For as long as we've lived in San Diego, we've been members of the San Diego Zoological Society, but we've never been to the zoo as much as we've been in the past five years.
Beginning around the time our children were old enough to sit upright in a stroller, we'd load them up and spend hours pushing them from one side of the zoo to the other.
And as they grew - and I needed to have a quiet work environment at home - Charlie would pack a picnic lunch and take the children there for the entire day.
There are two parks within the San Diego Zoological Society.
There's the awesome zoo, in Balboa Park...
And then, there's the equally awesome Wild Animal Park in north San Diego county.
Considering the San Diego Zoological Society is one of the largest in the world, and we've spent so much time there, it should come as no surprise that one of our favorite games to play is, "I'm thinking of an animal." We play this game all the time ... but particularly whenever we're out running errands and I need to keep the children constructively occupied.
One day last week, while I was waiting in a long line at the post office with Carolyn, out of the blue she said, "Mom. I'm thinking of an animal..."
She looked up at me and smiled - ready to play. I gave her a wink and she continued, "I'm thinking of an animal that lives in an African jungle. It's nocturnal and gives birth to live young. It eats fruits and nuts and has opposing thumbs."
(Carolyn's come a long way since her favorite animal was a giraffe and every animal that she thought of lived on the plains and ate the leaves from trees and had a really long neck.)
"Hmm. Is it a ... gorilla?"
"No," she responds. Then she knowingly adds, "Gorillas aren't entirely nocturnal Mommy."
"Oh, okay. What about a chimpanzee? Is it a chimp?"
"No. But that's a great guess because chimpanzees are nocturnal and eat the same kinds of foods! The animal I'm thinking of has ears on TOP of it's head, not on the sides."
"Oh." My mind reels. "What about an orangutan?"
"Mom. Orangutans don't have ears on top of their heads either. And, they live in ASIA."
I can't think of anything so I take a wild guess. "A bat?"
"Now Mom. Does a bat have OPPOSING thumbs?"
After a few more clues, I give up and she tells me that she's thinking of an Aye-Aye.
Which apparently is a type of Lemur?
I doubt it would be possible that my children would be so knowledgeable about zoology if not for the fact that they've spent a vast amount of time, the first five years of their lives, at one of the best zoos in the world.
We'll really miss this zoo. We'll especially miss taking trips on "off" days when there are no crowds and we can visit any exhibit and have an unobstructed view.
We'll miss the learning that inevitably comes when you stop to talk with zoo keepers about the animals they are caring for and how they came to pursue a career in zoology.
A favorite song of mine is, "It's A Wonderful World" and although I always expected that my children would "learn much more than I'll ever know" thanks in large part to the San Diego Zoo, they've surpassed my expectations before they've even reached Kindergarten.