parenting

How Being a Zookeeper Prepared Me For Being a Stay-at-Home Mom

Once upon a time I worked in a zoo. I was a bird trainer and educator and spent my days caring for and training many species, ranging from falcons to macaws to flamingos. I loved my job. I got to fulfill my lifelong dream of working with animals, and the best part about it was that I got to share my love and admiration of these feathered creatures with people, like you, every day.

harris hawk

Eventually the time came for that season of my life to end, and a new chapter to begin. How exactly that happened is a story for another day. In the end though, I became a stay-at-home mom.

I loved my job at the zoo, but it does not compare to getting to spend my days with my daughter. Don’t get me wrong, there are some days that I really miss it and my heart always skips a beat when I see a hawk swoop down to catch something in the grass or see a kestrel hovering over a field. But the joy that I get from hearing my daughter call to me, her voice filled with wonder “Mommy! Look, snow!” cannot be described.

My days now are fairly routine and actually they always have been. A daily routine was a way of life at the zoo. In fact, a few months after I began my life as a stay-at-home mom I realized that while my life had changed, it was also remarkably the same. Some days are easy like those mornings that I would walk in and 10 parrots would chime “Hellooo, how are you?” or when my daughter wakes up all smiley and happily asks what we’re doing today. While others are a bit more difficult. Like when a giant school group would visit and think it was funny to try and pet all the penguins (they may look cuddly but they have beaks and they know how to use them). Or when my daughter wakes up crying and defiantly protests every single little thing that I ask her to do that day—talk about a battle of wills.

So let me share a little about how I have come to realize that being a zookeeper fully prepared me for life as a stay-at-home mom, by giving you an inside peek at the similarities in my day.

6:30am
Zoo: Wake up, get ready, drink coffee on commute.
Mom: Wake up, get ready, drink coffee while writing in my kitchen.

7:30am
Zoo: Arrive at work, wake up the birds, and start getting morning weights (the birds were trained to voluntarily step on a scale).
Mom: My daughter wakes up, I get her dressed, teeth brushed, hair done and head downstairs.

8:00am
Zoo: Prepare morning diets. The freshly cut fruit was tempting, but preparing meat for the birds of prey was not the most glamorous part of my job.
Mom: Make breakfast—this morning we’ll have yogurt and toast.

8:45am
Zoo: Wash dishes from diet prep and clean up area in kitchen.
Mom: Wash dishes from breakfast and wipe down the kitchen.

9:30am
Zoo: Clean large bird enclosures and exhibits—hosing and scrubbing A LOT of bird poo (they go to the bathroom about every 15 min), again not very glamorous but completely necessary.
Mom: Change poopy diaper—whew, narrowly missed a blowout. Cleaned-up and refreshed, we then take the dog for a walk.

10:45am
Zoo: Do morning training session with Green Aracari (a tiny toucan-looking bird) to teach her to hop from hand to hand and eat blueberries.
Mom: Training session with the dog while my daughter tries to help. I say sit and they both sit on the kitchen floor; I say spin and they both spin in circles– not exactly the help I had in mind but I’ll take it.

11:00am
Zoo: Do morning bird show and teach people about the amazing things that birds do every day to survive.
Mom: Play with my daughter and read a few stories.

11:45am
Zoo: Distribute afternoon diets to birds and give them fresh water. Then I head to lunch.
Mom: Make lunch and enjoy! Mmm macaroni and cheese with broccoli!

12:30pm
Zoo: Wash afternoon diet dishes.
Mom: Wash dishes from lunch, tidy kitchen and throw in a load of laundry.

1:00pm
Zoo: Use recycled materials to create toys (or enrichment) to encourage natural behaviors in birds.
Mom: It’s arts and crafts time—today’s art project is painting toilet paper tubes to make a pair of binoculars.

1:30pm
Zoo: Time for the afternoon show and again let the birds do what they do best—inspire people!
Mom: Play time! We head outside to play and explore in the backyard, looks like it may be a little messy, it rained this morning.

2:15pm
Zoo: Clean small bird areas. More poop…yay.
Mom: Uh oh, looks like the dog got sick better clean that up. Oh no, wait honey, please put down momma’s drink! Ugh, guess I better clean that up too.

2:30pm
Zoo: Finish afternoon training session with owl who is learning to do a long flight in a classroom.
Mom: I tell my dog to “get down” from the couch and both my dog and daughter promptly jump off the couch, then run around to see what I’m up to.

2:45pm
Zoo: It’s the parrots favorite time of day, bath time! I offer a cool and refreshing bath to each bird.
Mom: Still a bit dirty from playing outside, my daughter is excited (so lucky she loves bath time!) for a bath and some play time in the water.

3:15pm
Zoo: Looks like a few birds could use new perches, so I head out to gather tools and materials.
Mom: I ask my daughter to help put her giant mess of toys away, then run the vacuum and change out the laundry.

3:40pm
Zoo: Finish feeding out any remaining bird diets and look for projects.
Mom: We settle down to have some quiet time and eat a snack.

4:15pm
Zoo: I make more enrichment for the birds to keep them occupied after I leave for the day.
Mom: My daughter quietly plays while I tidy up and get dinner started.

4:30pm
Zoo: Final check on all the birds for the evening and I head home.
Mom: My husband comes home and my little family goes through our nightly routine of dinner, family time and then head to bed.

Yes, there are some variations but the same principles prevail. When you are caring for the physical, mental and emotional development or well-being of another living creature the requirements are the same: provide safety, food, shelter, water, and mental stimulation.

Each role has its own unique challenges and triumphs but they are very similar. The thing that I love about working with birds and about being a stay-at-home mom is that both roles are immeasurably rewarding. Getting to not only see the birds thrive but also watch as a child’s eyes light up while they stand eye to eye with a peregrine falcon and learn that it can dive at speeds over 200mph to catch food, is indescribable. However, nothing compares to the gift of being able to watch my daughter’s sense of wonder about the world, listening to her joyful exclamations of “I did it!” after she masters a new skill, or being the person she runs to for countless hugs and kisses. Sure life is different, but I feel as prepared as I can be and incredibly fortunate to have experienced life both as a zookeeper and a stay-at-home mom.

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