Adoption. Single moms. Single dads. Working parents. Foster parents. Multigenerational homes. Vegan families.
These are topics we make an effort to cover in Parenting. With a tagline like “modern families, fresh ideas,” it’s important that families of all shapes and sizes see themselves in our pages. And it’s not just us covering the non-nuclear beat. Go to your favorite news website right now, and you’ll see a story about a not-your-average family. (“I found my sperm donor on Twitter!” “Our octuplets vaccinate themselves!” “My ex-husband is my son’s friend’s new stepdad!”) But all us media outlets have been outdone by the Swiffer-ed, Febreze-ed home of squeaky clean family entertainment: Disney. The Mouse has captured all the storylines stated at the outset of this post in one 80-minute flick.
Chimpanzee is the new Disneynature documentary that follows a tribe of chimps living in Cote d'Ivorie rainforest in West Africa. Narrated by Tim Allen, the movie centers around Oscar, a baby chimp being raised by his single mom Eesha. They are vegan, living mostly on nuts, figs and fruit (unless you count that monkey they devoured like rugby players attacking a Bloomin’ Onion). After Eesha gets caught up in a melee between chimp tribes, and is left to die in an intense wet season downpour, Oscar is on his own. But it’s not long before he’s adopted by Freddy, the tribe’s leader. Freddy is no spring chimp: grizzled and grey-bearded, Freddy has prominent scars on his face and ears; his right eye a milky glaucomaed moon. Early in the film, Freddy could not be bothered by the tribe’s youngest members (typical of a bachelor). But after Oscar is orphaned, Freddy takes him under his wing. He teaches Oscar how to crack nuts. He grooms Oscar, examining his skin and looking for blemishes. In the most affecting scene, Freddy lets the little one climb on his back for a ride through the forest, a special perk once provided by his mother.
Watching these animals--brown eyes blinking with cool indifference; lazily scratching their faces and rib cages; arguing, commiserating, and fighting amongst themselves--it’s easy to see how chimps and humans share 96 percent of the same DNA. But what struck me the most about Chimpanzee was how natural these quote-unquote "non-traditional" storylines were. The eye-opening, diverse, and foreign family situations we make newsworthy are simply part of the organic evolution of life in this remote rainforest. For us humans, adoption and single parenthood are a cause for celebration, debate, and controversy. They are cause for Parenting to dispatch writers and photographers. For the chimpanzees, it’s just, you know, like, what they do. These animals teach us that no matter where we are, living in a crowded megapolis or an evergreen thicket where few humans have step foot, adaptation is not only how you survive, but thrive.
Forget about getting sperm via Tweet, or powering your baby monitor with solar panels. The most modern family in the world lives in Africa, and isn’t even human.