Ryan is teaching me to appreciate the world in ways I never would have thought of myself.
Ryan was off from school for Columbus Day, so I thought it would be fun to make use of our zoo membership. And he was excited to go: while I was doing laundry, he was trying to make a break for the garage, saying, “Go to the animals, please?”
The sea lions were putting on quite a show – a large male was barking, a baby sea lion was barking back, one sea lion climbed to the top of a big rock and dove into the water. Kids were cheering and pointing excitedly.
Ryan stuck out a finger and announced, “Shark.”
I looked. There was a sign in front of the exhibit with a drawing of a shark chasing some sea lions to demonstrate that sea lions are an important food source for sharks. Yes, I told him, sharks eat sea lions.
“What animals should we look for next?” I asked him.
“Find the giraffe!”
Yay, a real answer! We went off in search of giraffes. Ryan was excited about running on all the paths – the various animals he was streaking past were immaterial.
Soon I could see a herd of giraffes in the distance. I told Ryan which way to run. He stood in front of the giraffes, but he didn’t seem to be looking at them. I tried to engage him: how many giraffes do you see? Look at the baby giraffe! Ooh, there are ostriches in there, too! Why do you think that giraffe is licking a tree?
Then seemingly out of nowhere, he announced, “Zebras have stripes.” This is true. But there were no zebras in the giraffe habitat.
Then I noticed the sign: there was an illustration of giraffes and zebras mingling on the savannah. Ah. I asked Ryan if he wanted to find the real live zebras; he started walking aimlessly.
Nearby we found an impressive gorilla exhibit I had never been to before. I pointed out the huge gorilla hanging out right next to the glass! The gorilla sleeping! The gorillas in the trees! The gorilla uprooting small plants and eating one leaf at a time! The gorilla peeing!
But all Ryan cared about was the toy tiger he had been playing with.
Let me tell you about Ryan’s favorite part of the Congo Gorilla Forrest. There’s a little movie theater that shows the same educational film over and over. Above the door is a scrolling LED sign that announces how many minutes til the next show starts. Ryan loved that LED sign. He told me to pick him up so he could touch the moving letters. He squinted at the red lights out of the corner of his eye. It was way more exciting than gorillas.
A year or more ago, I would have considered this a ridiculous outing to the zoo. I would have become frustrated that Ryan had showed little to no interest in the animals. I would have muttered, “We could have looked at pictures at home.” But now I can appreciate that in his own odd way, Ryan was happy. He got to run around outside while looking at things he liked. They weren’t the sights I had in mind, but there’s more than one way to enjoy a morning at the zoo.