At brunch last weekend conversation turned to the honey badger. You might remember him as number one on the list “6 Animals That Just Don’t Give a F#@.” To earn a place on the list, an animal has to have proven itself willing to pursue its desires with single-minded focus, consequences be damned. Members of the list include the undersized wolverine which thinks nothing of attacking a black bear and the open-minded cane toad, which has been known to carry on amorous relations with the corpses of animals from any number of species.
Neither the wolverine nor the cane toad hold a candle to the honey badger, though, when it comes to complete disregard for good judgment or social convention in pursuit of what it wants. Watch this video of the honey badger wreaking havoc in the African plains. It climbs a tree to catch a cobra; starts to eat the cobra; falls into a coma from the cobra’s venom; wakes up and resumes eating the cobra. It burrows snout first into a hive of African Honey Bees, ignores the swarm, and eats their larvae. You get the point.
You probably also see why, following this conversation, it occurred to me that Jay and Wally and little kids everywhere are basically tenuously-domesticated honey badgers.
Not in the sense that they’re willing to endure extreme pain in the pursuit of insect eggs. Rather it’s their utter lack of self-consciousness (which I wrote in “Life with no backstage”) and general disregard for the good opinions of others. Jay doesn’t care a whit that I think it’s disgusting when he rinses his cheesy fork in his cup of water and then drinks his water, as he did last night while we were eating pasta with blue cheese, arugula, and grapes. He’s still going to rinse that fork. He’s still going to drink that water.
What makes little kids so captivating is the contrast they cut with the rest of us, who care a lot more about how we’re perceived by other people.
My little brother wears his hair in a mop because all the other boys in his school wear their hair in a mop because Justin Bieber wears (wore?) his hair in a mop.
I want a new car because I feel self-conscious driving around with a cracked bumper and a missing hood ornament.
Caroline and I want a third child because…well, we actually haven’t figured that one out yet….though one completely self-destructive motivation is the desire to stay one kid ahead of our friends who just announced they’re having twins. (We’re trying very hard to suppress this impulse.)
The point, which is an obvious one, is that early in life just about everyone starts to shape at least some of their preferences in relation to outside influences, many of which are petty, superficial, or just plain arbitrary. At the same time, babies and toddlers basically never outsource their value systems. This is what makes them so charismatic.
The same day as the honey badger conversation Jay and Wally each did something that brought this point home to me.
That night Caroline went into Wally’s room to give him a “dream feed,” which we’ve introduced recently to cut down on his middle-of-the-night wake-ups. Caroline rousted Wally from his crib and held him in her arms to eat. He ate for about five seconds and then rolled over, threw his head back, and went soundly to sleep. Caroline tried a few more times but it didn’t matter—a swarm of African Honey Bees wouldn’t have been able to wake him either. In true honey badger spirit, he’d made up his mind he was going to sleep and there was nothing more to say about that.
As for Jay, every night at bedtime he and Caroline read two books and then Jay comes and finds me and tells me it’s time for the three of us to lie together on his rug.
Except he doesn’t tell me it’s time to lie on the rug. He says, “It’s time for the bunny,” by which he means it’s time to place his large stuffed bunny on the floor so that he, Caroline, and I can lay our heads on it for a few minutes before it’s time for the crib.
Last night I was sitting in my office when Jay came bounding in. “Daaaady,” he cried, “Time to do the bunny.” Then he stood in the middle of the room and waited for my response.
I looked him up and down for a moment. He was wearing blue and yellow striped pajamas with a picture of a construction crane on front, his socks pulled up to his shins, an airplane sweatshirt overtop that he outgrew about two years ago, bellowing with glee about cuddling on the floor with his parents and a very large stuffed animal.
How long until he starts to gain some perspective on himself? Hopefully it won’t happen anytime soon, I thought to myself, as I got up from my chair and he raced towards his room on his short, skinny honey badger legs.