Animal apathy in the male toddler
If there is one description that accurately sums up my childhood self — aside from “frequently topless tomboy with excessive bouts of whimsy” — it would have to be “animal lover”. My parents have the pictures and stories to back this up. I grew up with cats that put me in my place from a very young age. I collected tadpoles from the hills behind our house so I could watch them grow. I starting horseback riding at age seven.
Around that time, I gathered a cluster of silk worms to watch undergo pupation. They never realized their true moth potential because one of our aforementioned cats crushed them all by sitting in their box while they were still in cocoons.
Before I even had my son, I was intent on transmitting this single sentiment of mine. I envisioned us raising a small flock of chickens, riding horses together, musing over biology books and doting over a house filled to the brim with cats, dogs, and other mammalian miscellany. Sadly, none of this looks like it is going to happen.
After Dante’s allergic reaction to peanut butter, we had him tested for all common allergens. The only one that tested positive aside from the peanut butter was feline dander. Great, dash my dreams of slipping slowly into cat lady-dom, why don’t you.
We aren’t really set up for having pets at the moment, and we won’t be able to afford or handle the anthology of animal companions I used to envision for quite some time. Still, I have tried to find ways to imbue my son with the same love and respect for the animal kingdom that has always been a defining feature of my own personality.
The only time Dante responded favorably to a non-human creature was at a friend’s house, with a very sweet and demure little dog. But that was six months ago and he has shown no signs of regaining this interest. We recently went to a two-year-old’s birthday party, and they had a small petting zoo with pony rides. Aside from me getting to explain the difference between ponies and horses to another parent — I was given a dirty look for blurting into crazed horse-girl know-it-all mode — Dante couldn’t have cared less.
When it was our turn to harass the animals in the petting zoo, I was careful not to let him put his fingers in the cage. I told him the name of each animal, excitedly trying to engage his usually impressive attention. When I showed him how to feed the goat, he stole the filthy carrot and ran off with it in his mouth, babbling. The kid simply could not be bothered.
He is too young for pony rides, but I made the effort to point out the fuzzy Shetlands and let him pet them. I figured that a creature of that size was large enough to capture his attention, but he didn’t even acknowledge the creature as, well, a creature. Instead, he stared in awe at the massive sun hat the pony’s caregiver was wearing. Utter failure.
There are several mourning doves that frequent our balcony and the streets of our neighborhood. Personally, these are my favorite species of bird, so whenever we see one — sometimes landing inches from Dante — I get offended at his lack of interest. Squirrels go unnoticed, dogs are ignored and the fish tank at our local Chinese restaurant is far from appreciated. Oh well, I’ve tried.
It’s not that I want my son to grow up to do anything career-related with animals. If he wants to establish dominance in the archaic agriculture industry, then I shall be infinitely supportive, however I doubt that will happen. He has an engineer’s mind,and a predisposition towards social diplomacy: he can quite literally take apart puzzle toys that I can’t get the hang of, then charm me with his smile. He will probably grow up and get stuff done in a very real, global sense.
It warms my animal-loving heart when I see a small person thriving in such large ways, demonstrating hints of the boy he is becoming and the man that will follow. He is establishing a solid identity that is not only very different from my own, but also one I solemnly admire. I am glad that he isn’t a little “mini-me” — his being a boy makes this mother-offspring delineation a bit easier, of course — and that he has his own joys and goals. As long as he permits his mother to house the occasional goat, then our differences will be much celebrated.
Most of this is speculation, seeing as he is not yet two years old. However, I guarantee you my mother saw early seeds of weird in me long before they began to blossom. So even if my son doesn’t grow up to share my love of the animal kingdom, there is still a chance that he will spend his early years running around naked for sport, which I will deem allowable until kindergarten necessitates decency.
Virginia Petrucci is a freelance fiction and non-fiction writer, and a former model and actress. She has a bachelor’s degree in Theatre and English, and is pursuing further education in Psychology. She has a one-year old son named Dante.