Rambutan are a tropical fruit. They have a reddish brown skin with spines on it; the inside, which is the edible part, is whitish and mildly sweet, reminiscent of grapes. The kids had them for the first time last fall, when the grocery store down the street from us had them in stock. They like to try anything new and the unusual appearance of the rambutan caught their eyes. They liked them and so we continued to buy a bagful every time we went grocery shopping, until the season ended after a month or so. A few days ago, we found that they were for sale again and bought some.
If I had been thinking about fruit when Duncan asked his question, I might have understood what he meant, but I wasn’t and so when he came to me, seemingly completely out of the blue, and asked, “Mommy, can I have an orangutan?” I naturally assumed he meant the great ape.
“Uh… sure,” I said and then mimed coaxing an invisible orangutan down from the top of the bookshelf and handing it over, with some struggle, to Duncan. I am not a skilled mime but kids usually appreciate me making a fool out of myself in this way. This time, Duncan just stared at me without laughing. He didn’t reach for the imaginary orangutan. “Here, Duncan,” I said, “here’s your orangutan. Here, you better take her before she scampers off again!”
“No, Mommy,” he said, shaking his head, “I want a real one. A real orangutan, not invisible.”
“Duncan, I’m sorry, but you can’t have a real orangutan.”
“Why? That’s not fair!” He seemed genuinely surprised and hurt, but then again, he has been asking for a pet hippo for years– a real one– so this was not out of character for him.
“Honey, it is fair. You cannot have an orangutan.”
“But Wyatt got one!”
“Wyatt got one? What are you talking about? Wait… do you mean ‘Bump Monkey’?
Bump Monkey is a large stuffed monkey that Wyatt got for his first Christmas and still sleeps with every night.
“Because first of all, Duncan,” I continued, “you have ‘Li-Li’ [a stuffed lion] and Wyatt has ‘Bump Monkey’. That’s fair. They may be different animals, but you each have one friend to snuggle with, okay?”
Duncan cocked his head to the side as if he did not quite know how to reason with this mommy logic.
“And secondly, Duncan, you might not realize this, but orangutans aren’t actually monkeys.”
“Mommy, I already know that!”
“Oh, good! I’m proud you know the difference!” I said.
Duncan was looking at me like I had grown a second head.
“Hey, Dunk, you know an easy way to tell that orangutans aren’t monkeys?”
He appeared totally perplexed and not about to speak, so I blazed on.
“Monkeys have tails!” I gave that thought a moment to settle in, nodding my head and smiling, eyebrows raised as if to say, Now isn’t that something? And then I shook my head to prompt his correct response for the next part: “And orangutans don’t have tails, do they, Duncan?”
“So, you see? Not monkeys.”
“So… I can have one?”
“Duncan, people aren’t allowed to keep orangutans as pets!”
“No, I don’t want to keep it, Mommy. I want to eat it.”
“Yeah, I want to eat an orangutan.”
“What? Why?! I thought you wanted to be a vegetarian, like me!”
“Orangutans aren’t vegetarian?”
“No! They are real, live animals.”
“Yes, of course! How do you think they go swinging through the trees?”
“They can move?”
“Yes!” I said.
“But.. but… why’d you eat one before then?”
“Duncan, I promise you, I have never in my life eaten an orangutan. Even before I became a vegetarian, I didn’t eat orangutans.”
“Wyatt eats them.”
“No, he doesn’t!”
“Yes, he does, too! He loves orangutans. I saw you put one in his lunchbox.”
This was such a surprising statement that I burst into laughter. “You saw me put an orangutan in Wyatt’s lunchbox?” I could barely breathe for laughing at the idea of stuffing an orangutan into his lunchbox.
“Yes. I think you put two in! And you won’t let me have even one. That’s not fair!”
“Duncan,” I said, still laughing, “nobody eats orangutans! They’re great apes; primates, like us. We don’t eat them.”
“Then why’d we buy them at the grocery store?”
“Why’d we get all those orangutans at the grocery store?”
“Ohhhhh….” I said, looking at Duncan and realizing how bizarre it must be for him to have me as a mother sometimes. “You don’t perchance mean rambutan, do you?”
“Oh, yeah! I mean, I want to eat an orambutan!”