When my firstborn, Hannah, was about 9 months old I was struck by her primate-ness. The way that she would gesture and cling to me when I carried her and issue forth strings of vowel sounds was more than a little reminiscent of a monkey. I could imagine her holding tight to me while I climbed the treetops, her little fingers never letting go. It is a primate thing, after all, to carry our young around the way we do. You don’t see puppies or calves or bear cubs or baby elephants riding on their mothers’ backs.
Now Hannah is approaching her 5th birthday and she’s not so monkey-like anymore, although I still use ‘Monkey’ as a nickname. But my second child Jacob is 15 months old, and he makes me think of a little chimpanzee. When he dances he has a wide stance and he bobs up and down and makes crazy noises, and it is very ape-like. And when he’s afraid he grabs on to me so strongly that I could not hold him at all and he wouldn’t fall. I am his lifeline in the metaphorical treetops of life, and he knows it.
Of course, I think my children are much cuter than your average monkey, and they always have been. And I also take comfort in knowing that they will outgrow their monkey-ness. But for right now it’s kind of cute. It makes me think of the millions of years of history that are built into each one of us. I marvel at how mothers and babies and families are really just part of an unbroken chain in time, stretching back far beyond my imagination. And yet, here it is, playing out in front of me as my toddler asks me for a cracker in his pre-verbal, howler monkey tones. Ah-ah-ah-ah-AAAAH!
You have to admit, the similarities are sort of compelling. In fact, they’re so obvious that many businesses targeted toward children use the word monkey in their name. There are clothing lines, diapers, daycares, indoor playgrounds, stores, toys and more that use the word. And monkey images are popular, too, with the most obvious and successful being the entire Curious George franchise. People like monkeys, and they kind of remind us of our children.