"I’ve never seen these animals in real life before," he noted with no admonitions.
"Are you sure?" I questioned, convinced he’d been along on at least one of our many outings at the zoo.
"Not me," he stated, "you brought the other kids, though. "
Guilt was sprouting roots and about to spring from my ears when I grabbed at something, anything.
"What? You don’t recall Lincoln Park, Milwaukee, Brookfield?" I asked in amazement at his lapses in memory.
The child development experts had assured that multiple trips to cultural and artistic destinations would be ingrained forever in the young child’s consciousness. I’d taken the advice to heart, gone about it methodically, regularly. I must have looked confused and hurt, because he added rather flatly, "but then, I admit to not having a good memory."
Ignoring the cliched jokes about four years of college and what it does to otherwise healthy brain cells, I attempted instead, "Well, then, we will just have to do it all over again and remind you." But silently I asked myself, was I a rotten mother?
Searching my own memory now for all the potentially horrible reasons that he’d blocked out our many visits to zoos, but wishing to immediately override what offences I might uncover by such continued pondering of the issue, I stated instead, "You know, you visited your first amusement park at three weeks of age."
I elaborated on the story of how we''d gone on an outing with a friend, her two tikes and his two-year old brother. We’d spent the entire day enjoying the sunshine, encouraged by the toddlers’ glee at the buzzing bee ride and carousel. We had been able to carry on this way for hours because he had been such a good baby.
"But I couldn’t expect you to remember that. You slept through it all."
"The good thing is, I''m awake now," he responded with no small inference.
I bought the deluxe pass which included the tram ride and bus tour of the park, explaining unnecessarily (as I so often still did to my now-grown-up son) that it’s a good way to get an overview of the park before deciding which exhibits most capture your fancy. He listened, nodded dutifully as we boarded the double-decker safari bus on that brilliant blue/gold autumn day.
The last outing of this sort had found him squirming uncomfortably in his seat. A restless, sarcastic teenager then, he scoffed at the "silliness" of such a touristy endeavor.
The fidgeting was gone now. He was relaxed, attentive, listening to the tour guides’ spiel, remarking how this fellow must really love his job, for he brought a sincere enthusiasm to the notion of sighting animals in their dens in the sleepy calm of a warm afternoon even though he’d obviously repeated this canned delivery thousands of times.
Past the polar bears and giraffes, the elephants and zebras we turned down "cat alley," our eyes trained for a glimpse of our mutual favorites, the majestic and cunning athletes of the animal world.
"I hope we see the snow leopard," I said, "they are the most beautiful creatures in the kingdom, I believe."
Hopefully we’ll see the snow leopard today. They are certainly one of nature’s most beautiful creatures the tour guide intoned seconds later.
"You have been here before!" my son laughed.
When the tram came to a stop, we took photos of a black cat sleeping lazily on its back, stroking the air with an overgrown paw.
"I love cats," he told me. "Why do guys think it’s cool to hate cats? Cats are so lithe and interesting."
I was learning to let him think for a moment before volunteering my own ideas and opinions on the matter.
"Hey, do you suppose cats, being smarter and more cunning, are too much for most men to figure out?" he asked.
He was trying hard to see things from my perspective these days.
At the gorilla village we watched giant man-like creatures pick their fleas, tumble down hills, annoy their neighbors for the pure pleasure of a reaction, and stare at us with "waddaya lookin‘ at" gazes.
"Now how can anyone see this and try to refute the theory of evolution?" he asked, rhetorically.
"Remember that news story where a little boy fell into a wild animal cage at a zoo and a mother Gorilla rescued him from the lion?" I asked him.
"No way!" he exclaimed.
"Motherly instinct, they called it. Evidence of a relationship perhaps?"
In our the search for the African mammals I turned repeatedly in the wrong direction, my dyslexic tendencies reversing the clear signs outlined on the map. My son patiently offered encouragement and graceful excuses.
"Gosh, mom, I do that, too," he pretended. "You find more interesting things when you get lost!" he chuckled, adding a philosophical dollop of support to the thinly disguised pretext. I stood, startled, wondering what had happened to him since that last such outing when annoyance and impatience bubbled over with each of my missteps.
The park was closing down. Finding ourselves as far from the exit as possible we decided to take advantage of the purchased ride on the sky tram. San Diego spread out below us, the high rises of downtown, the bridges, harbors and highways all visible from our roost. A golden glow from the sun’s angle in the western horizon glimmered in the trees. The riders in the sky tram were suddenly wearing its halo.
"Hey, mom," a kid dressed up as a 200 pound surfer said to me. "Thanks for bringing me to the zoo -- you know, just the two of us."
With that, the remnants of guilty mother leaped from the tram into in the lion’s den below. My maternal instinct insisted, "leave her there." It''s where she belonged. After all, everything had turned out just fine.