The Invisible Elephant Saga, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Zoo

On Tuesday I’ll be 33. According to some think tank in the UK, that’s the age most people report to have been the happiest.

I certainly plan on doing my best to support that position with the help of some silly, smart, spectacular people in my life. Several of those people accompanied me to the Omaha Zoo on Saturday, a trip that’s been on my “Midwestern Bucket List” for some time.

The zoos of today are a far cry from the rows of caged, stressed out animals from my youth. Zoos are heavily involved in education and conservation and have made many improvements in their animal display areas.

One such improvement is adding in more space – more space for the animals as well as more space in between them. And that means more walking for us, which, in most cases, we can totally use.

The Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha is a great sprawl of a place. When we arrived we were instantly dwarfed by the huge desert dome at the front. Inside the dome, I stood face-to-flapping-wings with a cave full of hundreds of bats. I walked through a dark swamp with alligators and nutria and felt like I was back at home in Southeast Texas. (Not that I ever actually walked through a dark swamp there. Alligators don’t tickle when you disturb their naps, even if you try to pacify them with marshmallows.)

We visited giant apes, some who were curious about us…

And some who were too busy contemplating the complexities of life to bother with our stares.

*Sidenote: Have you ever looked into a gorilla’s eyes? I got to, and the intelligence behind them was almost overwhelming. I wanted to hug this guy and tell him I loved him. I figure he’s not a hugger though, and I get that.

We took a little time to let our Monkey attend to some, uh, monkey business. He was in such a mood all morning, wanting nothing more than to be left alone in his wagon to eat. He ate nonstop for the first two hours of the visit, but eventually wanted to get out and look around.

Now here is where the aforementioned saga actually begins.

The entire first couple of hours at the zoo were spent in a descent through ramps and elevators, through the desert and swamp and apes and all, until we reached this guy.

At first it looks like he’s all, “Hai! I’m a bear!” but really he’s laughing at us. He’s laughing his dirty bear butt off because he knows what comes next.

The zoo map tells us that up the hill are rhinos and elephants and sea lions, oh my. The kids want to see all these fantastic creatures and so do we, so up the hill we hike.

We see the rhinos, muddy and quite fat. We watch the sea lions swim around in their pool and wish we could jump in because the temperatures are climbing. Then we begin the trek up yet another hill to see the elephants.

Only, the elephants aren’t there. Instead there’s a pretty sign that announces, “Future Elephant Site.”

By now we’re hot and sweaty and pissed because nobody likes invisible elephants. They’re useless. Our friend Tyson quipped that all of Nebraska must be uphill and it occurred to me later that this must be where all of our grandparents lived when they had to walk to school.

Monkey studied the map for awhile as we took a break to recover from the hill hike. I love his friends’ faces here. You cannot imagine the immensity of the effs they do not give at this point.

One of the older members of our crew, obviously seasoned in the ways of the zoo, suggested a train ride so we could rest our haunches and cool off.

I could have hugged this man. Not only did he do most of the pulling of the children up the hills in the wagon, but he saved our sorry selves with that suggestion.

The train route took us back up the hill so we got to enjoy the sights without huffing and puffing.

Little prairie dogs scurried up out of their burrows alongside us to stare as we chugged past. Monkey and I snuggled, waved at them and mugged for the camera.

When we left the train, we were reinvigorated and ready to finish our trip. But then the clouds rolled in, the temperature dropped about 15 degrees and it looked like it might storm, so the entire visiting population of the zoo crowded into the aquarium.

Our reactions to the massive mob were quite different. Some of us (the smart ones) moved quickly through and ended up on the other end enjoying sno cones.

I was not one of the smart ones, and ended up in a human traffic jam with my little six-year-old sidekick. We made the best of it though and got to see monster crabs, deadly jellyfish and happy stingrays.

One of our crew didn’t make it through though. Yup, that’s my kid, passed smooth out in his wagon where he stayed until we picked him up to put him in his carseat. Homedude was done, y’all.

The best days are those where you’re too tired to walk at the end, but you have a head full of memories and a disc full of pictures that will always remind you that you’re loved. Thank you Greta, Tyson, Henry, Ivy, Essie, Ervin, Maggie and Jim for joining my family as we visited all the wild and wonderful creatures Omaha had to offer.

Now, can someone please tell me WTF this is?

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Embracing change: Gain vs. Loss

Image source

There are so many hard lessons we have to learn in life. Our family, friends and even our enemies usually teach us. Sometimes we can find answers in books, on television, or in school.

Our personal encyclopedias of knowledge are the sum of our experiences, and it’s important to remember that not everyone has the same material available to them.

I read a lot as a young person, before life got so jam packed with responsibility that I spent less time with my books. I learned so much from the stories in those pages, and one lesson stands out.

It was a story of a young girl who had an older sister. They had always been so, so very close. No matter what life threw at them, they weathered the storm together.

Because of the vast age difference between them, the older sister moved out and married when the younger sister was still at an impressionable but somewhat selfish age. The older sister moved far away, and so the younger sister wasn’t around to witness her new life on a daily basis.

Instead, she had a picture in her head of what life had always been like. Subconsciously, she didn’t really acknowledge the changes.

One summer, the little sister went to stay with her older sibling, her husband and their new baby. She went with her old expectations.

It was disconcerting to have to share her sister – whom she had always considered her other half – with other people. It was even more disturbing to realize that instead of being the sun in her sister’s universe, she was now just a planet. An important planet, but still.

Her sister didn’t always have time for late night chats. She couldn’t just drop everything and take her to lunch, or to the mall. And worst of all, her sister would retreat behind closed doors with that man, that outsider, and share secrets that she was no longer privy to.

She became very unhappy that summer. She couldn’t understand why her sister had replaced her. In her mind, with its expectations written in chapters of the past, her sister had betrayed her.

And then she had a disagreement with her sister’s husband. It was silly, really, but blew up when she complained to her sister about the husband, and her sister, instead of immediately taking her side, chided her about learning to get along with others.

Furious, the little sister called her parents and told them she was flying home early. She had been betrayed. Her sister never had time for her, she had pushed her aside in favor of new people. What about family?!

The morning of her flight, her brother in law had to drive her to the airport.

She sat fuming in the passenger seat.

He tried to explain, to help her write another chapter in her book of knowledge.

I will always remember his speech, if not word for word, at least in summary.

“You were always number one,” he said. “But then your sister found a love of a different type, a type you don’t yet understand. And then she had a child, and another new love.”

The little sister rolled her eyes. All this talk about love. She understood love. Who was this guy? He was just a guy. He didn’t understand sisters.

“The thing is,” he continued, “You’re not number one anymore. You’re not number two either. But if you could learn to settle for number three, or later on, number four, you’d see that it’s not so bad.”

“It doesn’t mean your sister doesn’t love you. It just means that life has changed, and with it, so have priorities. You can still be a part of your sister’s life. An important part. But not number one.”

This was an earth-shattering revelation for the sister. Not number one.

“And you’ll most likely find that you’re gaining more than you’re losing. Yes, you won’t always win disagreements. Yes, your phone call might not be the first she returns. But you get a brother. And you get a niece, and maybe on down the line more children who will love you and call you their favorite aunt.”

He parked the car and looked at her. She stared back, tears forming, still unyielding in her posture but her heart beginning to understand.

I think of that story often as our family grows. As my favorite aunt married later in life. As my uncle remarried and gained a step child.

And now as my sister prepares to share her life with someone.

I haven’t always agreed with, or honestly, in the beginning, even liked my new uncle, my new aunt, my new cousin or my future brother in law.

But I was happy for my family members when they found their partners, understood when my place in things changed, and because of that have gained so much.

I have an uncle who is remarkably gifted in research, wholly generous and incredibly funny.

I have an aunt who is so strong she can handle anything that gets thrown at her.

I have a cousin who, although I rarely see him, is still one of my favorite people to run into and is brilliant and funny and has a rebel soul that is kindred to my own.

And one day, I will hopefully have a brother in law – no, a brother. A brother that I have always wanted. One who keeps my sister in line, wink wink, and helps my family do life.

That last change, that newest change, will be hard for me. My sister has three boys, nephews that I have helped to raise and have loved fiercely since the moment I saw them. And now they have a daddy, and instead of just calling up my sister and saying, “Hey, I’m coming to get the boys,” which has always been cool with her, I have to remember to ask if it’s cool with him too.

I have to learn that his ideas on child rearing and family and the general way things should be done is going to be different than mine, that it will most likely affect my sister’s way of thinking as well. And that it’s ok. That’s how things work.

I will know my place. I will accept it. And I will be glad for all I have gained instead of mourning something lost.

2011: The Year of the Blog

*Update: When I wrote this, I was struggling with the idea of moving back to Texas and going back to work, which would require me to polish up my online image a bit. As the months ticked by, it became apparent that although we wanted to go to Texas NOW, and had prayed for such happenings, God’s answer was either “No,” or “Not now.” I really wanted to mope about that, but I decided instead I’d just bloom where I was planted. So I’m baaaack.

As the year draws to a close, so does my blogging experiment. For one year, ever since January 2nd when I posted a gallery of photos from the year before, I wrote and kept a public record of my life.

I shared funny stories about the world around me: my son, my extended family and my friends.

I published recipes that were special to me as well as new ones that I just had to share.

During that time, I made some wonderful friends. Some of whom I’ve been lucky enough to meet face to face, and some who I count the days until we get to share a bottle of wine or see our children play.

I’ve discovered that I’m living virtually parallel lives with so many women across the world. I’ve watched as others struggled with PPD, chronic illness and loss in their families and I’ve hurt, prayed and offered support along with the rest of the blogging community.

This entire year has been such a gift to me.

I’ve been amazed to see that during twelve short months, my blog has seen more page views and more followers than I ever though possible. I’ve been blessed with opportunities to earn money for my family through blogging.

I’ve been able to accept, for myself, that if I put my mind to something I can take it as far as I want. That I can be successful.

So, thank you, wonderful blogging family and friends and exceptional brands, for this gift that you gave me.

During this next year, my family has been blessed with a couple of new projects – projects I either can’t or won’t write about just yet. Because it’s so hard for me to not write about what’s happening in my life, I’m ceasing posts on mamamash.com for the time being.

I’ll still be available if you need a guest post – you can find me on Twitter (where I won’t be posting much but will answer mentions and DMs) or you can email me at mamamashblog at gmail dot com. I’ll also continue to subscribe to your awesome blogs and visit you when I can.

I wish all of you the happiest of new years, I look forward to coming back in a few months to update you on our little projects and I leave you with my favorite posts. God Bless!

My favorite stories:

The Five Nap Commandments: My all-time favorite post, written while sleep deprived.

Rookie Mom Mistake: Sending Mixed Signals: When pooping deserves its own celebration.

The Pythagorean Theorem in Real Life: Wherein I explain how my husband got those stitches in his face

The Legend of Captain B: A sort of feature a did about my cousin, the man I’m sure will save us all during the Zombie Apocalypse.

Does that mean I can say fart now:  A post about the silly people who are my heart and soul.

Ewwwshi: Sometimes, my family does not share my tastes in cuisine.

Sugar and Spice and some potty advice: The first time I realized that my days of pooping alone were over.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat: How motherhood can be monotonous, but also satisfying.

My favorite recipes:

Cheesy Chicken and Spinach Lasagna

Chicken Spaghetti

Italian Wedding Soup

Tomato Basil Soup and Grilled Gruyère Sandwiches

My guest posts:

Today’s PSA: The Drawer – At Multitasking Mumma’s

If I Could Turn Back Time – at Chosen Chaos

Making Memories – at New Mom Survival Adventure

Guest Star – at Mama Wants This