Animals and children have brilliantly simple bullshit detection abilities.
Sometimes I don’t even realize I’ve lost reception. My niece Ashlyn sees right through it and calls my bluff to the best of her two-year-old capacity. If I have the overwhelming urge to grab and hug her, smother her with kisses but feel shy about being the quintessential overbearing aunt and instead wiggle her big toe while making a goofy sound…“NO!” she tells me when she’s awake and full of energy. If she’s still in her quiet waking moments, she won’t even look at me, but will slowly, with finality, pull her foot back and tuck it underneath her without so much as blinking her gaze from whatever she’s watching.
My cat Bizco is like that too. Sometimes he’ll come lie close to us on the sofa, all four paws snuggled beneath him. On occasion, he’ll permit us to gently stroke his head. He might even purr. Sometimes, out of nowhere though, he’ll turn around and sink his teeth in to an arm or hand. For a long time, I wondered if there were places on his body that Bizco felt ticklish or didn’t want to be touched. I paid closer attention to not go near his ears or on his belly and pet his head more cautiously. He bit more frequently then, and sooner.
What I’ve figured out is that, more than where you pet Bizco, or even when or for how long, it’s how you pet him that’s important. It needs to be 100% sincere and authentic or he calls you on it. Bizco’s bite is his no bullshit policy.
My second niece was born last week. We’ve all been awaiting her birth with excited anticipation, but as eager as we were to meet her, we were all feeling nervous about how big sister Ashlyn was going to receive her. During the past few months, we’ve all done our best to warm her to the idea, giving her baby dolls to pretend with and trying to explain to her what was going on inside mommy’s belly. “NO!” was her response to every reference to her growing little sister. Not angry or frightened—adamant.
“Baby,” she would tell us pointing at her own chest.
When we showed Ashlyn pictures of her mom holding the little one at the hospital, “NO!” was all she said with a scowl.
Within seconds of meeting her tiny new sister, Ashlyn asked to hold her and sat cradling the new baby to her little body, rubbing her cheek back and forth against the velvety newborn skin of her face.
“Baby!” she kept telling us all with adoration and love.
Infants and animals are so sensitive, so receptive. They’re clear. They don’t have that chattering, nonsense-thinking mind interfering with their connection to truth. It’s like the more we think we figure out in life from learning the alphabet to understanding all the cycles between birth and death, the more confused we become.
Life is so much simpler than we make it as adults, as humans. There’s true and there’s false. It’s really that simple. How do we know which is which?
We just do. It feels right. But we have to be tuned in, with antennae fully extended.