store for one item and purchased 50? How many times have I imbibed that extra beer (or five) that resulted in memory loss and the inevitable question “Did I do or say anything stupid last night?” How many times have I super-sized my meals and then had to super-size my pants? You know what I’m talking about. We’ve all swallowed the puzzle piece. And sometimes, like an all-you-can-eat buffet, we can’t resist a second or third helping of the puzzle.
As I have aged, I like to think I’ve gotten much better with impulse control. My challenge now is how to teach my kids the art of self-restraint. Both my girls have self-control issues. My older daughter needs to have the last word in an argument, and oftentimes muttered sotto voce. Little does she know I possess the hearing of a dog, especially for smart remarks. My younger daughter is the type of child who must stick her finger in a beautifully iced birthday cake. And you can rely on her to blurt out a secret or get reprimanded at school for talking too much in class.
For the moment, my daughters, like George, can masterfully get in and out of trouble. But as they grow older, the consequences of no self-control get tougher. Soon, they will be old enough to “know better,” or at least that is what I’ll repeat to them in their teen years when they make an obvious bad choice. Unlike Curious George Goes to the Hospital, the chances of receiving a gift-wrapped puzzle piece and a “do over” will be fewer and far between.
Occasionally we’ll have to experience the painful outcomes for our lack of impulse control, like George did. We might undergo a harrowing procedure (or years of therapy, anyway) to repair the damage, but hopefully at the end of it we will have learned our lesson. And the next time we are faced with a choice that tests our will power, our inner voice will shout “Don’t eat the puzzle piece!”