The Animal Instincts Stage
Posted on Friday, November 27, 2009 — Listed under What Your Doctor Didn't Tell You
At the zoo yesterday, we were observing an ocelot. The ocelot looked vaguely disturbed as it paced around its small cage. “Look!” my son's friend said. “There's his penis!”
For some reason, we all found this intriguing and leaned forward to get a good look. As we did so, the ocelot turned his back to us and sprayed directly in our faces. “Take that,” the ocelot seemed to say.
Thankfully, we didn't actually get baptized with ocelot urine. The cage was just far enough away. But as we all jumped back screaming, my son asked, “Why? Why did he spray us like that?”
Fortunately my extremely intelligent friend Becky was with us and she was able to offer a concrete scientific explanation of why animals use urine to mark their territory. It was a good thing too, because if it was just me, I would have probably said something sassy and uneducated like, “Because cats are just nasty sometimes.”
This reminded me of another animal encounter I had back when I was in college. As a freshman, I was given a work/study job in a laboratory washing test tubes, working the autoclave, helping the graduate students with their experiments, and dissecting rats among other things. In this laboratory I had been given a small drawer where I kept my time sheet, watch, jewelry, and other valuables while I was working.
Occasionally, a rat would escape in the lab. Jodi, the lab manager, made every effort to catch the lost rats, but they were sneaky. She left out traps with cheese, beef jerky, Cheetos, and other rat delicacies she hoped would entice them. During my time, there was one rat that managed to stay uncaught for several weeks. He grew from a tiny white fur ball to a huge dirty beast that made regular guest appearances in the break room but whom no one could corner.
One day, I came into work and opened my drawer to clock in and deposit my jewelry. Without looking, I reached inside felt something wet on my fingertips. I screamed like a girl in a horror movie as I looked down to discover a puddle of urine, three Cheetos, some bits of cheese, half a stick of beef jerky, and a small piece of ham—all carefully organized on top of my time sheet.
“Jodi!” I shrieked. “This isn't funny! This is just plain mean!” I was convinced that the folks in the lab were playing a practical joke on me.
But Jodi was just as surprised as I was. “I didn't do this,” she swore. “The rat must have dragged all this stuff in here and peed to mark his territory. You can chalk that one up to animal instincts.”
What made our friend the rat decide to camp out in my drawer, of the hundreds, maybe thousands of drawers in this lab, I will never know. And though I was thoroughly disgusted by his gesture, and can certainly ascribe several rat nightmares to him in the years following, I must admit, after I threw up a little in my mouth and Lysoled my hands several times, I felt kind of sorry for the little guy.
There he was, a science experiment who managed to escape. But there was nowhere to go. So he did what we all do when we have no options. We gather up a few small things and try to make ourselves a home. We use our instincts and do our best to survive.
My two-year-old is no escaped rat. He has a good life. But he does act like an animal sometimes. I think it's the age. The first time my two-year-old fell on the floor, thrashing, kicking, and practically foaming at the mouth over a broken cookie I thought I was going to faint. I was fully unprepared for the irrational drama of two-year-old temper tantrums.
Three years and several parenting seminars later, I now understand that two-year-olds are famous for sudden outbursts of anger as they try to navigate their power in the world and attempt to manage all the range of emotions that come with their particular stage of development. Just beginning to be able to express themselves effectively, this can sometimes cause deep frustration when they find themselves misunderstood. They are also experiencing independence for the first time; they can run and play easily on their own now and they want to test the limits and determine just where the boundaries lie.
As a parent, I try to remember that although we are human, we still have animal instincts. We are born with them and we have to work to control them. Little children are just learning how to live in this world and how to behave. They don't know that it is inappropriate to decorate the hallway with the contents of their diaper. Or draw on the refrigerator in permanent marker. Or give their pets matching haircuts. Or demand cheese sticks and fruit leather at every meal.
Though it sometimes feels like getting sprayed in the face with ocelot urine when my two-year-old has an enormous meltdown in the middle of some public place over something absurd like the fact that I won't buy him a bouncy ball every time I enter Wal-Mart, I try to remember that he isn't trying to humiliate me or make me miserable. He's just small—powerful and powerless—and he's doing the best he can to carve out a piece of this labyrinth of a world for himself where he can store his pile of treasures and make himself a comfortable home.
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3 comments | Add your own »
You capture some of the most memorable aspects of toddlerhood. Humorous, wise and poignant.
Comments by june fultonWonderful post. You are a gifted writer.
Tuesday, December 01, 2009 at 5:20:50 AM
Comments by Bluesy-NistaGreat post. If that had happened to me I would have had nightmares about rats for years to come. That is so true about our little ones.
Sunday, November 29, 2009 at 6:12:34 PM
Comments by Joy
Saturday, November 28, 2009 at 6:39:46 PM
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