Dear Zoo

I like to think of myself as someone who avoids clichés.  But in truth, I’m more prone to their usage than most people I know.

‘The Terrible Twos’ is one such platitude and one I’m particularly loathe to employ.  Yet, there is a certain universality to this particular period of a child’s development that perhaps justifies such a banal characterisation.  They are loosely two years of age, and yes, it is terrible.  For the parents, the child, neighbours, and for all people within a ten metre radius at any given time.

In fairness, it’s not that terrible.  I’m being flippant.  A more apt expression would be the ‘struggling for independence marked by exponentially increased motor skills and sense of curiosity Twos.’  Or the ‘mildly inconvenient, socially restrictive, often embarrassing, physically exhausting, loud, shouty, screamy Twos.’  From the child and parents’ perspectives respectively.  But presumably ‘terrible’ encapsulates most of this, albeit somewhat inelegantly.

Last Thursday, under the guise of “mummy blogger,” the child and I were very kindly invited along to the 30 year Anniversary celebration of Rod Campbell’s Dear Zoo at Pan Macmillan Publishers.  It was a lovely event, boasting goody bags, balloon animals, an interactive story-telling by Fleurable the Zookeeper, a colouring-in table, a birthday cake, party food as well as the author himself.  It was great.  But having only recently acquired the ability to walk, much of this was lost on my young offspring.  The presence of a long corridor, complete with glass walls on one side, a row of uninhabited desktops on the other and a lift with buttons at the end and a disabled toilet to boot, was all the encouragement she needed.  All other events, even if replete with balloons and stuffed lions, paled in comparison.  Thus, from 2 to 5pm, myself, my Pan Mac friend and a number of his colleagues, pooled our efforts to corral her energies as best we could, allowing a certain degree of lift calling, button pressing, desktop keyboard bashing, tap turning, toilet flushing and general running.  A few attempts were taken to enthuse her toward more Dear Zoo themed activities, but save for some stealing of other children’s’ balloon animals, these were largely in vain.

This was all to be expected.  There was an optimistic part of me that thought she may sit and enjoy at least part of the storytelling.  Or perhaps interact with other children.  But this was not to be.  She is in that wasteland age where the advent of walking has opened up a whole new world, but at the same time remains confined by relatively limited skills of socialisation and the inability to stray too far from the mothership.  Watching this quest for self-determination unfold is fascinating in the same way watching the human-like qualities of an Orangutan is.

The terribleness of it, for me and the Doctor at least, stems from our inability to judge how far we let a certain strain of behaviour continue before invoking various forms of discipline.  That and of course the inability to hold a sustained conversation with someone without having to intermittently child-wrangle, prevent them from harming themselves without provoking a tantrum or successfully getting them to eat food that isn’t battered or full of sugar.  Our approach has generally been that of the laissez-faire.  But like liberal economics, we are beginning to see an increasingly stark divergence between theory and practice.  With no desire to stifle her inherent sense of curiosity and experimentation, it can be difficult to know where to draw the line, particularly when concomitant features of this freedom are histrionic screams, hitting and an overdeveloped sense of entitlement.  No one wants to raise their child to be an arsehole.

Suffice to say ‘the Terrible Twos’ seems to be much like my own experience of teenage/young adult hood: new forms of excess energy without clearly defined pathways through which to channel it.  Although frankly, I’d prefer to wallow in the current sugar-induced one and stave off the hormonal counter-part as long as I can.   This age, as many older parents continue to inform me, is far easier than anything to come.

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