My kids are taking me to the zoo for Mother’s Day this year. It’s the only place where I’ll feel at home, yet get to watch somebody else clean up after the baby. And if the elephants track mud into the dining room, well, let their mothers take away dirt slinging privileges. Somebody will hit the hay without having any of it to eat.
First, the family offered to take me to the all-you-can-eat buffet at the Country Club (insert snooty font here), but I don’t want to go somewhere on Mother’s Day that would question my credentials if I applied to serve as kitchen help. I’m not trustworthy with the crystal on normal days, and it’s alarming to know that I’ve been seen swirling my homegrown manicure in the champagne punch and complaining about the consistency of the water in the finger bowl.
The most important setback is that their idea of “all you can eat” at the Club is three English peas and a broiled scallop. I’d have better luck taking my chances with the penguins diving for fish at the polar exhibit. So I’m off for a treat at the zoo—and if the trainers are sloppy with their aim in the sea lion tank, I might get lucky with a herring.
The trouble with zoo food is that I’m never sure what I’m ordering. During my last trip I found that keeping with the theme, everything is named after animals or their habitats. Frankly, I’d rather have a Brillo sandwich than belly up to a Penguin Patty or a Moose Nugget dipped in the special Serengeti sauce. Even McDonald’s is keen on white meat these days, but I’m not familiar with which part of the moose the resident Quality Control experts dub “nuggets.” I'm afraid to ask the origin of the special sauce.
On an information board near the Jungle Park Tanning Salon, Ice Cream Boutique, and Gift Shop, I discover that besides the availability of Desert Dogs and Farmyard Fries, a special feature available at our zoo is the availability of Zoo Poo. I may not be excited by the litter box back home, but I’m ecstatic to find that I can purchase a full square yard of exotic animal droppings to fertilize my drooping day lilies down by the mailbox. I couldn’t grow a dandelion with a degree in botany and a lifetime supply of Weed Chow, but here’s fresh hope that a sprinkling of zebra droppings will give my garden new life. If I go wild and get a memento from the elephants, I could probably turn my scrubby pine trees into giant Redwoods by fall.
It’s hard enough trying to figure out which kiosks sell pop and which ones sell poop, but complicating things is the bizarre effect I seem to have on zoo creatures. I don’t know if it’s the clean, fresh scent of my apple shampoo that drives them wild or the everpresent aroma of meatloaf from hard time served in the kitchen, but I must be the animal kingdom’s equivalent to soft lighting and Frank Sinatra, because every time I stroll through the gates, suddenly everybody from the sea turtles to the hungry hippos are in the mood to engage in activities that I don’t want to explain to the kids.
Kid One: “What are those monkeys doing?”
Me: “Square dancing. Have some pizza.”
Just as the monkeys get to the do-si-do, I whip the kids into the aviary where I suddenly discover Rockin’ Robin is not just a song, it’s the theme of the whole park. If the Red, Red, Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbing Along any closer, we’re going to be in the middle of a flying flock.
“Here,” I say, thrusting a waffle cone into Junior’s hands as I pull him along behind me flapping in the breeze like mud flaps on a tractor-trailer. “Have some ice cream.”
It’s no better in the big cat cages, where Mr. & Mrs. Panther show Tony the Tiger a thing or two about what constitutes Greeaaaaaatttt!
Starving, tired of dodging displays where all the animal occupants should be sporting a black box over their eyes, and weary of sidestepping cute carts peddling poop, I sink down on a rock outside the reptile house, setting off a wave of rustling and slithering inside.
“It’s okay, Mom,” Junior says sliding down beside me. “Have a moose nugget.”
I didn’t even ask which stand it came from. And I don’t want to know.