What? A rite of passage? Which one? Graduation, marriage, birth, death, adoption finalization, first steps, first tooth….what?
The zoo, of course! Going to the zoo is a mini rite of passage for a kid, specifically an American kid. Some might argue this, but really, I think we can agree that it’s a kid marker, a kid commonality….more, it’s family bonding.
The zoo. You go with your family when you’re little, with the school on the bus when you’re bigger, you’re dragged there on family vacations and outings when you’re a teen, and then you start the cycle all over again with your own new little family. Right? Well, maybe for a few zoophobics its not. But still. For most of us, the zoo is treasured memories and stories. It’s boxes and boxes of old kodak snapshots; all looking mostly identical – yellowing blurred shots of us near some big trees that have monkeys in them, somewhere, standing awkwardly waving with bad hair and ill fitting shorts (ok, maybe that’s just me).
So, for one reason or another fifty, we hadn’t yet made it to our local zoo for Gabey or Marta. Let’s rephrase that to be more shockingly precise: Gabe has been home almost four years and Marta is at two and half, and they had not been to the zoo. Mom fail. Yes. We are the slacker parents of all time. I know. My
pitiful excuse defense: the weather is wonky here, either freaky freezing cold or hellishly sticky muggy humid hot AND we spend our days dealing with many kid behaviors and issues, not to mention juggling schedules like a circus clown.
Anyhow, if the weather is good (on those two to three days a year of weather perfection), I love going to our little zoo. It’s just the right size, not too big to be overwhelming, not so small as to be a joke. It’s a friendly little place, with a fantastic playground area to collapse and the let smalls get the last dregs of their energy out so that they will be happily exhausted for the rest of the day. And so, on Tuesday, all the planets aligned and the day was perfect. It was spring break, the weather was going to be in the high 70’s and sunny…it was the perfect day (In four years!) for the zoo. And so we went.
It was just me and the youngest five. I packed a picnic lunch and we all set off for the longish drive to the zoo. They were very excited. Marta wasn’t entirely clear on how it would be…but she was game to try (which is a huge deal for a hyper-vigilent kid). As we piled out of the car, grabbed the old stroller to carry our gear (and occasionally Gabe, who knows a good deal when he sees it) we could hear the whoops and hoots of both the Gibbons and the parrots and I’m not sure what all else…but it was a minor racket. I looked at the kids and grinned. Marta’s eyes were big, “What is that? Loud!”, she said. I laughed, the girls laughed. The little boys speculated about dinosaurs. I said, “You’ll see!” Gabey was just pulling us along as quick as he was able, in a rush to go see the monkeys.
We saw the monkeys. Marta was most impressed with their feet being like hands, we saw beautiful tigers and leopards, cool zebras, scary alligators, scary snakes, weird frogs, cool camels, pet a goat, pinched noses (my city boy) and laughed at the “wild” smells and marveled over the bizarro but beautifully pink flamingos.
Best of all we saw the “Very big!” elephants and the “Very tall, so cute” giraffes. We even saw a few babies: with the leopards and the giraffes. We had an easy happy picnic lunch in the shade, we lifted our faces to the sun as we walked.
Then, for another classic thrill, we got tokens to ride the carousel. Oh the thrill of even picking out which animal to ride as they waited. Then the fun of scampering on to claim the chosen beast (Sweet dear Emmy sacrificing her choice of dolphin to stay close to help Gabe, even without being asked. What a girl!). The whirling ride got face splitting grins out of all, even our toughest customers.
So, totally worth those pricey tokens.
After the twirling thrills of the carousel (Can you say double win?: Vestibular therapy motion too, score! It’s occupational therapy!) we headed to the playground to close the visit. I sat in the partial shade while I watched my kidletts run and rampage over and around, under and through the twists and turns of this huge crowded playground. There were ramps to ascend and tunnels to slide and rope bridges to climb, nooks and crannies to explore. Marta didn’t last long there, she ventured forth and then came back quickly to sit with me in the sun. Gabe ended up choosing to swing for a bit, helped again by my mamacita Em. We finally dragged Little Man out, sweating and happy. The sun was high, we are all getting hot and tired. Perfect. Time to go home.
But first, no premier trip to the zoo should be complete without that last final classic treat: the slurp of a soft serve swirly ice cream cone. And so, we did.
It was a very good day.