Yesterday was a long day for everyone. Jesse had End of Grade testing during the day, then had to stay after school until 10 pm to help set up, chaperone, and clean up after the 8th grade dance. Since I knew he'd be gone all day, I decided to take a day trip somewhere. Of course, my first choice was the mountains, but the weather forecast revealed rain and scattered thunderstorms all day. Our only set plans were to attend Open House at Jack's new preschool. I wasn't sure where we were going to go, but I packed enough clothes, diapers, and food to last us the entire day. As soon as Open House ended, I decided to head to the zoo, which was just over an hour away from preschool.
I fully expected the trio to nap the entire hour, but that did not happen. Jackson complained that his stomach was growling and we had less than a quarter tank of gas. We stopped halfway through at a church right outside the Uwharrie National Forest. The gorgeous landscaping caught my eye from the road. We ate lunch on a bench under the pergola.
The church surely must perform a Resurrection Play because the garden included a tomb with a stone rolled away.
We played by the pond and walked around. There was a playground on the other side that I planned to explore, but Jackson declared he needed to poop.
[Insert forever long gas station bathroom break here.]
The trio fell asleep the last ten minutes of the ride. I was worried what kind of mood they would wake up in, or how they'd fair with a long afternoon at the zoo. My number one exhibit I wanted to see was the polar bears, so I parked on the North America side and crammed diapers, snacks, and 60 oz worth of water into a bag.
It cost a hefty $26 for Jack and I, and the triplets were free. There was a cool dinosaur exhibit that cost extra, but I didn't pay for that since we were already short on time before the zoo closed. The lady at the ticket booth said, "So that will be one adult, one child, and three under two? I assume you're meeting other adults inside." Her comment set me off in a stubborn, "I will conquer this entire zoo by myself and the kids will have fun if my life depends on it!" attitude.
Our first destination was the polar bear exhibit. I talked it up a bit too much and got Jackson pretty excited. We watched videos of adorable polar bears playing in the icy water and studied the interactive educational displays.
We played in the habitat models and put our hands in the ice water.
Then we waited. And waited. And waited. The polar bear never graced us with her presence.
After checking out a few other arctic exhibits (puffins and seals), the kids played in the vegetable garden playground.
We made our rounds along the Pacific Northwest. Jackson was overwhelmed by the crowds of school children at some of the exhibits. (End of Grade testing tends to be a popular time to schedule kindergarten field trips.) I had to really help Jackson be assertive and get a spot against the glass.
Unlike Riverbanks Zoo, the NC Zoo is very spread out with lots of hills. According to the website, "It takes between 4 to 6 hours to see the entire park. There are over five miles of trails through the two exhibit regions." I chose to use the double stroller and ergo because the wagon would be hard to push up the hills and harder to control down the hills. I rotated all four kids among the stroller, carrier, and walking. Pushing 50+ lbs of children up hills while wearing 25+lbs is no easy task. At one point I tried to text Jesse this picture, but I didn't have any signal. (In fact, my fitness tracker did not register a single step I took for almost four hours; I was so upset!)
The only exhibit we skipped in North America was the desert. As hot as I already was, I had no interest in subjecting myself to a desert. Our last stop in North America was the honeybee exhibit, which proved to be one of the kids' favorites.
We refueled with water, snacks, and bathroom break at the junction between North America and Africa. Thankfully this slight break was enough to restore our previously fading energy. Jackson was silly and playful, replicating various primate statues.
Amelia and Maddie enjoyed seeing the classic zoo animals they've seen in books such as lions and zebras.
I still don't know why this sign is here, but it will likely become an annual tradition to take a picture of the girls under the sign. (Confession: I got irrationally frustrated when the girls wouldn't stand under the sign for two seconds so I could take a picture. Amelia kept running away, as in, full speed sprinting. Thankfully Jackson did a good job taking a picture for me.)
Maddie and James hopped out of the stroller when we got to the giraffe exhibit. They must have been intrigued by the tall creatures.
Our final animal exhibit was the elephants. It was only 30 minutes before the zoo closed, and most of the animals had been farther away in their habitats. The elephants were the exception and approached the rails.
The boys pretended to drive the helicopter used to track elephants.
After 4.5 hours, we were exhausted but not grumpy. I think Jackson and I have better learned how to interact during our adventures together. As the oldest of four, I expect a lot from Jackson (sometimes too much) and I need him to be a positive leader. He's learned to just suck it up and keep moving when it's just me, because complaining doesn't get him anywhere and his Daddy isn't there to carry him. I've learned to be more aware and predict Jackson's needs (i.e. make him try to use the bathroom when we approach a restroom, fill up on water at every fountain, have him sit in the stroller anytime a toddler wants to walk, etc). He did a great job and I kept my patience most of the afternoon. The trio were shockingly happy considering they had no nap. Our afternoon at the zoo was a fun experience for the kids, which made it a positive experience for me.
The thing I had worried most about during the entire zoo trip was how we would get back to the van if we kept walking across the entire park. I knew the shuttle bus would allow strollers if they were folded up. I wasn't sure how I was going to get all four kids and our bags on and off the bus by myself. It took multiple trips and the patience of strangers behind me, but we rode the shuttle to the parking lot without any issues.
The kids were asleep in the car within minutes. I guzzled 30 ounces of water and nearly cried from the relief of sitting in air conditioning. After a quiet hour and a half drive, we surprised Jesse at his school dance so he could see the kids and we could eat a free dinner. It was a win-win for everyone.
While watching an episode of Wild Kratts this morning, Jackson enthusiastically recognized the prairie animals, saying, "Look at the bison! We saw those yesterday! Mommy, there's more zebras!" Last week he saw a picture of a wagon in a book and told me, "This is just like the wagon at the plantation." I love that we are able to give Jackson plenty of real life experiences so he can make these connections on his own. I trust that the trio are creating those same associations, despite being unable to verbalize their thoughts. I'm excited to be able to help my kids build a wealth of background knowledge that will help them in school and learning.