Man your battle stations! We're headed to the zoo.

A mom surprises her family and herself when her plan for a fun Saturday at the zoo resembles a military operation. 

Reuters/Michael Dalder
A northern rockhopper penguin stands in its enclosure at Munich's Hellabrunn Zoo January 14, 2015. REUTERS/Michael Dalder

It was 11:30a.m. on a Saturday morning in August when my husband and almost 3-year-old daughter decided to head to the zoo. At 9-months pregnant, this didn’t sound fun. The crowds. The chaos. No thank you. See, as a stay at home mom, I have the luxury of carefully choosing when to take my daughter to the zoo. Monday mornings work for me. It’s quiet. It’s easy. It’s my thing.

So, when my lovely husband spontaneously suggested going to the zoo on a Saturday, I cringed and hoped my daughter hadn’t heard. No such luck. She was squealing with delight and in 20 minutes, we were in the car and on the way. 

We weren’t even 10 steps inside the zoo before I had outlined how our visit would go. “Okay team. Penguins first. Then leopard, orangutans and gorillas. The bears are too far for this trip. We can end at the African savanna and if you’re a good listener, we can catch a ride on the carousel. Ready? Sweetheart, you need to hold my hand.”

She was too focused on her zoo map to listen, while my husband looked at me as though I had just spoken a foreign language. “Honey, relax," he said. "This is the zoo. It’s supposed to be fun!” Relax? This is the zoo on a Saturday. We need a plan of attack!

But something about the way he looked at me made me realize something. I didn’t need a plan of attack. Perhaps the best way to experience the magic of the zoo was to see it from my daughter’s perspective. This was a new concept to me. I had always thought I was a fun mom, but in that moment, it was painfully obvious that I was not having any fun at all, and neither were they.

My husband told me to take a break while he chased our little one around. I mean, seriously, I needed to have a break at the zoo. From that moment, I resolved to take a deep breath and to let my daughter take the lead. 

We saw the bears. We watched wolves playing with toys. We rode the carousel and we petted goats. We didn’t rush. We lingered at the pythons and tried to talk to the orangutans. We had fun. In the car on the way home, my husband turned to me and said, “See? That wasn’t so bad.”

I beg to differ. It took a lot of effort to remind myself to be in the moment, and to appreciate each new amazing discovery that Lucy made during that trip. It didn’t matter that we took weekly trips to the zoo. In her eyes, everything was exciting and worthy of discovery. The last thing in the world I wanted to be was an obstacle on her path of magical discoveries. I had learned an important lesson that day; being childlike isn’t just for kids. 

We now affectionately refer to similar moments since then as “zoo moments” as a gentle reminder to breathe and relax. Our kids have so much to teach us if we’re willing to be humble and observant. Thanks to that first zoo moment, I have learned to embrace life’s daily adventures and discoveries. 

Although, we have yet to return to the zoo on a Saturday.

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