Something That Feels Normal

I spent the entire zoo visit stressed.

abstract watercolor illustration of a giraffe looking over the top of a fence
Image created via Midjourney

Over the years, we've held memberships at Brookfield Zoo, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Field Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Morton Arboretum. Never have we held all of these memberships simultaneously! — but we would rotate through and make the most of the memberships we had in any current year. Rainy Saturday? Go to a museum. Gorgeous weather? Head to the zoo.

After the pandemic hit, we went to the zoo once last summer. All indoor exhibits were closed. Zoo was at limited capacity and had timed entry. Since we were outside, the rules were "Wear a mask, unless you are able to maintain a 6-ft distance."

I spent the entire visit stressed. It was a very hot day, so many people had their masks down. And the zoo had such narrow paths that sometimes maintaining distance was not possible. We knew less then than we do now about Covid transmission outdoors through casual encounters.

So I spent the visit holding my 8-year-old's hand, trying to keep him by my side. We wouldn't walk up to an exhibit if there were too many people gathered. We ate our lunch, brought from home, in a shady spot on the grass, far away from the picnic tables.

After nearly 11 months, we went to the zoo again this past weekend. So many things are different. My kids are now expert mask-wearers, for long periods of time. My husband and I are both fully vaccinated. The CDC has said that fully vaccinated people can forego masks both indoors and outdoors, and Illinois adopted this guidance.

However, our children - all too young to be vaccinated - are still at risk. Minimal risk in an outdoor setting like the zoo, but we told them that masks would be required for them. My husband and I donned them as well, partly in solidarity and partly because I don't know how I feel about being in a crowded area around maskless people and not knowing for certain that they are vaccinated.

Still, the trip was far more enjoyable than the last. The masks didn't faze us at all. I wasn't concerned when people got too close. We got ice cream and sat on the grass, trying not to let the treat drip all over our clothes on the hot day.

Save for the masks, it felt like "normal."

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