Wil sat down on the bench. I sat next to him and watched a droplet of sweat slip down the side of his forehead. It was 88 degrees and he’d already been walking for 90 minutes. Katherine was to our left crouched in front of a hyena. She snapped a few close-up photos. The hyena was belly up, legs splayed, mouth open in what I swear was a smile, pink tongue hanging to the side, with the cool earth on his back and the hint of a breeze ruffling his coat; just like our pet Labrador on a hot summer day. Elizabeth and my dad were to our right watching an anteater splash himself in a pond.
I knew there would be a point when Wil abruptly declared himself done with the zoo. I was impressed, though, that he’d made it this far. Earlier that morning, Wil jumped out of bed, stripped off his pajamas, took his still damp swimsuit off the dry rack, and pulled it on as fast as you can pull on a damp swimsuit. He jumped in my parent’s pool and played for 2 hours forgetting all about breakfast, until I reminded him it was time to eat and head to the zoo.
Wil and I sat together on the bench talking; I knew the only place he’d go from there was the exit door. After about 10 minutes, Katherine, Elizabeth and my dad joined us at the bench. Katherine and Elizabeth wanted to stay for the safari show which was in 2 hours. We came up with a plan: my dad would take Wil out to eat while Katherine, Elizabeth and I completed a tour of the zoo and watched the safari show. After that, we’d meet my dad and Wil in the parking lot and head back to my parent’s condo.
It’s a balance raising typically-developing children and a child with Down syndrome, but not an equal one. If my dad wasn’t at the zoo that day, then Katherine, Elizabeth and I would have left after we coaxed Wil up from the bench. Or, I would have sat with Wil while Katherine and Elizabeth continued the zoo tour on their own, because when Wil is ready to go, there is little chance of convincing him otherwise. Katherine and Elizabeth are deeply patient, compassionate and understanding individuals for that fact. They haven’t been outwardly taught to be that way; it’s part of their daily lives and ingrained in who they are.
After my dad and Wil headed off to the car, Katherine, Elizabeth and I visited more animals, took pictures, browsed the gift shop, and watched the safari show — all on our own time, at our own pace, in our own way, just us girls. As we sat at a picnic table and sipped $4.00 lemonade under the shade of the Naples Zoo banyan tree, I took notice of the way the roots, stump and branches articulately wove together over time to create this magnificent tree.
I sent a silent nod of reverence to the banyan tree, as we share the knowledge that balance is not always created in symmetry; that intertwining segments woven together over time form a foundation well-grounded. I looked my girls, and thought of sharing this, but they are teenagers and would have rolled their eyes. Instead I told them how proud I was of them, how thankful I was for this time together, and that one day they would also know their deep magnificence.