I must admit, now that we have two children, leaving the house for a full day trip to the zoo can seem a tad daunting unless Jason and I are both available to go. Being away from home for more than a few hours means we’ll be away from our familiar child-proofed play areas, harnessed dining chair, and our quiet nursing and napping spaces. Our LB, now two years old, is a ball of wide-eyed, bounding energy who could easily run ten steps ahead of us (with the intention of climbing through the fence around the Lion-Tailed Macaque exhibit) if we’re not on our A-game. Our three and a half month old LG, while much easier to wrangle, can also be somewhat unpredictable. She is mostly full of smiles and content to ride in the stroller, but other times she is fussy incarnate. She can be stubbornly inconsolable, even if I wear her close to me in a wrap. We just never know what to expect.
To quell the bit of anxiety I have about venturing out into the world with both kiddos, I heed the advice of sailors and boy scouts. All hands on deck, and be prepared. For this particular adventure, my mother-in-law joined us, giving the adults a distinct numbers advantage over the children. As an added twist, the night before our trip, the weather forecast was predicting rain. This wouldn’t be ideal, but it wasn’t a reason to cancel. I made a list of things we would need (diapers, extra clothes, sun protection, rain protection, water, snacks, etc.) and I packed it all into a backpack for easy carrying. Even though I’ll wear LG for certain excursions, we opted to take our double stroller for this trip.
The Milwaukee County Zoo is just over an hour drive from our house, so we planned to leave around 8:00AM in order to to arrive at the 9:00AM opening time. LB was still sleeping at 7:00, so I had to wake him up if he was going to eat breakfast before hitting the road. Thankfully, he woke up in a good mood and was generally agreeable (not always the case when he is prematurely awakened). At breakfast, we quizzed LB about what he would see at the “big zoo”. He reminded us that his favorite animal was a giraffe. When we asked him what giraffes eat, he insisted they eat worms. Not accurate, but cute nonetheless.
Grandma arrived that morning, and helped wrangle the littles while Jason packed the car. By the time we got both kids dressed, fed, and in their car seats, we pulled out of the driveway at 8:10. A little behind schedule, but still pretty impressive given that we always seem to be running behind these days. We were off to a great start!
In the car, LB excitedly chattered about the fun we were going to have at the zoo’s dinosaur exhibit. “See dinosaurs, mama? Go big zoo?” It was a typically fun ride until about forty-five minutes in. LB started uncharacteristically freaking out, pulling at his car seat restraints, and screaming. I looked back from the passenger seat and saw a fearful expression, but I had no idea what was going on. And before I could blink, LB was throwing up all over himself. He had never gotten sick during car rides before, so we were definitely caught off guard. It took a few minutes before we could exit the freeway and stop somewhere safe to help him out. As a mom, those few minutes were heartbreaking. My baby was scared, not feeling well, and now covered in his own sick. Not awesome.
We pulled into the parking lot of a McDonalds, and I took LB inside to change his clothes while Jason cleaned out the car seat and grandma kept LG happy. At that point, I wasn’t sure if we would cut our adventure short or if we could manage to continue on. We returned to the car, and waited while LB got some fresh air, ate a few crackers, and drank a little water. It didn’t take long for the color to return to his sweet face and he was back to “See dinosaurs, mama? Go big zoo?” Of course, buddy. Of course.
So we were back on the road again. There was a detour off of the Interstate to get to the zoo, but it was easy to follow and we arrived at our destination before 10:00AM. Not bad after the late start and our first run-in with car sickness. As we pulled into the parking lot, we were surprised there wasn’t a line of cars waiting to get in, which we concluded must be the result of the weather forecast. It was overcast and 70 degrees, but thankfully not raining.
We unloaded the car and went straight to the Oceans of Fun Seal and Sea Lion Show. We sat in the third row of the bleachers with no one sitting in front of us. All of the zoo performers and animal trainers lined up near the pool, facing the audience. Since sitting opportunities are few and far between with a two year old, I nursed LG with a light blanket covering us (which served to protect her from the scant amount of sun) before the show started. I don’t always cover up when I nurse in public, but being in the front row of any performance makes me feel like I’m on stage. (As a side note, this is the first zoo in the country to offer Mamava Lactation Suites, and I definitely would have used one if we weren’t also toting a toddler.)
Jason sure had his hands full with LB. The young lad was adamant that he should swim in the seal/sea lion pool, and on more than one occasion asked that we “go home now, please?” At just two years old, LB had a little difficulty sitting still through the approximately 20 minute show. We avoided any major break downs, but he was close to losing his composure by the end of the show. Although it was informative (we now know several ways to tell a seal and sea lion apart) and entertaining, we’ll likely skip this on our next visit.
I guessed LB would be hungry because of his short-lived breakfast, so we had an early lunch at the Sea Lion Stand just outside of the show. There was no line to order food, and the prices were reasonable. (We were able feed three adults and a hungry toddler for less than $28.) I suppose the threat of rain kept most zoo-goers away, because there were several available tables (along the fence line of the Macaque exhibit). Remember when I mentioned LB might attempt to climb in through the fence? He tried no less than a dozen times.
When we finished our meal, we followed the big dinosaur footprints painted on the pavement to the Expedition Dinosaur exhibit. We had fun with LB by pointing to the tracks and asking him if we were going in the right direction. When we got to the exhibit, a zoo photographer took our picture in front of a green screen (which, in the souvenir photo offering, would become a dinosaur scene.)
The exhibit takes you along a winding path where there are several life-sized robotic dinosaurs; all complete with moving eyes, most with accompanying sound effects, and even a couple which spit water (which we learned was a harmless representation of the poison that the actual dinosaur spat upon its prey). LB loved every minute of it and we all enjoyed watching him go from being startled to complete wonderment with each dinosaur he encountered. One of the final dinosaurs in the exhibit was a “stripped down” Stegosaurus, which allowed us to see the inner workings of how the dinosaurs in the exhibit move. Very cool stuff! Even better, there was a control station where you could push buttons to move the various parts of the dinosaur. Toddlers always love to “do it themselves”, so LB loved the hands-on experience of operating the dinosaur.
Upon exit, we had to walk through a strategically placed merchandise tent, brimming with colorful, dinosaur-themed toys. We were thankful to have walked through it without so much as a peep from LB, but we know our days are numbered. It won’t be long before walking near a toy display will ignite a parent/child showdown of wills. Ending with either a crying child, or said child gripping a newly purchased stuffed Stegosaurus in his grubby little mitts. Well played, Milwaukee County Zoo. Well played. After the merchandise tent, we stopped to view the photos taken on our way in, which portrayed our family as a T-Rex’s favorite meal. The photos were really cool, but in accordance with our vow of thriftiness, didn’t purchase them. We would definitely see this exhibit again, and take our chances walking the gauntlet of consumerism upon exit.
On to the Primates of the World, which is home to two adult orangutans (they’re always a family favorite). As we watched the female orangutan in her outdoor home, a friendly and knowledgeable zoo volunteer taught us a few things about the animals. We learned that the female orangutan was 33 years old and 160 lbs. The male orangutan, who is more reclusive and prefers his indoor habitat, was 32 years old and 240 lbs. We also learned that 80 lbs is a normal weight differential between the male and female, and that males have large cheek pads which females don’t. Orangutans are an endangered species and are the largest tree dwelling mammals in the world. They live most of their lives up in the trees, only coming down to move to a different group of trees. While listening to the fascinating information about orangutans, a young boy (of about six years old) approached Jason, who was pushing the stroller. He looked at LB (seated in the front of the stroller, facing forward) and said to Jason “Hey! He looks like me! Can I touch him?” Now, I know this was just a curious kid, but Jason and I were caught totally off-guard. Jason chuckled and said, “No…Uh, he’s uh…not for that…uh…” as I basically lost it, I had to immediately walk away in an attempt to conceal my laughter. (Note to self: Please improve your communication skills while interacting with other people’s children.)
From the primates, we continued on to the Safari Train. We parked our stroller outside of the train station, and gathered the wee ones to wait for the next train. LB was excited to see the train approaching, and laughed at the sound of the train whistle. The line was relatively short, so we were able to board within ten minutes of parking the stroller. The smallish train cars were a bit cramped for nursing LG, but I managed anyway. Like I said before, sitting down is a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone thing. LG was super smiley all day, and she was happy to get some more mama snuggle time. As we rode around the zoo on the train, LB was grinning from ear to ear and mimicking the train whistle “CHOO-CHOO!”
After the train ride, it was starting to sprinkle a little. I took LB on the carousel and we waved to Jason and grandma as we went around. As much fun as he was having, I could see LB’s eyelids growing heavy. It was time to head out, so we beat a hasty path to see the giraffes (and see them not eating worms) before leaving the park with an increasingly tired LB. The next time we go, we’ll try the Giraffe Experience, which is an opportunity to see the giraffes up close – and even feed them (again, likely something other than worms).
On our way back to the car, we walked past the African Elephants, Eastern Bongos, and African Spurred Tortoises. I was a little disappointed to be leaving without seeing all of the wonderful animals this zoo has to offer, but I know we can always go back again another day. The heavy rain held off until we were in the car, and on the way home both of our kids fell fast asleep. It was a pretty awesome day.
Disclosure: We received admission to the zoo and other attractions for this post. All thoughts are our own.