Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"No, Simba, no!!"

I love the conversations we have in the mornings on the way to school. Sometimes they start out funny, sometimes they don't. Sometimes we don't talk at all, all three of us sort of huddled in our seats, not quite awake, and not quite sociable yet. But every once in a while, we're all awake, and peppy, and you never know what's going to set us off.

So, this morning, we're walking out the door, and the Impossible Son was moving a little slow (any slower and he woulda been goin' backwards), and I was keeping an eye out for Calcifer. Calcifer does not like his kids leaving the house. He hates it. He most especially hates it because they're leaving... without him! He'd probably be fine if he could go to school with them, and does not understand why he can't go, too. He doesn't like it when they go outside to play, again without him, either. This has resulted in our having to keep an Instrument of Cat Discipline by the door (it's a squirt bottle with water and about a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in it, just enough to smell to a cat).

So, the Impertinent One had walked out and left the door wide open, and I had to rush up to it before Calcifer could, and because I'm funny that way, I shouted, "Back, Simba, back!" while grabbing the water bottle and aiming a few squirts at him.

Picture one orange cat with a wrinkled up moue of disgust, fleeing rapidly back into the kitchen.

Mr. Impossible started laughing. "Back, Simba, back?" he quoted back at me. "Why'd you say that?"

I laughed, too. "I dunno, guess I got Tarzan on the brain or something."

"Tarzan doesn't say that," he said, walking past me to go outside. "There's only that leopard, and I don't think he had a name."

It was then I realized how remiss I've been in my childrens' educations. They've never seen any of the old Tarzan movies, or the television series! I'm a terrible mother!!

"Well, Mr. Manzie, there was a live action TV series about Tarzan when I was a kid, and he seemed to say, 'Back, Simba, back!' an awful lot." I followed him out to the car. "In fact, I think every single lion he ran into was named Simba. No matter where he was, if he ran into a lion, it was always, 'No, Simba!' and 'Back, Simba!' and 'Stop chewing on that man's leg, Simba!' No matter how many lions he met!"

Mr. Manzie nearly fell out of the car, laughing, and the Impertinent Daughter said, "What the heck are you guys talking about??"

So, I filled her in, and also started talking about the movies, and Johnny Weismuller, and how it seemed just about every guy they got to play Tarzan after him seemed to be an Olympic swimmer, like it was a job requirement. And we talked about Tarzan's animal vocabulary, which seemed to primarily consist of the word, "Unk!"

"Unk?" said my son. "What does that mean?"

"Who knows?" I said, heading toward the junior high. "It was sort of utilitarian word, meaning whatever he wanted it to me, I guess. Unk, Tantor! could mean 'stop charging!' or 'please get off my foot, you're killing it!' Unk, unk! could mean, 'back off,' or 'I'm going to rip your guts out through your nose,' or 'don't even think about touching my sandwich!' Very flexible word, unk."

At this point, my kids are semi-hysterical. "And it worked??" said my daughter in disbelief.

"Oh, yeah, all the time. It was a movie, you know." I just grinned. "Of course, Tarzan has changed a lot."

"I know!!" said my son, still laughing. "I mean, the Tarzan we saw isn't like that at all!"

He is referring, of course, to Disney's Tarzan, not the Tarzan of Edgar Rice Burroughs' novels, alas. So, we talked about how different that Tarzan is from the Tarzan I had grown up with (because my mother loved old movies), and my daughter frowned and said, "Yes, but why is he different?"

"Well,"I said, thinking a little harder than I'm accustomed to that early and without as much caffeine as I usually require, "I think that's because in the movies I grew up with, there still wasn't a lot known about gorillas. They're kind of shy, and hard to find, and when people did finally find them and see them, the gorillas were frightened and did their best to make the intruders go away. So, the Tarzan in the movies was sort of rough, and macho, and domineering, did a lot of chest beating and posturing, and his movements were sort of jerky. But in the sixties and seventies, Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey started observing and studying chimpanzees and gorillas and found out that they weren't like that at all. That they were actually rather gentle and quiet when they were just among themselves and didn't feel frightened or threatened. So, the Disney version of Tarzan sort of reflects that research. What's he like?"

"Well," said Mr. Manzie. "He's quiet. And he's slow and gentle. And curious."

"Very curious," I said.

"But very protective," said Miss Priss. "He protects his family."

"Yes, just like the gorillas do," I said, nodding.

I thought that part of the conversation was over when Miss Priss got out at her school, but Mr. Manzie had another question for me.

"How come people didn't know that about gorillas back when your movies were being made?"

I didn't bother to correct him, seeing as those movies were made in the thirties and forties. "Well, Little Man, that was because no one ever thought of just going into the rain forest to observe them quietly, right there in their own habitat."


Why was I being required to think so early in the morning?? "Well, because in those days, that wasn't considered a valid form of research. It was thought that no one could observe animals without projecting their own thoughts and feelings onto the creatures they were watching. And no one wanted to invest the time, because it required a great deal of time and patience to watch animals in the wild."

"I watch the squirrels in our backyard all the time!"

"They are fun to watch," I agreed, "but... would you want to sit and watch them and do nothing else all day? Not play on your Nintendo, not run around the yard pretending to be ninjas, or chasing Bigfoot, or kicking around the soccer ball, just... sitting on the grass being very, very quiet for hours and hours, watching and waiting for the squirrels to do something."

"That would be boring!"

"Yes, and that is why it requires a whole lot of patience to be an animal researcher! And we are here, and it's time for you to go to school!!" I said, pulling up to his school's drop-off area.

Should I feel a teensy bit guilty that he asked, when he hugged me goodbye, "Why can't learning stuff in school be this fun?"

"I think it sometimes is, kiddo," I said, handing him his backpack. "You just don't always remember that."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he said, and got out of the car. And as he ran to the doors of the cafeteria, I couldn't help but wonder if I should have home-schooled him after all.

Then my sanity returned, and I just started thinking of projects we could do on our own. Yes, that works out much better...

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