Tuesday, March 26, 2013

We Spent the Night at the Zoo

And we had so much fun!

Willow rocked the scavenger hunt that began our overnight adventure:

I gather that scavenger hunts are a big part of school field trips, and I can see why: not only did Willow love this scavenger hunt, but it was great for research skills and reading comprehension, and she was so engaged that she did all that writing without a fuss.

Sydney, on the other hand, wasn't at all interested in the scavenger hunt, but that actually worked out perfectly, too, since Willow didn't have to share. Instead, she saw all there was to see in the Oceans exhibit while Willow and I worked:

Do you see the baby cownose ray?

Well, okay--we did a fair bit of sightseeing, too:

The zookeepers put up this fence around the shark touch tank at night so that the sharks don't jump out.
There were lots of group activities for the kids--

--lots of games, stories inside the underwater dolphin dome (where the dolphins, made curious by the unusual after-hours activity in their space, gave us LOTS of attention), a night-time tour of the Deserts exhibit, and then, hours after the girls' usual bedtime, crafts--
Popsicle stick picture frames, of course!
--and games:
I took my planner and pencil over to the zoo's games cupboard and wrote down the names of unfamiliar games. Nerd much?
Onto The Desert--this is now on my official wish list, along with Into the Forest
There was a late-night snack time listed on the schedule, but I didn't really think that my kids needed a snack an hour and a half past their bedtime, so I reluctantly brought along a couple of granola bars, just in case. My poor kids looked at their granola bars, then at the other families' packed snacks of chips, or whipped cream and strawberries, or, in one case, pulled pork sandwiches, and then back at their granola bars balefully. They ate their granola bars, but it was pretty clear that they'd rather be eating pulled pork sandwiches, chips, and whipped cream and strawberries.

Such is the nature of compromise: nobody was happy!

Our sleeping spot was in the special events room in the Dolphin Gallery, with one giant window looking into the dolphins' underwater habitat. The security guards came in to give us a run-down of the overnight rules, and this one security guard, who meant, I believe, to make a joke by describing the next shift of guards as "grumpy old men," instead misspoke and, I swear to gawd, said, "The radio, remember, is for emergency use only. We're nice, but you don't want to disturb the next shift of guards. They're a bunch of gropey old men." 

I guess that's one way to keep people from making frivolous use of the radio.

We all slept on the floor in the one big room, so we brought gym mats and blankets for the girls--
--and we borrowed two air mattresses from a very generous friend for us, with sleeping bags on top. Matt and the girls fell asleep immediately and slept like little lambs all night, but I shamefully admit that I am a fussy sleeper, and I did not do well. People kept rolling over and adjusting their covers, and one kid coughed every minute on the minute, and someone's cell phone rang, and someone else went to the bathroom, and some kid way to old to wake up and fuss woke up and fussed, and one kid, thankfully all the way across the room from us, PUKED, and so that family ran to the bathroom, and then they packed up their stuff, making ample use of the flashlights that they'd brought, and then they used the radio to call the gropey old men, and then the gropey old men came to escort them out of the zoo, and then when they were finally gone someone else started to snore.

It was a LONG night.

So worth it, though. Early in the morning, just after our 7:00 am wake-up call, the zookeeper told the children that as soon as they were fully dressed, they were welcome to come to the big window and say good morning to the dolphins (brilliant method, by the way, to get the kids up and clothed and out of the parents' way while we packed). So the children all got dressed at the speed of light, and then lined up at the giant window. They whispered to each other and waited, and after just a minute or two a couple of the dolphins swam over to see them. It wasn't the way that dolphins swim around and back and forth in their habitat during opening hours--these dolphins swam over to the kids, then rested there in the water, completely stationary, and just stared at them, and the kids stared back. It was beautiful.

Socialization is a tiresome question to bring up to homeschooled families, but every now and then, I am struck by something that my kids don't know that every schoolkid on the planet knows. Case in point:

The bemused look on Willow's face is happening because she's never drunk out of a milk carton before. The triangular opening of the carton doesn't match the shape of a child's mouth, and she was pretty sure it wouldn't work.

So there: The kid can stand in a line, she can raise her hand when she wants to talk, and now she can drink out of a milk carton.

The whole trip up to this point, Matt kept saying that he knew one of the kids at the overnight with us. I was all, "You don't know some random kid!"

But Matt kept saying that he swore that he knew him from somewhere, and finally, during breakfast, he said, "Toddlers and Tiaras! That kid was on Toddlers and Tiaras!"

I told him that there was no way that kid was on Toddlers and Tiaras, and even if he was, there was no way we were going to find out, because you can't just go up to somebody and ask that--that's admitting that you watch Toddlers and Tiaras! Also, admitting that you RECOGNIZE a kid from a baby beauty pageant? Creepy.

Matt kept insisting, however, so finally I called his bluff. I went up to the kid and said, "I have a silly question for you," and asked him if he'd ever been on TV. Wouldn't you know it, he said yes!

But of course, kids get on the afternoon news, and the local children's variety show, easier than they get on Toddlers and Tiaras, so I jumped in with both feet and asked, "Were you on Toddlers and Tiaras?"

"NO!!!" the kid said, and then I felt like a creeper. But then he said, "I was on Cake Boss." A-ha! It's not creepy to mix up TLC shows!

I asked the kid what happened on his episode, so we could watch it later, but all he said was, "I built a cake with Buddy." Yeah, I'll let Matt figure that one out on his own.

After our breakfast buffet, we had a before-hours visit back to the Deserts exhibit to watch the meerkats eat breakfast--

--and meet with their zookeeper, and then we went backstage to tour the zoo behind the scenes, particularly the animal commissary. I LOVED the animal commissary. It cracked me up to see all the food, lots of which were variations of "Giraffe Chow":

I also love behind-the-scenes tours, because I always like to see what's on those employee bulletin boards that businesses always have. Check this out!
GASP, right?!?
After the zoo opened to day visitors our official adventure was over, but morning hours in a deserted zoo are always a great time to really experience the animals, so, of course, we stayed for a few more hours, visiting the snakes (although we toured Deserts the night before, we couldn't see the snakes, because they require complete silence and darkness overnight or some of them won't eat), and the tigers, and watching the dolphin show, and saying hi to Ray, the loud-mouthed sea lion (one of the great things that the zookeepers did during our overnight was teach us how to recognize several of the animals by name).

We don't always have a zoo membership (we trade years between a children's museum membership and a zoo membership, to save money), and we've really been treasuring it. We've discovered that the animals are so much more engaged when the zoo is deserted, so we've been taking advantage of the freezing weather to visit often and make some special memories. It's snowing again today, of course (sigh), but we're already dreaming of the seasonal butterfly exhibit that will come to the zoo in just a couple of months and signal the true warm weather.

And then maybe another zoo overnight? I think the girls would really like to go with just their Daddy the next time, don't you?


Tina said...

That's some serious fun you had! Sucks about the crappy sleeping though.

Emma loved the photos :0)

cake said...

such a great post. I would also not be able to sleep in that environment, but it sounds like a great adventure for the girls. I loved what you wrote about the morning dolphin viewing. I dream of communing with dolphins.