My parents flew in from Denver last weekend to check out our new digs and enjoy the perfect weather with us. So much fun. On Monday, we all (except poor Scott, who had to work, sniff) went to the zoo. It was every bit as wonderful as I’ve heard. Who doesn’t love the San Diego Zoo?
We didn’t make it to the pandas because we spent so much time with the reptiles and monkeys. But that’s okay, because my fabulous parents bought us an annual membership for Christmas. For a family our size, the membership costs about as much as one and a half trips to the zoo. It comes with guest passes and other discounts, plus a zoo magazine. It’s a perfect arrangement: now we can drop in for an hour or two whenever we feel like it, without feeling pressured to see the whole thing in one swoop.
The first year we lived in Virginia, I bought a family membership to the Frontier Culture Museum, which was about 40 minutes from our house and five minutes from our church. I took the kids at least once a month, often dropping by for an hour on our way home from Sunday Mass. We got to know the costumed interpreters by name, and when new lambs were born that April, we got to cuddle them on our laps. Going by numbers, the membership paid for itself in two visits, but its real value to our family would be impossible to tally. My girls would don their bonnets (purchased at another living history museum* before we left Long Island) and make-believe their way through barnyards and thatched houses, having the time of their lives. They got to spin wool, card fleece, shell peas, and chase hoops. Best fifty dollars I ever spent.
The zoo membership promises to be just as much fun. We got a real treat on this first visit—we happened into one of the aviaries just as a zookeeper was beginning to feed the birds. She was carrying four or five little tubs of food: crickets, worms, peanuts. She’d cluck and call the birds by name, and they clustered round her in anticipation of their particular favorite tidbits. My girls clustered round, too, and the extremely kind zookeeper told them all about the birds. It was a glimpse behind the scenes, and we were thrilled.
When she finished, the zookeeper told us she was about to feed the flamingos, and did we want to come watch? You bet we did! She told us the best place to stand, and on our way to the prime spot, she opened her access door to the flamingo pool area and invited us to the threshold for a quick meet-and-greet with some of the birds. We were charmed by "Handsome," a flirty scarlet ibis who likes to stick close to his zookeeper friend. My kids can’t wait to go back to visit him. Our plan is to scope out when the feeding times are for all the different animals, so we’ll know where to go whenever we drop in.
This year, when relatives ask you what the kids would like for Christmas, I highly recommend that you drop a hint for a membership to the zoo or museum or science center closest to you. Charlotte Mason encouraged mothers to take their children to the same park or woods on a regular basis, so that the place and its denizens would become familiar, and changes in season easier to observe. The same principle applies to places like museums and zoos!
*Readers of the Charlotte books may be interested to know that the hatmaker in Charlotte’s village was inspired by the hatmaker at Old Bethpage, the place where we got our bonnets. Bushy eyebrows and all!