|My actual daughter, feeding an actual giraffe|
When they returned, they faced all the problems families normally do when giraffes follow them home. The giraffe cleaned the leaves off of all the trees in a few days, then had nothing to eat. The giraffe wanted to follow the girl to the park, but animals weren’t allowed. The family cat’s tail puffed up to twice its size and never went back down. The giraffe wanted to contribute, but it couldn’t work the lawnmower, or the dishwasher. One day, it nudged the windows to all the upstairs bedrooms open, found a brush and roller, and repainted all the walls. The family appreciated the thought, but the yellow it chose was the dad’s fifth favorite color, the mom’s fourth, and the brother’s third to last. The girl liked yellow second best, but she would have preferred pink. The family said thank you to the giraffe many times, but it knew they didn’t mean it.
|Recreation of a giraffe lunch|
In most giraffe stories, this would be where the girl says goodbye to the giraffe, maybe with a tear or two, and it walks back to the zoo. Maybe a few years later, the family comes back to the zoo, and the girl is older and she doesn’t care about giraffes anymore, but when she sees the giraffe that repainted her room she remembers what it was like to be a little kid for a moment, and she gives the giraffe a big hug, much bigger than when she said goodbye all those years ago. That’s a sweet ending.
But this giraffe story ends a little different. On the night before the girl’s first day of kindergarten, she walked out to the back yard, after she put on her pajamas, but before she brushed her teeth. The giraffe laid in the yard, and she patted its neck, and it lifted its head to face her, trying hard to look happy, but the girl could still tell how it actually felt.
“You’re not very happy, are you?” asked the girl.
The giraffe shook its head, as if to say, “No I’m not.”
“I know you’re bored, and I know you feel out of place.” The girl scratched the giraffe’s neck. “But I think the real reason you’re unhappy is because all anyone focuses on is how tall you are.”
The giraffe squinted and looked up at the fading sunlight, as if it was unsure if that was the real reason, or as if it had never thought about it.
|Giraffe and five-year-old, to scale|
The little girl paused. “There are a lot of other good things about you.”
The giraffe shrugged.
“You can paint really well. You take really nice pictures.”
The giraffe tilted its head, as if to say, “Thanks, that’s nice of you, but that doesn’t change anything.”
“You’re a great friend. You followed us the whole way home from the zoo. And you’re so caring. You really wanted to help the family out, and I think you did a good job.”
The giraffe licked the girl’s cheek with its impossibly long tongue, and she giggled.
“Stop it,” she said. “You should know that people will like you for whatever you want them to. If you want them to like you for your painting, you just have to paint some amazing pictures. If you want them to like you for your photographs, all you have to do is take incredible photos.”
The giraffe tilted its head, the other way this time.
“If you want them to like you because you’re such a good friend, you don’t have to do anything. Because you’re already a great friend, and that’s why I like you.”
Giraffes have a terrible time hugging little girls, but it did the best it could, and the girl hugged back as hard as she could.