Mrs. Linklater was shocked to learn of the misinformation foisted on small children by their parents. She can feel the pain of this conscientious zookeeper who is upset when dumb old Mom or Dad is so ignorant they don't know a Horses Assaronious from a Dumb Assaronious. Dear Abby's advice is that we should all learn to say, "I don't know." But Mrs. L thinks we all ought to follow Steve Martin's sage wisdom and simply say, "I forgot."
Published November 18, 2005
Dear Abby: I work at a large zoo, in the children's zoo department. I cannot count the number of timesI have heard parents lie to their child about the animals they are observing.
In an enclosure with several species of animal, for example, they will tell their child that pygmy species (smaller than non-pygmy when full-grown) are actually babies of large animals. I have also seen them give incorrect information about animal behavior, diet and habitat.
These parents should respect their child enough to admit that they sometimes don't know the answer. If you don't know the answer, ask a keeper. We are usually on hand and don't mind talking about the animals we love and interact with daily. It pains us to hear parents provide misinformation to children.
-- Keeper in the East
Dear Keeper: It does a child a grave disservice to give him or her misinformation. Children are little vessels. If you fill their heads with nonsense, they'll pour it forth at a later date -- embarrassing themselves in front of friends or in the classroom.
It seems that one of the most difficult phrases in the English language for people to utter is, "I don't know." Perhaps that's because they are afraid it will make them appear stupid, so they try to fill the vacuum by saying something -- a mistake. A more constructive approach is to say, "I don't know, but I'll help you get the answer," especially when talking to a child.
Zoos were created for the purpose of education, conversation, recreation and research. When visiting a zoo, if you have a question, you should ask a zookeeper or a docent, if one is provided.
Mrs. Linklater leaps up from her spot under the bridge. Holy pygmy rhino, Ms. Zookeeper, have you been sniffing the monkey kibble? Parents have been lying to their children since they asked where babies came from. What's wrong with making up a story about why elephants have trunks? Kids love to tell Mom and Dad they're wrong.
Mo-o-o-m, elephants don't buy their trunks at Sears! What a perfect time for a parent to feign shock and ignorance, then invoke the Steve Martin mantra -- "I forgot." Your children love it when they can know more than you do. Isn't that the real lesson for them to learn at the zoo?
As for you Abby, zoos aren't for education, recreation, research, etc., etc. Zoos are for bears that sit up and eat marshmallows. Elephants that crush watermelons. Monkeys that throw poop. And parents who make up crazy stories about strange and exotic creatures. Yes, that's a real snuffalupagus, Susie.
Basically are you two sticklers for truth saying Mrs. Linklater and her ilk can't tell the kiddies that a camel is a horse made by a committee anymore? You're no fun.
So when we see baboons copulating or, ahem, other gratifying behaviors, you want us to DESCRIBE THEM honestly and truthfully? Well, honey, even though they're monkeys, the scientists call that doggy style.
Actually, on reflection, Mrs. L thinks you two zoo twits may both may be right after all. It IS better to find a zookeeper and ask her what the heck they're doing. Just to see the look on her face.
Meanwhile, I have to get this monkey shine off my jacket.