What capybaras taught me about parenting


My kids love visiting the zoo, and they especially love visiting the capybaras. Capybaras look like oversized guinea pigs, and they seem to spend much of their time munching grass and napping. My kids want you to know some things they learned about capybaras that absolutely blew their minds:

  • They’re the largest living rodent in the world
  • They have three toes on their back feet and four toes on their front feet
  • They eat their own poo (for digestive reasons, apparently, although my kids don’t care about that so much as they care about the poo-eating thing)

That’s basically all you need to know about capybaras, according to my children. That, and they are the favourite meal of anacondas. Fortunately there are no anacondas in New Zealand, so the capybaras can munch grass and nap without fear.

The reason my kids like visiting the capybaras at the zoo, besides the ever-present possibility that the capybaras might eat their own poo right in front of zoo visitors even though that’s never happened on our watch (much to my children’s disappointment), is that they share their habitat with the squirrel monkeys. And the squirrel monkeys like to ride around on the capybaras’ backs.

If you’ve never seen a capybara with a squirrel monkey on its back, you may be able to relate to this scenario: Imagine you’re at home, sitting peacefully, perhaps drinking a cuppa and flicking through the pages of a magazine, when SUDDENLY, seemingly out of nowhere, there’s a kid clinging to your neck or trying to sit on your lap or generally hanging from one of your limbs, perhaps messily eating a snack and dropping food all over your clean clothing. That, my fellow parents, is what we have in common with capybaras.

Last time we were at the zoo, while my kids were laughing maniacally at the squirrel monkeys leaping from the trees onto the capybaras and then back up into the trees, over and over again, I noticed that the capybaras were pretty chilled out about the whole thing. They just kept on munching grass, even though the squirrel monkeys were literally jumping on their backs the whole time. They didn’t even flinch.

Maybe there’s a lesson to be learned from the capybaras. You’re minding your own business, and suddenly, there’s a monkey on your back. That’s parenthood all over, really. But what if I sit and drink my cup of tea, even if the baby is busily squashing cracker crumbs into my jumper? What if I finish reading that magazine article even when the big kids are begging to be taken to the park to ride their scooters? What if I claim one more moment for myself instead of aborting mission and turning all of my attention to dealing with the monkeys?

“Just one moment to myself,” I find myself fervently wishing on most days. But if there’s no moment to myself to be had (and with children, moments to myself are almost impossible), maybe next time I’ll just try to be IN the moment, whatever that means. Keep munching my grass and let the monkey be for a bit, like my friend the capybara.

Katherine Granich

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