Monday, August 19, 2019

When You Have Your First Day of School at the Zoo

I don't think it's uncommon for homeschoolers to celebrate the first day of public schools in their district in a way that's a little anarchic. 

It's kind of smirky, sure, to brag about whatever you're doing that's not going back to school on the day that everyone else is showing off their first day of school photos, but whatever. It's fun!

I don't usually make a big deal about pointing out the date to the kids, but I always note it for myself, and yes, I try to make it something extra unusual or extra fun. Last year, the kids' first day of seventh and ninth grades began at 3 am on the top of Cadillac Mountain. The year before that, Matt and I surprised the kids with a day at Holiday World. One year, when they were small, I made it a holiday and we ate doughnuts and watched movies and skateboarded in the street all day.

This year had a good first day of school, too: we spent the night at the Cincinnati Zoo, sleeping with the manatees!

This is the third zoo overnight that I've done over the years (the kids' FOURTH!), and honestly, if I never do another one I'll be fine, because my sleep schedule is messed up enough without further testing it in a sleeping bag on a vaguely-carpeted concrete floor next to whispering strangers who won't shut up all freaking night and I'd murder them/wake up their chaperones and tell them to murder them if I wasn't too exhausted and depressed to fight my way off the floor, but the kids like them, so there you go. 

And they're crazy educational, so there's that.

And at 5 am, when those horrible whispering children by my head had finally fallen asleep (and yes, I'd scolded them numerous times, and I have very low expectations for the future success of children who'd be scolded by an adult for Doing a Thing and then carry on Doing the Thing over and over again) but by then I'd completely given up on the idea of slumber, myself, I sat up in my sleeping bag and had a lovely, quiet, magical, miraculous time watching the manatees swim and frolic about. They're all orphans who are being fostered by the zoo, and someday they'll be back swimming and frolicking in the wild.


The kids also really like the behind-the-scenes tours that you get during an overnight, as well as the animal encounters--

--as well as the chance to be up bright and early and exploring while many of the animals are also up bright and early and exploring. The kids and I marveled, because I don't think we'd ever before seen a red panda actually AWAKE!

We even got our own private bird show:

After the overnight, the kids and I spent the whole day at the zoo, exploring:

Somehow, wherever we go, Syd always manages to find herself a kitty!

And another kitty:

And, yes, yet another kitty:

We were out early enough to see some of the animals eating breakfast:

We got about double the mileage that I'd liked to have gotten for this day, on account of spacey children's somewhat spacey map-reading skills. Experiential education in action!

My favorite animals were this pack of African painted dogs. They're all the grown puppies of a single mother, and they acted like a giant, bratty schoolyard full of rowdy children. It was super fun to watch them play:

There were other opportunities for animal encounters throughout the day--

--as well as another bird show that we worried was going to be super lame, compared to the private one we'd had earlier, but actually it was the best part of the entire day! The keeper who'd done our first show in a straight, informative style was, in this show, a bumbling, inept zookeeper who did tricks with a chicken and kept losing one of the macaws. Every now and then, when he was looking the other way, someone behind the scenes would send the macaw out for a stroll behind his back, and the packed crowd, chock-full of children, would lose their collective minds. Normally that kind of stuff annoys the heck out of me, and maybe it was the sleep deprivation this time, but it was off-the-hook hilarious.

At one point, two keepers are talking about litter and disease and whatever, I don't even know because I wasn't paying attention, because rats just started running back and forth along the top of the scenery. The audience flipped out with shrieking excitement. It was bonkers, I can't even tell you in words.

Part of the premise of the show is that they had perches all along the edges and back of the audience area, and they'd have birds free fly to and fro. At one point, the bumbling zookeeper falls to the ground and pretends to be a corpse so that the trainer can show off the vulture flying over to do its part in the circle of life. As the bird's flying, I'm thinking, "Wow, that guy sure is coming in hot," and it does not reduce its speed one iota before absolutely barreling directly into the prone zookeeper's crotch. He curls up and wallows, the trainer winces and keeps going. It's one of the best things that I've ever seen in my life.

This is the first time that we've been to the zoo post-Harambe. We saw Harambe the last time that we were there, and I just want to tell you right now that in the blog post that I wrote about that trip to the zoo, I described in detail watching a small child climb over the safety fence and I noted exactly how easy it would have been for her to take two more steps and fall through the shrubbery and into the gorilla habitat.

Rest in peace, Harambe.

Thanks to not having the map and instead being navigated by a couple of bickering kids, I was a little disoriented in this area, but I did note that the gorilla habitat, or at least the public's access to it, is different. I didn't see that open-air area at all, or at least I didn't find it if it's still there. Instead, we had access to this glass-enclosed area:

We admired the zoo's other famous inhabitant, Fiona, and I spent an excessive amount of time feeling sad at the passenger pigeon memorial:

THIS is why I take the kids places. Look--they've stopped bickering for a minute!

Even when they're bickering as hard as they can while dragging me fourteen times around the zoo because they haven't mastered efficient map-reading, I treasure spending these days with my girls. It's especially poignant as they grow older, knowing that in just three years Will will be having her own adventures in college, and just next year Syd may very well be taking advantage of the host of excellent art classes in the local public high school by becoming a full-time public schoolkid.

With such big adventures on the horizon for the two of them, it's all I can do to concentrate on enjoying my small adventures with them right now.

Happy first day of eighth grade, Syd!

Happy first day of tenth grade, Will!

Whatever else this school year holds, we spent the first day of it exactly as we most want to homeschool: together, happy, having an adventure, and learning what we like:

And eating an excessive amount of peanut butter. Because tradition, after all, is tradition!

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