Makes Me Sigh, Parenting Gone Awry

Lessons in Parenting from the Zoo

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There’s one in every family. And apparently this is no less true for the animal kingdom.

Earlier in the week, we took Sean to the zoo. Sean has been able to identify obscure zoo animals, like the “dik dik” since he was a year old — an obvious display of brilliance. He loves the zoo, so we bought memberships and go there often. And most of the time, the people gawking at the bored or sleeping animals are as interesting to watch as the bored or sleeping animals.

But on this particular day, the mother lion was lounging with her four babies on the edge of the precipice that separates her from her favorite lunch – spectators. The babies were jumping on her back and gnawing at her ears and playing with her tail, which she was tolerating, but one baby cub in particular was really pushing her buttons and getting on her nerves. Anyone relating? At one point she gave the cub (probably a middle-child cub) a big show of her sharp white teeth and a gentle whack with her sizeable paw and he settled down. For about 3 seconds. But it wasn’t long before he tumbled off the edge and down the 30-foot sloped concrete wall into the ditch.

As though we were on a boat that had suddenly listed, everyone let out a collective gasp and leaned waaay over the guardrail to see the fate of the baby cub. The little guy was unharmed, but frightened and confused and indicated this by looking up pitifully at his mother and siblings and screeching “aaaak!” And then the crowd would refrain, “aaaaaw!” And then the cub would screech “aaaak!” And the crowd would go “aaaaw!” This went on for several rounds like a Ray Charles song.

The general consensus among the humans was that something was wrong with that mother lion. We all expected that when her baby fell off the edge of the world that she would leap to his rescue, because that’s what we would do, because we are smart humans with the many parenting resources of Dr. Phil at our disposal. But she just rolled her eyes and yawned and let the cub sit in the ditch and “aaack!” for a while. Meanwhile the other cubs were running back and forth along the edge, wringing their paws and freaking out, all worried and concerned about their sibling, sometimes even considering making the leap too but then thinking better of it.

Finally, after a few minutes, the mother lion got up and sauntered down into the ditch and just sat while the baby cub continued to spaz out and “aaak” and run back and forth. The baby cub made 10 or 15 heroic attempts at climbing up the concrete slope but never made it far before sliding down to the bottom in a demoralized heap, but at least with a fresh manicure. And with each effort, the crowd would cheer “Go! Go! Go!” and the mother would look up at us with an expression that clearly said “idiots.”

Mama Lion made no effort whatsoever to solve the cub’s problem. She kept one eye on the three cubs up top, occasionally giving them a snarl and a look that said, “Don’t make me come up there” and one eye on the prodigal cub. After about 30 minutes the baby cub found the steps by accident and in tiny shaky steps made his way back up to the top able to own his victory. After the cub was safely back with his siblings, the mother lion bounded up the steps in two easy leaps in a display of mighty muscle and majesty.

And it was about that time that I was really appreciating the concrete divide that separated her from me and my cub. And it was also then that I appreciated the unexpected lesson in parenting.

Top Photo: Mama Lion needs coffee
Middle Photo: Problem child needs correction
Bottom Photo: Where’d Bubba go?

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