A Trip to the Zoo

As the weather changed from winter storms in April to the middle of summer in May we have been taking advantage of our season pass to the Minnesota Zoo a few of times a week. It’s hard to tell who likes it the most, my wife requests trips to the zoo for her days off but I’m also pretty sure our soon to be seven month old’s first word very much might be “zoo.” I might enjoy the feeling of walking up to a ticket counter and being waved in without paying because of a pass the most as I come from a long line of frugal New Englanders.

It has been fun to see how little fella has progressed in the last few months for the animals he can see and react to. We have been taking him on trips to the zoo since the end of February and lucky for us, the facility has a sizable portion that is inside that includes large tanks of fish, penguins and a tropical building. He’s just shy of seven months old now and on his first trip he was four months old. He really couldn’t notice much from the monkeys aside from one very long haired black and white creature that hangs out by the window with it’s long tail. It probably just reminded him of our cats.

What he mostly noticed in the earlier visits were anything that would swim around on the other side of the glass. The glass is an important feature because to the little dude, zipping penguins, slowly cruising fish or brightly colored coral, it was TV that the big people actually let him watch. With big baby eyes his brain computer would be at full speed watching the creatures movements and the great colors of the coral.

Some trips to the zoo are more of a chance for the parents to walk around. The months before May this year were pretty cold, our guy born on Halloween had snow on the ground every day of his life for the first five and half months that he was around. The large indoor area afforded us parents the chance to stretch our legs without having to shiver through the cold or bundle up. We just have to pack up the stroller with a blanket, clean up rag, pacifier, zoo map (although it has now been memorized) and a parent snack like a can of coke or box of M&M’s. It would be good in the colder months to save some space under the seat for shedding layers when we go in the tropical area. We realized that we would have to shed layers before the tropical area, just before walking up the incline to the upper level as the winter months left us out of shape from hiding from the cold.

The diaper bag is another piece to prepare for pretty much any trip out, and especially for the zoo. The standards for the diaper bag are more diapers than you would ever need on one trip, wipes, a changing pad and a bottle or two. It doesn’t hurt to also bring an extra rag and a change of baby clothes in the diaper bag. There have been a few diaper bag disasters on trips out. I learned early on that the bag needs to be completely upright at all times from one trip where I never fed the guy, yet when I got home the bottle was completely empty. The bigger mystery was that the inside of the bag didn’t seem to reveal where the milk ended up spilling out to. There was only a faint smell and stickiness. That last sentence could be cut and pasted into any baby horror story. Another time, I forgot the changing pad and had to balance the kid on his onsie, paper towels, and clean diapers to keep him off the bare changing table.

Changing tables can be a real shit show. Surprisingly, not a literal shit show. Mall of America doesn’t have changing tables in all of their men’s bathrooms, some restaurants don’t have changing tables but very small wooden tables without a lip, often smaller than the length of a six month old, sometime sharing space with a potted plant. I do not fault a dirty diaper boy from grabbing at a potted plant and knocking it over… hypothetically, of course. I encourage it… hypothetically, of course. Other times I get to learn which parent doesn’t tend to change their kid’s diapers because I’m waiting for them to finish their time on the changing table. I’m sure it doesn’t help to awkward wait somewhat patiently in a crowded bathroom as they panic over their squirming, pants-less child.

While walking around with a stroller might be a good chance to observe the human exhibit that is the zoo, very often the best people watching comes while bottle feeding Little A by the snow monkeys. Sometimes they watch back. On one of our very first trips a little girl walked right up to our guy, touched him and said “baby!” My wife was mortified as she could actually see the germs leaping onto our Mr. Wiggles. “It happens all the time,” I said to give a little perspective. On our last trip to the doctor before that trip to the zoo there was a girl who was maybe a year and a half old that would walk over to the baby and me in the waiting room several times to touch him and look me in the eye as if to say “I do what I want and I get away with it EV-ER-Y TIME!”

The tropic area is located mostly on the upper level of the indoor part of the zoo and it pretty monkey/monkey-like animal heavy. As much as I’d like to get the Little Chef into watching the lemurs, red panda, long horned sheep, the new baby tapir, the tortoises (might be for the better, those things really like an audience when the bang it out), he really likes a very long hair tailed monkey that lounges by the window, all the kids that walk by and the large fish tank down below.

As it has warmed up in the last month we have ventured out to the main loop of animals outside where he has enjoyed floating otters (one of three kinds of otters, the biggest ones are the easiest to see), floating grizzly bears, pacing leopards and tigers, and chirping prairie dogs. There are other animals he just can’t see or has no interest in like bounding wild horses, a moose that’s hard to see for a baby, sleeping bison, other tigers that like to hide, and “this enclosure is currently closed for maintenance.” Our guy loves watching the leopard pace back and forth against the glass. We’re the ones with the baby with big ears laughing his ass off at the big kitty that keeps walking by.

The warmer weather also meant we could go through the Minnesota trail that is right next to the tropical trail. The Minnesota trail is covered from rain, snow and sun, but open on the sides to coldness of the air (although heat is less than if you were in the sun). I have been enjoying this trail more recently, not just because on rare occasions we have spotted the beaver swimming around, but because it’s right next to the family restroom, where Baby Boy Talbot can be changed in privacy and the stroller can be rolled right in. We have enjoyed sighting the fisher, which is like a big rat that sheds fur from its tail in the spring, but is oddly endearing. The one they have there once had a spell of radioactivity and bit a guy, turning him into Fisher-Man, the most misidentified hero in the universe. His greatest enemies are Fission-Man and Fissure-Man because they are often confused for each other at parties.

The Minnesota trail is home to the linx that loves to pace back and forth, mesmerizing the baby, hopping up his rocks and back down into his stream. This linx is about the size of a small dog, but to the little boy, it looks like it’s just a big friend of our cats at home. Our cats Fran and Mo have become big parts of his life in the last couple of months where he will reach over and pet Fran, sometimes grabbing on and taking a handful of fur to affirm the patience of the lady cat. Mo, on the other hand, is weary of the sudden movements and noises of the new bald cat in the apartment and will wisely not allow physical contact, but Baldo still finds Mo to be hilarious, laughing at his face for long stretches of time. This is a good time where everything makes the kid laugh and he thinks his cats and parents are the greatest comedians known to man.

We have had some pretty interesting experiences with the big cats at the zoo. On one visit as we were walking by, the puma jumped down from above and charged to the glass so that it could stare across the walkway to the black bear in the enclosure across the way. Mr. Squiggles sure liked that we were able to walk up to the glass to look directly into the cat’s fuzzy cheek. A volunteer later told us that it was good to see that puma up and about after needing medical attention for a few days after eating part of a hose. He also mentioned that the other puma in the enclosure was named “Rock Slide.” On that visit we could also hear this constant rumbling as we walked through the main trail to find it was one of the tigers in the main exhibit roaring as it prowled through the spacious enclosure.

I haven’t always been the biggest zoo person as the animals can seem trapped in small spaces. For the most part, the animals at the Minnesota Zoo seem to have large areas to roam around or climb or fly or swim and many of them genuinely seem to enjoy the attention they get from the people coming to see them. Only recently, however, did I see a penguin staring at a wall that had a painted on horizon in a way that reminded me of the incarcerated penguin scene in Happy Feet. The Happy Feet penguin lost his mind to the extent that I believe he hallucinated that he danced his way into the hearts of the zoo goers who ultimately took him back to Antarctica to celebrate his whole musical family of birds.

Mostly, the penguins at this zoo love to swim for the kids who will play with them, swimming to the directions that they dance, and line up to be counted and fed by the zoooologists. The farm exhibit chicks, bunnies and the goats that are back at the farm area love to be fawned over by kids. The blue eyed babies with big ears love little girls coming up to touch him, and grown women to make “awwww” sounds in unison. The dads like zip the stroller around swarms of school groups to find the animals that are most interested in making their silly little boys and girls giggle. The big cats work for us. The zoo can be a great way to entertain a baby, but if they sleep through the whole trip, it's best not to tell them what they missed because the trip to Target afterwards is not quite as exciting to a seven month old.

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