It all started out so simple. My husband had a board meeting in Dallas on a Saturday. We figured it made good sense to drive up together, meet a girlfriend and her children, and we’d all hit the zoo while my husband was trapped in a long, boring meeting. A well-crafted plan! So we packed our sunscreen and juice boxes and hit the road in high spirits. In no time flat we’d be feeding the giraffes. We’d be looking with awe as elephants fanned themselves with muddy water and giggling at those darn flamingos standing precariously on their tall, spindly legs.
I should have seen it coming when we stopped for lunch and a bag of food fell over, tumbling French fries this way and that in random places between my seats. But this was a fun day with friends and cheetahs. What could possibly go wrong?
My husband’s meeting was deep in the barrio somewhere, which meant I was weaving about unfamiliar territory amidst unfamiliar people. My children were singing Wheels on the Bus as I gripped our own steering wheel, my blond hair tied back in a bun and my eyes squinting to find the right turn. Finally, after delivering my husband safely, I took off for the zoo, which is literally two exits north. This is when things started to go south. And west. And east again. Despite the zoo being a stone’s throw away, I still managed to miss the exit and I went on a fun-filled ride through pawn-shop, bail-bond, check-cashing and cheap-auto-insurance heaven. I turned around and weaved over and tried to look at the map on my phone while not hurling my children into the taillights of the car in front of us. We finally made it an hour late, but who cares? We have all afternoon! And how long does it take to see gorillas anyway?
I drove up to the parking attendant to pay and she informed me that today of all days was their annual special event that required them to close early. In three hours, specifically. They’d shut the doors and shoo all the zoo-goers to their SUVs promptly at 4 pm and “we aren’t kidding,” the man says. What were the odds?
So we all pile out of the car, get the stroller in zoo-read shape, and head inside to meet my dear girlfriend and her family. To the giraffes we go! Time’s a wastin! So we all schlep it over to pay $5 for a few lettuce leaves so that the overfed animals can get their daily intake of salad. My two-year-old is frightened by the whole concept and just pitches the leaves over the fence. They float to the ground like parachutes.
Next up is the monorail. The kids are ecstatic about the train ride, so we all sit in a pressure cooker of sweat and trapped air for a good half hour, desperately pouring water down our children’s throats to prevent heatstroke and pointing out various animals down below. “Deer!” my son says at every single animal. I start to correct him, but what’s the point? We’ll never see that particular antelope again in real life. “Yes! Deer!” I say in return.
After the train, we all head to splashdown so the kids could cool off in a manufactured river that’s only a few inches deep and smells very strongly of urine. I watched my daughter and her friend lay their entire bodies in it, waving their hands around and pretending they’re mermaids. I’m slightly horrified that there’s a kid in front of me with a sagging poopy diaper laughing and dancing around in the water my son just traipsed through. But it looked quite fun and maybe I need to back off on the germ focus. After all, what are immune systems for? What’s a few diluted pints of pee amongst friends?
So we dry off the children, change their clothes, and head to see the monkeys. But before we get there, we are stopped by a zoo employee and told that the north end of the zoo is actually closed. Only for today, you see, because of the special event going on. So no monkeys. But back by the entrance, there’s a bird show going on. “See how things have a way of working out?” I tell my friend as we laugh and do a stroller u-turn in the walkway. I grab the hands of my daughter and her dear friend, walk down three flights of stairs by the little zoo theatre, sit on the front row right in front of the tuxedo-outfitted penguins, and wait. But people are leaving. The penguins are walking off the stage, their little feet waddling out of sight.
“So sorry,” the penguin handler tells me. “But the show ended about five minutes ago.” Just our luck. Yes, yes. That figures.
We finally just hauled the kids to the carousal and let them ride the pretend horses around and around. They were thrilled. My two-year-old clutched his horse as if he might get bucked off and giggled with glee. It was just in time for the zoo to close, whereby we were being asked to leave through the front gates. “Come again!” the zoo worker said.
The incredible mother that I am, I managed to pack seventeen juice boxes but no real bottles of water, and neglected to bring any hand sanitizer. So my children were covered with animal and train-rail and carousal germs of all sorts as we finally headed back to the car. We hugged our dear friends, changed my kids’ clothes in the parking lot so they could pass out with sheer exhaustion in something clean on the way home, did my best to wipe them down with generic-brand wet wipes, and called the day a success. Despite the fact that we were only at the zoo for a short time and had a four-hour drive back home. And despite the fact that we would all likely die of a strange, urine-transported disease and didn’t see one single monkey.
The kids and I headed back to the barrio to get my husband, who was wrapping up the board meeting that very moment. On the way, I hear my daughter say something disturbing in the back seat. Something like “what’s that all over you?” She was speaking to her brother. I was filled with terror.
I pulled over in a dollar store parking lot, taking up several spaces, and forced myself to turn around. I had given my son a squeezable fruit, which is great for travel and presumably less messy for young children. Unless it happened to be a blend of apples and spinach, and is the color of grass cuttings. In this case my son believed it appropriate to simply squirt the crap all over his body and then mash it into the car seat and his clothing like finger paint.
I’m trying not to curse as some man walks up to me to either ask for money or mug me, but I give him dirty looks and shake my head because I have better things to do, like strip my kid down to his diaper and wipe the green goo off every crevice of his body. It’s crammed into the straps of his car seat like glue. Great.
“Did we stop for a Frosty?” my daughter says as she notices there’s a Wendy’s nearby. I look over at her, my hands covered in green mashed ick, after just shooing away a homeless person and glancing around to make sure no one’s going to car-jack us, cursing under my breath when I realize I don’t have any extra clean clothes and wiping my son’s body down with wet wipes while in a parking lot in a rough part of town. Yes, my love. We stopped for ice cream. The homeless dude that was asking for money just walked off, like Nu-uh. I don’t want any part of that craziness.
My kids never did sleep on the way home. They decided to sing seventeen renditions of Happy Birthday and slung barbeque sandwich all over the backseat. My son had not one, but two large poops that he so happily declared to us as my husband gripped the wheel and just hoped to the dear heavens that there was justice in the world and we’d get home already. The kids got louder and louder on the way, possibly fueled by a mid-trip ice cream, and it at the end it was like a grand finale at a firework display. My son wanted a cup of ice in the front seat and kept screaming “LEMME HAVE IT!” at the top of his lungs. My daughter applied some of my lip gloss, which she said did NOT smell like cocoa or butter and kept saying “It reeks in here! Open the window! I can’t take this smell!” Finally my husband and I just started laughing at how ridiculous it all was.
At nine o’clock when we arrived home, I threw my son in a warm bath and covered him with soapy bubbles. In deference to the day we had, he stood up in the bath and peed for a long, solid minute. Somehow, I wasn’t at all surprised.
All in all, it was glorious. Any chance to see one of my best friends is worth it, and now we have even more stories to add to our long, thick book of friendship. The fact is that I’d do it all over again in a second. One day, when the kids are grown and gone, my car will be clean and things will work out the way they’re planned. But I’ll burn with longing for the loud, messy, insane world that I now wallowing in, green goo and all. These glorious little people make me laugh and smile despite having to get my car detailed on a regular basis. They might fill my car with stale French fries, but they fill my soul with happiness as I pick up their tired, sticky bodies, their mouths covered with the sweet residue of ice cream and their hair matted together with dried sweat.
They fell asleep so happy, and the next morning all we heard about was the carousal and the zebras. The “geewaffs” and the choo-choo and all those deer. And that makes it all worth it, monkeys or no monkeys, bacteria and all.