It comes over you immediately after disembarking the subway–the pressure to maintain your cool as the Parenting Game begins. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to play. It doesn’t even matter if you don’t know there is a game going on.
But as the groups of families and friends rush faster and faster toward the exit, hoping to be first to pay 9 Euros to enter the zoo, you realize there is something odd here. People stare you up and down, judging you with their eyes. They look at your baby stroller and then look at their own…they must have spent 1 or 200 Euros more on their stroller and smirk with superiority.
Visiting the zoo is supposed to be a time to relax and observe animals in their natural (man-made) habitats…but our visit today turned more into a sad study into the human condition.
Our trip to the zoo was prompted by a few things, the most important and relevant being our young man’s newly-found interest in animals, and communicating with them. See a bird, and want to say something? “Caw, caw” he’ll answer. See a lion? “Rawr.” And perhaps you see a dog, or any other animal? “Bow wow” is the default, universal language for all things animal.
This being a Monday did not mean the crowds would be thin. Today, the day after Easter, is a holiday in Germany, and thus we and everyone else in Munich traveled to the zoo. Our list of must-see animals was simple: elephants, monkeys, and some fish. After a short walk we came to a building, its outer walls were lined with strollers. Flamingos sang from a pond near the building’s entrance. A sign made it clear…this was the monkey house/aquarium–a perfect place to see two items on our list.
But as we parked our stroller, and entered this odd house of mixed attraction, I knew I was not prepared to be as aggressive as such a place needed me to be. Men and women of all ages pushed, pulled and obliviously battled their way to see everything. Making your way to see a monkey? Watch out! A guy zooms in front of you. Our normal strategy in such situations is to let me play offense–I clear the crowd while the family follows close behind, but this monkey house was not a normal situation.
“Entschuldigung (excuse me)” I said, while trying to make it through the crowds. I kept an eye on my family, hoping they wouldn’t be pushed by a big, burly guy with a backpack. Just then a small, white-haired lady pushed by and brushed my wife and child aside slowing just behind me.
“Entschuldigung,” I said. “Das hier ist meine Frau und mein Baby,” I said as bringing my family to walk in front of me.
“Ja, und ich habe mein Enkelkind. (I have my grandchild)” she said under her breath as we walked away.
As our day at the zoo progressed I noticed two interesting things.
- We are at least 10 years younger than most other parents here..even when their children are of comparable age to ours.
- We are at least 10 times more mellow than a lot of parents we come across.
Many Germans wait well into their 30s before thinking of having children, and that trend is becoming more evident in the US as well. A colleague of mine guessed I was 38 years old because I had a family, and had been working for some years already. (I am younger than that.) His logic was simple…many Germans spend 7-10 years in school, do paid or unpaid internships, get freelance contracts with companies, and then maybe think about starting a family.
With older parents comes more expendable income. These folks have saved for longer, and earn more, and can thus afford more expensive clothes or toys. They are not as concerned with just having clothes that fit, they want their child in name-brand clothing to impress the kids (or other parents) at the sandbox.
I read some time ago about the playground competition. Some mothers have an elitist attitude, and shun other mothers. This elitism was, in many cases, a result of some mothers being older, and having husbands who make more money than younger parents. This seems to be similar to what we observe in Germany, but the contrast is even starker when we are the youngest parents with the most laid-back attitudes.
We are foreign guests here anyway, but it is clear we stand-out even more among parents. I think time and energy would be better spent enjoying being a parent, and taking the time to relax at the zoo, rather than trying to out-do and under-cut other parents.
Sometimes an event is not about being the best, the first, the fastest. Sometimes going to the zoo is just about going to the zoo. And from the amount of “caw, caws” and “bow wows” we heard, our young man enjoyed himself fully. And my wife and I? I can throw in a “rawr” for us, as well.