With both boys in Zoo Camp for the week, Aubade and I spent the morning visiting the zoo at her pace. Despite the heat, we had a really nice time together – and ran into an unexpected adventure along the way!
Apparently, at the beginning of the summer, the Phoenix Zoo received 11 greater flamingo eggs from the San Diego Zoo to supplement their flock – and decided to try to train them to go on walks and mingle with people, since they were going to have to hand rear them anyway. So, as we snacked by the Children’s Trail, a zookeeper came up to us and told us that flamingo chicks would be coming out for a walk in just a few minutes up by the vulture exhibit. Needless to say, we cut our snack short and made our way over.
The chicks are about 7 weeks old and just starting to grow their contoured wing feathers; everywhere else they are still fuzzy with down, and they haven’t begun eating the diet that will provide them with their characteristic pigmentation. They are also still a bit wobbly when they walk, and it was so adorable when they would have to hop on two feet and flap their wings to keep their balance. Having been raised as a group instead of as single chicks (greater flamingos only lay one egg at a time, and the chicks do not socialize with the rest of the flock until closer to maturity), they have become inseparable. They also still retain some of the snuggliness of babyhood, and a few climbed up into the zookeepers’ laps to cuddle after their walk.
While they asked us to stay about 6 feet behind the flamingos during the walk itself (or stay motionless off to the side), as the flamingos can be distracted easily, we got to be very close to them during the huddle at the end. Aubade even got to spray some water on their feet to help them cool down!
If you’re local and want to see the flamingos yourself, they are currently walking around the Children’s Trail every day at 7:30, and most days at 9:30 (depending on how hot it is). Their walk starts near the vulture and owl exhibits, although I’m sure the exact tour varies from day to day. It’s definitely not something that happens all the time, and worth braving the heat for in my opinion. Just walk out for the poop while you’re following them around!
Because Rondel was in zoo camp every morning this week (which, by the way, was a major success – he absolutely loved it), I got to spend some more focused time with Limerick and Aubade, and they got to spend more time playing together. Normally, Rondel does most of the talking and directing when the kids are playing, so I was curious what would happen in his absence; what happened was that Limerick filled in the gaps quite easily and just about talked non-stop, especially towards the beginning of the week. And it was nice to have the chance to listen to him without having to simultaneously try to listen to Rondel… it can be a bit much when they are both talking to me (and demanding a response!) at the same time.
On the first day, we stayed at the zoo and watched the Andean bears for a long time. Limerick decided he would be an imaginary creature called a buck bear, and spent at least thirty minutes describing this animal and its habitat to me while Aubade slept. (It is very much an atypical bear, as it has sticky feet like geckos and gills like a fish! Rondel never lets him get away with such aberrations from reality 😛 ). He also was brave enough to sit right against the glass next to the baboon! He’d been watching Aubade interact with her for a while, and had clearly wanted to see the baboon up close himself, but had been too scared to do so. I was proud of him for getting closer even though he was nervous.
On the second day, we came home and just hung out together. We cleaned, we read books, we played with stuffed animals – it was relaxed and fun. (Also, that night we received Rondel’s official diagnosis of autism, after several weeks of waiting.)
On the third day we did more of the same, but stopped in Downtown Mesa on the way home to explore the musical instruments in front of the IDEA Museum. We used to visit there all the time when we lived within walking distance, when Rondel and Limerick were Aubade’s age, but she hasn’t gotten to experience it very much, and judging from her reactions she was very glad we went!
Yes, I let her choose her own clothes and accessories… apparently oversized T-shirts pilfered from her brothers and metal chain VeggieTales necklaces are in fashion in the 18 month old set these day 🙂 She is so opinionated about what she wears – and always ridiculously cute in it, no matter how off-the-wall it may seem at first.
On the fourth day of camp we rested in the morning but took Rondel with us down to IKEA in the afternoon! IKEA may be a store, but my children seem to think it is a giant playground. Every couch needs to be sat upon, every pillow smushed, every stuffed animal hugged, and every bed snuggled in. We were just there for some curtains, but we lingered everywhere (and let Aubade take a nice long nap in her carseat in the shopping cart en route!). Then I kept my momentum going long enough to hang and hem the curtains, and make a curtain and valance for the kitchen sink window with some fabric I found in my stash.Here they are all pulled back! Those are south-facing windows… and it’s summer in Arizona… so the curtains haven’t been spending too much time open like this. Even just the white fabric over the sink made a noticeable difference when I first hung it up. And I impressed myself (and probably my husband too) by managing to actually complete a project!
The last day of zoo camp I missed out on drop off, pick up, and sweet time with the littles because it was my husband’s day off and my day to go in and work. Not quite as fun, or not fun in the same way, but I did get to consult with a colleague from a different core facility and develop a project and sample tracker for their instruments and workflows, which was both interesting and satisfying. Since I’ve started working such limited hours, and partly from home, my position has shifted a bit away from the biology lab work to the information systems behind the lab work, and I’m finding it really engaging.
It feels like we began the summer at a sprint, and I think it is just going to keep on this way as we have swim lessons and a visit from my sister in June, and my parents are funding a second session of zoo camp for Rondel as a birthday present in July. But honestly the heat is so intense that having planned activities helps prevent me from doing nothing but lounging around the house eating ice cream! Not that ice cream is a bad thing, necessarily… I finally jumped on the nice cream train this summer, one night when Rondel was emotionally collapsing over the absence of ice cream in our house and I knew there were tons of frozen bananas just calling to me. The plain vanilla flavor isn’t my favorite, but the chocolate peanut butter version tastes like decadent chocolate ice cream, with the added bonus of being healthy enough that I can serve it to the kids for lunch and become the coolest mom ever. I don’t really have a recipe, but in essence I just blend up frozen banana chunks in the food processor, with a bit of milk if necessary, and then add in a huge scoop of peanut butter and a couple tablespoons of cocoa powder. We’ve made at least three batches in the past two weeks, and would have made more if we hadn’t run out of bananas and had to buy more, wait for them to get nice and overripe, and then wait for them to freeze! My skepticism regarding this whole concept has been removed by the goodness of nice cream.
And zoo camp itself? Well, every morning Rondel cooperated with me to get dressed and eat his food, he ran ahead into the group to participate, and he greeted me back at the end with endless excitement, ready to tell me about everything he did. He got to pet, hold, and feed a huge variety of animals (from bunnies and boa constrictors to sting rays and giraffes); he drew pictures; he played games with other kids; he got to bring home a sting ray tooth that he sifted out of the sand in a pool; and he got to see so many animals that he loves. In short, he got to practice social skills and adaptability while also being in one of his favorite places in the world, getting to spend time focused on animals without any distractions. I just wish I had pictures!
What are your favorite ways to deal with the heat, especially with little kids? They don’t approve of me just lying in the sun soaking it up, but running around when it’s 100 degrees outside gets tiring fast! And do you have any awesome plans for the summer?
Rondel loves the zoo. I think he would want to go there almost every day (some days have to be for Grandma’s house) if possible, and he never wants to leave no matter how long we’ve been there. There are always more animals to see, more wonders to explore, more facts to learn. As much as he enjoys the splash pad, he always asks to see another exhibit instead, despite the heat, until I mandate a water break on behalf of his siblings.
So I thought to myself, I wonder if the zoo is doing any summer camps? Rondel will probably still be too young, but I can still see what’s available. Blithely thinking these things, I went onto their website and discovered that Rondel is not too young by any means, and would be eligible to attend a half-day camp focusing either on animal stories or animal art.
Part of me leaped up in excitement! He loves the zoo! What a great opportunity! How awesome would it be to get to spend that much time at the zoo, talking about animals, looking at animals, surrounded by people who also love animals! What a chance to try to integrate with a group of peers, in an environment without a parent, to stretch his comfort zone and expand his social skills! And oh… what about dealing with loud groups, bright sunlight, the challenges of speech articulation delays, and the anxiety of the unknown? This is, after all, the boy who struggles in a typical Sunday school classroom even with a personal aide, and the boy who cries at the park if he turns around and can’t see me – even if I haven’t moved from where he left me. Would a summer camp be an adventure or a nightmare?
My husband had the wisest words about this dilemma, about the dichotomy between excitement and fear: that if we, as Rondel’s parents, make a decision for him based on our fears of what might happen, based on what we think his limitations and struggles might be, than we are placing that limitation on him instead of giving him a chance to grow and soar and potentially surprise us all with his abilities. We would need to plan well for it, obviously, to give him the best possible chance to succeed and to give him a way out if it proved to be too much, but it would be foolish – especially in the long-term – to simply close this door because we fear he will fail.
It reminded me of a passage from (you guessed it!) Differently Wired. (Reber really seems to have covered everything. I promise I didn’t begin writing this post trying to sneak a quote in!)
“Choosing fear equates our child with their diagnosis, rather than seeing them as creative beings who are here to shake up the world in their own magnificent way. Choosing fear is the very thing that keeps us stuck. Choosing fear creates a culture of apprehension and anxiety in our families, and affects the way our children, many of whom are already highly sensitive and anxious, feel about themselves. Operating from fear leads to more limited thinking and fearful energy, which both we and our child will feel, and less chance of our child’s uncovering and experiencing their extraordinary possibilities. It’s the epitome of a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Instead of choosing to direct my child away from opportunities and experiences because I’m afraid they’ll be too hard for him, I am choosing to present him with the options and let him come to his own informed decision – and then, I am choosing to support him through the results of that decision, even if they prove to be difficult or unpleasant. That is the process that will help him grow in self-awareness and confidence, that will help him develop autonomy and independence, and that will therefore help him grow into greater possibilities instead of holding him back in a box created by my own anxious and limited imagination.
If you liked the quote from Differently Wired, read my brief review of the book here and check back in June for the giveaway!
The boys – especially Rondel – have been deeply interested in dinosaurs for quite a long time now, and are beginning to branch out into animals of all types. It really began with the Planet Earth documentaries that I would put on for them during Aubade’s nap times, and has continued with a short series called Africa’s Deadliest that is just as overly dramatic as the name suggests but which contains some great footage of wild animals as well as a lot of scientific facts. When we found and caught a lizard (well, rescued it from a bowl it had fallen into, to be more accurate) not too long ago, he was entranced: he understood intuitively how to hold it gently and carefully, and let it climb all over him with no fear, and ended up playing with it for 45 minutes before releasing it so it could return to its natural habitat.
So I was not surprised when he asked to go to the zoo this week, nor when he actually showed in interest in seeing the animals instead of just the dinosaur exhibit and the splash pad! And it was a good day to go!
We did of course have to visit the dinosaurs:
Obviously we couldn’t observe any live, wild, natural animal life here – but we had some discussions about the different types of nests made by different dinosaurs (we compared the twig nest of the Citipati – a feathered broody dinosaur – to that of the Diabloceratops, which was too large to brood its eggs and most likely made a mud nest like a crocodile), as well as about how the different types of dinosaurs might react if they saw us!
From the dinosaur trail the bighorn sheep exhibit is also visible, and Aubade got very excited when I pointed them out and told the kids what they were. She leaned forward in the stroller as far as she could, waving and yelling, “Hi!” – and then she turned to me, smiled, and matter-of-factly said, “Baa!” It was neat seeing her make the connection between the distant animal on the mountainside and the fuzzy white blob in her Moo, Baa, La La La board book by Sandra Boynton.
When we left the dinosaur trail, it seemed like a lot of the animals were active and awake – we got to see baboon, mandrills, oryx, cheetah (unfortunately they were difficult to see, but we did manage to spot them), otters, flamingos, zebras, and more! The flamingos were standing right by the fence, so we stood on one leg like they did, and noticed how they could turn their heads all the way around backwards to use their back like a pillow, and wondered why their large beaks only ever opened a very small amount.
Per Rondel’s request, after a cool-down break at the splash pad we visited the Tropical Birds trail, which includes a small aviary. Apparently, it is mating season at the zoo – so all the birds were awake and showing off their finery! The male peacock had his full tail fan extended, and kept shaking it at the peahen, making a surprisingly loud rattling noise when he did so. In the aviary, the male argus pheasant was strutting around on the path, making a call that the zoo keeper told us he only made during this season, instead of hiding in the back corners as he tends to do the rest of the year.
Rondel was absolutely captivated. He approached the bird slowly and quietly, and held his hands tightly back so he wouldn’t accidentally touch it (he would jump out of the way if the bird turned around so that he wouldn’t end up touching his long tail feather!), and just squatted down gazing at him for a long time, as other groups of people came and went.
Limerick was a little less certain, but he eventually went over as well. I was super proud of both of them – they are often very impulsive and active kids, and they had no trouble at all adjusting their behavior to what was needed by the animals. We talked a bit here about how a lot of viruses can jump between birds and people, so if we touched the birds we could get them sick or they could get us sick… my molecular biology background always ends up showing itself somehow 🙂
We finished up with the tiger and the Komodo dragon. I had never actually seen the Komodo dragon exhibit at our zoo, but Rondel instantly remembered them from the new Planet Earth series and was incredibly excited about them. They weren’t moving much – just soaking in the sun – but they are impressive creatures. We noticed how it was basking in the sun to soak up the energy it needs as a cold-blooded animal, and counted its claws (five on each foot, just like us, in case you wondered).
And of course we played on the Komodo dragon statue for a while!
The most wonderful thing about homeschooling is the ability we have to follow our interests – obviously in going to the zoo for a whole morning instead of adhering to a lesson plan or a class schedule, but also in deciding when to linger at an exhibit and when to move on, when to talk about the details of how an animal lives and when to stick to the basic overview, when to focus on the live animal exhibits and when to simply just have fun. The experience we had today was so real and so rich that I wouldn’t trade it for any classroom I’ve ever known.