Lessons in Parenting at the Zoo

Parenting Lessons at the Zoo

At the zoo with a kid in uteroLast weekend we spent a glorious spring Saturday in Chicago at Brookfield Zoo, where my alma mater sponsored an outing with cheap tickets, free parking and a buffet lunch.1

As we walked around the zoo to watch the giraffes and bears and gorillas, we realized that our admission bought us something else as well: a chance to observe parents and children in one of their natural habitats—a family outing to the zoo. Given the fact that this was one of the first nice weekend days in Chicago, the zoo was swarming with armies of strollers, smiling children, complaining children, smiling parents, complaining parents, and a living catalog of baby and child-related gear to ensure that a jaunt to the zoo would garner more smiles than complaints from everyone involved.

Here are some of my field notes.

1. There’s a lot of stuff.

All of these parents had one thing in common: they were toting a lot of stuff. Their strollers were packed to the gills with diaper bags, toys, blankets, spare clothes and bibs. This is somewhat ominous for me, as I am a chronic overpacker—just for myself. Once I am also packing for a new helpless soul, I could envision myself going a little overboard in bringing along supplies for every possible outcome.2 If and when I do overpack, all that stuff is going to have to fit in the stroller or otherwise be lugged around. Even if I am sensible in my packing, it’s clear that a baby marks the end of the days where we can sneak in anywhere. Our arrival will always be accompanied by all of the stuff it takes to ensure our minute-to-minute survival.

2. A good stroller is key.

As I mentioned, there were strollers everywhere. And Theresa, having done extensive research on the subject for our baby registry, knew the brand and features of seemingly every model that strolled by.

After all of this research, we have selected our stroller of choice, and it will be arriving┬ásoon.3 We actually took it for a test drive in Babies R Us a couple weeks ago, and I was satisfied with its acceleration, cornering, overall comfort4 and storage capacity. From what I saw at the zoo and what I remember when my youngest brother was cruising around in one, the stroller is an essential element in making the whole baby experience more manageable. First of all, it’s a place for all the aforementioned stuff. Secondly, it alternately can serve many purposes for the child: a seat in the shade, a faster form of travel, a bed on wheels or even a mobile prison if necessary.5

3. Having kids is fun.

As we enjoyed our free buffet lunch, we sat at a table across from two 15-month-old twin girls. One was incredibly outgoing and smiled incessantly at us. The other was a bit moodier and fussed when she finished chewing her watermelon all the way past the rind. Their parents were clearly enjoying themselves and enjoying the act of sharing this experience with their kids…even if they had to get another helping of watermelon and had a double stroller teeming with gear.

Other parents I saw throughout the day shared a similarly sunny outlook on being at the zoo with their kids—asking them questions about the animals or pointing out sights to keep their attention as they made their way through the park. It never looked easy to take small children on a field trip like this, but these parents made it look worthwhile.

4. Having kids is fun, if you let it be fun.

Then there were those other parents. You know the type. The ones that make you wonder why they bothered to come to the zoo at all if it was just going to be a huge ordeal that put both parents and children in a foul mood. We saw more than a few parties6 in that boat, and we vowed to avoid the temptation of that disposition in our own parenting experience. Now that may sound unrealistic to you. I am the first to admit that I can become frustrated when things aren’t going as planned—and I know that a lot of parenthood will feel like a series of things not going as planned—but that just means I need to work even harder to not be that kind of Dad. I know it will be difficult, but recognizing the that it is a choice┬ácan be half the battle.

I don’t want to be the dad who is red in the face yelling at his daughter in the wagon, “For the last time, sit in the seat!” I’m sure some of this will require better rules and discipline at the times when we’re not at the zoo, but I never want to lose sight of the fact that my kid is a kid, who is hopefully excited about being at the zoo and maybe has a little extra energy because of that. We won’t be┬ábringing our kids to the zoo to yell at them.7

Conclusion

I think my biggest takeaway from watching all of this unfold is that parenting is difficult and rewarding at the same time, perhaps especially when you’re trying to do something memorable with your kids. Perspective, preparation and proper gear are essential for making the rewards greater than the difficulties. Viewed through the expectant parent┬álens, I certainly have a newfound appreciation for all the not-so-easy-to-orchestrate experiences┬áthat my parents endured created for me and my brothers. Parents are troopers.

Alas, these field notes are merely those of an outsider academic who is studying┬áthe parental point of view┬áwithout yet having been in the trenches himself. I look forward to the ever-approaching day when I will start experiencing┬ásome of these triumphs and tribulations for myself! And maybe being at the zoo–and plenty of other places–with my excited daughter will even make me appreciate them a little bit more myself.

  1. Neither of us are animal lovers, but we couldn’t pass up a deal like that, and it turned out to be the perfect day for it weather-wise.
  2. Sure, it’s sunny right now, but I see a few clouds. Better bring ponchos and umbrellas just in case.
  3. Thanks, Mom!
  4. Both for baby and for ease of pushing
  5. At least until they learn how to unbuckle themselves and climb out of it…
  6. If that word can be used to describe them…
  7. We’ll be bringing our kids to the zoo because they’re animals.

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