“I wanna see wuaneemos, mama.” said my 3 year old. I hear this from him at least once a day, every day. The animals he is so eager to see are the ones he has seen many times before at the Bronx Zoo. Before I had children and even when I just had one, living as a single mom in the city, I had never been to the zoo. In part because it isn’t very easy to get to on public transportation outside of the Bronx.
However, when living in the city with 3 kids, two of them toddlers, you are often game for anything kid-oriented, no matter how far. Granted, I have a car, but I know that even without one, I would have ventured here on a bus just to get there. My family and I spent almost every other weekend this past summer at the zoo, as it seemed that the little ones could never get enough of it, and it is a matter of great pride to we thought to invest in a family membership pass which has since paid for itself 3 times over at least.
The membership pass comes with a few parking passes as well. Once we used them up we have parked on the outside of the zoo walls, which has always been convenient and with plenty of available space. And when we don’t feel like driving North, we drive or commute South, to the Central Park Zoo, a much smaller version of the Bronx facility, but where our pass is also valid and where the visits are often followed by long walks and hours of play in the park.
On this particular weekend day when my little one was begging to go is was a chilly 40 degrees and windy. Brrrr! But it was also incredibly sunny, and that, in combination with the gigantic green eyes staring at me with a shimmer of hopeful plea was something I couldn’t resist. So, we covered ourselves in layers upon layers of warmth, packed the bag as usual, and loaded up in the car, with the boys full of excitement over the long-awaited visit to the zoo.
During the ride there, my 3 year old started listing out the animals he wanted to see first. “I wanna see the scary bats.” “Ok,” said his father. “And I wanna see the tiger! Rrrrrrroar!” he growled. “Rrrrrrrr!” responded the 2-year-old with an excited smile. “And I want to see the snakes!” he stated firmly. “Ssssssssss!!” hissed his younger brother.
By the time we reached the zoo, my 3 year old had listed all the animals there were to see, and once the car was parked and the doors opened, it seemed to my little ones as if the seat belts couldn’t come off fast enough.
The cold breeze hit our faces immediately. “Oh man,” I thought, “there is no way these kids are going to enjoy this.” Part of me was dreading the visit because almost every visit this past summer had come with several bouts of fits and tantrums throughout, often leading us to cut our visit short and leaving exhausted.
However, I had hoped that this trip would be different because during the winter, before Christmas, The Bronx Zoo hosts a Wild Winter Wonderland which promised to be tons of fun.
As we venture inside, the boys were all excited, talking about their favorite animals and imitating their sounds. My 11 year old likes the gorillas, the 3 year old is still aiming to see the bats, and the 2 year old kept chanting, “Ribbit! Ribbit!”, letting us know he wanted to see the frogs.
The park was a stark contrast from our summer visits. Most vending booths were closed. No one greeted us at the entrance for photos, and it seemed like there were only a handful of people there. We didn’t take more than 3 steps in when the 3 year old says, “I want chicken, mama.” It seems tradition now, that the first thing to do when in the Bronx Zoo, before all else, is to head over to the cafeteria and order boneless chicken fingers with fries. It is much better than anything else offered at the cafeteria and the boys love it. My husband and I laugh at this realization and head over to the food court. It was crowded.
“So this is where everyone is!” I said to my husband. But the truth was that everyone was in there because on a far wall off the seating area there was a performance of The Nutcracker going on. “Ooooooo mama!! Wook!” exclaimed the 2 year old. And so we all sat eating our chicken fingers and fries watching the free performance before us.
After lunch, we headed out to The World of Darkness to see the bats, but not before stopping in to see the “Ribbits” (frogs) which came before. There were no crowds, no cluster of people blocking the little ones’ view, no pressure to keep moving along to make room for the incoming stream of people. It was like we owned the zoo that day.
And the walks were so much more pleasant too. Because there were no crowds, the boys had the paths all to themselves and were able to run freely, without bumping into anyone in the process, while my husband and I stole little moments of kisses and hand holding.
We stopped at the Children’s Petting Zoo, only to realize we had just missed Storytelling Time, and the reindeers. We headed over to the horse-drawn wagon rides. Once off the wagon, we were able to pet the horses, greet Frosty the Snowman and a walking Teddy Bear, and watch the sea lions being fed.
And this was one of the highlights of the entire visit.I noticed that for the first time we had visited when the animals, including the snakes which are almost always sleeping, are alert and active. We had at last managed to be there during feeding time! It was about 3:00 in the afternoon, definitely our longest visit to date, and it was worth every second.
The sea lions performed for ever fish they got, the crocodiles pounced and opened their teethy jaws for the little mouse snacks, and the tigers and bears walked around waiting for their dinner to arrive.
Though none of the rides (the trolley, the sky ferry, or the carousal) were open, it was by far one of the most fun days spent at the zoo for the kids. So much so that they forgot all about the cold weather and had walked off the chicken fingers and fries without breaking a sweat.
We left the zoo as it was closing for the day, with a smiling 11-year-old talking about how cool it was to watch a mouse being ravaged by a croc, a 3-year-old flying around like a bat, and a 2-year-old chanting “Ribbit! Ribbit!” all the way home.