“May at the Bronx Apartment” might not sound as elegant as Eloise at the Plaza, but for a four and a half-year old visiting New York, the experience is equally impressive, as witnessed by our granddaughter’s recent visit to The Big Apple.
I am a great one for planning, and plan I did! In two brief days, we visited the Bronx Zoo, Chinatown, the New York Athletic Club for Brunch, Dylan’s Candy Bar, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Liebman’s Kosher Deli in Riverdale, Bronx. Each venue had its own way of making May’s visit to New York City a memorable one for her and for us.
When we first arrived at the Bronx Zoo, my husband and I had the sinking feeling that perhaps we had made a mistake in our planning. As we walked towards the entrance, May clung to her mother’s body saying, “I don’t want to go to the zoo. I don’t want to see the tigers and elephants.” I couldn’t understand why she was so adamant over something that she was looking forward to for so long. Then it hit me!
I recalled one of those “tell me a story about mommy and Aunt Jessica” moments May and I had when she was three years old and getting ready for bed. I told her a “funny” story about how an elephant had sneezed all over her aunt when she was a toddler. At that time May thought this story to be funny so I went on to tell her about the cow that swung its food bucket towards Aunt Jessica’s head when we visited the Children’s Zoo. Then, as an added bonus, I told her the story about how a goat once started to eat her great-grandmother’s skirt when we visited a petting zoo. Once again, May and I laughed over all of the funny things that animals are capable of doing.
As I’ve stated before, never underestimate the brain of a small child. May held onto those stories and stored them in the recesses of her mind. Now these anecdotes had come back to haunt me.
Nancy, May’s mom, saved the day. As she carried May through the gates, she softly spoke reassuring words to her and advised that we start our tour at the Children’s Zoo section, whereas I, a senior who stresses over the lengthy lines that build as the day wears on, wanted to start our tour at Wild Asia, a major zoo attraction. Thankfully, Nancy won out and May loved feeling the tickle of the goats’ mouths as they fed from her hand, putting her head between sculptured rabbit ears, comparing her jumping distance with that of a frog, sliding down the huge tree slide, and playing the role of prairie dog as she peeked her head out from holes built into a makeshift mountain.
While I watched May participate in all of the attractions, I thought of how I could adapt the things that she found so enjoyable to games children could play in yards and playgrounds. It would be easy to mark off different distances of animals that leap (this information can be found on the internet) and have children compare their jumping skills to various animals. Children love to make comparisons.
Totally relaxed and ready for more adventure, May proclaimed, “I like the zoo!” Relief flooded over us and our steps led us to the Wild Asia where May was able to see and enjoy the beauty of the previously dreaded tiger within the safety of the monorail. Rhinos bathing in mud, elephants grazing in meadows and a red panda hanging from a tree enthralled our budding zoologist. We were on a roll! Now for the pièce de résistance; we were ready to move onto the prize exhibit, one that May was looking forward to ever since she heard how it was a favorite of Ella, our friend Joan’s three-year-old granddaughter.
I am constantly learning valuable lessons from observing the reactions of our granddaughter. I have learned how important it is to preview or, at the very least, be knowledgeable about planned excursions. I have also learned both through my teaching experience and observing May that what is enjoyable for one child is not necessarily enjoyable for another, as was the case with Ella’s reaction verses that of May.
Happily anticipating seeing Dora the Explorer, May patiently waited outside the theater, looking very grown-up in her 3D glasses. Nancy and I were a bit confused about the film being shown in 4D, never having heard the term before, but we knew Dora and hey, 3D is great, therefore seeing Dora’s adventures in 4D could only be better. We were soon to find out what 4D meant as we sat in the darkened theater.
With exit doors closed, we felt water splash over us and our seats vibrate as Dora travelled through the jungle on foot and by plane in pursuit of a robotic butterfly out to destroy the tropical rainforest. I was seated in another row and was unaware of May’s reaction to this incredible “journey,” but I was fully aware of the children about me; some crying, some screaming with excitement. “Which category would May fall into?” I wondered.
Upon exiting the theater, Nancy looked frazzled to the core and May had on her saddest face, the kind of face that breaks a grandmother’s heart.
“Did you hear her screaming and crying? It was awful. She wanted to leave, but the doors were shut and I had to try to calm her in the darkened theater while the vibrations of the seats exacerbated the noise of the movie. They should have a caveat posted, ‘Warning this movie is not for appropriate for all children,'” my daughter exclaimed.
Nancy had a valid point. I remembered back to one of my classroom experiences when I was reading Roald Dahl’s book, The Witches to my second grade students, a book that I felt was sure to have universal appeal. Tentative about asking her teacher to stop reading a book that the rest of her classmates were enjoying, one little girl in my class held her fears in check until she was able to voice them to her parents. Fortunately, her mother called me to inform me about her anxiety and I was able to remedy the situation by having several copies of the book on hand and inviting any and all who were interested in finding out more about the story to borrow a copy and read it at home with their parents. Of course, I had to lay the groundwork before implementing my plan, but the results were favorable to all and my sensitive student was happy.
Not all children are the same. May is extremely proficient with her use of vocabulary and knowledgeable about a variety of subjects. Like many of today’s children, she has been exposed to a wider world through technology and asks limitless questions about what she sees and hears. Although May seems savvy beyond her years, her outward affectations belie her sensitive nature, a trait that I believe is common to many of today’s young children and one that we as grown-ups need to remember.
All in all May’s trip to the zoo was an adventure worth repeating. Perhaps the next time, she will be better able to handle all of the exhibits. Perhaps Eloise will be old enough to join us. In either case, I will do my homework and be more knowledgeable about what to expect so that I may better prepare our granddaughters for what might lie ahead. We are never too old to learn from the young, something for all of us grandparents to keep in mind.