The boys and I go to the zoo on a semi-regular basis. Sometimes alone, sometimes with friends or extended family.
We began going to the zoo when I was pregnant with Jonathan. James was not quite 2. I remember being weighed down by many bags full of snacks, water, sunglasses, baby sunscreen, a sunhat in case we got scorched, a raincoat in case we got drenched, three changes of clothes, our picnic lunch, diapers, wipes, the camera, jackets, rain ponchos, our special blankie, the first aid kit in case we fell down and scraped our little toddler knee, and anything else we could cram into the stroller.
I remember the albatross of the stroller. Trying to navigate it. I remember the switch to the double stroller after Jonathan came along and knowing that as far as the zoo was concerned, I'd died and gone to hell.
I remember freaking out about the petting zoo because the pygmy goats seemed so germy.
I remember a hundred toddler meltdowns.
Wait. Did I say a hundred?
I meant a hundred and fifty.
Wait. Did I say a hundred and fifty? I meant a hundred and fifty thousand.
I remember the zoo being the place we took James so I could learn how to parent in public. I remember that he slapped my face right there in front of God and everybody because (for the first time) I wouldn't let his 3 year old self push other children off the playground equipment.
I remember 3 year old Jonathan becoming angry when it was time to give another child a turn on the 'zebra telescope' and proceeding to throw the worst tantrum of his life. I will never forget carrying him from the zebra exhibit to the car, while he screamed and fought me the entire way, about a mile up a steep hill. He weighed about 40 pounds at the time, and he's a strong little guy. He pushed against me, and kicked me, and flung his shoes off, and I kept having to sit down to rest, and every mom in the zoo stared disapprovingly while they ushered their perfect children to the other side of the path. You'd think a toddler would run out of steam after a while, but our little man screamed for FORTY-FIVE MINUTES. In public. While I hiked uphill with him to the car. A mile. Up a steep hill.
I remember James behaving like a perfect angle and helping and helping and helping while his brother created that lasting zoo memory.
I remember both boys sobbing uncontrollably because the zoo closed and the security guard kicked us out.
I remember James pleading for a train ride and Jonathan screaming all the way down the tracks because he was scared to death.
I remember getting snoopy ice cream ONE TIME out of the ice cream vending machine to avoid a meltdown and having to endure the meltdown anyway because the ice cream...melted down.
I remember being told on the next zoo trip that we "always" get snoopy ice cream out of the vending machine and enduring the dramatic sobs of two disappointed little boys when I didn't have any quarters this time.
I remember paying $6 for uneaten chicken nuggets in the shape of zoo animals.
I remember calling to the boys a million times to slow down! Come back! Walk, please!
I am happy beyond words to say that those days are now a thing of the past. The distant past. In fact, I wouldn't have really remembered them at all (except for the uphill hike to the car) if not for our zoo trip yesterday.
Our family went to the zoo yesterday. I didn't carry anything with me. I had chapstick in my pocket, gum in my mouth, sunglasses on my head, and my zoo membership card. I walked all the way through the zoo with free hands. I didn't have to carry a backpack, I didn't have to navigate a double stroller. I didn't have to carry a screaming toddler. I didn't have to pay exorbitant amounts of money for anything.
Because my boys are growing up. They're polite, they're considerate, they don't mow people down, they take no for an answer ("No, we're not buying anything from the gift shop."), they can walk all by themselves without getting tired, they share fun facts with us about the animals, they know their way around the zoo, they accept my declaration that "we're leaving in five minutes", they enjoy the animals and let the other kids have a chance to see them too.
The whole time we were at the zoo, I observed a hundred and one harried parents. Men with children on their shoulders, panting up hills. Women pushing strollers who looked for all the world like they wanted to go to Bermuda and get lost in the triangle. Infants whimpering. 1 year olds lying down in wagons moaning piteously. 2 year olds flailing against their mamas as they were carried mercilessly to the car. 3 year olds sobbing loudly as their fathers dragged them by the hand in "the wrong direction". Parents all over shrieking at their cranky children, "Isn't this FUN?!?"
The whole time we were at the zoo, I rejoiced. I rejoiced in my heart. I rejoiced to my husband. I rejoiced to the elephants. I rejoiced before God. I rejoiced to my kids. I rejoiced because I was not one of the suffering parents! I was a happy parent! With happy children!
I am SO glad for this stage of my kids' lives. The 'little boy' stage. It is glorious indeed. And so very magical. They wriggle away from kisses, they dive into wrestling. They puke at the site of all things pink, they swordfight with giant bamboo sticks in the yard. They cuddle up next to me for storytime, but when asked if I can hug them forever, they reply, "Can't. Gotta go to school tomorrow." They pick me unbloomed flower buds (not knowing the difference), and they show me salamanders and dead rats.
And they behave at the zoo.