I went to the zoo. It was boring.

At the Madison Zoo

Image by kalyan3 via Flickr

One of the worst things we do to little children is take them to the zoo.

I’ve been reading Life of Pi, and it occurred to me that I hadn’t been to the Madison zoo in years. I was on that side of town anyway, and had to get from a position at one entrance gate to a position at the other, so I thought I’d might as well wheel my bike through. It’s free. Lots of little kids there on field trips, mostly kids under, oh, eight. Many parents with preschoolers and babies too.

No doubt these kids had been prepped with picture books, videos and worksheets about cute little elephants and lions. But in real life, the kids weren’t actually paying much attention to the animals. More like:

Mom: Oo, look at the bear, Marcel! He’s a grizzly. Isn’t he mean looking?

Marcel: Is it time for lunch?

Mom: Not yet. See the bear?

Marcel: I’m hungry.

Mom: Don’t you want to look at the animals?

But Marcel has run over to play with the coin return on a nearby pay phone and doesn’t answer. Meanwhile something in the stroller has started crying. Mom sticks a bottle in its mouth before grabbing her four-year-old and trying again with the giraffes.

What if we treated non-native animal species like pornography? We’d carefully guard zoos, and no one under 18 would be permitted to enter. All images of animals would be tightly controlled. Computers used by children would be free of any images of large felines and ruminants, as well as any sort of monkey. Oh, they’d have their rumors. But the zoo gates would be barred to them. Special devices would muffle the roar of lions and the shriek of peacocks.

Then, when they hit 18, they could finally go see what had been hidden from them all their lives. Imagine, if you’d never seen anything bigger than a dog before, what an elephant would look like. You might have a cat at home, but on seeing your first leopard you’d gasp out, “Sweet mother of Jesus what is THAT thing?” The farm kids might think they’d seen it all; what could be more exotic than a cow? Then they’d cast their peepers on a seal! Those who’d grown up in a city, intimately familiar with mice, could ponder the similarity between rodents and kangaroos.

Every one of them would be astounded. No dull toddler eyes; mature senses would not have been dulled from a lifetime of familiarity. We’d all of us find creation to be the most miraculous thing.

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