by Tom Sims
Among the advantages of time and age is the capacity to view the world through the eyes of our children and grandchildren. Their eyes are fresh and newly awakened. All they see is through the unbiased view and unfiltered lens of one beholding wonder for the first time. Through their eyes, we can begin to see the world as children and it is a wonderful world indeed.
At the zoo, specifically for those of us who live in the Central Valley, the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, we encounter a world of wonders. More so, it is true, when we take children to be our guides.
We may think we are guiding, but we are following. And, if we let them lead, they will give us a workout indeed. In addition, we will see things we have missed all along.
I write most articles of this sort with interviews, links, and notes from primary sources, as well as from self-descriptions, from mission and purpose statements, and announcements of coming events. I have purposed a different approach here. I write this as a grandpa’s view.
I have been to the zoo with grandchildren a number of times over the last few years. I went again this past Saturday with my middle grandchild, Kaibian who is about to celebrate his sixth birthday. It was an early birthday present from a grandfather to his grandson. It was a surprise. The next day, Kaibian said, “Thank you for taking me to the zoo yesterday, Grandpa. It was the best day of my life.”
Whether that is so or not can be debated, but I could probably end the story there. I won’t however.
I did do the formal research and read all the official publicity and statements on and off the web. But who can beat a “best day ever” assessment?
We entered through the gate I have entered many times before with a friendly greeting and a map.Maps are great for telling you where you are, where you are going, and what you are seeing. However, this was to be Kaibian’s day and he was my map. I determined to follow his interests (unless he was clearly missing something), with gentle guidance, at his pace.
As I said, it was a formidable workout!
We started with the wolf (or whatever he was). That exhibit held the boy’s attention for a few minutes and we moved to the reptile house. Kids love creepy, crawly, slimy things than bite, sting, and devour. The crush of the crowd was an indication of interest. Parents with multiple children were vacillating between fascination and frustration. I just stood back in wonder and appreciation.
Kaibian made a friend in 5-6 year old fashion. Here is his process. It might work for us:
He looked behind him and there was a little boy about his age looking at the same creepy, crawly, slimy things. They made eye contact. He asked, “Do you want to be my friend?” The boy indicated in the affirmative and they became best friends for the next five minutes or so.
That could easily work for grownups. Try it.
From there it was station to station, species to species, and habitat to habitat.
The birds are there for the old folks, I think, at least the first time. On the second round, Kaibian was quite captivated by them. On this day, we actually missed the bird shows that are always worth the price of admission.
Sea lions are always a good show. Kaibian ducked, climbed, and asked to be lifted so many times that I had to take a quick rest between intervals.
Note, it is hard for a guy who likes to work systematically and cover all the points to follow an over-energized child in a frenzy of wonder and awe … but I recommend it. Remember, the job is to see the zoo through his eyes.
We made eye contact with a curious goose.
We spent lots of time with the sting-rays. Kaibain’s boldness has blossomed since our last encounter and I was almost worried that he would fall in the water with them … almost. It was January and I let him get soaked. I am a grandpa. Grandpas have leeway that dads and moms either don’t have or have not yet realized they have.
We have learned that germs cause colds, not cold weather.
He dried off, eventually.
It was hard to persuade him that there were things to see before the petting zoo. I could not convince him but the kangaroos did a pretty good job, as did the giraffes, zebras, and really strange looking creatures whose names I have either forgotten or never learned.
It surprised me how many obscure creatures the little guy already knew about. He devours books!!!!
That, my friends, is another article.
Monkeys, a bored tiger, a grizzly bear all became stories in and of themselves. Even the squirrels that run free were an attraction and cause for pause.
Back to the goose. It was really more than eye contact. I thought the boy and the goose were going to go nose to nose.
In the petting zoo, it was all about the goats. Kids can borrow brushes and the goats are very ready to be brushed. I think that of all the animals in the park, the goats are the happiest to be there.
Spanky, Alfalfa, and Darla are three of a species. A lovely young lady named Amanda who is on staff, let me take her picture for this article and gave me a thorough tutorial on the various kinds of goats in the yard. I also had my map. The operative word is “HAD.”As Amanda explained to me, Spanky has “a paper obsession,” and is otherwise a very sweet creature.
As I was viewing the children and taking pictures, I felt a tug at my back pocket. Spanky had noticed the map there and whatever other papers were folded in. He helped himself and walked away, happily eating them.
Be careful what you put in your back pocket.
The elephants were putting on a very good show Saturday. We saw them from every vantage point. The Orangutans too!
We visited many places twice. I was a follower and observer. At times, I was a ladder. I was also a learner. The only time I really had to draw the line was in the gift shop.
We were among the last to leave. It was one of the best days of my life. To get ready, listen to this song for few days before going.