We Did Not Buy a Zoo

by cecimadden


I must confess that for every adventure I plan to take Rachel on, I’m never really sure if she’s going to be into it.   I always wonder if it’ll be age appropriate, if it’ll be worth the money or effort involved.  Partly, this is why I try to choose free events, and I always make sure there’s an easy exit plan.  In advance of the adventure, I try to get Rachel excited.  I try to explain where we’re headed and read books or watch movies on the subject involved.  Sometimes, by the time the adventure rolls around she’s totally game, and sometimes it’s a total flop.  At the end of the day, at least we got out of the house, which both of us find far more exciting than anything else.  We get stir crazy, me and Rachel.  We really do.

To “prepare” for our recent trip to the Zoo I rented the movie “We Bought a Zoo,” and we watched it about 75 times.  (Rachel was feeling under the weather, so there was not much else to do anyway – don’t judge.  We played with zoo animal puzzles too!)  And every day when we drove by the zoo, I would tell her, “That’s where we’re going on Saturday!  She was super pumped.

We went with a group of families from her new daycare, which means when we got to the zoo we waited a while for everyone in the group to show up.  Waiting=not a great way to start the day…and I’m talking almost an hour here.  However, there was a small water fountain near the entrance that kept Rachel’s attention while she waited…but then, somehow she fell under the impression that this trip to the zoo was about seeing interesting water features, not animals. 

It didn’t help that most of the animals were asleep until about noon.  The flamingos looked cool, but who wants to watch a sleeping bear?  Rachel was also in a bit of an I-wait-for-no-one mood.  It sounds really bold and whatnot, but it really means that I spent the whole time chasing her. 

“Look, the zebras!” I’d say.

“NO!” she’d shout back, and off she’d run down the slope and towards the next water feature/ice cream stand/cooler slope than the first slope.  You get the idea.

It may sound like I’m complaining a bit, but you know what?  We had a really great time.  I found myself smiling from ear to ear all day long, just taking it all in.  There were tons of families around, parents begging kids to stay close by, groups of cool dads waiting for their wives and kids to get off of the carousel, a few young couples channeling Rocky and Adrian (Why didn’t Jim ever take me on a zoo-date, I wondered), and plenty of tweens exercising their independence.  It was a true cross-section of Philly too, because who doesn’t love the zoo?

We will definitely go back, perhaps in the fall.  A few notes-to-self (mostly for my own benefit, but maybe you’ll find them helpful too): Next time, go early for good parking and fewer crowds (but with a small group+no waiting!).  The animals that are outside will be sleeping, so hit up a few indoor exhibits, then the rides (shorter lines!), then lunch in the Picnic Grove, then go see the outdoor animals while they’re awake and playing.  Finish the day with ice cream and a stroller ride to the car, and then, hopefully, a nap. 


Finally, I have to add right here that the Philadelphia Zoo is nothing like “We Bought a Zoo.”  Matt Damon is nowhere to be found, and the “enclosures,” well, they’re totally different.  Bigger, boxier, sometimes involving painted backdrops.  I have to tell you, one of my favorite moments was spotting this peacock gone rogue.  Look at it.  It’s totally going for a stroll down the sidewalk thinking, “Screw you, enclosure.”