Chimp Colony

Arun was causing merry hell. I watched as he got up from the table and giggling manically started throwing crayons around the conservatory.

Hannah, the babysitter that he was playing up, spied me out of the corner of her eye and arched her eyebrows at me as if to say, “Well, what should I do?”


Arun was oblivious to my presence and carried on until he turned around and saw me. He stopped dead. “I’m a good boy!” he protested somewhat vainly and very inaccurately. “Sorry daddy.”

He shuffled over to his chair and resumed eating, very meekly, all the time glancing at me to gauge my reaction.

“Don’t worry,” I said to Hannah. “It isn’t anything you’re doing. He’s just going through a phase. He’s testing his boundaries and trying to figure out how far he can push things with different people. It’s not just you, he’s trying his luck with lots of people: the teaching assistants at school, my mum, other babysitters.”

She nodded, “Yeah, I just stay calm and he’ll get over it.”

“There’s a category of people who he knows are there for him, that he feels safe but aren’t authority figures with that he is misbehaving with. There are some people he recognises as authority figures: me, his mum and his school teacher and he‘s perfectly behaved with us.”

My mind wandered to find the right analogy. “It’s a chimp colony. He’s a young male and he’s trying to figure out where he is in the hierarchy. You’ve got to establish that you’re above him. You’re a dominant female. Don’t be afraid to be firm and put him in his place.”

Hannah chuckled and nodded.

I shared the analogy with Clare, my wife later that night. “Oh God! I wish you hadn’t told me that!” she said. “I’ll never get it out of my head. We live in a chimp colony!”

The next day, we were goofing around in the park. Meri started walking like a penguin. Arun watched amused. I hunched my back over, tucked my neck in, bowed my legs and started dragging my knuckles along the floor. They all burst out laughing.

“Just making sure everyone knows who’s the dominant male in this colony,” I grunted.



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