The Dialectic of Kitchen Appliances

Just put it in the mic-oh-wave.

I look at my visitor happily ensconced on the black-vinyl bench of our built-in kitchen table. Happily because it was fun to scramble up and sit like a big girl: at home she has to use a booster seat. But that happily-ness is fading fast if her expression is anything to go by, and when is it not, with a two-year-old?

It’s 1990 and my visitor and I have retired to the kitchen to get her a drink. Long done with bottles, she still expects her milk to be warmed up slightly. But as a card-carrying Late Adopter of Technology, I have no microwave. Putting the glass on the table in front of her, I apologize for falling short of expectations.

Sorry, sweetie, I can’t heat it up.

And that’s when it started.

Just put it in the mic-oh-wave.

Two-year-olds don’t dissemble. Her ever so slightly impatient expression says it all: She shouldn’t have to be explaining this to me.

I’m sorry. I don’t have a microwave.

Her face goes still, all brain power diverted to processing something that sounds very like English but that clearly makes no sense. There’s no spoken output, but I can guess at the interior monologue.

My house has a mic-oh-wave. This is a house. What does she mean, there’s no mic-oh-wave? How is that even possible?

As I think back now on this interaction, I realize that some philosopher wrote about this very thing — the thought process, I mean, not the inexplicable lack of a mic-oh-wave in my house. A quick enquiry to Google coughs up the correct wording and attribution. In common with more rigorous sites, Wiki tells me it was Arthur Schopenhauer who said, “Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.”

Never having felt any need to get closer to the 19th-century German philosophers than selected quotes on arty greeting cards, I scan the Wiki entry with only mild interest. Like others of his cohort, Schopenhauer wasn’t the cheeriest guy: this quote comes from a series of essays called ‘Studies in Pessimism.’ (Come on! Did these guys really have it so tough?) Anyway, his comment certainly sounds pessimistic. Here we are, with our necessarily constrained views of the world, foolishly or short-sightedly or even arrogantly taking the limits of our vision for the limits of the world. How sad.

Maybe Artie needed to hang out with more munchkins. This little girl showed the optimistic flip side of the undeniable limits of our experience. For her, the world was everywhere as it was in her house. What she found there — the capabilities, the possibilities, the kitchen appliances — existed everywhere.

But none of this occurred to me in the moment, nor would it have been much use if it had. Because her next move was not philosophical, but entirely practical.

Just put it in the mic-oh-wave.

Yes, when faced with an adult’s inexplicable behaviour, drop back, reload, and fire again.

Sweet pea, if you can find a microwave in this kitchen, I will put your milk in it.

And after another moment of unblinking stare, that’s that. She drinks her milk. Cold.

Did she believe that there was no mic-oh-wave, or did she just give up, stymied by my inexplicableness? I can’t say.

Was that her first inkling of the difference between the limits of her vision and the limits of the world — a not entirely happy difference, in this case? I can’t say.

Was Schopenhauer really being snotty about how men think (his views on how women think being an entirely different matter ““ talk about your limits of a field of vision), or merely regretfully realistic, or was he trying, instead, to point out the world’s boundless possibilities? Without any context — the context that I have studiously avoided acquiring — I can’t say.

But as an editor, I can say that a message of boundless possibilities might be communicated better in a more positive tone. Maybe something like this: There are more things in heaven and earth, Artie, old boy, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

And if that won’t fit on a greeting card, well, we can always go with the short version, inspired by a short person.

Just put it in the mic-oh-wave.

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12 Responses to The Dialectic of Kitchen Appliances

  1. Isabel, you transport me to a realm where there was time and space for contemplative and precise thought, nuanced and evocative, with a delicious twist of humour. How blessed the Sweet-pea to have a tall person in her life alert to the boundless possibilities.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – I remember seeing a movie about C.S. Lewis – in the evenings, he wrote. Nothing much else to do. I think TV has a lot to answer for, that’s what. It can’t possibly be my fault that I give it my time every day instead of reading – if not the oft-vext (hey! I see a t-shirt opportunity) 19th century German philosophers (there being only so much we can expect from girls, after all!) – then some improving or challenging work. But I do feel blessed for having younger people in my life, and in my memory.

  2. Ralph Gibson says:

    It is a testament to the plasticity of our species’ developmental program that children turn out even approximately normal.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Ralph – Normal like us, you mean? I’m just amazed to think of all that time where the input went in, all right, but I couldn’t tell what was happening to it.

  3. Jim Taylor says:

    I’m sooooooo impressed. For two reasons:
    1. I’ve never read Schopenhauer.
    2. I can’t imagine how I would ever work him into a column, even if I had.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – Do as I do: Read greeting cards. That solves one problem . . . As for working him in, it’s more like he inserted himself!

  4. Janice Carscadden says:

    Philosophy and deeper thoughts aside….I had to smile when I read about the microwave. When Scott, our son, was about 8 years old, he said pretty much the same thing to my mom. “Just zap it in the microwave!” My mom explained that she did not own a microwave…to which Scott replied “I’ll buy you one.” Well, that promise was finally fulfilled (some 20+ years later) when, last week, he bought his grandparents their 1st microwave! At about the same age, Scott also promised to buy them a bigger house, but nobody is holding their breath on that one!
    Thanks for the smile!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jan – Golly, I wish I’d known Scott was in buying mode. I’d have held off on my own purchase!

  5. Judith says:

    Try explaining a dial telephone to a teenager!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Judith – Try explaining anything to a teenager.

    • I have a nephew (30) who can’t tell time from an analog clock — only digital ones.
      Also, if I hand him a piece of paper, he will not reach out to take it. I’ve noticed this in other “young” people. He is a brilliant nerd, however, and much sought after as an IT guru. He is more at home in an office Computer Server room than a living room. His growing up with computers, building them from scratch at 14, excelling @ programming/coding courses, what is one to expect?
      It is a brave new world for sure. We are lucky we’re allowed to live in their world, sneeringly (I suspect) tolerated.

      • Isabel Gibson says:

        Barbara – I dunno about the sneer. I have seen lots of tolerance, as long as I acknowledged my lack of capabilities and was interested in learning. It must be amazing for them to realize that people use computers for their work, without being able to prgram them!

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