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So then…he snorts. “The ‘Park After Dark?’ That doesn’t make any sense,” says my husband David, skeptically.
“No, no,” I say. “This will be great! Instead of dragging the kids through the 90 degree heat of the day, we can visit the wild animal park at night, when it’s so much cooler!”
“Amma-mals?” asks toddler Chloe.
“Yes, honey, we’re going to see the animals,” I say.
David scoffs, “Are you sure we’ll ‘see’ them?”
“Yes, yes!” I say, laughing. “I just talked to the park on the phone. The guy said there’s lighting all over the place – and it’s so cool to visit at night!”
David raises his eyebrow dubiously – but finally relents.
So we pack up Chloe, age 2; Tucker, age 5; the stroller and supplies, and drive the minivan 2 hours over to the wild animal park, just as darkness descends.
The kids are so excited.
The tickets are $50 each. David is so not excited. “Fifty bucks? Seriously?”
“Yes, it’s the special Park After Dark price.” I say. “It’s even more during the day!”
“More?” he says. “Geez, what kind of animals do they have here? Unicorns and dragons?” he says.
“Dragons?” asks Tucker, wide-eyed.
“No, no,” I say quickly, shooting David a look. “No dragons, but lots of cool wild animals – rhinos, hippos, zebras, lions — you’ll love it!”
We board the caravan bus and there’s only one other family on board. And I could swear that husband exchanged an exasperated look with my husband. Like “you got roped into this too, huh?” There may have even been a shared rolling of the eyes.
As Mom the Cheerleader, I enthusiastically say, “Let’s grab seats by the windows, so we can see all the wild creatures!”
So we look out the windows — but the jungle foliage is thick; the lighting’s poor; and we can’t really see anything.
We look left, right, front, back — I’m desperate to see something to point out to the kids – an animal, a movement, a shape, a shadow…something.
David stares at me with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns.
Chloe stands up on the seat next to me and presses her face against the window. “Where da amma-mals at?”
David swallows a guffaw. “Yeah, Darcy, ‘where dose amma-mals at?’”
I stare at him with the icy glare of a thousand glaciers.
“Excuse me, sir,” I say to the driver. “We’ve been riding around for half an hour and can’t really see anything. Where are the animals?”
“They’re sleeping,” he says.
“SLEEPING?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he says impatiently. “It’s DARK out.”
Oh my good God.
David practically chokes, he’s laughing so hard. He tries to suppress it so the kids don’t see, but he can’t help himself.
I shake the park map out in front of me. “Don’t worry, kids, we’ll find something fun to do!”
(But I notice that many of the attractions say “closed at night.”)
Finally! “Oh! Look, kids – there’s a Bird Sanctuary! It says you can feed the birds and they’ll land right on your hand!” I say brightly. “Let’s go there!”
So as soon as the “Sleeping” Animal Tour docks back at base camp, we head off to find the birds.
And thanks to the pitch black night, dim lighting, and poor path signage, we get lost.
The jungle air is thick with resentment.
We finally arrive at the Bird Sanctuary, which is packed with people. We buy little tiny paper cups filled with bird seed and stand there, holding our little cups up to the birds in the trees above us.
But they don’t land on us. They don’t really land on much of anyone. Every so often a bird lazily floats down.
Chloe’s running in circles, holding her cup as high as she can. “Come here, birdies! Come here, birdies!”
Tucker’s inspecting the bird feed in his cup and looks as if he might try it out himself.
I don’t get it. These birds are not flitting and flying like energetic little whirlwinds. These birds seem very lethargic — and disinterested in feeding.
“What’s wrong with these birds?” I ask one of the staff workers. “They’re not eating any of the food our kids are offering.”
“Oh, they’re full,” she says.
“FULL?!” I ask.
“Oh, yeah,” she says. “People have been feeding them all day long. By the time night comes, they’re stuffed.”
I squeeze my eyes closed tightly. Oh please, don’t let David have heard that part. Oh please. Where is he? Is he…is he…yep, he’s right behind me, biting his lip, grinning like a madman.
Oh for God’s sake. I whip out the map again, desperate for something to salvage this trip.
“Hey, look kids! There’s a Tribal Dance performance in the African outpost! Doesn’t that sound FUN?!” I say, infusing my voice with the enthusiasm of a thousand cheerleaders on crack cocaine.
We bundle Chloe in the stroller and grab Tucker’s hand and make haste to the outpost.
It’s much farther than we thought, and the directional signs lead us astray twice.
So I’m trying to push this frikkity-frik stroller over the ruts in this “authentic” dirt path, sweating – and swearing (under my breath) – through the massive jungle vegetation.
We’re walking forever. David’s ready to abandon ship.
I swear I think if a golf cart magically appeared, he’d immediately hop aboard and ride away, with a tender wave goodbye: “Farewell dear family, I loved you well and will think of you kindly when I’m back in air-conditioning chugging a cold beer.”
He’s just about to insist we turn back when we see another family coming toward us on the path.
“Do you know where the Tribal Dancers are?” I ask desperately.
“Yeah, they’re right through there,” they say, pointing behind them.
“Come on, kids! We’re almost there! Oh, oh, I think I hear them!” I say, picking up my pace.
All we see is jungle, but we hear the faint thrum of the drums and low rhythmic chanting, so we run toward the sound.
Just as we turn the bend, huffing and puffing, we spill into a big clearing with lots of people – and the announcer says, “So that concludes our last show of the night, folks! Hope you enjoyed it!”
Cue laser daggers shooting out of David’s eyes into my cerebral cortex.
I want to slump into a sweaty ball of surrender. Just give myself up to the jungle gods right here and now. Let the baboons feast on my flesh; let the hyenas laugh at my folly.
I am done.
But I have two disgruntled kids and one fuming husband to transport back to the park exit and put an end to this disastrous night.
David doesn’t say a word on the trek back through the jungle, but I can hear his thoughts in his head as though they are screeching from a megaphone: ItoldyousoItoldyousoItoldyouso.
The longer we walk, the madder I get at the park guy on the phone who told me that this was such a great idea.
When we finally reach the exit, I say to David, “This is ridiculous! I’m gonna march right in that ticket office and demand our $200 back! We couldn’t see the animals – the birds were full – the dancers were too far away – there’s nothing to do at this stupid park at night!”
David shoots me a cynical look and crosses his arms. “Really? You think they’re gonna give you your money back?”
“Yes,” I say firmly. “Just you watch.”
I stomp into the ticket office, full of fire and brimstone. I rant and rave and rail.
Moments later, I emerge with an envelope.
“So,” he says, grinning. “What’d they give you?”
I hang my head and say, “Four free tickets for another night at Park After Dark.”
— Darcy Perdu
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(Yes, yes, this whole disastrous tale is true! Now it’s your turn – share your funny experiences with zoos, theme parks, and other family excursions. Any brilliant ideas YOU’VE had that your spouse was oh-so-right and you were oh-so-wrong? Do tell!)