By Jennifer Joyner
Not too long ago, I took my 2-year-old son, Dylan, to the zoo. I had been looking forward to this event for months because I just knew he would be absolutely mesmerized by seeing the animals.
Since he was six months old, his favorite books and toys all featured wildlife. He has always loved to play with his stuffed animals and often gets on all fours and roars like a lion.
Every time there is a dog or cat in our vicinity, his eyes light up. I thought the first trip to the zoo was going to be an incredible experience for him.
So, Dylan's daddy, his grandparents and I loaded up the van and drove to Little Rock. When we got to the zoo, we decided to forgo any wheeled transpiration options, which included the rental of a stroller, wagon or scooter, and instead decided to explore the exhibits on foot.
I remember the first display we decided to see was some sort of exotic birds. We all started toward the exhibit, except for Dylan, who instead made a beeline for the carousel, which, at the time was out of service.
His daddy and I tried to spark some interest in the birds for him. We took his hand to guide him toward the exhibit, but Dylan threw himself on the ground, screaming.
"Should I take this one?" I asked his father.
When there was no answer (or I couldn't hear one over the temper tantrum), I scooped him off the ground and carried him away from the ride. The whole time he was kicking his tiny Spiderman sneakers and flailing his fists.
At this point, I assumed he just wasn't that interested in birds. The big reaction would come when he saw the monkeys and big cats. He would probably jump up and down with excitement, I thought. He would probably point and say, "Wowww —" just like he had the first time he saw himself in the mirror wearing his Superman shirt, or the time he saw a photo album with pictures of his family, or when he first saw a Christmas tree.
The next cages we came to were the lemurs. I thought for sure he would love those cute little creatures.
He was still huffing a bit from the fit, and tears were in eyes, but I thought I would give it a shot.
"Look, Dylan! It's a lemur," I said, pointing.
"Look, he's eating grass! Isn't he cute?!"
The boy stared blankly ahead. I decided he was still upset about the carousel — or maybe he just didn't have a clear view of the lemurs. They were sort of far away, and they were just little guys.
Next, we came upon a pond with geese, swans and ducks. I started to get excited when Dylan, eyes widened, took off running in the direction of some pink flamingos.
I followed closely behind. "Look, Dylan," I said. "Those are flamingos. They can sleep standing up!"
He did not seem to look over and instead kept running passed the flamingos. It was then that I saw the actual object of his enthusiasm was a small playground in the middle of the zoo.
He ran up the steps of the slide and jumped up and down when he got to the top "Yay slide!" he said. "Weee!!!"
We decided to let him play for a bit, but not for too long. The zoo was scheduled to close soon. After about 10 minutes, I told him it was time to move on. He then engaged in yet another kicking, screaming tantrum.
I pried him away from the swing set, and we made our way toward the vampire bats, giant tortoises and various types of livestock. Nothing phased him. For months he had been glued to the pages of various board books featuring these animals. He would say their names and imitate their sounds, but now, he had no interest in looking at them in person.
His bad mood lingered a bit longer after the playground incident than after the carousel. He pouted and refused to even look at the animals, but instead remained silent and looked at the ground.
Suddenly, he looked up and I heard him gasp. His sour expression vanished and he was filled with excitement.
I realized what had caught his attention was not an animal but those face-in-the-hole photo-op boards. He giggled wildly as he stood behind the board, putting his head through the hole, which topped a picture of a farmer's body.
"This is what he gets excited about?" I said to his father, laughing.
We went on to see elephants, gorillas, lions, cheetahs, and more — all to the delight of the adults in the group. He found a bit of fascination in the giraffe, which made me happy, but other than that, he was disinterested.
At first I was puzzled, but when I thought about it, I realized that to him everything is new and exciting. We read him stories that feature mundane things, like balls, trees, dogs, cats, girls and boys, alongside books about jungles and farms. I guess seeing a gorilla is something he assumes is part of the normal world we live in.
That is really the only explanation I can figure for his reaction. But his excitement over things like slides and face-in-the-hole reminds me every day to appreciate the simple things in life. And that gives me a fresh perspective on every little activity.