To Zoo or not to Zoo


By Joey Livingston

It was the most beautiful Saturday in Oakland. The sun was warm and the air was fresh and crisp. The skies were clear as glass. It was the kind of day that brought out the entire city, making you feel less than if you didn’t get out and enjoy it in any capacity. Whether you bike to work instead of drive, take your break people watching at a nearby park, or making plans with friends and family to spend time under the sun, you were ultimately grateful for a day like this. That “California Weather”, personified.


We got dressed and ready and set out to join the world basking in the simple pleasure of a beautiful day. As I gathered my things I noticed my daughter flipping through the pages of her book called ”WILD” by Dan Kainen. It’s a book on animals with holographic images to correspond with the text. She loves this book so I took it as an opportunity for adventure and decided we’d hit the Zoo. 


Now, usually I am pretty "anti zoo" for a few reasons...


First reason being that I have a hard time contributing to the business of caging wild animals strictly for human viewing pleasure. Second reason being is that it breaks my heart to see these grand creatures in spaces a fraction of the size that they would roam in the Wild. Third reason being I watched that "Blackfish” documentary about the whales at Seaworld being bread with a whale named "Tilicum" that had basically spent its entire life in captivity and developed a history of violence against it’s trainers to the point where the trainers are losing their lives while risking them and looking for someone to blame for it. It all leads to the lawsuits, protests, and backlash. It made me sad for the whales, and angry at the treatment, and the means of acquiring the whales in the first place. For lack of a better example, this was the straw that broke the camels back. I knew then that I would no longer give my money to promote this business that I strongly disagreed with.


Then I became a parent.


Everything you think you are, or think you believe in, is put into question once you become a parent because you are forced to decide if this is something you want to teach them and what effects could come from your decisions. So for me I immediately thought “No Zoo, No chance” but seeing my daughter look at this book with her eyes wide and fixed on the holographic images of these animals made me want to show her the magic and beauty that they are up close. So, to the Zoo we go with my distaste put on pause for my daughter's sake.


I knew it would be busy being a Saturday afternoon. I walk with purpose so I was able to talk some patience into myself and lower my standards of pace. We entered the Zoo and the first exhibit we stop at are the pink flamingos, who aren’t that tropical shade of pink you would expect to see, but more of a softer baby pink. I parked the stroller directly in front of the gates and in Tyler’s line of sight were two big beautiful flamingos. She sat looking at them as if they challenged her to a stare off and first to blink was out. I knew then that ultimately I had made the right decision in coming. As satisfaction took over my mood, and discovery took over Tyler’s , we made our way through the park. I enjoy people watching so I had plenty of entertainment just passing through from exhibit to exhibit. Watching how people wrangled their little ones, having a bit of momxiety when a kid draped over the railing trying to get a better look at an animal they don’t stand a chance against. I especially loved watching the parents that didn’t particularly want to be there unless the animals were going to perform circus acts. One father mumbled “I don’t knooooow” confirming that he wasn’t entirely sold on the experience, or the price of admission. Another mom ushering her children away from the alligator tanks because....well....alligators are scary as shit. We spent about 2 1/2 hours wandering the park, getting her in and out of the stroller to get a closer look, trying not to focus on the lack of space or natural habitat offered to the animals, but rather enjoying the look on my daughters face when she watches a monkey swing from branch to branch, cranking her neck to see giraffes in their entirety, and seeing her do her best “woof woof" when she sees the wolf exhibit.

I clung to these tiny pleasures, and captured as much as possible thanks to Apple. 


On the tail end of our adventure there was an area with rides, because what better way to make people come and spend their money at the Zoo than putting a miniature adventure park at the edge of it? Right, so of course I had to take her on something. Although she was brave enough for them all, she was only tall enough for the carousel. She won’t have that problem for very long so I didn’t mind it being the case. We docked the spinning platform and walked though a maze of shiny animal mannequins until we found our choice. The zebra. Majestic, beautiful, and herbivorous. My type of animal. I sat Tyler atop of it and buckled the strap around her waist. Instinctually she grabbed the pole centered in front of her and held on. Once the lights started whirling and the platform spinning we were in motion. Her face went from wonderment to pure joy. She was belting out a scream I’ve never heard from her, but it sounded like the type of excited scream you let out when you get in your car alone, after something monumental in life happens. Like a new job, encounter with a crush, or the onset of REALLY good news. Her scream turned to laughter.

She put her hand on her forehead as if she couldn’t believe that this type of thrill existed as she rose up and down on this zebra.

I couldn’t stop smiling, and neither could anyone else that was within earshot of her cackling amusement. Her joy was contagious.


Ironically enough, the best part of going to the zoo was riding a fake ceramic zebra in circles for 90 seconds.

I wanted to laugh and cry all at the same time, and that to me is what motherhood has been for me in this first year and 4 months, a mixture of simple moments like this that encourage me to keep doing what I am doing because today, in this moment at least, I got it right.


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