I mean … animals? With my kids, particularly Madeline?
It’s a no-brainer.
Especially when it means I have the opportunity to introduce them to someone who followed their passion and made a career out of it.
That was a few months back. The tickets were a little pricey. And I hesitated.
For a good month.
Month and a half.
And then a Groupon for the very show I wanted to buy tickets for happened to pop up in my e-mail box.
It was as if they knew.
And then. Then there was no hesitation.
I didn’t tell the kids about the show beforehand. As we crossed the street to go to the theater yesterday, they asked again where we were going.
“Well, we’re going to meet a very famous zoo director, and he’s going to bring some of his favorite animals and tell you some stories about his travels and research.”
Ohmygosh.Animals?Mommy, really?Animals?I love animals.I want to work with animals when I grow up.And take care of them.And love them.And be with them.And help them.Oh my gosh, Mommy, I love you, I love you, I love you, this is the best day ever.Thank you so much!
So said a very breathless excited Madeline. And her reaction was the best ever. And how I wish I could better show you her excitement, other than stringing all the words together without proper punctuation. It was pure awesomeness.
And exactly why I knew we needed to go.
When we entered the theater, we got a quick glimpse of Jack as he sat in the front lobby and signed autographs and took pictures with people that attended the earlier show.
We took our seats and I read the blurb in the program to them. Twenty minutes later, and he was on stage.
If you ever get a chance to see Jack Hanna in person, go.
The opportunity to see someone who has such passion for his job was such a gift. To me. And especially to my children. Knowing a lot of the audience were children, he spoke to them about following their dreams. And I loved that. He told them that if they worked hard and had enthusiasm for what they were doing, they would reach their dreams. And to do something they love.
When he was 11 years old, he started by working at his local veterinarian’s office. He offered to clean up after the animals, and they thought he would last a week.
He was there for six years.
When he became the Director/Zookeeper for the Columbus Zoo, he was looking for a job at a zoo, but the criteria was that it had to be close to a St. Jude’s facility because his daughter was being treated for cancer. The Columbus Zoo (currently voted the #1 zoo in America) fulfilled both requirements.
When he started there, it was run-down and the facility was in disrepair. Through his tireless efforts and passion, it is night and day different. (And when I spied the pictures of their polar bear tunnel on Pinterest, I about died. And added “Columbus Zoo visit” to our bucket list).
During his show, he and his assistants brought out about 20 different animals, most from the Columbus Zoo. Everything from a kangaroo, penguin, snake, and two-toed sloth, to a fox, lemur, owl, a 15-week-old mountain lion, and a cheetah.
The kids were awe-struck from beginning to end.
With each animal, there were personal stories that he shared, and videos.
Visiting zoos is the nation’s largest recreational activity. Above even things like football game attendance. Which is all sorts of awesome. Last year, there were 176 million visits made to zoos.
During his talk, Jack acknowledged his mentor, who was in the audience and from the area, and the Turtleback Zoo. His spirit, fire, and passion for what he does, and the animals he works with, was such a fun thing to encounter and witness. And he seems to be such a good, down-to-earth person.
Through his career, he has visited all the continents at least twice (he travels 220 days a year). He has been to Rwanda many times to watch and research the silver-backed gorillas, but he said nothing compared to when he took his family with him. They traveled 8,000 miles to spend an hour with the gorillas.
Beyond seeing the animals and learning fun facts about each one, the stories that Jack peppered his show with were highlights as well. He said he gets a lot of questions about what to do if you encounter a bear, and his biggest piece of advice is not to run. A black bear can run a football field in six seconds, so unless you can beat that, it’s best to stay put. He mentioned his other tip, that when you encounter a bear, was to take off your jacket or backpack, lay it down on the ground, and start to slowly back away. Odds are that most bears will come and sniff the jacket or backpack, giving you more time to slowly move away.
He said that when he gave this tip last year at one of his shows, there were some guests from an Idaho park in the audience, and one of the gentlemen raised his hand.
“Excuse me, but with all due respect, it’s against park policy to leave your clothing or anything else in the park.”
And that’s when Jack said that if it meant a $500 fine or his life, he would gladly take off his pants and leave them behind in the park if he had to.
Once his show was done, he said with regret that he couldn’t stay for pictures like he did for the other show because he had a six hour drive to get to the Pittsburgh area for tomorrow’s adventures, but that he would sign autographs in the lobby for the thirty minutes it would take his crew to load the animals up into the trucks. Such a sweet man.
We skipped out on the last few minutes of his bloopers reel to get in line to get an autograph, and the kids were seriously awestruck to be standing in front of him, watching him sign a card for them. It shows you what a wonderful man and show that it was … when two hours earlier, they had no idea who he was. Yet hearing him talk and listen to his adventures and stories, they were clearly smitten.
After the show, the kids and I went next door to a trattoria for dinner (review coming later this week), and then next door to that to Strawberry Fields for a frozen yogurt dessert. On the way home, I was reflecting on our evening together. I honestly enjoy the kids’ company and our adventure of the show, dinner, and dessert was the perfect ending to the weekend. Of course there was a little bit of bickering in the theater (because Nick was leaning too much into Madeline’s space in his effort to see the stage better) and we had to drive all the way back to the frozen yogurt place because Nick forgot our dinner leftovers there, and nothing is ever perfect.
But it’s perfect in its imperfectness.Columbus Zoo, Into the Wild, Jack Hanna, Mayo Performing Arts Center, things to do in New Jersey