Lions, Hyenas, and Boners, Oh My!

I’d never thought about the GRAPHIC in National Geographic before. I’m a child survivor of Bambi and Sunday evening’s Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, both of which were bleak, though sanitized, and largely responsible for my becoming a vegetarian (now lapsed primarily due to bacon), so I figured the Little Monster could stomach a little truth about nature and the food chain. I didn’t think there’d be much difference between Marlin Perkins on the 13-inch portable black-and-white of my youth and a National Geographic DVD I got from the library to help LM out on a school project. A nature documentary is hardly Quentin Tarantino, right?

A Partridge as androgynous as a hyena

We try to protect the Little Monster, who knows all-too-well about the grim realities of the world already. So we borrow only G-rated movies and music from the library and have no television. He now has exactly one non-violent video game. He has no internet access, and we watch The Waltons or The Partridge Family. Even the tame Partridges can get too risqué, such as when Danny proclaimed an older woman to be “sexy” (a word that’s gotten LM into trouble already, and we all know the dark path this led Danny Bonaduce down). The Waltons have also managed to set a bad example, such as when the Baldwin Sisters work their Recipe Machine (which most certainly bears no resemblance at all to MIM’s “pear cooker”). We watch our language even at moments of high temper, such as when I yelled instructed vehemently, “I don’t give a ffff-ig what those other kids were doing! Two wrongs don’t make a right!”

“What’s a fig?” LM asked, losing my point entirely.

"Bet you've never seen a girl do what I'm about to do!"

The Little Monster’s class is studying the African savannah. For his report, LM chose the lowly hyena, a hard-to-like, social-outcast of an animal. I figured there was a metaphor in there somewhere and was proud of him for showing interest in the underdog rather than the aesthetically-appealing zebra or stoic, loyal elephant. Perhaps hyenas could use a little love and understanding, as well as a good dental hygienist. My desire to meet a hyena ranks as high as wanting to meet Lady Gaga while she’s dressed in raw meat (although meeting them both at the same time might prove interesting), but I thought I’d work on attachment and bonding by jumping on the hyena bandwagon and borrowing a DVD that we could watch together as a family unit. Even the Man I Married, who usually views a DVD as a chance to wander off to be by himself, settled in on the couch to watch Eternal Enemies: Lions and Hyenas.

Here’s what we learned:

Both male and female hyenas have what look like penises. At an early age, both males and females engage in mock mating. This behavior has never been recorded before now.

Lucky us! Cute puppy hyenas with giant erections, fully displayed, all humping each other! And humping, and humping, and humping.

I shot the Silent Question Mark at MIM, who shrugged, and I uncomfortably agreed. Nature is nature, right? How much can we or should we police? It’s nothing LM hasn’t seen our own neutered dog do, unfortunately. I hoped the puppy porn would end quickly and be just as quickly forgotten, if LM even understood it in the first place.

And now the hyena female has killed her sister. As soon as they can, hyena cubs will try to kill each other. From the moment of birth, the firstborn or more dominant has an inherent aggressive drive to kill its nearest competitor. It is genetic selection. Hyenas are the only mammal known to carry out this kind of fratricide. Mothers don’t usually intervene.

"Darling, have you seen your sister?"

We watched the cute hyena pup munch on her sister. Suggesting popcorn at this point seemed ill-timed. “Are you okay with this?” I asked LM.

“Yeah,” he said. “Don’t turn it off!” He didn’t care what it was, as long as it was on a t.v. screen that he was being allowed to watch. “I’m okay, I’m fine.”

We watched the lioness give birth. We watched the cubs die. We watched the hyenas eat the cubs.

I snapped off the set at the halfway point, resolved to return to my vegetarian state. “Time for bed!”

“Can we finish it tomorrow?” LM asked. “Please?”

“We’ll see,” I answered, one of the many utterances I’ve been astonished to hear myself say, but it covers a lot of bases and thus is temptingly handy. I’m more astonished that LM usually accepts it.

Alone the next day, I screened the second half. I watched the fratricidal hyena pup witness her mother’s violent death. I watched the baby hyena become ostracized from her clan and have no family, no home. I watched the young lioness who’d lost her cubs watch her mother be killed by enemy lions and eaten by hyenas.

It wasn’t always easy for us to witness the struggles for life, but at the end of it all perhaps we came to know more about ourselves and the struggles that rage within our own savage souls. Creatures of instinct, helpless to change their destiny…

“Can we watch the rest of the DVD tonight?” LM asked as soon as I picked him up.

“Oh, honey, I’m sorry, it was overdue,” I lied. “I had to return it to the library today.”

We didn’t need a hyena DVD to learn about struggles and savage souls. And if my instinct tells me to lie to protect my young, then so be it. So far instinct has served us pretty well with the Little Monster, and we have to believe that LM has the power to change his destiny. Hopefully he’ll have the last laugh at this dog-eat-dog world. But until then, we’ll stick with Partridges and pear trees, not hyenas with bare wee wees. 

*Thank you for visiting Mock, my Monthly Online Column on Kith and Ken, not to be confused with a Blog, which suggests a degree of frequency that will never be achieved, although my Mock might surpass a monthly post.

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