When my children were young, we had a family membership to Brookfield Zoo. If you’ve never been to Brookfield Zoo, just outside of Chicago, you should plan to go at some point. It’s an amazing zoo with a wide range of animals in habitats that simulate nature. It’s clean and well-kept and due to changing exhibits, it’s always a new adventure.
The membership allowed us to go to the zoo for a few hours at a time and not make it an all- day event. This worked well for a family with young kids because it allowed us the freedom to say “let’s get in the car and go right now.” If the kids got tired or cranky, we could leave abruptly and not feel like we wasted the cost of daily admission. We went to the zoo often. I’d pack the kids in the car with the wagon, a blanket and a cooler and we’d be on our way. With just two children, they fit nicely in the wagon and I’d hoof it around the expanse of the zoo, getting great exercise while they enjoyed the sites.
Of course, there was the time my three year-old got my attention by saying, “Mom, mom…we lost the baby.” And when I looked back at her in the wagon, there she sat alone with the cooler and blanket. My one year-old son was missing. My heart sunk. “Where is he?” I asked her. She pointed behind us. We were in front of the polar bear cage at the time of the discovery and I turned us around and headed back to the black bears. There sat my sweet baby boy plopped squarely in front of the black bear cage. He had slipped out of the wagon and landed on his diaper-padded butt and was just sitting upright looking around. I was grateful at that moment that he hadn’t started walking yet. I raced back and scooped him up. Unfazed, he happily joined his sister back in the wagon. I didn’t win a Mom of the Year award that year but we did cover a lot of ground at the zoo.
One of our favorite exhibits was The Swamp. This exhibit enlightens Chicago kids (and their parents!) about the wonders of wildlife and plant life in the American swamplands. Our favorite feature in the Swamp was the otters. A large glass tank allowed us to see the otters underwater and on the land. On quiet days at the zoo, we would plant ourselves across from the tank and just watch the antics of these playful and energetic animals who would glide in and out of the water, chasing each other in speed racer style within the tank and lounging on the shore between frenetic races. We were sure that their goal was to entertain us. Although we spent many hours watching tropical birds, pachyderms, penguins, giraffes and monkeys, the childlike delight of the otters was most memorable.
Recently, while walking down busy Alt 19 enroute to delicious ice cream at Strachans in Palm Harbor, my husband and I saw movement several feet below us in the drainage ditch next to the ice cream shop. We stopped to watch. Part of me dreaded seeing the source of the disturbance as I thought I would see the ominous head of an alligator poke up. But no, it was the sleek head of a mud-covered otter. As we watched, he swam back and forth through the thick shallow water in the ditch. Unexpectedly, he came ashore on the bank of the ditch and stood up on his two back legs and looked at us. We laughed out loud but he was not afraid in the least. In fact, I could swear he smiled before he leapt back into the murky water and swam through the ditch disappearing under the road. As social creatures, otters seem to always enjoy themselves wherever they are. Do you know people like that? They sludge through what others may see as unpleasant or impossible and come out on the other side brimming with optimism. Some of the people we serve, as senior move managers, are heroic in many ways. We see survivors of incredibly challenging situations who serve as an inspiration to others. They see the world in a positive light and live each day with a grateful heart. Their stories amaze and energize.
Who inspires you?