Friday, June 11, 2010

“Hey, BIRD!!!

Sometimes I hate children. Like when they gaze at the animals and say things like:

“Why are they so ugly?”


“These snakes are stupid. Why don’t they do something?”

[Taptaptaptaptap] “Lookit, the cuttlefish will change color if I knock on the glass!”
[taptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptapTAPTAPTAPTAP; —meanwhile, the cuttlefish resolves to spend another three months in therapy.]

“Poof!” [the plosives perilously close to an alarmed duck] “–I’m not trying to scare him! I named him Poof! POOF!! –I didn’t scare him!”

“Hey, look over here! HEY! Look over here! –Aw, they suck. I want some ice cream.”

But, Olivia—I know you’re saying to me—You shouldn’t hate the children—you should blame the parents who raised them so badly.

Don’t worry; I hate them, too—much more than their obnoxious offspring, who have the excuse of youth and, often, the offsetting factor of cuteness in their favor.

I hate adults when they point at gorillas and tell their children, “Look at the monkeys!”

I hate them when they don’t try to stop their kids from chasing or scaring the animals in aviaries or the Amazonia exhibit.

I hate them when they’re mean to their kids, impatiently snapping, “No, Sophie, you have to time it so you can get a picture of his head too. –No, that’s not right—do you want me to do it? Give me the camera” –or, smiling with what seems to me like cruel pleasure, asking, “Hey, want to see a dolphin, kids?” There are no dolphins at the zoo; there’s only a mural with a dolphin on it. Good one, Dad. You’ve really made sure they’ll trust you when they’re teenagers.

I hate them when they say things like:
“No, honey, they’re not mating, they’re just playing.”

“You want to know what that is? It’s a pheasant.” [It’s not a pheasant.]

[not a pheasant]

“That’s right, they’re smarter than monkeys but not as smart as people.”

I’m not saying that you should have to come to the zoo well-informed; there’s nothing wrong with ignorance, especially if it’s coupled with enthusiasm and a desire to learn. But there is something wrong with ignoring THE INFORMATIONAL PLACARDS ALL AROUND YOU and disseminating misinformation to your children. I’m not asking people to be able to recite the family-genus-species of an animal when they point it out to their kids. I’m just saying, if the sign right in front of you explains that among orangutans, which are apes, males have large cheek pads and females do not (and there’s a picture), you shouldn’t tell your kid to “See the monkey? Look at how he’s playing” when a female orang named Iris is chewing meditatively on a blade of grass.

[still not a pheasant.]

And even more, I hate them when they teach their children to be dismissive of the animals—to talk about how ugly they are, or how boring, to instill in their children a sense not just of superiority but of contempt for other life. I don’t understand; why bring your kid to the zoo at all?

And, to be fair, there are times when I really love children—like when five-year-olds exclaim:

“Look, Mama! A cormorant! I’ve been wanting to see one my whole life!” or

“I think they have another exhibit area over there!” or

“Look, that bird only hops when he walks!” [It’s true—sparrows almost never put one foot in front of the other when walking, unlike pigeons or gulls.]

I love it when they squeal with glee at the sight of an elephant, or when they become mesmerized by the direct gaze of a gibbon or the antics of an otter. I love it when nine-year-olds can discuss “cephalopods,” wielding the word with the same ease with which they discuss video games or homework assignments (but with far more enthusiasm than the latter). I love it when boys who look to be in middle school can say without embarrassment that the baby gorilla is “adorable.” I love kids’ capacity for amazement in what animals do and how and why they do it, a curiosity that in adults seems mostly, sadly absent.

And adults—well, I never love adults. But there are times I dislike them much less than others.

[This is a pheasant.]


Anonymous said...

This is one of my all-time favorite posts on this blog. Just the other day Olivia and I were walking through the zoo when we heard a dad say to his child, "That's not a monkey. That's a gorilla." And Olivia's face lit up with joy.

Anonymous said...

Beth wants to know what the first non-pheasant is.


Olivia V. Ambrogio said...

It's a mountain bamboo partridge!

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