African Reflections, Part Two: The Cat and the Hat

Category: Weekly Columns

One of the most endearing experiences we had on our African safari and honeymoon was no, not all the mating animals we coincidentally encountered, but a playful incident among lion cubs. As I mentioned in Part One of my African Reflections, we were fortunate to find the same lioness we had witnessed earlier during her mating. After finishing those obligations and, starving, she had made a kill and was eager to eat. Her pride of cubs and fellow lionesses began following her but it became evident she was not going to share (common after they’ve not eaten, during mating, for a full week). So, the pride just lay down in the tall grass and licked and played with each other in a wonderful jumble of paws, tongues, and bodies each on top of another, amid general relaxation and playfulness.

The Land Rovers we were in had both open windows and removable sunroofs, from which we often stood to get the best view. In this case, we watched the unfolding drama of the lioness eating her first meal in a week, her sulking male mate of the previous 7 days sulking in the distance, and her pride still hoping for a loose piece of meat. Our guide put us almost literally in the middle of the pride and this extraordinary drama.

As I stood up, through the sunroof, to shoot more of the eventual 2,200 photos I ended up taking, a gust of wind caught my safari hat and blew it adjacent to the front wheel of our Land Rover. I loved that hat so, I immediately asked the guide if I could quickly go out and retrieve it. Mortified, he said an emphatic no. I asked if we could just move forward a few feet and, maybe, I could reach down for it. The answer remained the same staunch refusal.

So, we watched, and I sulked. Moments later, a lion cub gingerly came right next to the vehicle and took my precious hat in its jaws. Almost instantly, the cubs had a new game; tug-of-war and keep-away. We watched, in sidesplitting, painful laughter, as my hat flew from cub to cub, at times the only thing visible flying above the high grass. This was counter-pointed by the savage sounds of the hungry lioness, ripping apart her meal, her lazy mate milling about doing nothing, and was a sober reminder that animals in the wild are just that, wild.

Now, I suppose you’re going to say this is a reach, as I work to tie in stories from my wonderful African adventure with parenting. But, indulge me anyway. This tug-of-war is the quintessential struggle between siblings of all species. Especially my boys, GuitarHero (my 15-year old) and Jughead (my 12-year-old). I will ultimately devote a specific column to sibling rivalry, but this one will focus on the insidious way in which my boys, as so many others given this is such an ubiquitous situation, play one parent against the other. In our case, even their new step-mom, who you might think wouldn’t have the same cache as their good ol’ dad.

But, play us against one another they do. With canny manipulation and subtlety. We, being the naïve ones, often believe them when they say, “Oh, Dad said it was okay,” or “Short-Rib (my wife) was fine with it.” Yeah, and we also believe in the tooth fairy and the stock and real estate markets recovering at the end of this year. Wishful thinking, for sure. But, parents want to be loved just as much as their children, so we often just can’t see straight when it’s out own kids while we’re experts with our friend’s children.

GuitarHero is the best as he mostly ignores Short-Rib, except when he’s not getting satisfaction from me. By now, she’s wise to it, but can’t help, in the new role of step-mom, thinking at first that he’s really reaching out and wanting a connection. It’s like when he used to say, “Dad, I really want you to hear this new song,” when I’m taking him to or from school, and I actually believed he cared about my opinion vs. was just using that flattery to get me to play his music, which quickly went on to other unintelligible death or metal rock garbage. Why are we, who are the closest, almost always the most oblivious?

We’ve discovered, finally, the obvious. Compare notes. Stay on the same page. Back one another. But, often, in the moment we forget. And, we must make sure out boys know when we’ve caught them playing this game. Oh, the many wiles of children. Will I ever learn? Or will I just write about it and smugly watch others make the same mistake, sitting back and judging them while the rooster crows at home. I’ll probably have it down, maybe, by the time they’re living on their own and I’m fortunate enough to hopefully have grandchildren.