"I was born lucky to a truly amazing mother," begins Dr. Jane Goodall at tonight's lecture put on by BurlingtonGreen.
"Mother had a big influence."
Goodall recalls going to bed with earth worms at age 2.5 years old and her mother telling her they would die because they needed the earth to live and she bursting into tears.
When she was 5, she visited a farm with her mother (they lived in London). She was so curious about how hens laid eggs and kept asking people where the eggs came from. Not getting a satisfactory answer, she remembers hiding in the barn and then "waiting and waiting and waiting for a hen to come and lay an egg."
Her mother could have yelled at her for having caused everyone so much concern and fear searching for her hours on end, "possibly killing the excitement and interest,” but instead mother sat down with her and listened to her tell her story about what she’d learned in that barn.
Books were important. They couldn’t afford a bike let alone books but her mother read to her and she gave her Dr. Dolittle books which was how she learned to read, "because I was so deeply interested." Between 10 and 11 she found 'Tarzan of the Apes' in a used book store (she still has it) and read it over and over.
“That started the dream of going to Africa, living with the animals and writing books," Goodall shared.
Again, it was her mother who supported her (this at a time when she was the ‘wrong sex,’ as girls were not encouraged to dream big). While other people scoffed at her, laughed at her saying, ‘Set your sights on something attainable," her mother said, “Work hard, never give up and you will find a way.”
She adviced Jane to do do secretarial work and save her money because they couldn’t afford university. Turns out that being a secretary for a documentary films in London worked to her advantage. When an old school friend invited her to go to Kenya, she was introduced to archaeologist Louis Leakey,curator at the Natural History Museum. This lead to him offering her a secretarial job because he was so impressed with her knowledge and passion on the subject of animals.
Eventually, Leakey offered her the opportunity to study chimps. She said yes immediately. Her dream had come true. She was young, untrained but an American business man gave some dollars towards a six month trial. The stipulations were such that she had to have a companion and who was it who came with her? Her mother (who bore up under all the tough conditions-including snakes and spiders!!).
When Goodall was desperate because the chimps, never having seen a "white chimp" kept running off so that she couldn’t study them, her mother boosted her morale. Mother pointed out all that she was actually learning a lot: how they move, what plants they were feeding on, how they made their sleeping platform etc.
Goodall says it was really sad that her mother left before the break through with the chimp using the twig as a tool to get a the ants; stripping the leave so as to modify a tool.
She talks about how how studying the chimps she learned that they were very much like humans.
She found that there were good mothers and not so good mothers. The mothers who were attentive, not overly tolerant, affectionate and playful and most importantly supportive, had offspring who would grow up to play more prominent roles in society. In contrast, the off spring of ‘bad’ mothers were tense, and nervous in the community so the key feature to Goodall's mind was that of support.
As in the case of the chimps, so in her case: “My mother supported me.”
More insights (not related to mothering):
Jane talked about Leaky saying she had to get her own money as he wouldn’t always be around and to do so. She needed to get at PhD. “No time to mess about with a Bachelors degree," said he, so she went straight to Cambridge where she was told she was doing it all wrong; "You weren’t supposed to name the chimps, etc etc."
Jane had many other insights and stories she shared with the audience. She spoke about her Damascus moment in 1986 when at a conference she was so moved by the presentations she came as a scientist and left as an activist. Still passionate about saving the chimps she realized that it was all interrelated-Africans living in poverty,deforestation, resource extraction. "How can we try to save the chimps when people are so desperate?" she asked herself.
Her strategy? Asking the question, "What do you feel will make your lives better?" From there, answers and results started to emerge that addressed all these issues including saving the chimps.
The presentation was heartening as she talked about her successful involvement with youth through the roots and shoots program that she’s established and the Jane Goodall Institute.