Emboldened by my self-perceived success with three 13-year-olds, and having enjoyed another whole day with just two of them, I was feeling brave. This time I borrowed three other kids and took four of them to the zoo.
I’d spent the previous day in Palatinus, the open air pool complex down on Margit Sziget (Margaret Island). It all went to plan. Not that I had a plan other than to lie in the sun and read while the two boys amused themselves on the slides and in the wave pool. They took their charge seriously and dropped by every hour or so as agreed to give me time to take a dip in the pool. They also came by when they were hungry. They’d only met a few days before and yet they seemed to intuitively know what the other wanted to do. Amazing how simple relationships and friendships can be before we start adding judgement, preconceptions, and expectations to the mix.
But to the zoo.
I have sod all experience when it comes to kids. Add this to a heightened sense of awareness of other people and a sometimes overpowering streak of consideration and you’ll get to the basket of nerves I was when we set off.
Is it possible to control four kids between the ages of 11 and 14? And even if it were, should I be bothered? Shouldn’t kids be let do kid things and make noise and ask questions and enjoy themselves without me, the adult, raining on their parade? Yes, I reasoned, they should. So I promised myself that I would swallow the chastisements and bite my tongue any time I felt the urge to caution or to reprimand. I told myself that no matter how loud they were, they were just being kids. And the rest of the world would just have to deal with it.
I nearly came a cropper when I opted out of the America House (in Budapest Zoo, there is a series of houses that are home to animals and birds from various parts of the world) and went for coffee. One of them came with me and within earshot of a lone woman enjoying her latte and her book, I was quizzed on Knock Knock jokes. The lady seemed a tad annoyed but that was nothing to when the others joined us and began to explain, at full volume, what they’d seen. I stifled a ssshhh and let them at it. She packed up her book and took out her paints and resigned herself to a less than peaceful second half to her coffee break. Fair play.
Only once did I hear the s word – spoil sport. But I was right. There is a limit to what they can be let do and there is a time when consideration of others and a certain amount of awareness of the consequences of your actions is needed. He got over it. Eventually. And I learned that far from being seen and not heard, kids need to question, to explore, to laugh aloud, to run riot … they need to be kids because they’ll be adults long enough.
I made the fatal mistake of commenting on how sad the rhinoceros looked and how cramped his space seemed to be. That set them off on a series of evaluations of the amenities other, smaller, animals enjoyed. And then wondering about whether the animals were happy. And for a while I thought I was going to have to deal with a minor bout of hysteria. Thank the gods for ice-cream.
My 4pm meeting was postponed till 5 so I had an extra hour to fill. We hit the lake in Varosliget where I rented a paddle boat and sent them off to sea, figuring that if they capsized, there were plenty of able-looking blokes in staff t-shirts on hand to save them. One did slip and fall on their back in water and I was proud that I didn’t panic. They were laughing so I took that as my cue to ignore the incident and say nowt.
It was bloody hard work though, keeping an eye on them and keeping track of them and answering the litany of questions that arose on stuff I know nothing about. It was humbling in a way. And it was instructional. And perhaps I’ll be a little more tolerant of other people’s kids in future and not expect them to be little paragons of virtue, sitting quietly and behaving. Perhaps.