I was just full of heartache today. Carol came to sub and I took the boys to the zoo as a last hurrah for the summer. I told them it was a thank you gift from me, because really, even though there were days when they drove me crazy, and in general they made my day more complicated, they basically came to work with me all summer.
And we didn’t have any major disasters. And they were nice to the day care kids to boot.
But the entire day I couldn’t help asking myself, how many more zoo trips do we have in us? And instead of drinking in the moments, I found myself trying to grasp them harder, which only made it hurt more when they passed.
The zoo has changed since we started coming here eight years ago and so have my boys (I hate when that happens – on both counts). Their bodies keep growing long and skinny. Younger’s top front tooth has been going crooked for a month, ready to fall out, and it reminds me of my friend Karen’s comment that once those baby teeth come out they never look the same.
We visited the animals we know well: the crazy cockatoo who squawks at Older. The camel who likes to eat grass. We all laughed and squealed when she licked Older’s hand. A woman told her boyfriend to move on because camels spit and I thought, you don’t know what you’re missing!
The dwarf horses and zebras that Younger loves to feed, and he always becomes the most gentle little man when he does this: “Come here horsey, I got some food for you.” The little monkey who will take corn out of your hand, but went after a spider this time (what could be cooler to see, if you’re a 9- or 7-year old boy?) The giraffe they let you feed from a tall platform, which is always a highlight. Have you ever seen the tongue on one of those things?
There’s a teeny weeny trolley that goes around and around in a small circle. The boys used to freak out to ride on this. Today it looked small, old, and sad, but Younger still wanted to ride it. Older was being so kind. He could tell Younger still loved it so instead of saying, “There’s no way in hell you’re getting me on that thing,” he just said he wanted to look at the alligator and headed off for its pen. Sometimes he is really awesome.
So Younger rode, and rang the bell and high-fived me as he passed. He had a huge smile on his face, and I tried to enjoy the moment with him instead of thinking about how next year, he will ridicule this silly little kid train. His innocence is fleeting. Will he find this much joy in something else as he grows and gets jaded?
There’s a small playground that they also still enjoy even though they are Big Grownup Boys. Younger swung as high as he could, trying to kick the tree branch, so I helped him cheat by pulling it toward his foot.
Older climbed like a monkey up the outside of the play structure, and got another big boy to follow. His little brother started trying to chase them but couldn’t come close, so the big boys chased him instead. Then the two pairs of boys, older and younger brothers, began an insanely fast and wild game of tag that went up and over everything in its path.
I laughed, thinking that when my guys were little I would’ve been appalled at their behavior. Boys need to run in packs, period. I thought about how different they are from the girls, who are already learning how to plot and plan, waiting for something they want and when the other child looks away they dash in to grab and claim it. Somehow we don’t notice that girls are being inappropriate when they do this, but the boys are always labeled when they let those big goofy boy bodies run wild.
I thought about how we view and treat men in our culture. When they’re boys they’re too crazy, as teens they’re too dangerous, and when they grow up they must magically transform into respectable men and good loving daddies. I saw two teenage boys petting the goats and thought, well somebody’s doing something right.
The other boys had to leave just as the game was getting good (or their parents recognized that at any moment it might spin out of control). Older Son was panting when he sat down and said, “It’s so fun to play with a new friend you know you’ll never see again.” That was actually a pretty profound statement, and made me feel less guilty for being artificially nice to people in public places. I asked him to explain a little more and he said, “It’s like they’re at their full friend power.” Boy logic, but yes, very true.
The zoo has a room full of those little rides you find outside of big box stores. They both insisted on riding this silly seat that goes up and around in a circle. We thought for sure that Older would be too big and crush it, but both boy and machine survived.
I had to get quarters for more rides so I headed to the entrance booth. There was a grandmotherly lady there who laughed when I yawned. I told her, “Every day they wear me out.” She replied, “That’s a good feeling.” I knew she got it. I think she misses that feeling.
I didn’t want to go but it was time. Pam texted to see what was up and I told her how sad I was feeling. I told her my zoo trips are numbered. In the way that she always comforts me, she replied, “The zoo gets bigger and different. They will always want to spend time with you. The zoo just changes. Zip lining….”