This was originally written summer 2003 and posted on my parenting bulletin board.
Have you ever looked at an elephant? I mean really looked at an elephant? Neither had I, until the day we traveled to the Oregon Zoo.
If you've ever taken a small child to the zoo, you understand the phrase "through the eyes of a child." For instance, my first reaction was, "Oh, another monkey." Four-year-old Mary's reaction was to jump up and down, waving her arms, shrieking "Mommy! Look at the monkeys! They're jumping!"
And indeed they were. I hadn't noticed the little ones at first, and there they were, hopping from rock to rock and rolling around on the grass below. On the other hand, the magnificent leopard sprawled out on its rock impressed me far more than it impressed her – after all, it wasn't jumping.
A few things needed some parental editing as we went along, and I was glad she was so young. I didn't think she needed to know exactly what the polar bears were eating (remember, they're carnivores--enough said). "They're having a treat" was enough information for her.
Thankfully, she didn't see the pooping zebra or the peeing lorakeet. She did notice the two fruit bats who were, um, propagating their species, but I didn't feel that it was necessary to explain exactly why the bat was making that funny face. There are some advantages to the slightly oblivious nature of most pre-schoolers.
To tell the truth, I'm not sure what Mary thought of the elephants. She liked the baby elephant, was properly impressed with the big elephant, and laughed at the one giving itself a dust bath.
I was paying more attention to them than to her, I confess. I mean, they're so weird. All that skin, the enormously heavy feet, the dry wrinkles. (Can you imagine an entire lifetime spent in the sun without even a drop of your favorite moisturizer?) My husband Michael, watching one scooping dirt up with the surprisingly facile tip of its trunk, remarked, "God has a sense of humor." I couldn't argue with him. I mean, if you had the power to create anything you wanted, why an elephant? How would you even think of one?
That said, I came home from the zoo with a renewed appreciation for the world in which I am bringing up my children. I want a world with democracy, good medical treatments, enough to eat, and freedom of speech.
But as long as we're here, I'm glad it's a world silly enough to have room for a few elephants.