Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Top O' The Food Chain

Remember back when Rollie was around 2-and-a-half, and every other word out of his mouth was 'Why?' (and every other word was 'No')?

Well, that phase seems to have been replaced by a new, more complicated version of the 'Why' question:

'What if?'

I've gotta say, this new variation on his line of inquiries is slightly less exhausting than having to answer 'Why' all the time (and being constantly humbled by the number of things I can't explain). On the other hand, Rollie is now presenting me with all sorts of scenarios I have never entertained before, and sometimes the hypothetical consequences of his 'what if's' are disastrous. Especially when we're at the zoo.

We went to the zoo yesterday with a group of friends. As we passed by the pens and cages filled with animals that looked benign but were surely just pretending that they couldn't rip out our larynx with a casual swipe of their giant paw, Rollie started up with his 'What if's'.

We stood before a sleek and restless leopard pacing its pen and while I tried to encourage my children to marvel at the splendor of the animal kingdom, Rollie had different ideas.

Me: Isn't he beautiful?
Rollie: ...What if I was in there with him?
Me: Um...I don't think you'd want to be in there with him.
Rollie: Why not?
Me: ...Because he might think you're food.
Rollie: Why?
Me: Because leopards eat little animals for dinner, and you'd probably look like a little animal to him.
Rollie: But I'm wearing sneakers.
Me: I know. Still, you're little and fast, like an animal he might want to...you know...eat.
Rollie: But I'm super fast with my sneakers. What if I could run away from him?
Me: Rollie, it's a leopard. They're even faster than you are.
Rollie: What if he couldn't catch me?
Me: ...Well then maybe you guys could be friends. (Hell, what do I know about the temperament of leopards? Maybe when their stomachs are full they like to just hang out with other animals, laze around and shoot the breeze and engage in the occasional footrace.)

We entered the snake exhibit, and after wrangling Elsa back into the stroller, I found Rollie standing in front of a glass enclosure, his mouth agape. I wandered over to him, and saw he was staring at an ENORMOUS anaconda. This thing was HUGE.  The Dirk Diggler of the animal world. And even with four inches of snake-proof glass between us and him, I somehow felt very vulnerable, like he was picturing how nicely his body would fit around us, how the sound of our bones crunching in his coils would be music to his ears...wherever they were.

And then Rollie's voice broke through my horrific reverie:

Rollie: What if I was in there with that anaconda?
Me: Trust me, you would not want to be in there with that thing.
Rollie: What would he do if I was in there?
Me: Probably eat you.
Rollie: But what if I was nice to him?
Me: I don't think it matters to him if you're nice or not. He probably eats nice animals every day.
Rollie: Like what nice animals does he eat?
Me: I don't know, like deer and zebras and stuff. (Yes, we have come a long way since the lion conversations we used to have a year ago.)
Rollie: What if he let me pet him?
Me: ...If he let you pet him, I guess you'd get to feel his skin.
Rollie: And then would he bite me?
Me: Anacondas don't really bite. But they squeeze.
Rollie: ...I like being squeezed.

I'm sure there was a huge discrepancy between what Rollie thought would happen with each scenarios he broached, and what actually would happen. All day long I had mental pictures of my son being eaten, squeezed to death, mauled, trampled, and impaled on a giant rhinoceros horn, while he was probably picturing himself lying in the sun with his new BFF's--the jaguars and the lions. They were furry, and probably soft. And cuddly. Until they got hungry.

Rollie's 'what if's' brought to mind this book my dad used to read to my siblings and I when we were little, entitled Peep of Day. It was a devotional book, but of course the only passage that we really cared about was all about how fragile the human body is (and this is an actual quote taken directly from the book...I think it was printed in the 1800's or something. Back when it was totally okay to terrify children into submission.  It's actually not such a bad idea now, come to think of it):

"How easy it would be to hurt your poor little body! If it were to fall into the fire, it would be burned up. If hot water were thrown upon it, it would be scalded. If it were to fall into deep water, and not be taken out very soon, it would be drowned. If a great knife were to run through your body, the blood would come out. If a great box were to fall on your head, your head would be crushed. If you were to fall out of the window, your neck would be broken."

I know...how messed up is that? And there we sat, my siblings and I, snickering at the disgusting visuals of our bodies being torched, exsanguinated, drowned, and sustaining massive head wounds. This was the foundation of my childhood: What if (dot dot dot)?

Now that he's almost 4, Rollie seems ready to handle the brutal truths of his imagination. Are leopards friendly? Hell no. Do raccoons bite? Yeah, especially rabid ones. Do giraffes like to be pet? Only if you're about to shove a head of romaine lettuce into their pie-holes.

Which is why I felt compelled to buy him a big, stuffed anaconda from the gift shop on the way out. So he could at least pretend that anacondas are soft, furry, and they love to cuddle up at night with absolutely no desire to suffocate him in his sleep. I don't, however, think I'll be reading him Peep of Day anytime soon.


  1. As I read this, I was thinking (even before you mentioned it) of Peep of Day. I think he's ready for his own copy. When is his birthday,again???

  2. "If you were not given anything to eat or drink, pretty soon, your body would whither away, dry up and die." (Read in Dads completely tired-out and depressed voice.)