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Kids Watching Lions Eating Zebras

Photograph by Getty Images

On the savannas of Africa, the zebra and the lioness do the dance.

You’ve seen it like 266 times before. So have I.

From the couch in the living room, from behind a slice of cold pizza or a thing of Ben & Jerry’s, we put our feet up on the coffee table and watch as some locomotive lioness crouches low and slings herself through the tall grasses of a faraway land, leaps/flies like a plastic bag whipping across a grocery store parking lot, and lands upon the ribcage of the wild striped horse thing with the worst freaking luck in the world.

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I never turn it off.

If you do, that’s your loss, I guess.

Yeah, the blood starts flowing and the footage goes from mundane to murderous in the wink of a hyena’s wandering eye, but hey, that’s nature, right?

I grew up watching the nature shows on TV. Wild America, Wild Kingdom, Wild Wilderness of Bewilderment; I watched them all from a really young age, mostly because my dad watched them incessantly when he was half in the bag. Which was Mondays through Fridays and every weekend.

There weren’t as many back then, of course. These days, you don’t ever have to hold out for PBS at 7:30 on Sunday night to get your shot at 22 minutes of pure animal/insect/fish. They are on at least a few cable or satellite channels all the time; there is one on right now. There is a water buffalo being muffed up by a 17-foot crocodile inside your flat screen as we speak, and you can go check if you don’t believe me.

But, blah-blah-blah … everything is different when you have kids, huh?

We figure that, for as long as we possibly can, we ought to preserve their fragile eggshell souls and their tiny brains from the sour reality of a planet where the jaguars and elephants and hippos they see on Diego or Dora are actually out there in the real world crushing each other’s skulls with the quickness, just so they can get a damn slug of muddy water from a third rate watering hole without having their own guts spread out all over the worn-out trail.

“I want to be a wolf when I grow up … not a gazelle.”

I found myself recently sitting with my two kids, ages 4 and 2, watching the monkeys of a metropolis in India (Rebel Monkeys … do yourself a favor) whip out their fangs like they were switchblades and lay into a rival gang. It was pretty violent, but, I have to tell you, all three of us were riveted to the screen.

My wife walked by and looked at the show for a sec and then turned to me with her special look she that reserves for me and everything I do in this life. It’s like a frown but with a wedge of disgust and dollop of regret tossed in for measure.

“What?” I said, trying to keep one eye on the monkey with the other monkey’s face in his jaws.

“Do you really think they should be watching this?”

“Ummmm, well, uhhhhh, yeah, why not, you know? It’s nature. Nature is mean. And it’s everywhere except in the mall and the middle school, and those places are mean, too.”

My young son Henry was jumping up and down in place as he watched the monkeys scream frightening screams as they slammed their fists into each other and rolled down off the roofs of their battlefields. His sister was right there with him.

My wife sighed and took off.

When it was done, I tried to come to terms with how comfortable I was with my young children bearing eye witness to the violent life of some monkeys on the other side of the world. I wrestled with the little, pestilent wussy that lands on our shoulders in the 21st century, constantly whispering in our parenting ear: “Are you sure this isn’t going to give them nightmares OR turn them into a serial killer in 25 years?”


That would be embarrassing as hell, I think to myself. I mean, that’s the last thing I’m gonna need to be dealing with if I, by some miracle of modern science, I happen to live into my 70s. Man, I’ll be so senile and tipsy by then that I won’t know what to say when some reporter knocks on my door to break it to me that one of my rug rats has just been arrested for burying 60 bodies underneath the pigpen, you know?

I’ll say the wrong damn thing and bring shame down upon us all. Ugh.

Not to worry, though.

Not for me, anyway.

The other night we watched some Mongolian wolves pounce upon gazelles with the odd grace and gravity of something bigger and more strangely beautiful than almost anything any of us ever get lucky enough to lay our real eyes on in an entire lifetime. My kids, my world—they stared in utter fascination, narrating the whole story with the basic facts that I have shared with them each time we watch the big kills go down, or the young ones being born in a cave or on a nest inside our own television.

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“The wolves are hungry and they need to eat or their babies will die!” Violet cried.

I smiled.

“There are so many gazelles that when some of them get eaten by the wolves a lot of other ones get to live!” Henry shouted.

I beamed.

“Look at that wolf, he is so fast and cool!” I hollered, swept up in the moment.

There was a moment of silence and then Henry laid it on the line.

“I want to be a wolf when I grow up … not a gazelle.”

I exhaled a cloud of pent-up pizza breath, knowing that he was going to be OK, no matter how rough things got out there along the way.

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