Thursday, June 3, 2021

Eleventh Grade Graduation at the Zoo


Last school year, in those magical pre-pandemic times, the kids had their first day of eighth and tenth grades at the Cincinnati Zoo.

This school year, I don't particularly know what Will was doing on her first day, as I was busy helping Syd figure out HER first day of navigating a school-issued shitty laptop, Canvas, Microsoft Teams, and a schedule of live and asynchronous lessons that, I kid you not, completely changed every two weeks for months.

It continued much like that for the entire school year. Will worked mostly independently while I gave most of my emotional and mental energy to supporting Syd. Will worked her butt off, kept to her schedule, and completed her tasks, more or less off of my radar. It's not how we've ever homeschooled before, it's not how I like to homeschool, and I hope it's not how we'll homeschool next year, but Will made it work.

Now that we're both fully vaccinated, though, I was SO ready to surprise my hard-working kid with a trip to the Indianapolis Zoo on her last day of eleventh grade!

I think this might be the first time that I've ever taken Will to the zoo without her sister along? It certainly never happened when I was homeschooling two kids, and thanks to the pandemic, none of the field trips I'd hoped to take with just Will this school year materialized--we didn't so much as go to the art museum across town together, much less that trip to Florida we'd been planning and looking forward to, sigh.

I reminded Will, then, that SHE was in charge of our day. She decided where we went, what we saw, and how long we stayed at each exhibit. This meant, of course, that we went EVERYWHERE. We saw EVERYTHING. And we stayed in front of each exhibit for a completely interminable twenty minutes, at LEAST. I mean, you apparently have to read the signage, then watch the animals for a billion years, then read the signage again, then watch the animals before. Maybe check out that sign again. Maybe peek just one more time at the animals. Then walk fifty feet and repeat with another set of animals.

For instance, we probably hung out at the touch tank for an hour. Field trips and families came and went, splashing and screaming obnoxiously and scaring the Chondricthyans over in the other part of the tank, but Will and I camped out at one quiet end, where she leaned over quietly and calmly and proceeded to pet every creature in that habitat:

We had to skip ahead to the penguins and then circle back to the sea lions because there were too many unmasked breathers our first time through:

We were pretty sure that some scientist stole these from the macaques they were studying, and we're pissed on their behalf:

Apparently, Will has grown out of wanting to sit in the splash zone during the dolphin show, but I haven't grown out of laughing with delight every time a dolphin so much as moves its flipper:

At the flamingo habitat, there was a zoo employee running a virtual field trip on his phone. I was VERY impressed at his ability to livestream flamingos, see all the tiny Zoom hands raised, acknowledge children by name, and ready-reference various facts... on a PHONE. These days, I have to push my glasses down my nose and peer nearsightedly just to read my email on my phone!

The rock hyrax was my favorite animal on this day. Look at its silly little munching face!

We were watching the lemurs when it started to rain, and it was absolutely hilarious to see them run for their indoor enclosure as fast as the humans running for the awnings!

This tiger is very impressive because there's a toddler right behind us, and the tiger wants to eat it:

There were places in the zoo where I was anxious about our safety, because vaccinated or not, I don't want to cram in with a bunch of random people all breathing in the same space. Will and I got ourselves trapped under the tiger awning when a bunch of people with strollers rolled in right after us and took up all the walking room. I was pretty cool about it until a preschooler, stumbling around and touching all the things, coughed directly on Will's... knees, I guess, but still. I might have panicked a bit because all I really remember is covering Will's mouth and nose with my hand, taking her arm, and marching her straight out of there, double strollers packed with babies be damned. We were several feet down the path before I realized that I was literally smothering my uncomplaining child and let her go.

We also had a bad time hanging out inside with the orangutans, thanks to a hundred thousand adult breathers who felt like masks violate their civil rights. I saw one woman who was wearing a a face... veil, I guess? It was made of something gauzy and only tied at the top, so every time she leaned over to tend her two toddlers it simply floated out of the way of her and all her mouth germs. One of her toddlers sneezed without covering its mouth and I dragged Will out of there, only barely remembering not to smother her this time.

But look at the outside of the orangutan habitat!

Way up there is an orangutan looking down on us!

We were much happier in the desert, where Will could lean against the rails and admire every animal individually for twenty minutes at a time while all the other breathers wandered by without stopping:

My nerves might have been a little bit shot by this time, because I came closer than I ever have in my life to screaming at a stranger in front of the meerkat habitat. Will and I, both unused to public outings, had been low-key irritated by every other human at the zoo for a while: why do they all talk so loudly? Why do they insist on shouting at their children to look at some particular thing, and then as soon as the kid gets interested, work just as hard to wheedle the kid away to go look at some other thing? Why do they all scream the name of every animal's cartoon counterpart when they see it? Why do they all wear their masks under their grossly breathing noses?

So there Will and I were, minding our own business quietly watching the meerkats go about theirs, when a family rolls up next to us. Of course they've got a double stroller, and of course they're talking super loudly, and of course when the dad sees the meerkats he starts to scream, sort of attempting to be tuneful, "MOVE IT, MOVE IT! MOVE IT, MOVE IT!" 

Then, when nobody in his family responds, he screams, "Get it? Like the movie!"

Oh. My. Gawd.

First of all, THAT IS NOT THE CORRECT MOVIE. The movie with the "Move it, Move it" song is about LEMURS. WHICH ARE ALSO IN THIS ZOO. He could go obnoxiously sing that song to the lemurs and at least be accurate, if still unbearable.

Second of all, meerkats HAVE A SONG. FROM A DIFFERENT MOVIE. WHICH IS MORE FAMOUS THAN MADAGASCAR. Seriously, have you never heard of, oh, I don't know... THE LION KING?!? He could still sing an obnoxious song to the meerkats! Surely he knows at least the chorus of "Hakuna Matata"?!?

Here's Will sharing a commiserating look with a meerkat who I bet knows all the words to "Hakuna Matata" by now:

The cheetahs are also my zoo favorites, ever since the day after a family trip to the zoo we found out that one of them had escaped its enclosure! Cheetahs really just love to lay around and be comfy, and this cheetah (one of the brothers below), saw a comfier spot above his habitat and hopped on up to it. He happily napped there until a zoo employee just happened to spot him.

Here's another set of cheetah siblings who also love each other:

Okay, my other OTHER favorite part of the zoo is when we come during the spring and summer and the butterflies are in their pavilion!

After visiting with every single butterfly, we had just enough time to see every single flower in the outdoor gardens, too:

This thing is so cool! It's a super heavy ball that you can roll around the sand to make prints themed to the current season:

The balls for the other seasons are stored on pedestals around it:

We were waiting at the front gate the second that this zoo opened, and we did not drag ourselves out until five minutes after it closed. I'd say it was a successful last day of eleventh grade!

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