Food Buzz

Because maybe you do care what I had for lunch...

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

It's all happening at the zoo

We had the Prospect Park Zoo all to ourselves today. It was chilly and everyone else was at Gymboree or Tea Lounge or Power Play. The animals were more relaxed and most of them came out of hiding to stare back at us. I'd saved up a fortune in quarters so Jasper and I could buy handfuls of pellets to feed the farm animals. Jasper got his hands slimed with goat saliva. It was wonderful.

The zoo does a performance with its sea lion feedings twice a day. One of the zookeepers narrates through a loudspeaker while three other zookeepers run the sea lions through their training exercises. Even though it was just Jasper and me they gave us the full show.

"We'd like to welcome you out to the 2:00 sea lion feeding -- all two of you..." The zookeeper said into the microphone. She used the loudspeaker even though she was just 20 feet away from us. We turned and waved to her. It felt like a Wes Anderson film, a little bit weird, vaguely lonely but in a good way, intimate. Jasper watched up on my shoulders. I clapped when it was over.

Things got weirder at the baboon exhibit. Two of the baboons were sprawled in front of a sunny window. We were just inches away, separated only by the glass. Part of baboon grooming involves exfoliating. They pick dry skin off each other and eat it. I think we've all seen primates doing this.

But have you ever seen primates exfoliating each other's genitals? A young baboon reclined on his back while an older baboon (an adolescent or a female?) worked away at his penis, scraping and munching, for the longest time. It seemed so intimate but also banal and -- wow, there just aren't many taboos in the animal kingdom, are there? The young baboon was clearly enjoying his treatment. Did you know a baboon penis needs to be exfoliated? Neither did I. It was fascinating.

What about our taboos? Is it all in our intentions? I have to touch Jasper to clean him just like the baboons do. If I were to derive sexual pleasure from doing so that would be wrong. Either way, the action itself remains the same. But even at his age he would know the difference. It scares me sometimes to realize the amount of power I have as the parent of a small child.

I thought about this later today when I changed Jasper's diaper. I earn his trust by respecting his body. I have to do the tricky work of teaching him modesty without shame, of instilling a love for his body and what it can do. He learns this from Lane and from me in the subtlest ways -- even from how I react to the sight of two baboons grooming each other.

This is Jasper playing with butter. He sees me playing with food and thinks he ought to do the same -- another thing I've taught him.

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