Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Being Jane Goodall

When I was a preteen I had odd plans for myself. At age 11, I was in a phase that included wanting nothing to do with boys. Marriage was a disgusting thought, unless I met Indiana Jones, which might occur in the middle of my adventurous life as Jane Goodall.

One day I felt compelled to put some predictions about my future in writing. I wrote my mom a letter stating I would never wear make-up or get married. Mom still has that note somewhere, stashed in "The Box of Embarrassment" along with pictures I've tried to burn of my teeth, pre-braces.
I decided that during my adult life, I would travel to Africa and study Chimpanzees. No joke. I wanted to live in a hut like Jane Goodall and secretly photograph monkeys. I envisioned myself observing them stealthily, until the monkeys accepted my presence, and let me name them. I would conjure up images of myself hiding in a tree, watching them in the jungle. Nobody knew I planned to be Jane Goodall; it was not something I shared. I had a copy of National Geographic Magazine from 1964 that featured her and her work hidden in my desk drawer. I bought it for a dollar in a junk store, and it was my dusty treasure. I'd sit under a tree of the swamp variety in my backyard with a tiny notepad and pencil, visualizing chimps frolicking in the trees.

Last week while I was looking for a winter coat for Baby Bigfoot in the attic, I tripped over a stack of National Geographic Magazines. Right on top of the pile was the old tattered issue featuring Jane Goodall on its cover. I picked it up, wondering what the heck happened to me. What would that 11 year old think if she saw me now, chasing children instead of monkeys? I know mom is relieved, but, in some ways, I feel unfulfilled. Life has turned out to be a restless search for purpose.

However, the adult me is a different person than that 11 year-old. Going to Africa on, say, a safari vacation would be cool, but I think I'm cured of the living-with-chimps fascination. So why do I sometimes feel like I’m missing something in life? Maybe that adolescent interest represented more than what it was on the surface. I didn’t really want to be Jane Goodall; I wanted to do something BIG, or be someone who contributed to society in a larger way. I think about that often. Watching my children’s faces light up when they see me gives me a sense that a large part of my purpose is being fulfilled, but not how my 11 year-old self expected.

I flip through the moldy magazine today, as I'm peeling a banana for my toddler. Currently I observe kids, rather than chimps, but they're pretty similar. The princess is saying something funny that I want to remember later when I'm writing, so I grab a pen, and scan the room for a piece of paper. Not seeing any, I write on a napkin and stuff it in my pocket. Meanwhile, I observe Baby Bigfoot figure out how to climb on top of the kitchen table. I grab a packet of sugar and scribble a description of his efforts on it, as I run to pull him down to safety. It turns out that I might be a domesticated version of Jane Goodall after all. I decide that life in the jungle of suburbia is better, since I really hate mosquitoes.

"How to make God laugh: Tell him your future plans." -Woody Allen


Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

As usual from you, poignant and honest. I think of this as my "Mommy phase", which will last about 20 years. Our life span goes way beyond that, and if we have our kids young we get a burst of testosterone in our 40's that often spurs us onto the career track. Maybe you'll go on to be a missionary and fulfill your Goodall fantasy after all - although like you said it's filled with mosquitoes and yucky diseases that we don't think of when we're young and filled with dreams.

The Koala Bear Writer said...

Interesting. I've also struggled with feeling fulfilled--although I always wanted to be a wife and mother, so when that finally happened, I wondered why I still felt unfulfilled at times. I'm not sure exactly what answer I've come to, except that beyond being a wife and mother, I'm also a writer and editor, a friend, a volunteer... and through it all, trying to serve God (though I forget that at times...). :)

Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

Maybe that's a feeling all we humans are destined to feel until we are fulfilled in Christ in Heaven.

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Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.


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