They All “Masked” For You: Finding Gratitude at a Zoo Playdate

My friend texted me the other day asking if we wanted to join her and her kids at Audubon Zoo to celebrate her daughter’s fourth birthday. She wouldn’t be having a typical party– it would be a drive-by pandemic-style birthday parade– but her mom hoped a trip to the zoo would add a little more celebration to her birthday weekend.

We were so there. The idea of casually meeting up at the zoo just sounded so… normal.

Things are different now…

Things are different now, there’s no denying that. My friend and I greeted each other with masks on, letting our kids wave to each other from their strollers. Our oldest two kids wore masks as much as they could handle throughout the trip.

By now, you probably know about all the differences and social distancing measures that the zoo has implemented. I couldn’t help but hyper-focus on all the precautions: the reserved time slots, the roped-off statues, the one-way paths, and predetermined route through the zoo. Even the rougarou by the swamp exhibit is masked up and holding a bottle of bleach.

But I’m not here to write about those things, which can be easily found on the zoo’s website, or which you’ve probably already heard from your friends or from your own recent zoo trips. No, I want to share for just a moment about what I saw beyond the precautionary measures when I actively shifted my mindset from “look at what’s different” to gratitude mode.

Grateful, grateful, grateful

Here we are, six months into an inconceivable pandemic, but I am healthy, happy, and got to spend the day with my friend and her children, outdoors in the humidity but with the occasional breeze. Somewhere between late-March “this will be over in two weeks” lockdown and late-April “holy salami this is NEVER GOING TO END” despair, I couldn’t picture a time when we’d even be taking baby steps back to playdates and zoo trips. I was grateful for the outdoors and our masks and our kids scooting down Monkey Hill. I was grateful for the strangers who made an effort to let us go first or stepped to the side to stay six feet apart. I was grateful for everyone who patiently waited their turn to see the animals and let our kids have their fill of the elephants and lions.

 But beyond all that, I was so grateful for my friend, whom I’ve watched get up day after day during this months-long trial and be a positive, resilient, inhumanly strong mama bear leading her children through this pandemic. She has been a pillar of strength while her husband works tireless hours as a doctor with COVID patients. I have been so inspired by her perseverance and patience as she’s born the burden of my own complaints and frustrations since March (and before!). Walking through the zoo, I couldn’t help thinking how proud I was to have her as a friend; to have her on my team as we navigated this worldwide uncertainty.

And as an extension of this gratitude, I find myself so deeply grateful for all the moms in my village, for all my friends who have stuck with me during this time and offered me all that they could, for my parents and in-laws and family who have been journeying with us each day. I am so grateful for everyone I have leaned on (without touching!), for those who have not judged me, for those who have affirmed my decisions, for those who have believed in me and encouraged me. We always acknowledge the importance of our “mom tribes” and those friends who always have your backs, but I have truly felt their significance during this pandemic.

And, of course, I am so grateful for the simple pleasure of a playdate at the zoo– something that seemed so casual before, something that is still a little different now, but something that also holds a glimpse of that treasured sense of normalcy.

Erica Tran
Erica lives in Kenner with her husband Michael and her three sons, Benjamin, Joshua, and Elijah. After graduating from UL Lafayette with a degree in advertising and landing her dream job, she left her chosen field and now works part time as an administrative assistant for a Catholic retreat movement. She spends the rest of her time at home with her boys, finding lost toys and actively ignoring various messes. In 2019, she self-published her first book, The Sister. There's not a lot of free time between working, reading and writing, and chasing her kids, but in those moments she's usually sprawled on the sofa in casual denial about just how messy her house is.


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