Bird Brain

This just in: having your midlife crisis while at the zoo with your family can be a little awkward.

It started as an ordinary day at the San Diego Safari Park where our biggest challenge was deflecting our kids’ rapid-fire requests for souvenirs, snacks and 80 dollars for a zip line ride over a valley filled with lions.

Declaring we were there to see animals, not to buy a plastic gorilla head filled with 48 ounces of soda, I led everyone towards a zoo employee who was discussing the owl perched on his arm.  A good-sized crowd gathered around to hear the lesson.

It was going smoothly for a while as we tackled the topics of wingspan and night vision.  But then he asked the kids in the crowd to describe the owl’s head.

“It’s so small,” an adorable moppet called out, unaware this would be the undoing of the nice lady standing next to her.

“Yes, its head is small,” said the zoo guy.  “Not much room for a brain in there.  Owls are not very smart.  But you know what?  They’re as smart as they need to be – they can find food, they can build shelter, and that’s really all that’s required of them.”

And then it hit me.  It hit me hard: Oh my God, I am the owl.  

As smart as I need to be — quick, somebody ask me what’s for dinner or how we should decorate the family room.  Food and shelter.  I groaned as this concept sunk in and took over my thoughts for the rest of the day.

Never one for moderation, I recognize that I am both oversimplifying and overdramatizing my kinship with the owl.  But still, the idea that our brains develop only to the level of what is required of them is a compelling one.

This holds true not just for those of us who are old(ish) and set in our ways.  Kids can easily fall into the pattern of learning just enough to get through the next test or homework assignment – as smart as they need to be.

So now the owl and I are at war.  Kind of like Bill Murray and the gopher in Caddyshack except without all the rump shaking to Kenny Loggins music.

This means we’re swinging for the intellectual fences here at Casa Perfectionist: reading the entire newspaper instead of only the Food and Wine section; applying for writing gigs; registering for lectures at the library; and refraining from automatically correcting every homework problem so the kids have a chance to delve into the topic with their teachers until it’s fully understood.

Nothing earth shattering, but it’s a start.  Hopefully, by being aware of the complacent owl and his tiny brain, we’ll be on the lookout for opportunities to stretch ours.  Although I have to admit, the next time we’re at the zoo, I’m heading straight for souvenir cart selling plastic gorilla heads and skipping the animal lecture – I’d hate to see what kind of crisis a lesson on lemmings would bring.

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