Covering My Bases

>> Monday, April 6, 2009

"I've been looking forward to today since... a few days ago!" Lizzy said happily this morning.

Today is the first day of Elizabeth's spring break and she's spending four days of it at the San Diego Zoo. Wow! It's all very exciting. Thanks to a last minute cancellation, Lizzy will spend her days going behind the scenes at the zoo, learning what animals eat, how they communicate, and what they sound like. There will be animal encounters and special guests, lessons and games, art crafts and cooking. And the theme of this year's Zoo Camp is, "Let's party!"

It all sounds super neato fantastico, right? Well, it was... until last night.

Don't get me wrong -- despite a little separation anxiety this morning when I dropped her off at camp, Elizabeth is definitely on board and looks forward to four, fun-filled days at the zoo. In fact, she's there right now, hopefully having a wonderful time. But last night as I prepared her last minute documentation and gathered her camp admission tickets, all I could think was, What am I doing?! I'm going to leave my child at the zoo all day without me? The same child who is distracted by acorns falling? The same child who chooses to admire a stray leaf than listen to me? Who will watch her as carefully as I do?

The answer? No one, of course. No one could possible watch her as closely as I do, or love her as much, or care as much about her welfare (except maybe Daddy and Grandma). That's just natural selection at work. So last night I wrote her complete name, two telephone numbers, and our address in her shirt with a black Sharpie. Then I reviewed emergency procedures. "If you get lost, find someone who works at the zoo -- wearing a zoo uniform -- and tell them you're lost, OK? Preferably a 'mommy' or 'grandma'." OK...

And then, after the girls went to sleep, I sat on the bed and Covered My Bases. It's a little like voodoo, science, and religion all mixed into one. First, I relaxed and focused on my instincts for a few minutes, trying to sort out the brain-generated fear from actual instinct. Do I really feel like something bad is going to happen, or am I just afraid that something bad could happen? Mostly fear. Next, I put logic to work. The zoo is in business to make money. Losing or harming my child would severely hurt their reputation and their bottom line. Therefore, the odds of something bad happening to her at the zoo are slim. Then, I focused all my mental and physical thoughts on Elizabeth and the Universe and silently repeated, love and safety... love and safety... love and safety... Because clearly, if I repeat that over and over again like an insane person, the Universe will surround Lizzy with love and safety all day. Then finally, just to be safe, I prayed.

See? Covering my bases.

This morning I stood in line with Elizabeth at the zoo in front of a sign that read "Kindergarten and 1st Grade." She held my hand tightly. Ms. Kim, one of her teachers, found Lizzy in the registry and put a check mark next to her name. In the movie version of this moment, I take Ms. Kim by the shoulders, put my face inches from hers, and tell her, "This one here -- Elizabeth-- she is the most important child here. Do you understand?" Ms. Kim nods. Then I ask her, friendly-like, "So, what's your main goal here today?" Ms. Kim smiles and stutters a little nervously, "To... to... have fun?" I smile back and shake my head, "Nooo. Your first goal is NOT TO LOSE MY CHILD. Fun comes second. Do you understand?" She nods vigorously.

I like the movie version.

In real life, the Zoo activities director was busy pointing and giving directions, making sure everything was happening smoothly. I told her I was a little nervous and, glancing at me, she said that everyone there was a professional. She seemed tightly wound and that made me feel better -- tightly wound = good. Elizabeth received a name badge (also good) and I watched from the sidelines as she sat with her group on the grass, drawing a picture of a giraffe.

Finally, it was time for the kids to enter the zoo. "Everyone find a zoo buddy and form two lines behind us!" shouted her teacher. I knew right away that Elizabeth would not find a "zoo buddy" on her own, so I found one for her. Standing next to her was a nice, quiet little girl named Caroline, so I walked over and said, "Hi! You guys need a zoo buddy, so you two are going to be zoo buddies, OK? Hold hands now..." They did. "Great! You two have to stick together today, OK? Have fun!" In the movie version, I lean over to little Caroline and whisper, "Make sure nothing happens to Lizzy today, OK? She is your responsibility."

I personally placed the girls in line (exercising my last bit of parental authority) and watched as they walked towards the zoo. Elizabeth's backpack bounced against the back of her legs heavily as she and Caroline walked hand-in-hand towards the giant elephant topiaries that flank the zoo entrance. Take care of each other! I mentally shouted, but everything was now very quiet. I looked around. I was the only parent left.

I had the same feeling I get when Michael is away on a business trip and it's time for me to go to bed at night -- I can't quite do it. It doesn't seem right to climb into that empty bed, turn out the lights, and go to sleep. It goes against the routine. I've been doing it differently for nearly 20 years. So instead of going to bed, I watch TV a little longer than usual. I read a book. I check email. Eventually, when there's nothing left to do, I gather all the cats and put them into bed with me, then I look around and think, Wow. Is it time to go to bed, already? Finally, I turn out the light.

As I stood there this morning, I thought to myself, Wow. Is it time to leave, already? It felt weird leaving her there. It went against the routine. After all, I've been taking Lizzy to the zoo for nearly six years. So instead of rushing to work, I walked back to the car slowly. Once inside the car, I sat for a moment and listened to the radio. I watched people park their cars, set-up their strollers, and walk towards the zoo. Eventually, when there was nothing left to do, I drove past the entrance of the zoo slowly before exiting.

Take care of each other!

Hmm. Now that I think about it, I didn't sacrifice a goat or perform any blood rituals before I went to bed. Maybe tonight...


Rima April 7, 2009 at 11:52 AM  

I cannot believe you didn't warn her not to dangle her feet over the side of the tiger den. What kind of a mother are you?

You know I kid, Melissa. I would have felt the same way. Oh wait, I DID feel the same way - last summer when I dropped the V-meister off at day camp and said Hail Marys on the drive home.

Michele April 8, 2009 at 11:45 AM  

Such a nice story Melissa. I felt like I was there watching the whole thing. I can't wait to hear how zoo camp goes : )

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