“Do you guys want yellow or orange carrots?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Hadley says.
“Doesn’t matter, but I want yellow carrots,” Harper says.
The two of them are drawing pictures of super heroes and one evil villain who has the word “butt” in his name. I’m packing lunches for the three of us because today we are going to the zoo. John Mayer’s song “Stop This Train” is playing on Pandora and I feel guilty for liking his music because I’m sure it’s too simple or something like that but I walk over to the computer and hit the volume button a few times so that I can hear his voice over “Bad Butt” the evil villain who is attempting to destroy the world by….well, you can probably guess how he plans to destroy the world.
I always take the girls to the zoo when I’m feeling overwhelmed and I am not sure why that is. Last year we went when I was supposed to be reading In Praise of Folly. A few years before that we went on an afternoon when Hadley was in preschool and I couldn’t figure out how carpool worked at her school and was sick of telling people there for the zillionth time that OUR CAR DOESN’T HAVE AUTOMATIC DOORS. A few years before that, it was to push Hadley around the zoo in the stroller because I was pregnant with Harper and feeling miserable and walking helped me feel better.
This morning we are going because I miss writing, and I’m trying to figure out how I am going to take a teaching position that I really want but there are complications. We are going because I don’t know what to do with this blog anymore and I just signed up to run a half marathon in October. We are going because I want to drive down Connecticut, past Politics and Prose, past our little apartment next to the Red Line, past the sushi place we used to eat at and the bar with the rooftop deck we used to drink at, past the Avalon Theatre, past the Starbucks on Livingston I used to grade papers and plan lessons in.
“Mama?” Hadley says as we drive, “Have you noticed that there are more guy rock songs on then there are girl rock songs?” She says this as John Legend sings over the radio. ”Does this guy know how long he’s been singing?” Hadley asks after a while.
Coldplay comes on next. ”This is Chris Martin singing,” I tell the girls and Harper says, “Those are the names of the Kratz Brothers!” She’s excited because she thinks this will be a song about the PBS show, Wild Kratz.
After a bit, Rihanna comes on and she’s singing “S.O.S. (Rescue Me)” and Hadley starts tapping her foot. ”This is more like it,” she says, bopping her head. Harper has her Anna doll and is making her dance. “Girls are just better at this then boys,” Hadley says, “Don’t you think?”
We park in Lot D, where I always park because it’s closest to the Red Barn with the cows and pigs, and it’s at the bottom of a hill and it is a lot easier to go uphill with kids at the beginning of your trip to the zoo then it is at the end.
Come and knock on our door….
We look at the lions and tigers.
We play in the sprinklers that spray along the zoo paths and Harper exclaims, “Hooray for rainbows and water on hot, hot days!”
We look at crocodiles through telescopes.
When it is time for Harper’s turn, she gets frustrated because she doesn’t see the crocodile, and starts to cry. “Oh, wait!” she says, “I found purple flowers!”
We take a look at the gorillas, and chimpanzees, and orangutans.
We strike up a conversation with the docent about why orangutangs’ hair is so thick.
We get Dippin’ Dots. Oh my goodness, what ARE Dippin’ Dots? I couldn’t bring myself to eat them. They scared me.
We look for the elephants, but get sidetracked by laughing and screaming, and decide we have to find out what is going on. We find this:
It’s a little splash park dressed up like a beach, and about every two minutes it shoots water out of the rocks on the right. The kids would scream and jump and splash and dance in the water, then, come back and line up at the rock to be sprayed again.
I don’t know how they knew the water was on its way. There was no warning. After a while, though, the kids would lean against the rock and start a countdown. “TEN, NINE, EIGHT,” they’d scream, and every time they’d get to, “ONE,” sure enough, the water would come. How’d they know? How could they tell it was time?
Maybe that’s why I go to the zoo when I’m feeling overwhelmed. It’s full of surprises, but it’s the only place I can think of where I don’t have to worry about what’s coming next. I just walk along the paths with my girls and see what there is to see.
We leave the zoo and since I didn’t get Dippin’ Dots, I tell the girls that I want to go to Starbucks on the way home. ”This is where I used to go after I was finished teaching at the end of the day,” I tell them as we get closer to Livingston and Connecticut.
When we walk in, the line is long; filled with spiffy looking professionals and well coiffed retirees. We look a tad out of place in our clothes that are still wet from the sprinklers and the splash park. Harper’s tiara is knotted in her braids and Hadley has dirt on her shorts from sitting on a bench when they were still wet.
As we wait in line, Hadley takes note of the song that’s being played overhead. “Mama,” she whispers, “a girl is singing!” Hadley is right, and our tally of girl singers goes up this afternoon. This lady is singing about closing one’s eyes and being home.
“A grande coffee, please,” I say and the barista pivots to fill a cup with Pike’s Place, or maybe it’s Gold Coast. She hands it to me and the lady behind me slides her Odwalla juice so that it bumps into my wrist.
“Hi Nadine,” the lady says to the barista, and the barista starts up a conversations with her, then looks at me, annoyed, because I haven’t moved out of the way.
“I haven’t paid yet,” I say.
The barista rolls her eyes and takes my card.
I used to know the baristas here. They’d sometimes have my coffee waiting for me when I walked in. I’d sit at a table by the window and make plans for lessons I’d teach. Sometimes I’d write. On warm nights when the Cherry Blossoms lined the streets, I’d stop by our apartment just long enough to throw my bag in the living room, then hop on the Red Line to meet Jesse somewhere for dinner.
I trudge out of the store with my coffee and my girls. Hadley holds the door and Harper says, ‘Thanks, Hadley” as she skips outside. Hadley takes my hand, a rare thing these days. “This was a fun day, Mama,” she says.
“It was fun, wasn’t it?”
Harper, who has skipped ahead of us, turns around and skips back to join us.
“I had no idea that spray park was at the zoo,” Hadley says.
“OH, I know! I loved that little park! That was my favorite!” Harper exclaims.
“I think it was my favorite, too,” I say as I wonder again how the kids knew the water was on its way, waiting for it to splash them in the face so they could squeal and jump and dance.