A couple of weeks ago I’d picked up Hanley from school and was talking to her on the way home, which annoys her to no end, because all she wants to do is sit in the backseat like Driving Miss Daisy and chew on her “sucky” in peace while listening to music and staring out the window, but I make her tell me about her day and require that she not have her “sucky” in her mouth while she talks, because not only can I not understand her with it in her mouth but I’m SO CRUEL! On this particular ride home the talk turned to animals, as it’s wont to do, and Hanley said something about lions in cages at the zoo. “Have you ever been to the zoo?” I asked.
“No,” Hanley answered in a plaintive little voice, as if she couldn’t possibly go to the zoo while chained to the plow in the North Forty durning the day and scrubbing floors with a toothbrush during the nights. And then there’s the driveway to sweep! No. No zoo for Hanley!
“Are you sure you haven’t been to the zoo?” I asked. Her concept of time is wonky and she’s still learning how to use “yesterday” and “tomorrow” correctly, so it doesn’t hurt to ask these things twice. I also thought I remembered that maybe her father was going to take her to the zoo at some point. “Didn’t you go to the zoo with your Daddy?”
“No,” Hanley insisted warily. Her tone implied that he’d been lost at sea before that event could occur.
“Huh,” I said, still not sure I should believe her. Despite my hesitation I said, “Maybe you and I can go to the zoo tomorrow.” We had been getting out of the car and I’d just unbuckled her from her safety seat, so when she heard my suggestion started making noises only dolphins could understand and launched herself at me, attaching herself to my leg like an over-excited squid. I extricated myself from her grasp, took her hands, and went down on one knee so we were at eye level, a clear signal I wanted to be understood. “I said maybe. Maybe we’ll go. It doesn’t mean we will, but it’s a possibility. Capiche?” Sometimes I hear myself talk like Uncle Jesse and cringe. She said, “Yes. We might go. Look! A butterfly!” and she was gone, on to the next thing.
It was good she moved on from our conversation so quickly, because I hadn’t realized the next day was July Fourth and I wouldn’t even see her the next day. For whatever reason, I don’t think I saw her again until the following week–which was fine, because I was housesitting, taking care of dogs and a cat, EZ visited The Compound for an extended weekend, and I had stories to read and mark up for the anthology Becky and I are currently editing–when I picked her up from school once again, only this time with the idea of going to the zoo. Unfortunately, it was raining.
“Where are we going?” Hanley asked, when she realized we were going a different way. I smiled to myself when I noted that she took her “sucky” out of her mouth before she asked the question. Houston storms tend to either last all day or for about a half hour. Sometimes an hour. The rain had started when I left The Compound, so by that point I was hoping it would stop raining by the time we got to the zoo. I didn’t want to get Hanley’s hopes up, so I said, “What did you do in school today?” Hanley made an exasperated noise, dramatically yanked the “sucky” out of her mouth and told me for the millionth time about blocks, coloring, singing, and other activities. By the time we reached the zoo parking lot the rain had indeed stopped, so when Hanley asked again what we were doing, I revealed, “We’re going to the zoo.”
By the time we found a parking space, my hearing had resolved itself after trying to process Hanley’s excited dolphin-like squealing–Does Houston have an aquarium? I made a mental note to look into that–and we made the trek from the vast parking lot to the ticket booth. Once inside, we went straight for the elephants at Hanley’s request. Unfortunately, they were nowhere to be seen. Instead, a lone dog ran through the massive space, playing with a red ball. “Look! A dog!” Hanley exclaimed. “I don’t know that dog.” We found the elephants in enclosed pens, behind glass. A huge disappointment. But we did learn the dog, Max, is a companion dog for the elephants and knows every command the elephants know, because he learns them first and helps train them.
We pressed onward, from animal to animal, enclosure to enclosure, to discover that the vast majority of the animals had moved indoors to hide from the previous rain or they were sleeping. Twenty minutes in to our time at the zoo Hanley announced, “I want to go home.”
“I didn’t shell out twenty-five bucks to see sleeping meerkats and elephants under glass, Hanley. Let’s keep walking.”
“Okay,” Hanley said. Her tone suggested that while the zoo was beneath her intelligence it certainly beat pulling the plow all day.
As we pressed onward things got better, as the gays say. The cheetahs woke from their naps, a lion peed in our general direction, and an anteater shuffled by the front of its enclosure as if to say hello. Hanley loved the flamingos. “They’re pink!” she exclaimed. She held the hem of her pink dress and added, “Like me!” Then we saw the giraffes and I explained that they’re vegetarians. “They only eat leaves.” “Like mommy,” Hanley said. “Exactly,” I confirmed.
We rode the carousel, which Hanley loved, and then she played with other kids in the water play park. She was soaking wet, but I gave her a piggy back ride anyway as we tried to find the exit. It was hot, so I didn’t mind getting wet. Plus, I could get us out quicker that way, since we were pressed for time. I had to get her home at a certain time so she could go out for dinner with her parents. Unfortunately, I got turned around and got lost somewhere around the chimpanzees. We were momentarily lost in a jungle, but then I found the way out and we left. Back at the car Hanley said, “I like the zoo. I love you, Uncle Tim.”
“I love you, too, Hanley. Are you going to eat everything on your plate when you go out to dinner with your parents?”
“Yes!” she said, exasperated once again; three going on thirteen. Her tone implied that she needed all the sustenance she could get if she was ever going to repave that driveway.
My Houston Zoo photo set is viewable on Flickr by clicking here.