‘I know, let’s take the kids to the zoo!’ said DH one fateful Friday morning over the breakfast table. I mulled it over for a few moments and then agreed that it might well be a good idea. You see, it was late April, and the weather was beginning to hot up, but it wasn’t so sticky that a bit of time spent outside would be unfeasible. And it was the zoo. They’d love it. What could possibly go wrong?
Oldest son was really into dinosaurs at that point too, and they’d just opened up their new Dinosaur Trail – whatever that was. So, picnics were duly thrown together, teeth were brushed, washing up was left to soak, and we got ourselves on the road.
All was going swimmingly, until the toddler, who was missing his morning nap in honour of the trip, filled his nappy 12 minutes and 36 seconds into the journey. Cue changing stop – not helped by the fact that having squashed it well into his seat by this time, it took a good 10 minutes and lots of protesting to clean up.
‘Right, let’s go!’ I beamed at DH, determined to enjoy myself despite having used up half a pack of babywipes prior to wrestling the squawking toddler back into his car seat. The sun was heating up, my armpits were already prickling with sweat. In retrospect, we should have turned back at the first hurdle. But we didn’t.
Within minutes, oldest son was complaining about having a tummy ache. I’m not sure if every family goes through this, but our kids have this unnerving knack of being able to produce bowel movements within moments of each other. Every. Single. Time. ‘Your turn,’ I smiled at DH, who took a deep breath, pulled over at the side of the road and prepared to wipe among the salt bushes.
Twenty minutes later they needed drinks – and I’d left the picnic in the boot. Stop. Retrieve. Administer. Drive. And soon after that, they both needed the loo again. And so on.
Three hours later (the journey from Dubai shouldn’t take more than 1.5 hours) we reached the Zoo. It was midday. It was boiling. And I’d forgotten to pack the pushchair….
DH, who isn’t so good at being determined to enjoy himself, said an unprintable word that oldest son immediately repeated. ‘Don’t worry!’ I grinned manically, as I attempted to smother both children in sun block, I’ll just carry him. I need the exercise!’
Twenty minutes later we’d bought our tickets, were through the Zoo gates and heading straight for the first air conditioned space we could find. ‘There’s the café!’ cried DH, with all the desperation of a shipwrecked man who’s been forced to drink his own pee for a week. I staggered after him under the weight of the toddler, dripping with sweat and having my hair pulled. ‘Oh thank God!’
Oldest son was put out. ‘But I don’t want to go to the café. I want to see the monkeys, Mummy!’
‘We’ll see them after we’ve all had a nice drink and something to eat,’ I reasoned.
‘I’m not HUNGREY!’ he shrieked. This was probably true, seeming as I’d been throwing snacks into the back of the car, like a sea lion trainer chucking fish, for almost the entire journey.
A tantrum of epic proportions duly unfolded.
Now, I can normally sit through these unfazed, being pretty battle scarred when it comes to PDA’s (public displays of anger). But this time it was different. The café was full. And it was full of families with children who sat nicely and were tucking into their hydrogenated chicken nuggets and fries like good little girls and boys. All eyes swiveled in our direction as they sucked up their e-number filled soft drinks and quietly watched the drama unfold. DH scuttled off to the counter to order something, just in case we’d be asked to leave.
By now, oldest son was rolling on the floor, screaming, kicking and repeating the word he’d heard Daddy say in the car park at full volume. I attempted some firm discipline. ‘Now, stop that! Get up or I won’t take you to see the dinosaurs!’ No success.
It carried on in this vein for several minutes, during which, DH kept making ‘can’t you do something?’ hand gestures and eye rolls at me from the safe haven of the counter.
By now, we were a spectacle. Forget the chimpanzees chucking their own poo. We were the best show in the house. Seriously fed up with all the prying eyes that were only serving to stoke the volatile situation, I decided to bodily remove oldest son from the café and make him stay outside until calm had been restored.
I’d just stood up to remove my wildcat child from centre stage, when the toddler (now unsupervised) threw the large, opened bottle of water from our table, onto the floor.
‘OH MY GOD!’
Oldest son finally shut up.
A while later, full of chicken nuggets and Fanta, we attempted the zoo tour. Oldest son (topped up with tartrazine) made his throat sore by whooping at the monkeys. After that, we gratefully entered the air conditioned reptile house, where the toddler (high on over-triedness) proceeded to run off and bang on as many deadly snake aquariums as he could, and scream with fury when apprehended. DH and I, still stoically pretending that we were enjoying ourselves, suggested it was time to see the dinosaurs.
And was it the anticipated success? Of course not! Totally freaked out by the giant fiberglass and latex reptiles, oldest son lost his bottle and ended up being dragged around the trail in a coerced fashion, hands over his eyes and whimpering, ‘Please Mummy, can we go home now?’
So we did. And we’ve never, ever looked back.
Indeed, whenever anyone ever recommends I take my children on a visit to Al Ain Zoo, because they’ve recently taken their kids, and it was brilliant, I even nod politely, tell them it’s a super idea – and thanks for suggesting it.
After all, nobody would want to know the truth, would they?