With crispy fall mornings becoming more frequent, I looked back over our summer vacation with a sense of incompletion. Our three months of warmth flew by filled with activities, appointments, and agendas yet nothing really stood out as a memorable experience. Having a family full of young children leaves us fairly limited in what we can do, or rather what we care to even attempt to do, but our children deserve a few good summer memories—even if it kills me and my husband Brian in the process.
Last year Brian and I visited the Columbus Zoo for our anniversary. It was a much needed weekend away from the children, but all we could think about while we were there amongst the lions and elephants were our little monkeys at home and how much they would surely enjoy the sights we were seeing. And so we decided that we were going to stop talking about wanting to do it, and actually, well, do it.
With all five children.
Our first mistake was informing the children of our plans before we had a concrete date in mind. It would require a day where we had a little extra cash on hand, a week day that Brian was able to take off of work to avoid the weekend crowds and a day with good weather—not hot enough to create cranky kids but also not rainy enough to make soggy ones. For weeks on end I spent my mornings answering the question “are we going to the zoo today?” as each set of eyes popped open. And each day I battled the groans and whines when I didn’t give them the answer they had hoped for.
Finally the big day arrived. It was a gorgeous Friday, the weather was perfect, the crowds were thin and a fresh week’s pay was burning a hole in our pocket. In an effort to keep the cost lower than a mortgage payment we packed our own lunches into a cooler and filled a backpack full of snacks and water. A little more work, sure, but far preferable to buying overpriced hamburgers from the Safari Shack to feed seven hungry zoo explorers. We packed up the car and began the three-and-a-half-hour road trip to get us to our destination.
Once we arrived at the zoo gates we horrified to realize that it was going to cost nearly $75 just to get us all of us into the zoo. So much for a low cost alternative to amusement parks! But we quickly discovered that for a few dollars more we could buy a family membership that would get all seven of us in free for a year—definitely a better value. Score one for the large family.
Within moments of entering the zoo the first shriek of delight rang out. “I see an animal! I see an animal!” The rest of my kids gathered around and ooh’d and ahh’d at the amazing creature before them. They were so thrilled and excited by the whole zoo experience that I almost didn’t have the heart to tell them that a squirrel perched on a garbage can was not what we were there to see.
We made it to the first set of exhibits, only to find that most of the animals were fast asleep and tucked away in makeshift logs, presumably to hide from the sun and the slew of gawkers intruding into their homes. We spent the first half hour of our day playing “spot the little fuzzy sleeping ball” in various forest scenes, but the kids didn’t seem to lose any enthusiasm. They clapped and squealed upon spotting each obscure brownish critter in the “
North America” wing of the park. It
wasn’t until we came to the bears that the children were able to come face to
face with something they immediately recognized. The polar bear was
impressively large and the thick glass allowed us to get nice and close to the
massive beast. The children were awestruck as the bears snout fogged up the
glass inches from their face and shook with delight when we took them
downstairs to actually walk underneath him. It was then that the thrill of the
zoo kicked into high gear.
We walked from continent to continent, exhibit to exhibit with Lacey riding calmly in her stroller and the older kids walking obediently by our side. With each new animal we visited whether beast, fish or fowl, my kids each reacted the same way. Tony ran ahead of us yelling cool!, Brileigh said aww, it’s so cute!, and Lacey said dats Ozzy!—because in her mind an animal of any shape or size is named “Ozzy,” like our dog. Ainsley and Delaney were equally as enthralled—at first. But it didn’t take long for their attention spans to wander to more enticing and expensive thrills such as face painting and cotton candy.
We stopped briefly at a picnic table to refuel with a snack and rest our weary legs when a rabbit hopped out of the bushes nearby to inspect our goodies. Obviously used to the zoo crowds, he hopped right up to us, less than arms length away, and wiggled his nose at some dropped crumbs under the table. A collective gasp was the last thing I heard before the droppings hit the fan.
“AHHHHH!!! IT’S A BUNNY!!!! Mom this zoo has BUNNIES!!!! LOOK, LOOK, LOOK!!!!!”
I tried to explain that this was just a regular bunny that happened to be hanging out inside the zoo perimeters; he wasn’t any sort of exotic zoo-sanctioned Japanese Red-tailed Bog Hair or anything, just a regular old long-eared hippity-hop trying to nosh on our grub. But my explanations fell on deaf ears as my slew of children swarmed the brave bunny and plotted ways to snare him and steal him away in our back pack. Luckily this bunny must have had a sixth sense about impending danger because he quickly hopped back off towards the tiger display where he was undoubtedly safer.
The next exhibit along our route was the reptile house, most definitely my least favorite part of the zoo. Like most other squealy, prissy, pink-coated girly-girls, I do not appreciate things that slither. In fact I’m not particularly fond of any animal that doesn’t posses fur and cock it’s head to the side when I talk to it. But my husband is a reptile lover and I would hate for my fears to be passed on to my children, so I painted on a brave face and entered my own personal tomb of terror. Immediately we were greeted by a woman seated with a small snake wrapped around her hands. Oh boy. Resisting my urge to throw the children out of my way and bolt out the door I ushered my poor sweet vulnerable babies into the line to—gulp—pet the snake. To my surprise they each rubbed their fingers over the vile thing as calmly as if they were petting a kitten. Even little Lacey reached up without hesitation. And in that moment I think she decided that snakes were her most favoritest thing in the world, because she spent the remainder of her time in the reptile house running from window to window trying to grab each slithery serpent through the glass. It wasn’t until a particularly active iguana lured her little face close and flicked his tongue at her unexpectedly that she finally crawled back into the safety of her stroller.
As the day grew longer the toddlers’ attention spans grew shorter. Delaney was the first and only child to get reprimanded and sequestered to the stroller after throwing herself down on the ground and refusing to budge. It wasn’t until she fell asleep moments later that we realized the countdown clock on our little bombs had been set and it was only a matter of time before all of the children were writhing piles of whininess destined to be dragged out of the park under our arms. We decided to skip “
and head back to the car a little early; the kangaroos would have to wait until
next time. Australia
On our way out we stopped at the gift shop and allowed each child to pick out a small stuffed animal to bring home, a reward for toughing out an enjoyable but lengthy day with surprising smoothness. There were three large shelves of various animals to chose from so Brian and I stepped aside to watch their decision making process in action. Tony, with his ever burning desire to assert his masculinity in a house full of females, decided to the most manly animal of the selection was the wolf. I’m not sure exactly what criteria he used to come to this conclusion but I wasn’t about to argue with his choice. Brileigh, agonized the longest over the decision, touching each and every animal to find the one with the softest, cuddliest fur; in the end this was apparently a panda bear although I couldn’t quite feel the difference myself. Ainsley was immediately drawn to this small, reddish little animal with a long complicated name on its tag. For whatever reason, it was the first animal she chose and she immediately fell in love with it without giving the others a second glance. Delaney pondered over a few choices before putting them all back and selecting a bright blue sparkly frog with long arms and legs that she insists is a monkey. At barely two, Lacey’s idea of making a choice was gathering up as many animals into her arms as she could fit and then crying pitifully when I took them away. In the end I chose an adorable little elephant for her that she named Elmo.
Hmm… and maybe not.
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