One of my favourite memories of zoos is going to Dubbo Open Plains Zoo as a kid and watching a llama eat my little brother’s hair. The llama scored a good chunk of blonde locks before chowing down on some nearby hay.
My little brother had a new “hair cut” (that I didn’t “do”) and all was well with the world.
I mention this only because it struck me that many of my strongest memories of childhood took place in either theme parks or zoos (this may explain my penchant for working in HR). In a flurry of parental psychosis, I had hoped that my kids would get the same enjoyment out of zoos that I did as a child.
On a whim, we made our way to Werribee Open Range Zoo on Sunday afternoon for the Rhythm of Africa Summer concert series. The music started at 5.30 so we squeezed in a safari tour beforehand. My friends had assured me the safari was relaxing. Yuh-huh, as relaxing as a toilet stall when you’re there with your pants around your ankles and realise there’s no toilet paper. NOT the animals’ fault. The heat of the setting sun beat furiously down. 10 minutes into the safari, smack bang in the middle of gawking with admiration at the remarkable hippopotamus(es? hippopotami?), Scout looks at us warily and whinges; “I’m bored” (making some great memories right there). The safari bus was open air and Inky refused to put her seatbelt on, striving to be “at one” with the zebras. The guide did warn us that anything that went outside the bus couldn’t be retrieved, so unfortunately we had to restrain her. One would hope they’d make an exception for small children but we had been warned.
As an adult I’ve not been a big fan of zoos. Those that I’ve visited in the past few years – Calgary Zoo, Vancouver Zoo, even Melbourne Zoo have made the screaming animalitarian (not a word) hippie in me sad for the animals caged to the hilt. You don’t feel that so much at Werribee Zoo. There are few “cages”, and the animals seem more free-range. You can even pretend for a moment that you’re knee-deep in Kenya on a real safari. Until of course, your 2 year old starts flinging her arms in your face shrieking, “Wanna sit with DADDY! Wanna sit with MUMMMMY! NOOOO! Wanna sit with…. AAAAAAAAAGH”. Yeah. Relaxing. Not.
I don’t know if it’s an annual thing, but every weekend in February a different African musical genre has played – Afro orchestra, roots, dance and drumming (last night was the final for the year). Being FOTZ (aka Friends of the Zoo) members we got free entry to the zoo which yesterday included some amazing Ghanian rhythms. I’d never been to Werribee Zoo but after a particularly chop-busting day c/- my aforementioned children I was deadset in the mood for some sparkling shiraz action and mellow music. And some more sparkling shiraz.
Once we actually made it to the African beats and I poured myself a huge (plastic) glass of sparkling shiraz, I breathed a tremendous sigh. The sun fell below the trees, the dusk taking the sting out of it’s tail. The music was wonderful, earthy. Terrestrial. My friends and I let the kids run free. I’m learning to let go of Scout a little now she’s 7. She’ll always be my baby, but she’s an independent, tree-climbing soul with a lively spirit that I envy some days. As the wine circled through me, the beats escalated and the sun glowed a radiant orange behind the stage, I rocked out with my littlest groovy girl with the golden locks. It was magic.
The kids may not remember this visit to the zoo, but I will. For all the reasons. Good and Bad. Isn’t that what parenting is all about?