My parents were in town this weekend. They were here to see N, the oldest, in her school's fall musical 'Once Upon a Mattress' which was totally fabulous. Plans for Saturday were wide open. Since Em the youngest wanted to go to the zoo and see the baby giraffe and my parents wanted to go for a walk, it seemed like a no-brainer to combine the two. I okay'd the invite to Miss R, Em's friend and neighbor to come with us, gave my parents 2 hours to get on their shoes, and then we were off to the zoo.
One of the best kept secrets about Saint Louis is that it's a very family friendly town with a world-class zoo that is free. Yes, you read that right- FREE. Since we live in town, we could go at the drop of a hat. We just don't. We lead the same kind of busy, over-booked life that most people with kids live. The kids are teens, and a trip to the zoo just doesn't fit in with the stereotypical 'this is what good parents do with their kids on the weekends' thing anymore. So we haven't been to the zoo in years, but as soon as we hop in the car, I revert to toddler mode. Old habits die hard.
"Okay, what animal do you have to see Miss R?" I asked as we pulled out of the driveway.
She is momentarily caught off-guard by the question. Then she gives me a typical teen response, "I dunno."
I decide to explain the family's zoo protocol and embarrass Em at the same time. We moms refer to this as win-win. So I gave Miss R the benefit of my parenting prowess and bore her to tears- again win-win. So this is a brief recap of the speech:
Since the zoo is free, I used to wake N and Em up after their naps and announce that we were going to the zoo. The end of the day at the zoo is magical. All the annoying people leave, and the animals come out because it is feeding time. We would roll in about 3:00 pm and grab a free parking space just as the other parents who had gotten up early to get the free spots were leaving with their crying kids who didn't have their naps. However, when they were little, even my well-rested kids would cry when we left. "I didn't get to see the (insert some random animal in the blank)." This is the downside to visiting a world-class zoo for less than two hours- too many animals to see in too little time.
Eventually I figured out how to solve the 'my kid cries every time we leave the zoo' problem. Once I initiated the 'choose one animal that you have to see' plan, everyone was happy. We also had the 'frosting on the cake' list- animals that would be fun to see, but our day would not be ruined if we didn't get to them. On the way to the zoo, we would plan our walking route. The kids had a sense of control, and I had happy kids. Again, win-win.
After I explain all of this to Miss R, she thinks for a moment (probably taking time to reflect how weird Em's mom is) then announces that she would like to see the penguins. I smile. Of course, penguins. The penguins and the giraffes are at opposite ends of the zoo giving us the opportunity to make a list of 'frosting on the cake' animals. It's nice to know that some things never change. My parents and I got to take our walk, the girls got to see their animals, and no one cried. Win-win.