Mr. Fab and I recently visited the San Diego Zoo. It used to be one of our favorite weekend getaways, so I was shocked when I checked my old photos and realized we hadn’t been in almost four years.
It’s not really surprising that we’ve stayed away. Taking children to the zoo is one of those things that epitomized the joy of parenthood for me. I loved the idea of taking a child to see the animals and sharing his joy and wonder at seeing a giraffe or an elephant up close and in the flesh. I knew I wouldn’t be one of those tap-on-the-glass “look at the cute monkey” parents either. I’d be the kind of parent who took the opportunity to teach understanding and respect for animals, while still having a good time chowing on popcorn and riding the Skyfari.
Four years after our last visit, one such parent caused me a momentary pang of sadness. At the bonobo exhibit, I thought: That could have been me teaching my little boy the difference between monkeys and apes. I would have been a good parent. But it was a fleeting thought and it didn’t ruin our visit.
Around 11:00 Mr. Fab and I sat in the shade of an umbrella by the panda exhibit, sipping tea, munching popcorn, and watching the masses swarm by. We weren’t the only childfree couple at the zoo that day, but we were certainly the minority. There were families everywhere. There were parents carrying, pushing, and feeding their children. They were soothing, admonishing, bargaining with, and yelling at. There were tears and tantrums, demands to stay, and demands to leave. Yes, there were smiles and giggles, too, but I realized that my “taking my children to the zoo” fantasy hadn’t included very much of the parenting reality.
From beneath the cool shade of our umbrella, it seemed that Mr. Fab and I were having a much better day than many of the parents and I was reminded again that even the dark, dark cloud of infertility and unplanned childlessness can have some very pleasant silver linings.