Parenting, at its core, is the process of surrealistic integration and magical thinking. We don’t notice it after a while. We start to accept the odd logic in our kids’ thinking without questioning it. We accept that square ice cubes are spicier than rectangular ice cubes and that all dogs are boys and all cats are girls and that a tiger lives in the keyhole which is why we have to cover it with tape and that blue sweaters are less itchy than red sweaters because they are blue.
“All giraffes are blind,” my daughter said to her cousin over Thanksgiving break. They were in the pool. They had already had a long conversation about a particular breed of freshwater squid who live in pools who live on a diet exclusively of chlorine and swimming suit bottoms. They tickle your toes and steal your water polo balls and disappear, snickering, down the drain.
“All giraffes are blind,” she said again. “So are elephants.”
“Well,” her cousin said, “at least the elephants are nice about it.”
I was sitting in the sun, letting the heat warm me through, baking my bones. It has been a cold November. Oppressively cold. But we were in Florida for the holiday, visiting the grandparents. Florida is a surreal place. Kind of like childhood. The sun is warm but the floor is cold, and people wear sunglasses indoors and have slippers on their feet and bare skin on their arms. The air smells of salt and swamp. Their bugs are larger than their lapdogs. Their cars are driven as though physics does not exist. And giraffes are blind. So are elephants.
And elephants are nicer than giraffes. This is common knowledge, apparently. I accepted it without hesitation.
Elephants, I have learned, enjoy tap dancing and fine perfumes and velvet waistcoats. They are excessively polite. Indeed, more than half of the books ever written on the subject of etiquette was actually written by an elephant. They are highly considerate of the feelings of others and their hearts break easily when they discover they have accidentally caused offense. They always use the correct fork; they never forget a napkin; and they have never neglected to say please and thank you. It was pointed out – I don’t know which swimmer made this assertion, but it was accepted by the group – that elephants, for their part, are aware that their limited visual perception combined with their massive size, can pose to be a bit of a problem. This is one of the reasons why they are so incredibly polite. They will always ask if there is something or someone in their path that they might accidentally trod upon.
“Pardon me,” the elephants say, “but are there any bunny rabbits or butterflies or priceless artifacts along this hallway? It is late, and past my bedtime, and I do not want to tip over a vase or crush a grandmother in a doorway as I make my way toward my jammies.”
They use their great trunks to find their way. They walk delicately, as though they were made of tulip petals. Elephants are experts at making do.
“It’s similar with whales,” my daughter said. “They cannot speak. So they speak in bubbles instead. Their bubbles are like braille. Five bubbles means ‘please pass the sugar’. Twenty bubbles means ‘I love you’.”
“But giraffes,” it was asserted. “They are the biggest jerks.”
“Get out of my way,” say the giraffes. They stumble through tangles of trees, using their necks like whips. Or not whips. What are those weapons – the ones with the stick and the ball with spikes and a chain connecting the two. A flail. This is what giraffes do. They flail. What a bunch of meanies.
“Excuse you,” snort the giraffes. “Learn to watch your step. I didn’t break it; you broke it, dummy. Get out of my way. Oh, look, a very hard object on a very long string just socked you in the guts. Sucks to be you.”
“Giraffes,” my niece muttered. “They are the worst.”
“I’d much rather be friends with an elephant.”
“Or an alligator.”
Alligators, as it turns out, are misunderstood creatures, and easily maligned, due to their powerful jaws and their impressive teeth – neither of which they asked for or particularly wanted. They also, interestingly, have no sense of smell. They never mention this, and do their best to fake it.
“My my,” an alligator will say upon entering a home, on those rare cases when he or she is invited for dinner. “What a delightful aroma. Please, you must share the recipe with me.”
Alligators make highly tolerant friends. Because they themselves face daily bigotry on account of their their unfortunate appearance, they live their lives free of judgement or bias. It is not what you look like that they care about, but what you are like. They are only interested in the soul. They will love you implicitly.
They will also never notice your body odor, due to their olfactory deficiency. This can be useful in Florida. Everyone sweats in Florida. The entire state is an assault upon the nose.
“I would totally be friends with an elephant. And definitely an alligator. But never a giraffe.”
“Totally. Giraffes are off the Christmas list. In fact, I don’t think they’ve ever been on it.”