June 16, 2003
I awoke early with excitement. I was going to the zoo! No, I’m not 4 years old but I felt like it again. The anticipation of seeing animals in their natural environment was more than I could bear. And to heighten the excitement I would be accompanying a Kindergarten class on the trip, as a volunteer. What would I learn about these creatures? The kids I mean. I looked forward to all that would be.
As we boarded the bus, it was apparent that I wasn’t the only one who was excited. The bus rocked with the enthusiasm of thirty children who, although they’d seen the zoo before, were about to see it with the eyes of newborns.
Not having children of my own, I was invited along by Sarah, a little friend who I’d met a few years ago through a family friend. A great girl, although restless at times, Sarah was a truly free spirit, open to all that life had to offer her.
Before we left, Sarah’s teacher asked if I would take along another child, Mary, whose Mom couldn’t make the trip as she had a young baby at home to care for. I agreed and wondered what Mary would be like, having been assured by her teacher that “she won’t be any trouble.”
We boarded the bus and Sarah and I settled in. She took the window seat, which I would’ve protested had I not been with a four year-old. (A trip isn’t the same if you don’t have the window seat. Somehow, you miss out on a lot.)
As we sat there watching the rest of the children settle on the bus, I noticed little Mary saying good-bye to her mother. Her face was long and, if there hadn’t have been thirty kids looking on, I’m sure she would have cried. Under my breath I said a quiet thank you to my own Mom who accompanied me on every school trip. I never realized how blessed I was.
With the bus boarded, the doors closed and we were off. There was a constant hum of excitement as we made our way along the winding roads to the zoo. The most consistent sound though was the teacher at the front of the bus who interjected, “Class, please quiet down” every five minutes. It didn’t do any good and I wished she had just given up and let them chatter on. I was enjoying the chatter. Talk about the latest in toys and gadgets, pop stars and ice cream. Oh to be young again!
We arrived at the zoo and de-boarded the bus. I rounded up Mary to join our twosome. Although I saw her laughing on the bus with her friends, her earlier frown had now returned. No sooner did we get into the zoo and it began.
“My tummy hurts,” Mary said.
Uh oh. I’m out on my own with this child I’ve just met and already there’s a medical emergency. “Maybe you need some water,” I offered.
She frowned smugly but got out her water bottle anyways and had a sip. “It still hurts,” she said.
“Hmmm…well let’s walk around a bit and see if you feel better.”
Mary, Sarah and I tripped off and looked at the rhinos. We then went off to the South America Pavilion and checked out the snakes, reptiles and other creepy things from that part of the world.
Sarah and Mary seemed to be getting along well, yet Mary was still mopey. “My tummy still hurts.”
It was now almost lunchtime so I figured that food might be the next logical suggestion to ease the tummy troubles. “Let’s have some lunch and see if that helps.”
We sat down outside on a rock and snacked on sandwiches, carrots and crackers with cheese, as the elephants nearby munched on straw. At that moment, I wasn’t sure who was having more fun, the elephants or us. But I was certain that the elephant in front of me probably knew more about caring for a young one with tummy troubles than I did.
After lunch, Mary was still sullen and her tummy was still sore. What’s a fill-in-Mom to do? We explored more of the zoo—chimps, gorillas, fish, zebras, polar bears and penguins. I hoped that somewhere along the way something miraculous would happen. Perhaps a baboon would pop out of the trees with some concoction of plants and bark to soothe Mary’s malady. No such luck.
By mid-afternoon the sun was blazing and we found ourselves looking way high up at the giraffes. I felt a tug at my sweater. “I need a hmph.” It was Mary and I couldn’t make out what she was saying. Her mood had reached a new low.
“You need a hat?” I asked, hoping I had finally stumbled on the answer to the tummy trouble. Sunstroke. Oh, that made sense.
“No, I need a hmph,” she mumbled again.
“I’m sorry Mary. I don’t understand what you’re saying. Would you say it again please?”
“I need a hug!” She exclaimed. And there it was. The solution to the tummy troubles. The solution to many troubles I do believe. How many of the world’s problems could be solved if we all just stopped and hugged each other once in a while?
I scooped Mary up into my arms and hugged her tightly, swinging her around while the giraffes looked on in envy. (I don’t imagine giraffes get hugs very often.) As I put her down, a smile spread across her face that I hadn’t yet seen.
“If you need any more hugs, just let me know,” I offered.
“Okay,” Mary said as she went off to join Sarah watching the giraffes.