A few weeks ago Boo and I got an invitation, through Special Olympics, to go to the MN Zoo for a night just for kids with disabilities. A and I thought it sounded like a great opportunity and signed up. Last Friday we went to the zoo. Boo Bear loves the zoo, but we usually just go to Como Zoo. It is small, but close to home, easy to navigate and only asks for a goodwill donation. The MN Zoo is half an hour outside of town, expensive, and huge. There is always the risk of arriving somewhere and having Boo Bear decides he hates it and wants to leave, so we tend to stick with Como Zoo. Anyway, on this particular night, MN Zoo was free and open only to those with disabilities and their families. It was a wonderful evening. There was everything a child could want. For those in wheelchairs or wagons, there were paved paths to walk on. For those who were more able bodied their were slides, and swings, and rope course. Along the way were friendly people offering free food, drink, and ice cream. Boo Bear decided that he had landed at heaven’s gates. We were at the zoo for several hours, but probably only saw about a third of it. Our favorites were the llamas and the monk seal. The llamas have their own special section where they can roam free. People are invited, at their own risk because llamas spit, to go roam with them. We wandered among the llamas. After a while Boo sat down on a bench next to a friendly looking grandmother. A llama wandered over and snuffled her ear in a friendly fashion. Boo thought this was hilarious. After we had our fill of llamas we ventured over to the aquarium. Inside it was cool and dark, the only light coming from the illuminated fish tanks. Upstairs was an amphitheater around a large pool. In the pool, up against the glass facing us, was a solitary monk seal. He had huge, dark, liquid eyes, perky whiskers and a face that was somehow dog like. He peered through the glass at us and pirouetted in small circles. I don’t know why he was there all by himself, but he was obviously very pleased to have company. He made eye contact better than any neurotypical I have ever seen and seemed to be peering into the depths of our souls. Boo Bear sat back on the steps a few feet away to watch this aquatic beast. A and I stood right up next to him, watching his choreography in some slow, majestic dance to which only he knew the steps. I could have stayed there all night, watching this animal, but eventually Boo was ready to move on.
After about three hours and several miles of hiking we decided to quit while we were still on a high note. Boo Bear relaxed in the car, enjoying some Gatorade and beef jerky snacks. He made his happy noises and played on his Ipad. A and I high fived each other on a successful evening. I would like to give my heartfelt thanks to the MN Zoo for putting this evening on. Special Olympics were not the only group that was invited to this event. There were kids from Children’s Hospital, the Ronald McDonald House, and a variety of other organizations I had never even heard of before. The atmosphere at the event was quiet and calm, not rushed. Wheelchairs, G tubes, assisted communication devices were the norm, not the exception. But, the disabilities and illnesses were all put aside for on evening as the zoo let kids just be kids. For this, I am exceedingly grateful.