Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Gibbon Mother: a brief lesson in love

Thirty-five years ago I took a break from the American Psychological Association Convention. I needed to clear my mind of theory and debate. The zoo was within walking distance of the big hotel in which I'd been sitting in rooms with no windows, listening to words that seemed to suck the air from the already airless rooms.

I wandered the zoo, from panthers to moon bears to aardvarks and tapirs. After an hour or so, I found myself in front of a big fenced island with living trees. The morning sun glowed in the pale gold fur of the gibbons swinging from branches, ambling over the fake rocks and sitting crouched at the edge of the moat around the island.

A mother swung down from a tree. Her baby rode her hip. She sat on a low boulder and groomed the baby. It looked up at her with bright dark eyes. The baby began to wriggle. The mother pulled it closer. The baby wriggled harder. The mother looked down. The baby suddenly scooted out of her grasp - and waited.

The mother gibbon laid her arm across the baby's shoulders. The baby slowly crept away from her, but not out from under her arm. Everything slowed down as I watched. The mother's arm seemed to stretch impossibly far. The baby looked back at her and opened its mouth wide. I could have sworn the little ape was laughing.

Just when it seemed the baby gibbon would escape it's mother's grasp, she slowly drew her child back to her. And then? The baby wriggled and began to creep away. The mother's arm sheltered. The baby kept scuttling. It reached the far limit of it's mother's arm. She drew the little ape back. The baby snuggled for a few seconds, then headed out again.

The mother gibbon and her child played their game a half dozen times. Then the baby cuddled on her breast and began nursing. I understand that I had watched not only a game, but...

I'll spare you my conclusions. By now, you have your own.

note: I have been posting on the Psychology Today blog site for nearly a year. For reasons that seem unclear, they have shunted a dozen of us into a category Personal Preferences, which means we no longer appear on the main Home page. It also means that our posts disappear into click click internet land. From now on, I'll post all my PT writing here, as well as on Marginalization Today - little humor there.