Before our movie night, I insist that The Girl and I must watch something educational, and last night we happily snuggled in to watch a retrospective of David Attenborough’s documentaries.
As long as I have been letting her watch television, we have loved the Attenborough's nature films; I started her early on The Private Life of Plants, as footage of flowers and fruits had a minimum of shark-attack images to traumatise my little one. As the years passed, though, I filtered out less and less, and this was one of the worst and last of them – a pride of lions, seen through night vision on the African savannah, bringing down an elephant.
Do you want me to skip over this? I said. I try to minimise her exposure to mainstream media and filter out its degrading worldview, so she does not regard violence and death with the same shrug as so many children her age. The few times she has seen such violence she has emphathised with the victim, and I don't want her to lose that quality.
“Why?” she asked.
It’s sad, I said – they kill and eat the elephant. It’s a very unusual event they captured.
The Girl thought for a moment. “I like lions too,” she said. “And they also need to eat. Everything an animal does is just trying to survive.”
You’re right, I said – I’m proud of you for understanding that. The last bowdlerising, I thought -- a quiet milestone.
“Or get a girlfriend,” she added. “Like Cloudy.” Cloudy is our rooster, who frequently goes up to our chickens and … um … raises prepubscent questions.
True, I said – and that’s really part of surviving too.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
Well, I said, when an animal mates and has offspring, its genes survive, and that’s what the genes want. The genes that make that animal attract a mate – usually the males attracting the females – are the genes that survive, whatever they make the animal do. Anything remarkable about an animal – the proboscis monkey’s nose, the giraffe’s neck, the rooster’s comb – are whatever helped it get a girlfriend.
Are we like that? She asked.
We are, I said, but we can choose to ignore what we want for ourselves, and do what we think is right for everyone. And we have other qualities to pass on besides our genes, that could live forever.
I was amused, though, when she saw a segment of The Private Life of Plants, in which sped-up cameras allowed us to truly see plants move, as they strain toward each other, fight, and mate.
“Well it’s not very private anymore, is it?” she said indignantly.
I smiled. Do you feel like you’re intruding when you look at them? I asked.
“Sometimes,” she said. “Like I’m peeping.”
What a lovely thought. I promise you, I said -- the plants don’t mind.