About a year ago we moved to the Bay Area from LA. I had no friends and no family here and we moved right at the very beginning of a very long rainy season. I was so lonely and bored. Within weeks of our arrival here I took Sadie on a trip to the Oakland Zoo. In that very first trip I had found some sort of refuge in the small but entertaining animal park. Sadie loved it and it was something to do that we could spend several hours at and not get bored. That very day we decided to make the plunge and buy a membership.
Since that first visit to the zoo it has been the answer to many of our problems. Cranky day…zoo. Nowhere to go….zoo. Can’t get Sadie to nap…zoo. Feeling like I need a little exercise…zoo. Daddy needs a daddy & daughter date….zoo.
Beyond it being just something to do – we actually thoroughly enjoy it. All of us. Sadie is a natural born animal lover. I’ve yet to meet an animal that she is afraid of. She is compassionate about them and wants to know what they are doing and who their parents are. (very cute) She is gentle when petting or touching an animal no matter the size. It comes to no surprise to me that she turned out to be a self-declared vegetarian. Both Devin and I eat animal products and have never pressed vegetarianism on her, but she steers far away from it all on her own. She’d much prefer tofu and hummus to a cheeseburger or corndog. As a matter of fact when I offer her a corndog she’ll eat the breaded batter around the dog and leave the entire hotdog untouched. And uses chicken nuggets as a tool to scoop ketchup into her mouth but has absolutely no interest in taking even the tiniest of a nibble from the meat. It’s fine by me. I didn’t have a kid to have a mini-me. I had a kid to love and protect and to watch grow from basically nothing into whatever she wants to be.
Vegetarianism aside, there are things about her that are very much like me. She is an observer. She seems to know when a situation is tense, or a person is upset. Seeing another being in pain or upset greatly affects her. She seems to have deep empathy even at her remarkably young age. I’ve noticed this many a time before. When witnessing a child fall and cry or seeing a kid get reprimanded at a park. It affects her in ways that I can very much relate to.
I noticed it yet again at this particular visit to the zoo. We got there very early, before they opened actually. So we waited and played on the ramps in front of the entrance until they opened the doors. And once the doors opened we were quite literally the first and only people at the zoo. It was great to get to see the animals early in the morning awake and lively and living very naturally without having people hoot and holler and tap on their enclosures.
Sadie’s favorite part of the zoo is the reptile house. She’s a big lover of frogs and turtles. My favorite part of the zoo is the chimpanzees. They are so amazing to me. I love watching how they interact with each other and witnessing their very human reactions, emotions and features. I have a huge respect for these animals because I realize that we are not far off from each other.
I don’t really like taking pictures of the chimpanzees, even when they are doing incredibly adorable things like cuddled in blankets in cold early morning air, mainly because I feel rude – as if I was taking a picture of a stranger without permission who is looking directly into my eye. It just doesn’t feel right. So, this morning we get there and we are the only ones there like I mentioned. There weren’t too many chimps out, and the ones that were out were mostly snuggled up and still not exactly awake yet. Except for one, who as we approached climbed up on the top of a beam and sat perched facing towards us at eye level. We were obviously separated by glass, but we were only just a few feet apart from nose to nose. I held Sadie on my hip, and nodded at the chimpanzee. The chimpanzee nodded back. Sadie and I sat there for quite a while not really saying anything but just enjoying being there in such close proximity with no crowd around us. It was quiet and serene and felt very peaceful and natural. Call me crazy, but I felt some sort of a mutual respect between the species at that moment. Then noise started settling in on us. A group of teenagers started approaching probably from some sort of field trip. They were loud and laughing and carrying on, and immediately started making fun of the chimpanzee and each other as soon as they were in view of the exhibit. There was a very loud group laughter as one of the guys teased one of his friends that the chimpanzee looked just like his girlfriend. Almost instantly the chimpanzee that had been keeping company with Sadie and I leaped up into the air and grabbed a hold of the chain link fence that was above the glass partition between us. He (or she, not really sure) swung over to where the kids were standing and laughing and started howling and screaming and spit through the fence aiming at the kids. It then flung its body downward and thrust his fist with some serious velocity into the glass partition where the kids were pressed up against taking photos and video.
This action only created more of a reaction from the teenagers and they became wildly loud and started making horrible jokes about the chimps. The chimp was enraged. He continuously swung and kicked at the glass where the teenagers stood, but obviously was not making an impression on them. It broke my heart to see this beautiful animal locked up that should command respect but instead is a spectacle and completely disrespected.
Sadie’s heart was apparently in the same place as mine, because I look at her and her chin is puckered and quivering and her eyes are beginning to tear up. She says, “No, mama. Monkey shy.” And I kissed my sweet and understanding child and said, “Yes, honey. Let’s go. The chimpanzee doesn’t want to be looked at right now. Let’s leave him alone.” And she just says, “yes.”
And we walk away, hoping that others do too. But I doubt that happened.
Maybe I’m giving my two year old way too much credit. But I see a beautiful quality in her that is compassion. And not just compassion for people she knows and loves. Compassion for all people and animals as well. I can hardly think of a quality that I would rather have my child possess. Well, compassion and happiness. If you don’t have happiness to begin with, any other cherished quality would be hard to come by.