Why Baby Gorillas Don’t Need Ritalin

By Eda LeShan

mother and baby gorillaRecently I visited The Congo, a very special nursery at the Bronx Zoo that is home to four two-year-old baby gorillas. They were surrounded by two gentle, attentive mothers and one very large father.

All four of the babies rushed toward the place where I sat, gazing at me with great big black eyes. I decided they must know I’d once been a nursery school teacher, because they wanted my attention and were showing off, romping, teasing, and playing games with each other. And after dashing around, bumping into each other, they would come back to watch me.

I told them they were adorable, which they seemed to appreciate, and after about half an hour they got tired of their games and took a nap, all rolled up together. As soon as they fell asleep, the two mothers moved closer to watch over them.

As I watched I thought to myself, “These babies are happier than most human two year olds.” Nobody was trying to teach them anything, except by example. None of them seemed the least bit concerned about which one was smarter. There was no feeding schedule; when they felt like it, they grabbed a stalk of celery or some lettuce, always available. And when they were tired they went to sleep, with no adult telling them it was time.

Gorillas, it was clear, live in a natural, comfortable world with no demands for performance, for achievement. Their lives seemed to include only one regulation: At night they were led to a “bedroom environment,” where they had their big meal of the day before going to sleep. They were only given food they loved, not asked to experiment. No brushing of teeth, no saying the alphabet, no watching TV.

It had been a long walk to get to The Congo, and we hadn’t known exactly where to find it, so at first I had felt somewhat stressed out. After just a few minutes of watching these darling babies, I realized I was feeling wonderful. A natural habitat for gorillas is without pressures of any kind. The youngsters were being exactly what they were meant to be–no “attention deficit,” no anxiety, no bursts of hostility, no loneliness, not shy or withdrawn, apparently enjoying their lives to the fullest. “Thank God,” I thought, “nobody will stuff them with Ritalin.”

Of course baby gorillas don’t face any of the tasks of their human counterparts; they don’t have to count or read or get anywhere on time. But it occurred to me that being allowed a couple of years of simple joys and few demands, doing what comes naturally, might be the only prescription necessary for developing the strength to endure the human condition.

Eda LeShan lives in Riverdale , New York . She is a family counselor and the author of over 25 books for adults and children, including When Your Child Drives You Crazy and It’s Better To Be Over the Hill than Under It.

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