We had the whole place to ourselves. It was a little eerie seeing no other cars in the parking lot. It turns out December is not the most popular month for zoo visiting. Go figure!
Luckily I didn't get any "runners" in my group. I've had runners before, at the Children's museum in fact. Runners aren't keen on waiting around for slowpokes. Not when there's so many fancy and educational displays to sprint through, and time is a wastin'. No, on Tuesday it was just me and three little walking, adorable, map enthusiasts.
Together we navigated our way through balmy swamps, stinky primate houses (I was always quick to suggest indoor activities), hands-on discovery zones but not the butterfly exhibit. My youngest child has a newly formed phobia of butterflies apparently. This was disappointing to hear, because the butterfly exhibit was also inside and it was c-o-l-d cold out.
Kindergartners are comical and refreshingly free of inhibitions. "I think I will probably marry you, Mary," a little classmate matter of factly announced to my daughter on the bus. To which she responded, "Say cheeeese, and make a weird face! I'm taking your picture with my mom's cell phone!!!" He did. They laughed hysterically, then went on to tell each other a series of Knock Knock jokes with nonsensical punch lines.
"Mary's Mom!" they call me, usually followed by, "This one time.... (I rode a roller coaster, met Santa Claus, scraped my knee, ate turkey, had a loose tooth, etc.)." They are full of facts (some less accurate than others) and anecdotes and contagious vibrancy.
This was what I wanted, now that all four of my kids are in school: to be a part of that school experience, to be regularly seen there, to know their classmates by name.
Not all my kids are as hungry for my presence there as Mary is, however. It gets trickier as they get older, knowing when to back off and when to step in. It turns out parents who choose to be all up in their kids' business have to learn to thicken their skin. Yes, this was what I wanted, this is what is needed, but it certainly hasn't been easy. Tough love is tough on everyone involved.
I'm learning as I go.
On the long ride home I was squished by an exhausted six-year-old draped across my lap and Mary with her head on my shoulder. At least half of the children fell asleep within minutes. A few moms snuck a nap in as well.
It can be tiring, all that discovering and navigating of new territory.
But also enlightening and strengthening if you can pace yourself, forgive yourself when you lose it and lean heavily on God's mercy. The day in front of you is always the perfect day for starting over.