Sunday was Mother’s Day in Australia and my first one as a mother. My twins were born exactly three months earlier. They are obviously very advanced babies because they brought me breakfast in bed – scrambled eggs on toast with coffee – and gave me money to treat myself to a massage. Clever babies!
Being a mother is everything I hoped it would be. These two little beings fill me up inside and, despite the sometimes mundane tasks and lack of sleep, I am extraordinarily happy right now. I’m trying to stay conscious and not miss a minute of it as everyone warns me that it goes by so quickly. They are already so much bigger than they were when they were born, though they are still on the small side for their age. They are much more alert and starting to smile and enjoy play time and I know that so much fun lies ahead of us!
Mother’s Day does feel different as a mother. In previous years it was a prompt to call or visit my own mum and also call my grandmothers, but I must confess I never found the day especially meaningful. It’s not just that I’m a more central part of the celebration now; it also made me more reflective about motherhood in general. Our family had to spend some time hanging around the intensive care units of both the Sydney Children’s Hospital and Royal Hospital for Women because my son needed surgery at two days’ old. So I’ve been thinking particularly of all the mothers out there with children in hospital.
I’ve also been thinking about the other mothers in the animal kingdom and how they deserve to have their habitat and planet protected and to live their lives in peace. I remember lying awake when my babies were a week old – my daughter at home with me and my son still in hospital – and worrying about the fate of the world that I’d brought them into. I had this very intense feeling of wanting to dedicate time and energy to fending off looming ecological catastrophe. Since then, of course, I’ve been swept up in the day to day care of twins – let’s just say I’m a tad busy right now – but this is something that is important to me and I will come back to it. I’m doing what I can right now by accepting hand-me-downs and avoiding buying baby junk as much as I can.
I thought I might try to visit some other mothers and babies from the animal kingdom. Taronga Zoo in Sydney has a baby monkey right now and I have a hankering to see him. My own mother has arrived from the country to stay with me and I thought we might go with the twins one day if the weather is nice. She’s a day late for Mother’s Day but she will be here for a week.
I’m a big fan of modern zoos. I hate to see animals in cages or cruddy enclosures but I love it when they have well-designed areas that mimic their natural habitat. I particularly enjoyed seeing the gorillas at the Bronx Zoo when I went to New York last year – they have a huge area with lots of trees and greenery and people can look at them through large window walls. Zoos an opportunity for people to see animals they might not otherwise see and create a connection to the natural world and the best zoos, like Taronga, also engage in meaningful conservation and research work.
Pandas at San Diego Zoo
I also loved the San Diego Zoo, which we visited in January 2010. It’s huge with a lot of different animals – not just the usual suspects but also more unusual species, many of which I recognised from watching David Attenborough wildlife documentaries such as the naked mole rat, which has just one breeding female, or the tree kangaroo from Papua New Guinea.
The biggest reason that we went – in fact almost the entire reason we went to San Diego at all – was to see the baby panda, Yun Zi, born in August 2009. I’d been watching the tiny guy on the zoo’s Panda Cam for months and was desperate to see him in real life. (Panda Cam is a fantastic example of innovative thinking in running a zoo – it’s a web cam of the panda enclosure – except when Yun Zi was a baby the camera was trained on the room where he and his mother were nursing instead). Yun Zi had not been long on public exhibit by the time we went to see him in January 2010 and was only being shown for a few hours in the mornings, alongside his mother Bai Yun.
I’d seen pandas once before, at the excellent National Zoo in Washington DC in December 2007. The zoo is part of the Smithsonian Institution and, like all Smithsonian museums, absolutely free. It was wonderful to see them but the pandas were much bigger – the youngest one was two, an adolescent in panda terms, and already nearly full size. Now five, he has recently returned to China, and his parents remain in the US. There’s a Panda Cam at the National Zoo as well.
We had to queue for the San Diego panda exhibit and once inside, the zoo staff kept us moving so we couldn’t linger and take too many photographs. I was reminded of visiting Lenin’s Mausoleum in Red Square in Moscow in 1991 when I went there on a school trip and how the Russian guards made sure the line kept moving and wouldn’t let anyone stand still. Of course, it was not nearly so extreme and we were allowed to take pictures, but I had to line up and move through the exhibit twice before I had even come close to sating my appetite for gawking at the baby panda. The first time I went through, he was asleep on a tree branch, and by the time we looped back around, he was down on the ground feeding from his mama’s breast. It was ridiculously cute – almost as cute as my own pair.
Happy Mother’s Day.
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