I was weeding out old files in my Word folder yesterday and came across this piece I wrote back in September 2003:
Last week, I took my 2-year-old daughter to the Franklin Park Zoo. After ambling around outside for a while, taking in the lions, zebras, and camels, I asked if she would like to go see the indoor tropical animals exhibit. She assented, and we entered the double doors to the dark, close air of the building, and approached the first exhibit.
Behind the glass was a room hung with branches and vines, with a small river running through the center. It was the home of a family of baboons. We stood looking through the glass as a zoo employee sitting nearby described the baboon family.
"This is Woody," she said. "He is 15 months old. Over there is his mother, Mandy, and his father [whose name I’ve forgotten]."
Woody was swinging back and forth on some faux vines, which I assumed was normal for a baboon, but there was more to this scenario than met the eye, it seemed.
"Watch Woody," the zoo keeper said. "He loves to put his head between the two vines and pretend to jump." The vines were twisted in such a way that if he were to jump, he would almost certainly end his life on a homemade jungle gallows. Indeed, Woody was fond of playing with those two vines, and focused his play in that area as we watched.
His mother sat on the other side of the exhibit, turning to watch him occasionally, and came over a few times to get Woody to stop playing with the vines. After returning to her place on the other side of the exhibit, Woody began to play with the vines again. This went on for some minutes—Woody swinging and Mandy coming over to stop him—before she returned to her place and ceremoniously turned her back on her wayward son.
"She’s tried to bite through the vines to keep him from playing on them, but they’re not real, and she can’t sever them," the zoo keeper said. "But see? He’ll only play on them if she’s looking." Woody continued to hang from the vines, throw them around, and make flourishes as if to continue his play, but Mandy was clearly using every ounce of will she could muster to keep from looking at him.
All the while, Woody’s father lay sleeping in a corner of the exhibit.
After a few moments, when Mandy had held to her purpose and not given Woody more than an occasional furtive glance, Woody gave up, picked up a stump of carrot, and shuffled off to a quiet, vine-free corner of the exhibit to munch his midday meal and—no doubt—plot his afternoon’s escapade.
Mothers of toddlers, how different are we really from the animal kingdom?