The Cultivation of Curiosity

Will had a really wonderful kindergarten teacher last year, Ms. Lax. One of the things I loved most about her approach is that she found, celebrated, and stoked your kid’s curiosity about the things he or she is passionate about. No matter what that passion is.

Will, as anybody who has met him for more than 5 minutes knows, is infatuated with all things spooky and scary. Creepy dummies like Slappy from Goosebumps. Freaky dolls like Chucky from Child’s Play. The schlocky monsters from the 1970s and 1980s Japanese Ultraman TV show and Ultramonster movies. He loves them all. And, he draws pictures of them all the time.

During the kids’ free time in Ms. Lax’s class on most days Will would draw. And draw. And draw. When there was an email about supplies the classroom needed, more scrap paper almost always appeared on the list. I knew it was my ethical obligation to be the class paper supplier.

Ms. Lax wasn’t just enthusiastic about Will’s art, she would also notice the subtleties of his sketches. One day she would tell about the remarkable symmetry in Will’s sketch of Slappy’s face in a drawing where half of the face was partially hidden by a shadow. On another day, she would express her shock at his ability project properly shadows from the sun on the objects and characters in his drawings.

She also fed his interests. She told him about a festival in Santa Fe that was started by an artist in the 1920s where they erect a giant effigy of Zozobra, the “Old Man of Gloom,” and then set him on fire. She showed him pictures of Zozobra and told him the tale.

Thanks to wonders of YouTube, Will is now the foremost historian of Zozobra in New Jersey (and probably the East Coast). We have watched documentaries describing the origins of the Zozobra festival and videos about how Zozobra is constructed and set up for the festival. I have seen the clips of the Old Man of Gloom burning at the festival for nearly every year since the early 1980s.

This year for our Halloween party we built our own Zozobra. Will drew the original design. The boys and I spent most of October constructing him over the last month.

Will’s Zozobra Design

The boys used my mallet and chisels and a frame saw to help me build our Zozobra’s skeletal structure. After our initial build, Will suggested a crucial structural improvement, adding a third leg to increase Zozobra’s stability. During the painting stage, he added a few Willesque holiday-related embellishments, a pumpkin in one hand and a skull in the other, .

Yesterday, at our Halloween party our Zozobra, like the real Zozobra, went up in flames! The kids at the party loved it. Will and Lucas squealed with excitement. Jenny didn’t voice her concerns about me starting a big fire in the backyard (actually, the bridge over the stream in our yard) until after the fire was extinguished. The Mountain Lakes Fire Department didn’t show up to put it out and arrest me.

A great Halloween. And, maybe a new Wagmiller Halloween tradition thanks to Ms. Lax.

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