zoo angels

by humanmama on April 23, 2011

There’s something called “trail magic.” If you’re a hiker, you’d know what I mean. It describes the little miracles people encounter on the trail, like, you’re almost out of food and you find the people before you left a bag of something in the shelter because they had extras. Or you’re walking a mile for new water when someone pulls up in a pickup truck and says “want a ride? Hop on in the back” and drives you to fresh water. My husband walked the Appalachian Trail a few times, and had many stories about trail magic.

What I didn’t know is that there’s also something called “Zoo Magic.” I know, because I experienced it this week.

I promised the girls that on the first day it wasn’t raining, we’d go to the zoo. I knew the zoo opened at 10am, but just to be sure I checked the website at about 8:45 and realized it opened at 9. The zoo is 15-ish miles from here, at least a 22-minute drive, on a really bad stretch of highway which is always being constructed-upon. We quickly got together, and I usually pack a lunch but I thought, “today we’ll buy there,” and we jumped in the car. I did pack snacks, actually, and drinks. We had this terribly bad-for-you marshmallow cereal around, that I would never let the kids eat in real life, so I poured the rest into two baggies, packed some apple juice cups, and got on the road.

As we parked, I reached down to grab my purse when I simultaneously realized two things: my purse was at home, and so was the stroller. Lilly needs a stroller. She’s still young, and so she gets tired, but much more she’s just feisty and needs to be harnessed when she feels the need to demonstrate her free will. Okay, let me rephrase: I need a stroller.

We got to the entrance and so much was happening: I bought my membership at another zoo, which gets me in free at Pittsburgh Zoo but leaves me out of their system, so how could they look me up? The zoo is basically a few miles of UPHILL walking; how was Lilly (I) going to make it? I didn’t even have any spare dollars floating around the van, so how long could we last without our regular lunch? I turned to the family behind us in line and explained that I didn’t have my purse, or ID, and I had this other janky Zoo membership, and we might hold up the line a bit. As it turned out, the teenager staffing the Zoo ticket booth waved us on, and Helena screamed like a freed ex-con “They let us! They let us THROUGH!”

When we arrived at the top of the Pittsburgh Zoo’s long, fabled escalator, I again was in a quandary. How long could we go with no money and hardly any food? And that’s where the magic happened. The red-headed family behind us, Becca, “Kathy the Grandma” and three animated children, adopted us. The kids instantly bonded, running along together like the oldest and best of friends. Parents are always slower to go with any sort of magic, but we bonded over two-versus-three-children family discussions, funny stories, and being out-of-towners (they, originally from Utah, and myself from Michigan, are rarities in Pittsburgh where the majority of people grew up here). When the kids were hungry, Becca pulled out cheese sticks and–you won’t believe this–a bag of peppers and unpeeled carrots. Grandma Kathy said “I can’t believe how healthy this family is!” I was just hoping they didn’t judge me based on my marshmallow cereal.

What magic! What could have been a truly terrible day was saved by the kindness of strangers, who didn’t even mind when I joked about Utah Polygamists (although, to be fair, I was saying that I could actually use more wives on a regular basis). The kids, true to form, became bosom buddies and had the time of their lives. And I lived another day in the realization, in the true awe, that things will work out. Even when I can’t control them. What a lesson.

Like magic.

silhouette of the kids at the penguins


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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Dana April 23, 2011 at 7:52 am

Love it! Zoo Magic — reminds me of Annie Lamott. Love you. Happy Easter.


aj April 24, 2011 at 8:33 pm

Those words are music to my ears. Love you too!!!


Christine April 25, 2011 at 8:27 pm

What an amazing trip, and amazing new friends! I can’t believe you braved the zoo w/o a wallet or stroller, you go girl! I think I would have had to turn around and go home…no guts!
Love your blog & miss you!


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