Sunday, June 05, 2005

Zoo Story

My son Ian got into bed with us this morning. It's one of those times of familial perfection that make me think I am posing for a Calvin Klein/Pottery Barn moment of heightened visual emotional love, sanctity and symmetry. Because Ian looks like a cherub that just floated down from a Titian painting, all glowing smooth white angelic baby skin, innocent ruby lips in a heart shaped pout, light blue evanescent eyes and blond shimmering hair that curls up at the ends. Not to wax too rhapsodic or anything. A Titian cherub in Gap pajama shorts with blue spouting whales. The pajamas are so singular to Ian that they will be retired to the Ian Smithsonian, a place where clothes that are so "him" go to be catalogued and preserved forever. Some baby clothes just can't be given over to the second hand store or Value Village. They take on the spirit of the little person and mustn't be bartered or traded.

Yesterday he woke up and said he wanted to go to the zoo. For some reason, I felt that he absolutely must go to the zoo, no matter what. I guess it's because, as he approaches three, his requests are now based on a fond memory of something, he remembers the last time we went and he had a good time, it was something he enjoyed, he really liked, and he wants to do it again. So many things munchkins want to do are just random, demand type things, (this applies directly to Ian--Demand Central), but because this was such a specific desire, not grounded in toddler manipulation, testing or jousting, I wanted to meet it.

Things were not going in our favor. Daisy, baby sister, woke up with a slight fever and a mondo 'tude. My husband was fretting, Eeyore mode--we're doomed, it's too late, we'll never make it--and all the while Ian had that toddler, optimistic beautiful oblivion of "We're going to the zoo!" None of the obstacles or my husband's black anxious cloud were affecting him, and that made me even more determined that we were going to Get to the Zoo. Ian kept repeating things, "Daddy, we're going to the zoo! Daddy? Daddy? We're going to the zoo. Daddy?" And we were running around madly shoving things into the black diaper bag (goes with everything!)--sippies, Ziplock bag of toasted whole wheat pita bread (yum!), diaper wipes. I have to go to the bathroom, my husband shoots me a dark and disapproving stare. Cheerful! Mother Duck is in charge!

My husband and older son Nick opt out of the trip but decide to come with us to CVS so we can buy some Motrin to transfuse into Miss Daisy to knock out the fever and her 'tude for the trip. As we're loading up the car, my husband shakes his head, "By the time you get there, you'll just have to turn around. It's going to be a disaster." But I just keep loading the car. It's going to be great! Car's on empty, pull up to the back of CVS, run in for Motrin, husband and Nick bail, I hastily tip bubble gum flavored Motrin infusion into Daisy's unweildy toddler mouth, she sticks her tongue into the elixir, doesn't drink it, but dallies with it, toys with it, laps it, so that the sugary pink goo slips down her chin onto the 3D flower on her shirt.

My hazards are on, people pull around me, huffy, but they are no competition for Hassled Mommy. We gas up, hit the road, and gently enter the hallowed lush verdant swath of native preserved land known as Rock Creek Park. That's one of the best parts of going to the zoo, driving down from the connected suburb I live in (close in!) and gliding into Rock Creek, which takes us on an uninterrupted journey down a smoothly paved road that gently hugs a meandering creek the entire way.

It's our first real summer day, 75, sunny, with just a hint of the famous Washington humidity in the air (it's not the heat, it's the stupidity!). The closest parking lot is full--hints of foreseen disaster beging to surface--young park worker approaches car, directs us to Parking Lot "C." I am sure this will mean the hinterlands, but it turns out to be OK. We park, ascend the wooden walkway that cleverly leads to the middle of the zoo, right by the Panda Bears. Not that the Panda Bears are there, mind you. They are sort of a phantom exhibit, like many of the "exhibits" at the National Zoo. But it's OK. It is my hometown zoo, it's the only zoo I know and I am very affectionate and protective of it, even if it is probably technically one of the worst zoos in the world. It is still beautiful, tucked as it is, above Rock Creek amid all the abundant, fat green trees of Washington.

We begin the walk up the hill to the elephant park--got to start out with a toddler bang. Everyone can say "elephant," everyone is Very Excited. We get there and the elephants are actually there! Caked in yellow mud, eating..."What are they eating Ian?" "Hay!" "That's right!" Daisy stands up in her stroller. "Do you see the elephants!" She shakes her head and smiles. Next, on to the giraffes! Oh, that "exhibit" seems to be under construction too. No giraffes. Unbelievably, Ian doesn't freak out and we move on. "Do you guys want to see the seals???" "Yes!" I love walking to the seal area, it's down a hill, deep into the wooded landscape, all cool and damp. We come to a very small pond with a couple of rocks in it and Daisy stops stock still, puts down her sippy and says, like Marilyn Monroe, all girly, sultry and reverent, "Woooow." This is why toddlers are fun, because an empty pond is just as exciting as a gigantic Asian elephant. Then we come to two scruffy, bored, depressed, once-majestic eagles. And it's on to my favorite exhibit, the seals and sea lions. We come to Mr. Seal first, who is a crusty, lumpy, misshapen old guy who makes the same diagonal trajectory in the water over and over again. "Ian! Do you see the seal!!!!" Ian stands, against the glass wall overlooking the chlorine pool, and watches the greenish creature with a surface like the moon slice through the water with an unlikely grace. He silently observes the seal. Then he says, "I love him."

We move on to the sea lion who is lying in an alarming sort of dead bloated way on a rock. He langorously raises a fin(?), and that's when I know he's alive. All the strollers are parked in a semicircle around the stone steps of the amphitheatre that surrounds the blue sea lion pool. Daisy walks up to a sparrow on the steps and marvels at it. She turns to look at me, delighted. A sparrow! "Hi birdie!" We swerve up one of the terraced walkways toward the lion's den. Toddlers about Ian's age (I have noticed) have a weird instinctual fear of the big cats. They know they are not fun, fuzzy animals lying harmlessly in the sun. He gets a little apprehensive when I lift him up to observe them. I remember my nephew pulling back the same way. I put Daisy back in the stroller and Ian says, "You ready to go home now, Mommy?" And I say yes. He says, "It's time for lunch. How 'bout macaroni and cheese?" OK. Let's go to the car. And then go home and gloat to Daddy about our lovely outing. "Goodbye lions!!!"

Daisy Posted by Hello

Ian Posted by Hello


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