Vicariously Living Through the Next Generation
Anthony marvels at the beauty of an innocent mind interacting with animals
As a newer parent, I am aware of the danger I can pose to my children. Being too overbearing, too soft, or too obsessed with work or my hobbies are just a few possible trainwrecks that come to mind. Living vicariously through our children can be a huge mistake, a fact in which most would probably give at least some merit. It does not take too many nights spent watching “Toddlers and Tiaras,” or “Friday Night Tykes,” to know that trying to live your dreams through your children is a slippery slope, at best.
I have been involved in a different type of vicarious endeavour — watching my 20-month old daughter really experience animals for the first time. In 2014, I wrote an article for The Batagur, the yearly newsletter for the Turtle & Tortoise Preservation Group and a wonderful publication. It was titled “The Future of Herpetoculture” and it challenged chelonian keepers, as I often do, to share their wisdom and put in the time that it takes to properly equip future generations of keepers. At times, some of the best minds in the game choose to operate outside of the public eye, leaving young herpetoculturists to use classified ads and social media to learn their facts.
It is a funny thing to ponder such things after the fact. Today, had I been writing that piece all over again, I would not change a single word. Most parents will tell you, however, that you won’t actually know what is like to be a parent or what it will change in your life. For me, it has not changed much, since I never really enjoyed going out, hanging out with friends, or whatever people like to do. I just like turtles and have been able to grow my collection and increase my writing since becoming a parent. Imagine that! What has changed is my understanding of the article I wrote for The Batagur. I see like never before how impressionable a young mind really is.
As far as living vicariously through my child, I have to admit that I am. Luckily for her, it is nowhere near the status of TV parents on the aforementioned reality shows. I find new meaning in the scene in “Knocked Up” when Paul Rudd’s character says he wishes he “liked anything as much as my kids like bubbles.” I feel this way when I see my little daughter watching or interacting with animals. She loves “Frozen” and Elmo as much as any kid, so please don’t think I am telling you my kid is special in this way (although I would say she is pretty extraordinary). There is just something different when she hugs and kisses my dogs, pets a mini horse, or observes one of my turtles in their enclosures.
I spend so much time putting thought into all of it. Which species would make the best conservation or educational project for theTurtleRoom? How can a project lead to an intriguing written piece or video? She could not care less. She just sees an organism that she is not totally used to, is intrigued by it, and chooses to observe, investigate or even interact. Her interactions are as simple as that, and she really does enjoy every moment. Every day, even with her limited vocabulary, she begs for me to take her down to the basement, where the turtles are kept, so we can do turtle-related chores together. At this point, her presence in my turtle room still makes my chores twice as difficult, but I still appreciate her interest.
For years, I have strived to add more and more focus to my personal journey with turtles. I take it very seriously and cannot rest until all of my efforts resemble the thought that is behind each one. But slowly, she chips away at it all. If she is willing to stop and observe a Red-Eared Slider, then I will sit with her and admire the species that I once loved myself, forgetting for a moment the over-breeding, illegal sales, and releases that make the species notorious. She usually takes an interest in my Eastern Hermann’s Tortoises, completely ignoring the Spider Tortoise, Flowerback Box Turtle, and Four-Eyed Turtle enclosures that she walks right by in the process. It is not often visitors ignore all of those species to try to have a conversation with the Hermann’s.
A lot can be said about the power and emotional impact of watching your kids experience things for the first time, especially when these are things you love. Going out into wild places to find reptiles, going to zoos and aquariums, and other things I love to do have grown even more exciting. I never knew that would be possible. I could not tell you whether or not I thought my daughter would be the next Peter Pritchard, or if she might ever experience any professional success of any kind, or ever take an interest in subjects of interest to me. These are items of minute importance at this time. What is important is knowing that life only changed for the better when she arrived.
Additionally, it is amazing to think about how curious and open the mind of a young person can be. As the unofficial fan club of the most endangered vertebrate group in the world, we need to educate others and continue to grow the effort towards conserving species. Forgive the inevitable rant, but we truly can make a difference for these animals. If every young mind is born with an innate appreciation for animals, how do we harness that and grow it into a future generation that is not entirely focused on video games? How do we ensure that a growing number of people are interested in natural subjects, learning the complicated relationships that threaten their health? If we are lucky, perhaps a growing number of young people will take interest in one of the more unlikely animals of all — the turtles.