My seven-year-old son spoke the words every parent of a young child dreads. And while they may have sounded like a mere statement, it’s really a command: “Entertain me. Now!” And a complaint: that “entertainment” you gave me to do already? Lame!
Wanting to be a good Dad and not merely sit my son in front of the TV for another episode of SpongeBob Squarepants (“the adventures of a relentlessly optimistic sponge who lives under the sea” according to the TV guide – really if I had come up with that concept look where I’d be now. Although I suspect the best I could do would be the adventures of a manic-depressive spatula who lives under the sink).
Wanting to meet his boredom head on, I decided to do something active that didn’t involve toggle switches and waving white hand-held devices at the TV screen.
I decided to take him to the National Zoo.
Perfect! Kids love the zoo! I could picture it: we’d have an ideal father-son day, bonding over our fascination for the animals before heading home, possessing new life-long memories to cherish.
One challenge: we would have to get there.
In theory you’re taking the kids somewhere they want to go and where they will have fun. But they will make your life a miserable hell every step of the way while getting there.
Whoever said the point wasn’t the destination but the journey never travelled with a seven-year-old.
It’s not so much the physical journey. It’s the psychological warfare along the way.
As a Dad without a car, this makes getting from Point A to Point B a constant battle. Even when Point A is a smallish apartment and Point B is a place filled with lions and tigers and bears.
Although claiming to be bored to tears, he didn’t want to budge. So I used the best motivational technique I could pull out of my father-of-the-year bag of tricks. I bribed him. I promised him ice cream.
So off we went on our quest. Me looking forward to seeing furry critters and son looking forward to frozen cuisine.
But first we had to get there. The National Zoo is a mere five miles from my apartment, by Metro – D.C.’s subway system –just nine stops. The Metro station is a two block walk from my front door. Yet for all the protesting you could have thought I asked him to walk the 2,175 mile Appalachian Trail with 70 pounds strapped onto his back in winter through five feet of snow.
And he didn’t endure the trip in silence. The whole time I endured a steady barrage of withering complaints thinly disguised as questions. Why do we have to take the Metro? How long do we have to wait? Is it always this slow (admittedly these are questions Washington commuters ask everyday). Why do we have to change trains? How come this is not our train? How far do we have to walk? Can’t we take a bus?
But the most frustrating is the game of slinky. I ask him to walk with me. He does, for a few seconds, then falls behind. I ask him to keep up. And this repeats. I try walking slower, to let him set the pace. He simply slows until we come to a dead stop. And then he gets impatient with me. “Go on!” he says, like I’m the one holding things up.
Eventually we reach the zoo. I resist the temptation to kiss the ground. Finally, let the fun begin! First, buy him the promised hot dog and ice cream. How hard could that be? The answer: hard, of course.
The next challenges began when I realized I didn’t have much cash on hand. No problem, I knew the zoo had an ATM.
It was broken.
No problem, the cafes take credit cards.
Except, as I soon learned, the ones that do don’t have ice cream or hamburgers or hot dogs on the menu. Those items you have to buy from one of the cart vendors. Who only take cash.
Really, National Zoo, do you have to make it so hard for a Dad to buy his son a simple hot dog lunch with ice cream? It doesn’t need to be as difficult at breeding pandas.
A helpful zoo lady told me I could walk out of the zoo and go to a nearby 7-11 which had an ATM. But leaving the Zoo after just enduring the Bataan Death March to get there wasn’t happening.
I did manage to scrape up some loose change and a few stray dollars to buy one hot dog which the kid declared awful and wouldn’t finish. Meanwhile a swarm of bees attacked his Sprite ruining what little chance of having a fun lunch remained.
By this time it was around 1 p.m. We hadn’t seen any animals yet (having spent most of our time getting there and trying to figure out how to buy a hot dog and ice cream) and I learned that the zoo was closing at 2 p.m. for a special event (“Brew at the Zoo,” where the zoo is selling beer to help pay for all the exhibits that aren’t open).
The day might have been lost but for the lions. Oh, the lions. I love the big cats at the National Zoo. There is something about the combination of their grace and power that I find captivating. I’m off to the big cat compound each time I visit like a mouse to cheese.
And thankfully the cats didn’t disappoint this time. The lions were out, getting fed and feeling feisty. They fought over the raw meat and bones of what I hope was a leg of beef and not the remains whiny tourists who complained about having to pay cash for crappy hot dogs.
The cats were the extent of our safari, though (unless you count the bees). No interest in the pandas. And the petting Zoo was closing. So, ice cream-less we left. Thankfully I was able to make good (kind of) on my promise as there is a Fro Yo place across the street from the zoo. And they take credit cards. And we at least got to see bears – the gummy bears he put on top of his cup of yogurt.
Finally, we returned home. Getting there was easier, either from his being full or worn out from the morning battle.
Once home he happily began playing Legos.
“Dad?” he soon asked me.
“Yes?” I answered, thinking he would reward my efforts of the day with a nice comment like saying what a great time he had, or by thanking me for the hard-earned frozen yogurt.
“Dad,” he said. “I’m bored!”