“Look, Jake! Look at the seal – he’s clapping! Isn’t that silly?! And isn’t this crane beautiful? Wow, look at the the funny hair on that puffin!” My husband, Adam, and I oohed and ahhed our way through the Central Park Zoo last week. It was our toddler, Jake’s, treat to us. He strolled or was carried from habitat to habitat, showing mild interest, wondering why the hell we were walking around in this heat and sun for so long. He drank water from his cup, and watched as his parents were taken aback by the animals that we saw.
Adam and I have spent the last year or so feeling a bit trapped. With a baby, it can be really difficult to do regular human things, since babies are generally blobs with very basic needs: food, drink, diapey change, sleep. And so as Jake’s gotten older and more aware of his surroundings, we have been clawing at the opportunity to take him places that are fun so that he could begin to experience all of the cool things life has to offer. The zoo was high up on the list.
Only we realized pretty quickly that we enjoyed this outing more than he did. “Look, it’s a bear like in our book! Remember Brown Bear Brown Bear?” One animal at a time, we recited from memory different lines from Jake’s various books. “‘Who, who,’ asked the Owl. ‘Who built this beautiful web?’” What was incredible was how excited we (Adam and I) were to see the animals that were in the Jake’s books. It’s like they were celebrities from our favorite shows.
Maybe we need to get out more… But maybe something else is at play. The zoo showed me that you sort of live twice when you’re a parent: once on your own, and then again through the eyes of your kids. I probably wouldn’t have appreciated the zoo ten years ago. But I was thrilled to learn about the snow leopard, and more importantly, to see Jake’s reaction when he saw it. (Which didn’t happen…that snow leopard was nowhere to be seen in mid- August…shocking.)
The Tropical Zone was our last stop while there. After 10 minutes in the humid enclosure, Adam was sweating profusely, I was nearly decapitated by a kamikaze exotic bird, and Jake looked completely miserable, his cheeks flushed from the heat. It was time to go.
Perhaps 13 months was a bit young for him to appreciate everything that day had to offer. But we got a glimpse of our future, and can’t wait to live more through the eyes of that little kid. And maybe next time the snow leopard will actually make an appearance. We’ll shoot for a cooler, fall month instead.