It started out innocently enough: ”Mom, is it true that there aren’t as many tigers now as there used to be?”
I have been preparing myself for the birds and the bees talk for a while now, I think I’m as ready as I’ll ever be for those questions. But I was not ready to explain endangered species and threatened habitats to a not quite 4-year-old girl whose favorite games are playing okapi and jaguar (it’s just a lot of running around the house as far as I can tell) and who fancies herself an animal rescuer (the kinds of rescues that involve life rafts and zip cords, not poachers and black markets). Let’s just say I botched it. Big time.
I tried to explain that there were some people who were not kind to animals but fortunately, there were a lot more people who were kind to animals and who worked really hard to protect them. Then somehow, through her persistent line of questioning, I got into poachers and bear skin rugs and maybe even shopping malls in the jungle, I don’t know. All I know is that I had a little girl with tears welling up in her eyes in the backseat of the car who just couldn’t stop herself from asking more questions. ”Have you killed an animal?” ”How do they kill animals?” ”What’s a gun?” “How do they make a rug out of skin?” ”No but how?” ”Does Dad know?” Parenting fail.
Two days later, we’re still talking through it. We’ve talked about how people in the past used to hunt, and some people still do now, and they are very grateful for the meat that the animal provides and that they use every part, including the fur, to keep warm. We talked about how killing lions and tigers and pandas is illegal and that there are a lot of people whose job it is to protect those animals. We role played with her jungle hospital and nursed a menagerie back to health. It’s interesting how she’s working things out in her mind. She told us tonight about her pet pig whose butt she chops off once in a while to make ham for people so that they don’t have to kill tigers anymore (she has a lot of imaginary animal friends, she also has a dog that kept her up all night howling and gave her such a headache that she just couldn’t eat her dinner).
It breaks my heart to think that she is at the age now where she is going to start asking questions that have difficult answers and she is going to slowly (quickly?) learn that the world is kind of messed up and sad in a lot of ways. Ugh. ”These animals have all been killed” she said as she wheeled each plastic creature into her hospital. How sad is that? What have I done to my child?!? Thankfully, she just meant seriously injured.
At least we know what we’re getting her for her birthday. She can be the pride mother and protector to her very own tiger, through the WWF’s Adopt a Tiger program.