Adventures in Autistic Parenthood

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Family Zoo:

I didn't draw this.
I've been more than normally (for me) sporadic posting stories here, and there are a myriad of reasons, but the overriding one is that it's been a strange combination of personal contentment and the unsettling grind of poling through the morass of bureaucracy to get David into the System. Maybe Bill Watterson got it right, though. Maybe I just needed to be in the mood.
     At any rate, now that the mood strikes me (with a mallet), here we go again.
    Recently, on the occasion of my Mother's birthday, (she hasn't quite hit the age where it's okay to ask how many yet) she decided that the Area Siblings, (they sometimes forget that I'm one of them now) would meet for the... however-many, anniversary of her birth at the Gage Park Zoo, in Topeka. I'm showing some age. It's now the Topeka Zoo, but this is my story, so there! This was always the place that my Dad took us to when he needed an under-$40 vacation for a family of 7. We'd pack a cooler and the family in a continuing array of large-capacity vehicles and drive the hour to the Zoo. An adventure for kids from a town you can walk across in 20 minutes or less. When we took the off ramp from the Interstate we all got very excited and this ratcheted up to mania by the time we passed under the huge (to us) open park gate. After trekking across the barren wastes... ish we had finally made it to ... the... ZOO!
Didn't that thing used to go the other way?
     It wasn't especially impressive, but they did have lots (too many for the space) of animals that we wouldn't ever get to see in the Prairies of Kans-ass, and we got to ride a train. That's right. A train! It was just a little 15" gauge, gas powered train that made a pretty good circle around the non-zoo portions of the park, but it went through a tunnel and over a trestle bridge!  Of course the bridge was only 4' off the ground, not over a mountain gorge, and the tunnel was a 10' diameter culvert-pipe covered with dirt, not hewn from the granite fastness of a mountain, but we were pretty imaginative (and loud) kids. We filled in the details. To mom, the pinnacle of the entire trip was the Reinisch Rose Garden. And every subsequent visit to the zoo requires that we return there. Imagine trying to enrapture 5 under-teen kids with 7000 variations of  400 varieties of... flowers. We were not fans, and spent most of that time chucking rocks at the ducks in the lily pond, where she couldn't see us.
     At any rate it was her birthday and she got to pick, so the oldest 4 out of the 5 siblings, one in-law (sorry Chris) and 2 grandchildren were to meet in the tame Wilds of furthest Topeka.
     When I told Dave we were going to the Topeka Zoo, a place he's only been once or twice before, and even though I didn't say why, he immediately said, 'We're going to see Grandma at the Zoo!!' I smiled... and then... thought about it. And then I thought about it some more. Now I'm sure it says something about me that my first thoughts went two different directions, both of them with varying degrees of sarcasm. So I thought... 'Does he mean he'll see her at the zoo, or in the zoo?' You see, it might be that because he only goes to the Topeka Zoo in the company of his grandmother that he naturally thinks that we wouldn't go there without her. Or... it may be that he believes his grandmother is (or deserves to be) one of the exhibits in the park. At any rate, he seemed very excited to go. And that was the important thing... I guess.
    Even though we were the last ones there, it looked like we weren't all that late as the rest of the family hadn't cleared the meeting zone right inside the gate. Grandma got a hug first thing, and, even though we still hadn't answered the 'at' or 'in' question, we all proceeded to have a pretty good time.         The reptiles had their 'No Dudes, No Way' sign out, so we immediately proceeded to the giraffes. Even though they don't vocalize much, David is pretty impressed with giraffes. 'Look at that TALL!!' is about all I can get out of him, but he sounds impressed.
     One of the next exhibits was the African Lion enclosure. The lions are outside in this... fairly large enclosure and the viewing is inside a large, hollowed-out manufactured rock with plate glass. As we were walking in I heard Dave mutter, 'You must be afraid of the lions...' of course, right after that, 'I'm not afraid of anything.' Both were pretty hushed, and I'm pretty sure I wasn't supposed to hear either one. We were in the small building for about 5 minutes or so and, although he was kind of dramatically hesitant to approach her at first, most of the time Dude was almost pressed against the window above one of the two lionesses, who was laying against the glass. Once we cleared the door, however, he thrust both hands up in the air and crowed, 'I'm not afraid of ANYTHING!!'
     Dave was so impressed with himself that he refused to be impressed by the next three exhibits, even though they were the elephants, the hippo and the orangutans. Usually some of his favorites.  I have to admit, that the one exhibit that I hated to go into when younger was, depending on who you listen to, either the first, or second completely enclosed tropical zoo habitat in the country. Going into it led me to decide that if I'm ever lost in the Amazon Rain Forest, I'm just going to look for the first jaguar or piranha pack that I can find, and give myself up as the catch-of-the-day. The building was always too small, too hot, had too many animals, and smelled worse than the elephant building. It says something that I would rather be outside than inside in Kansas in August. The idea was great, tropical birds roaming freely inside a building. But they just crammed so many plants and birds in there that you couldn't stand to walk through it. Even though I still didn't care for the humidity, they had cut back on the animals, thinned the vegetation, and cut out almost all the animals they'd had in tiny cement enclosures. That seemed to be the theme throughout the park. When we went when I was a kid it was really pathetic. Tiny cages with bored animals morosely turning psychotic circles. True, you got to see more animals than you would reasonably expect in such a small ( 80 acre) park, but I always went home feeling sorry for them. Now enclosures have replaced cages for the most part, and the zoo seems to be cutting down on the number of animals and increasing their... habitat. And the process is continuing with plans to expand the area of the African animals exhibit, that look really nice.
     Let me digress even more for just a minute. I'm of two minds about zoos. I truly wish there was a way for these wonderful creatures to be allowed to live wild, or at least in spaces where they can be animals. But at the same time I can't deny that some of these species simply have nowhere to go, nor can I truly regret the opportunity to actually see them without wearing out 3 passports and at least one Lotto win.
     No matter what my opinion, Dave loves to go to zoos... so we go. He had a ball walking through the lorikeet cage-thing with about 20 free-flying lorikeets flitting around. One of them hopped down the rope railing right behind him and then bounced back down the rope when he turned around. 'Don't touch the parrots.' he said, before I could, and then went 'Bphaw! Silly birds!'
     Before a brief turn through a similar butterfly 'cage' we went to see the bears. In
keeping with the new enclosure trend the bears were just in a big open space with a huge tree, an enormous fallen log and regular foliage. The humans were on a walkway above the level of the fence giving a pretty good view. The tree is a Black Walnut (I think) about 3-4 feet thick at the base and about 70 feet tall, and it's the bear's tree to do with as they please. And, since it was a pretty hot day, what they pleased was to be sitting about 30 feet off the ground in the branches where the wind was. Most people either don't know, or chose to forget that Black Bears, unlike their brown and white cousins are very good climbers. So while you can sometimes climb a tree to get away from a Grizzly or a Polar Bear (finding trees in the Arctic can be a bit problematic, though), with an aggressive Black Bear all you'll do is leave fingernail marks on the bark as he drags you back down. And, of course, Smokey the Bear was a Black Bear. Among the many people that don't know one or the other of these little factiods were the female members of our tour group. As Dude, Chris and I were ogling the large, flightless butterflies our companions were scanning the ground asking, 'Okay, where are the bears?' When the two younger ones were pointed out the universal sentiment seemed to be summed up with, 'Holy Crap! How did they get all the way up there?' A much wiser group was scanning the trees as we moved on. What they'll use this newfound information on, I have no idea, as Black Bears are not native to the Midwest.
     There really wasn't much more to the Zoo, although Dude did like the Mountain Lions, he still doesn't like waiting for me to take pictures of flowers, which the park has in abundance. On the way to the gate was a small garden just full of lilies. Cue: Dude rumbling. Dave and I, having completed this section of the trip, immediately walked out of the gate and started directly across the parking lot to the train, but the 'old fogies' following us had had enough, because they all got veggies and drinks and sat down in the shade, leaving David and I stranded outside. Sort of. I'll admit that I stayed out for the opportunity to take Dave's picture on the
Locked up, safe and sound!
other side of the fence from the rest of the family. I thought it would be cute. I didn't however plan for him to give me the 'thumbs up' while he did it. His pose might just be the answer to that 'at' or 'in' question I'd had earlier. I don't know.
     After a spin around the park on the train (I was the only one who noticed that it was going in the opposite direction than it used to), and a complete skip of the Rose Garden (a first ever event) everyone met in Lawrence for lunch. Mostly because no one knew Topeka well enough to think of anywhere to eat.
     It was probably all to the good that he'd accepted a chauffeured ride from Aunt Beth and Grandma, because I made a wrong turn and was, once again, the last one to 23rd St Brewery as I'd headed toward the wrong landmark despite having lived there for 2 months. There was no one in the brew pub that had any doubts about David's feelings for his shells and cheese and buffalo chicken. There was much approval. My family has a somewhat odd tradition when we all go out to eat. Once everyone has had the first taste of their own food, forks get passed around the table to get samples of whatever might look tasty or interesting off of anyone else's plate. This is probably a measure to cut the time a decision would take if we were each restricted to just one thing. (Oh! I want this, but that looks so good!) Waitresses have gone mad from the dilly-dallying that ensues. Normally Dave is a conscientious objector to any policy that would remove the Holy Cheese from his plate. But, either because of the convivial atmosphere, or the fact that he had a huge whopping chunk of Wisconsin on his plate with about half of Buffalo thrown in for good measure, Dave gleefully passed out samples of his wonderful meal. He felt so good, in fact that he gave the entire restaurant a rousing rendition of 'It's All About Soul' by Billy Joel that extended the length of the building and out onto the portico culminating with triumphant arms, a couple of bows, and, 'Talent Show in Vegas, baby! I'm ready to go!!'  I was impressed with his energy and enthusiasm, but the only place I wanted to go was home. And after many promises (by David) to visit each and every one of their houses and check out their systems, (his way of saying goodbye) that's exactly what we did.
      Of course, that plan hit a bit of a snag when I ran out of gas on the bike about 3/4 of the way home. Thankfully I was just far enough behind the only sibling that lives in KC, my sister, Deb, and she had only just gotten home and she rescued us with her lawnmower gas in about 10 minutes. So... typical 'smooth sailing' for the 2 Dudes... sheesh.

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