Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wild Animal Park

Waking up earlier than usual this morning, Katie and I thought, "Why not take advantage of a beautiful warm winter day with nothing scheduled and have an adventure at the San Diego Wild Animal Park?" The idea came to me first, and after thinking about it a moment and checking the weather forecast, I proposed the trip to Katie. Even though we haven't been for several months, she exclaimed, "We can see the balloon!" (There is a big balloon for balloon rides there).

So we dressed in a flash, ate breakfast, packed our lunches, and wound our way to the park. We have a yearlong membership, so with free parking, no entrance fee, and packed lunches, the only cost we incurred today was gas. Our membership had already paid for itself one trip ago, so it felt good to be doing something beautiful, outdoors, and without having to buy anything.
When we entered the park, I asked Katie what she wanted to see first, and she said happily, "The gorillas!" and then, "They're my favorite!" They are also my favorite, so we walked around the lagoon and to the gorilla encampment. Katie pretended that she was a baby gorilla and I was a mommy gorilla most of the day. Even during dinner and bathtime moments ago, we are still in those roles. She knows that many mommy gorillas carry their babies on their backs, and she has a little gorilla mommy and baby figurine that shows this. She loves how much they are like us. Over the course of the day, she asked to visit the gorillas twice, and she loved watching them eat leaves from branches and also apples. There are so many teachable moments at the Wild Animal Park.
She also found a mommy and baby gorilla statue elsewhere in the park, and we visited that twice as well. She loved pretending to get food for them, and she loved them with her pure innocence.

Hi, Mommy and Baby Gorilla!

Sitting with the mommy gorilla was all Katie's idea...

She loved them and wanted to visit them twice....

Here, she was holding onto the baby the way it was holding onto its mommy... Again, her idea.
We walked most of the Safari trail, and we had the good fortune of seeing a lionness very much up close today. She was right by the glass, and we saw her tongue and teeth and beautiful yellow eyes. We also ran around on the grassy area by the giraffes. Katie saw a baby giraffe, which fascinated her. The Sumatran tigers were also out, and of course we visited the elephants and the gibbons.

Watching the giraffes... We got lucky today: they got pretty close....

Looking at the flamingos.

Katie has always adored ducks...

Katie probably liked the flamingos second-best to the gorillas, though. She also wanted to visit them twice, along with the meerkats.

We ate our packed lunches at a table. I brought a whole apple, and used my teeth to peel it and bite off pieces for Katie since I didn't want to pack a knife. I pondered how very mother-animal-like that was, and how fitting it was that we were among the wild animals. Our mothering instincts are not that far from theirs. We groom and feed and protect our children---and would die doing it. Even Katie, walking along, said (and we've tried to teach her this), "I am an animal!"

Since the park was not at all busy this morning, I gave Katie a little more leeway than I ever have. Usually she is in her stroller or a cart anywhere, but lately I have noticed she desires a little more autonomy. She has been asking, for example, to help me in the produce section out of the cart at the store, and yesterday at Joann's, she wanted to pick out her own buttons while walking around. So today was the perfect chance to give her more freedom in a very uncrowded place. I gave her a set of guidelines beforehand: we had to walk holding hands when lots of people were around; otherwise she could walk right beside me or holding onto the stroller if we were in an area with just us. If she got tired of walking, I would push her in the stroller, and she had to stop if I called out "freeze" or "wait for Mommy" if she got too far ahead.
Katie did an AWESOME job. She was mindful of staying with me, and when we approached people, she would hold hands. We narrated our way through the park with respect to these new parameters, reinforcing the rules and/or how well she was meeting them as new situations arose. I praised her often for her moments of good judgment, and I could tell she felt proud of herself for being able to walk on her own like a big girl. She climbed inclines, took only a couple of stroller rides, and seemed to enjoy her freedom. She seemed to have sensible approach about it and did not try to wander away. Only a couple of times did I have to ask her to wait, and once was going down a hill: she was running and heading for a curve out of sight. When I called, she stopped immediately. We talked about trust and how well she did earning trust to walk beside me safely.

We had a really, really fun day, and at the end we went to the petting kraal to pet the deer. Katie loved this, too, and was so gentle with them. They reminded her of Santa's reindeer, actually. :-)

Delighting in the deer...

She was so gentle and sweet...

We were home by 2:30, and Katie napped for awhile. When she woke up, Baby and Mommy Gorilla made rice krispie treats and dinner.

It has been an amazing day!