Chapter 26 – Zoo – October 2023
"Happy birthday, big boy," Tony put the stack of chocolate chip pancakes in front of his two year old. "Eat up; we have a big day ahead of us." As LJ dug in to his food, the others brought their plates of pancakes and turkey bacon to the table.
"Zoo," LJ grinned with a mouthful of food. "Pet the animals!"
"Ima, what animals are at the petting zoo?" Beth was eagerly anticipating getting to feed and pet the animals at the attraction. She had seen the pictures of several of the animals when Abba showed the kids the website.
"There are horses, ponies, sheep, goats, cows, donkeys, deer, alpacas, giant tortoises, pot-bellied pigs, rabbits, guinea pigs, peafowl, chickens, ducks, and geese, and zebras," Ziva listed the various creatures from the petting zoo's website. "You can interact with most of them."
Rivka looked up from her food, "Can we ride any of them? I want to ride the zebra."
"Zebras are not built to have human riders. They are smaller than the horses and their bone structure does not support weight of a rider well," Tali recited what she remembered from her report on zebras from last year's science class.
"Tali is correct; the website says that you can ride the horses and ponies though," Tony added. "LJ gets a special ride for his birthday. Ima arranged the birthday package for him."
Anthony licked the remaining syrup from his plate, "Abba, are there any more pancakes? I could eat lots more." Tony nodded and took the boy's plate to the kitchen. He put the last three pancakes on the plate and took it back to his older son.
Ziva informed the family that they would leave in an hour to go to the petting zoo, "Wear pants or leggings, please," she looked at Riv as she spoke, "and comfortable shoes or sneakers. Bring a light jacket as well."
The kids went to get dressed; Tony and Ziva cleaned up the kitchen and packed some water bottles in a cooler. Ziva packed a tote with individual snacks for everyone. As Tony loaded the cooler and tote bags into the back of the family minivan, Ziva checked on the kids.
"LJ, that is a pajama top; you have to wear a regular shirt to go out," Tali tried to explain to her little brother.
"But dis my fav'rite; it got lions," he protested.
Tali sighed in exasperation and turned to see her mother entering the room, "Ima, LJ won't put on a shirt…"
"I will handle it, Tali. Please go check on your sisters; make sure they have brushed their hair," Ziva replied to her eldest. She turned to her little boy, "How about we find that new shirt that you got with the lion on it?"
"Shirt with lion on pocket?" LJ grinned as Ziva pulled the top from his closet. She helped him remove the pajama top and watched as he slid the polo shirt over his head. His mother had him sit and put on his socks (with lions of course) and his sneakers.
"Ready to go, birthday boy," Ziva placed a kiss on her toddler's head. "Let us go find the others." LJ skipped towards the front door as his mother followed behind.
Tony did a quick check to make sure all were at the door, "DiNozzo zoo bus leaving in five minutes; load up!" The kids ran out the front door towards the minivan; the three younger kids climbed into the back row and settled into their car seats. Tali helped LJ buckle his harness and then pulled her seat belt across and latched it in place. Anthony climbed into his booster seat and Tony helped him secure the seat belt.
Ziva pulled out her phone after securing her seat belt in the passenger seat. "I will text Dee and let her know we are headed out."
The kids all chatted about the animals as the family drove to the petting zoo; they met the McGee family in the parking lot. John and Katie slid in with their cousins as all eleven headed to the entrance.
Tony paid for the group and handed each one the paper ID bracelet to wear while inside the zoo. Since Ziva had prearranged for the group to have a special birthday tour, LJ also got a cardboard crown to wear that said 'It's my birthday!'
Tony placed the crown on the toddler's head noting to Ziva that he figured it would stay on the kid's head for all of fifteen minutes.
"Okay, everyone listen up," Tony corralled the group to a set of benches away from the entrance. "Kids, buddy up. Stay with your buddy at all times. If you want to switch buddies, tell an adult. LJ, you are my buddy, okay?"
LJ grinned as he grabbed his father's hand, "Okay, Abba. Keep you not lost."
Anthony and Katie moved together and Delilah offered to be the adult with them. John and Tali went with Tim; Rivka and Beth paired with their Ima as the four groups headed to the animal exhibits. At each area, there was feed available for the visitors to offer to the animals. Stacks of plastic cups were next to vending machines that took quarters to dispense about a half cup of feed.
The families moved through the different animal areas and when they came to the goats, the sign noted that it was nearly time for the baby goats to be bottle fed. Riv and Beth wanted to get bottles, so Ziva went with them to line up by the pen.
Tali and John fed the goats, but they were more interested in watching the peacocks strutting around with their tails spread open. Delilah, Katie, and Anthony decided to feed the pot-belly pigs. LJ saw the goats in their pen and pointed to them.
"Abba; feed goats. Please?"
Tony nodded and the two headed to the entrance to the goat pen. The zoo assistant for the goats noted LJ's birthday crown in his father's hand. She handed Tony a bag and explained it was special 'birthday feed' for kids to give the goats. He also purchased a bag of regular feed labelled 'goat chow.'
Father and son were let into the goat pen and when Tony opened his goat chow bag, several goats quickly came in their direction. He handed LJ the bag and showed him how to hold the food pieces in his palm for the goats. LJ giggled at first as the goats took the pieces from him. Tony opened the special 'birthday feed' bag and more goats started surrounding the pair.
Tony switched bags with LJ so the boy could give the goats the special feed. He glanced up to note where the others were. He could see Ziva and the twins giving some baby goats bottles. The girls were grinning from ear to ear. Tim, Tali, and John were across the way taking pictures of the peafowl.
"ABBA!" a cry from LJ directed his attention back to the goats. About a dozen animals were surrounding the little boy trying to get their noses into the bag of feed. "Abba, I scared," the toddler started crying and trying to hold the bag up.
Tony stuffed the remainder of the regular feed in the bag into his pocket and grabbed LJ. He swung the boy onto his hip and soothed him.
"Abba's got you, big boy. It's okay now," he put a soft kiss on the little boy's head as LJ leaned against his father. The cries reduced to sniffles as Tony rubbed LJ's back with his free hand. "Hey, motek, it's okay to be scared," he said softly.
LJ sniffled and nodded, "Okay, Abba." He looked at the goats still around them waiting for their treats. Tony was just about to suggest they feed the rest of the food together when something bumped into him from behind.
"What the?" he turned to look and saw a billy goat glaring at him. "Let's get the rest of the feed to these goats and get out of here." He pulled a handful from the bag that LJ was still clutching and offered it to the goats.
WHAM! The billy goat butted him again from behind. Tony stepped a few feet and again took a handful of feed from the bag. LJ also had feed in his hand. Tony bent forward so LJ could offer his feed to the goats.
WHAM! The billy goat butted Tony's butt nearly knocking him on his face. Had his hand not been outstretched to feed the other goats he probably would have gone down.
"Bad goat!" LJ yelled at the billy. "Not nice."
Another goat was nudging at Tony's pocket on the opposite side from LJ.
"Hey," he turned to the goat as it tried to put its nose in his pocket. Two more goats bleated at them and one nudged LJ's bottom. The toddler started crying again as his father tried to get them away from all of the goats.
WHAM! The billy goat was relentless. The goat nosing at Tony's pocket tried to pull the bag of feed out of the pocket. The two nudging at LJ were trying to get to the bag of feed that the little boy was clutching in his hand.
"I scared, Abba!" LJ wailed. "IMA!"
The billy butted yet again as Tony pulled the bag of feed from his pocket. He quickly dumped the contents on the ground on the side away from LJ. He took the bag of feed from the boy and dumped it as well.
Ziva looked over at the goat pen when she heard the cries from her baby. She nearly burst out laughing at the sight of Tony trying to get away from the goats and when the billy rammed him yet again, she did laugh.
Tony noticed his wife watching and laughing, "A little help here would be appreciated, Zee-vah." He backed away from the goats that were now eating the food that he dumped on the ground. LJ clung to him and cried softly.
"Shh, LJ, we are going to get away from these crazy goats," he pulled the toddler to him and looked around for the billy goat. It was about six feet away glaring at him. "Evil eyed goat," he muttered as he backed towards the gate to the pen.
"Bad goat," LJ confirmed. "Not nice."
"Not at all, motek. If we never see another goat that is fine with me!"
The pair finally got to the gate to the pen and exited quickly. Ziva rushed to calm her baby. The others had been watching from outside the pen. Once out of the goat enclosure, LJ was all grins again and laughing at Anthony pretending to butt into his father.
The rest of the animal exhibits went without incident and the group headed to the gift shop after feeding the zebras some hay. LJ looked at all of the toys and books about animals before he made a selection.
"Dis one, Abba," he held up a plush goat with a story book about goats attached.
Tony groaned to the laughter of the others, "Rub it in, kid…"