Bananas, Blondes and Butterflies

I’ve been told that, in the future, due to the inevitable pulls of evolution and deforestation, humankind will have to live without blondes — and bananas. Apart from the loss of trees, I’m thinking, “No Great Loss”. I’m not sure there are any real blondes left anyway. A makeup artist once referred to my hair as “dishwater” blonde, but it’s more dishwater than blonde, frankly. And it’s hard to miss bananas when I always seem to have some green ones turning brown on top of the fridge.

My kids and I were discussing this yesterday morning while they ignored their workbooks and the baby took a bath in the kitchen sink. We all agreed that the human race should be the color of toast — a nice monochromatic species might solve a lot of problems, but there was some difference of opinion when it came to bananas.

“What’ll monkeys eat?” asked Wyatt.

“Mangoes,” said Ryder.

“Oh. Okay, then.”

That settled, we moved on to the disappearance of frogs from lakes, ponds, and wetlands, fragile organisms and ecosystems that they are, and the disquieting number of flies in our courtyard. Wyatt supposed the two might be related:

“Well, if there were more frogs, we’d have fewer flies, right?”

“I guess if there were more frogs in our courtyard we’d have fewer flies. Also? If we didn’t keep our garbage cans out there.”

“And butterflies,” said the baby helpfully, blowing bubbles off of his palm.

Last week, Billy sent me a NY Times article about “mirror neurons” an idea that may explain the tendency we humans have to physically relate to one another’s emotional state – a kind of cellular-resonance. It’s both infuriating and touching to Billy and me that we can be so moved by each other that it creates an ongoing dynamic tension between us that is unseen and unexpressed yet it overshadows everything else we’ve got going on. That article helped to explain the phenomenon a bit.

I tried to introduce this topic into the kitchen/sink-bath discussion because I wanted to hear what the kids had to say about it. In my experience, they can be almost freakishly engaged in sensory input with which adults have long-ago lost touch. No such luck this time, however.

“Humans can’t do that,” said Wyatt, the junior naturalist, angrily. “Humans don’t care about each other. Humans don’t care about anything but making pollution.”

“Now, wait a minute honey,” I cooed ineffectively. “Lots of humans like…dolphins.”

He glared at me. “It’s our fault those monkeys won’t have any bananas.”

“They’d be happy enough with mangoes anyway,” said Ryder.

“How do you know?” demanded Wyatt.

“How do you know they wouldn’t?”

I tried to reign them in, “Okay, okay. Let’s start over. If nothing else, we can agree that humans are a social species and as a result, biologically dependent upon each other, right?”

“Right,” answered Ryder.

Wyatt thought for a minute, “That’s basically true, I guess.”

“So all I’m saying is, there’s this theory about just how deep this social tendency goes. Could it exist it at a cellular level?”

“No,” said Wyatt.

“That was a rhetorical question, Wy,” said Ryder.

“Well, think about it. I depend on you for my happiness.” I said. “And your brothers and Daddy. I can only assume you depend on us for your happiness.”

“I only depend on people I know really, really well,” said Wyatt.

“I think maybe mirror neurons work the same way,” I answered. “After all, it wouldn’t work for you to be dependent, emotionally or otherwise, on a guy who’d pollute wetlands or take bananas away from monkeys.”

“It’d work for me to hit him.”

“Yeah, well, be that as it may…” I pressed on, “Why do you suppose you draw on those little note pads they leave out on the nightstands in hotels?”


Wyatt is a master of this crazy thing: he can make something appear on a piece of paper in every single hotel room we stay in without anyone seeing him do it. That’s cool enough, but what he puts there is even cooler. Poems, drawings, sometimes just one word—my bookmark is a page from a Travelodge memo pad with the word “wieners” written on it.

“I think that’s the most social thing you do and you do it every night we stay in a hotel. I know you pretty well and I think for you to act in a social way, the need would have to come from a pretty basic place – like your cells maybe?”

“Maybe I do it for me,” he said stubbornly, but I could tell he was thinking.

“Then why do you leave it out? Why don’t you just shove it in your pocket?”

He grinned, “’Cause pajamas don’t have pockets?”

Just then, the baby looked over from the sink, “Who depends on butterflies?” he asked.

Posted in: words on October 20, 2006