Keeping Mum

Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Toddlers (at the) zoo

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Gosh*, we've just got back from a stint at the zoo with three kids under three, and it's only midday. I was sure it was about 5pm!

This golden Auckland Anniversary day stretched out ahead of us at 8 o'clock this morning - two hours after our actual wake up - and we decided to make the most of it and shuttle myself, husband, toddler and 10-month-old, along with my sister and her 2.5-year-old, off to the zoo for the day (or at least the morning).

Things didn't get off to a great start. Both toddlers performed various acts of civil disobedience before we'd even left the house. Our toddler refuses to wear sunscreen and has to be physically held down by two adults to have it applied. He managed to kick his sister in the head twice and was banished to the cot. He was threatened with NOT going to the zoo at all - until we realised that would actually be more of a punishment to us than to him.

At the zoo three harried adults brought themselves stiff coffees before attending to the first order of business - how to get the kids around. We had one stroller - but unfortunately it's a Wiggles stroller that everyone wants to ride around in. The two toddlers are perfectly capable of walking but naturally refuse to do in any consistent fashion. Last time we went to the zoo my son lay down every 50 metres - and didn't care if it was on a clean piece of concrete or one covered with bird excrement and discarded lolly wrappers.

Contingency strollers were deemed to be the answer. And indeed, the first five minutes of this zoo adventure were sweet. Baby in the Wiggles stroller, two toddlers peeking out of a double stroller hired from the zoo supply, and giraffes, ostriches and zebras out enjoying the fine summer day.

Why don't you take a picture, it'll last longer, we used to say to people who stared.

But that was exactly the phrase that came to mind some six minutes in. First baby got restless and decided she had to be on the move constantly to avoid filling the air with plaintiff cries. Both toddlers jumped out of their stroller - egged on by each other - and while one tried to stick his foot through the safety fence, the other decided she needed to be carted around by her pregnant mother.

When we got to the lion enclosure it really turned hairy. Both toddlers decided they wanted to be wheeled around in the single Wiggles stroller, and both showed zero interest in the animals and 99.9 per cent interest in the seat belts in both strollers. It has to be said that, as usual, the lions showed about as much interest in us as our kids showed in them, so that didn't help matters and didn't lend a lot of weight to our efforts to whip up some enthusiasm. Even threatening to throw them to the lions bounced off them like so many Winnie the Pooh squeegie balls.

Swathes of the trip were spent rolling around three empty strollers while carrying three rather stocky children - plus all their nappies, drinks, snacks, toys and other detritus. We noted wryly that during snack time, the children spent their time sitting with their backs to the monkeys while staring intently at their biscuits and demanding more. Typical!

But we were not alone. As we dragged, cajoled, forced, carted and generally harangued our children around the zoo I couldn't help but notice that several thousand more parents were doing exactly the same. We'd exchange knowing glances over toddlers who had melted down, refused to walk, refused to appreciate the colourful beauty of the giant carp or the serene majesty of the hippo.

Auckland Zoo is very beautiful and much care and thought has been put into its various attractions. It is a kid friendly space for sure - but whether toddlers really get the zoo or not is another thing.

After our circuit - including a stint at the cafe and a ride on the "safari train", we herded our kids into the car and drove them home. We couldn't help but laugh bitterly when the toddlers screamed out, "Yay!" as we pulled up outside our (comparatively boring) house!

* actual exclamation somewhat saltier than "gosh".

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