Z is for Zebra

With clear skies and a joyous sun beaming down, spring has now officially (as far as I’m concerned) arrived. On a recent Friday, my wife took my daughter into work, leaving me and my 4-year old son to some serious male bonding. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to go to the zoo.

About two exits away on the Bronx River Parkway, as traffic ground to a halt, it occurred to me that I might not be the only one who thought of going to the Bronx Zoo on Good Friday.

Eventually we arrived, parked, and entered through Gate B. We were actually planning on meeting a friend of his, but the mother called to let me know they were running late. Perfect. Time to get in some serious father/son time. I knelt down to get at eye level with my guy and asked him what he wanted to see at the zoo.


Fine. My boy wants zebras, I give him zebras. We began our trek. He stopped to jump over puddles. He stopped to climb a fence. He went back to jump over the puddles again. It was like an episode of “The Family Circus.” Then he spotted Tiger Mountain, so we took a detour. By our good fortune, we had arrived right before an “enrichment” session, where they bring out the tigers and have them flaunt their tigerness in front of gawking zoo-goers. There was a huge crowd, and no way that my little dude could see, so I hoisted him up onto my shoulders. Everyone was buzzing in anticipation, the trainer was going over the rules, and all my son cared about was the sound my head made when he thwacked it with his fingers.

THWACK! “You’re a drum, daddy!”

“Yes, Dude. Please don’t thwack my head.”

THWACK! “I’m drumming on you!”

“Yes, Dude. Look, they’re gonna bring the tiger out!”

THWACK! “Does this hurt?”

“Not yet.”

Finally the trainer dramatically opened the wall so that only a thin, wire mesh fence separated all of us from the massive beast. We were about to get up close and personal (through a wire fence) with a tiger!

“I wanna go now, I’m scared.”

Can’t argue with that.. We left, sat down, had a snack to calm the nerves, and resumed our quest for the zebras.

That quest lasted another 35 seconds before…

“I have to pee.”

I brought him into the nearby men’s room, folded him into the correct origami shape to aim into the only unused urinal, and he did his business. I did mine, too, complete with inappropriate comments from my son while other zoo visitors looked on. Shaking off the embarrassment, we restarted our interrupted zebra quest. We got about half-way there before hunger pangs turned my docile son into a writhing, seething, cauldron of crankiness just waiting to erupt. The zebras would have to wait, it was lunchtime.

I take pride in pointing out that I packed extra water and even some snacks for my little guy to munch on throughout the day. However, lunch is an entirely different matter, so we hit the Dancing Crane for the required chicken strips and fries for him, and cheeseburger and fries for me. Plus, he got a chocolate milk. I feel no shame in this, there’s protein in chicken strips, and I think I once heard that French fries were a vegetable.

Just as we finished lunch, our friends called. Would we like to meet them at the Children’s Zoo? So again, the zebras were put on hold and we made a bee-line to the Children’s Zoo. On the way over, I mentally dusted off my “what is the difference between an alligator and crocodile” info that I keep locked away for just such occasions. Unfortunately for me, any chance to share knowledge and wisdom with my son vanished the instant he saw his friend, and the two of them proceeded to run through the Children’s Zoo at warp speed. It’s all we could do to keep up.

After the utter chaos in the walled confines of the Children’s Zoo came the Bug Carousel, the giraffes, and the Butterfly Garden – which we entered for the sole purpose of seeing the fish. I sat on the side of the pond, watching my son and his friend run laps around each other, screaming, giggling, and completely and utterly ignoring their parents. I tried having a true bonding moment with one of the butterflies, but it flew away.

By this time, it was time to go home. I broke the news and was immediately greeted with, “I wanna see the zebras!!!!”

He’s right, of course. I promised him zebras, and had yet to make good on that promise. We marched out of the Butterfly Garden and headed for the striped wonders.

We approached the zebra pen.

We looked out across the grassy plain. The empty, grassy plain.

I noticed the sign that read:


I may be paraphrasing.

“Dad, where are the zebras?”

I knelt down to his level and told him the ugly truth. He cried. I cried. Was this bonding?

Walking back to the car with his arms wrapped around my neck, I mentally grumbled about how this day had been a series of misadventures and tangents leading to the ultimate let down. But as I walked back past Tiger Mountain, I started thinking. Sure we didn’t see a tiger, but he’d enjoyed beating me over the head. And maybe we hadn’t had the healthiest lunch, but he’d had a great time and shared his fries with me. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that everything that we’d done today, we’d done together. I may not have sat him on my knee and explained what a lemur was, but what did that matter in the grand scheme of things?

I spent the day at the zoo with my son. If that isn’t the definition of father/son bonding, I don’t know what is.

Forget the zebras. ©


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About the Author: David Neilsen