May 1, 2012

Animal Nature

Roscoe spends much of his day imagining himself as a leopard, or an eagle, or a crocodile, and entertains  himself to no end by acting out elaborate scenes from animal life. He will be the first to tell you about the food chain: how the lion eats the zebra, and the rabbit gets eaten by the coyote. Who is predator.  Who is prey.

Roscoe often initiates a game where he asks me which animal a momma _____ has to protect her babies from. He'll fill in the blank and it goes something like, "Oooh Momma, what's a momma gazelle protect her babies from?" And I will think very hard and finally answer, "A jackal!" Satisfied, he will nod his head in approval, eyes bright, grin wide, as he thinks intently of the next animal momma.

Other times he takes it a step further and demands that Andy is a poppa animal, and that he and Merritt are the baby animals. Andy's job is to protect his babies from the big bear (me!) and I am instructed to roar into the room and try to get the babies, while Andy fends me off.  We all think it is a fun time.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if he's too young for the truth of the circle of life. So far he seems to understand that nature just is, and that animals must eat to survive.

Last week I came out the back door to Roscoe peering underneath the stoop, hollering "Maaa-maa! Maaaa-maa! Come look!  Come see what I found!"

When I made my way to crouch beside him I caught sight of a large black fly freshly trapped in a spider's web. As my eyes adjusted to the shadows, I noticed a spider who, a few seconds later, darted across her web headed straight for the fly who was having none of it, and began to buzz wildly in protest--beating his wings until he was flying in circles around a thin gauzy thread held only by his feet.  When he would quiet, she would make another attempt, launching the fly into another frenzied and dizzying round.

Roscoe was mesmerized. "What's gonna happen momma?  Is that spider going to eat the fly?"

I haven't been that close to life and death in a long time, even if it was just a fly. It was a little unsettling, actually. Should I pull this fly loose and set him free? But I tried to be upbeat and matter of fact, "Yep, that spider is soo hungry and she made that web to catch her dinner.  That fly flew right into her special web! Isn't that amazing?!"

After a little while Roscoe got bored of the fly's fight for survival, and I really didn't feel like watching the grand finale, so we decided to check back later.

We went for a bike ride and when we returned the fly was wrapped up tight in glossy webbing, and the spider was perched protectively, directly on top of him.

Roscoe declared, "That spider is drinking that fly's blood." I confirmed, "Yes, she is."

I figure that whatever I tell him about the struggles of the natural world will be filtered through his little mind and that he will distill from it whatever bits he can comprehend, and that the rest will be saved for another day.

Do you shelter your kids, or lay it all out?  In nature, in life?


  1. We are pretty open with the kids. For instance, when one of their fish died, Bella asked what happened to it and I was honest with her. She's pretty quicky to figure things out on her own though.

  2. Thats exactly how we do it, too. I think its nice to learn about life/death in animal form before moving on to human death. My just turned 3 yo is learning about my own dads life and death and we go together to visit him at his grave- my sweet son asks a ton of questions and we go back home and look at pictures together and try to answer them all. My husband thinks its too early, but he doesnt seem traumatized at all, and he has to learn sometime! But maybe its for my own healing as well. Anyway, getting to the point, I really think he'll be smarter for it- its the way the world works! We also talk about what we eat at home and where it came from.


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