Our Very Own Petting Zoo

When we bought our house in 2015, there is one notable aspect we utterly failed to consider. And it has proven to be one of the greatest assets of our place of residence.

Namely, the superb access it would give us to a delightful assortment of farm animals. A motley crew of peaceful, mostly-quadruped neighbors that get along wonderfully with Greyson and Violet.

We didn’t have any kids at the time, dangling as we were in the very late stages (little did we know!) of an exhausting 4-year infertility struggle. We wanted a house where we could comfortably raise a child, if the good Lord ever bestowed one upon us. And while we heavily weighed the quiet rural locale into our house-buying decision, the animal denizens of that rural locale did not cross our minds.

Now that we’re fortunate enough to have not one but two little miracles on our hands, it would be hard to overstate how ideal of a setting we selected to stage their growing-up years. Our house itself is far from perfect, albeit charming in its own way. But the surrounding area is a downright utopian playground (including an actual playground 500 yards from us) in which Greyson and Violet can endlessly play, grounded in the wonders of nature. And a big part of that utopia is the fact that our animal-adoring kids have an array of animals to adore.

Every day that the weather allows it, we take a family lunch-break walk to a nearby ranch and a nearby farm so the kids can visit with their barnyard buddies. First we stop and pet Blaze, our favorite horse at the ranch, if she’s in the mood to socialize. The kids giggle as they pet her muzzle and feel her warm horsey breath.

Then we proceed down the road to a farm, where we watch the sheep munch and the spring lambs frolic. If we’re lucky, the sheep might even run over to greet us. We say hi to Buster, the serious-faced chow chow who faithfully stands guard over the farm. We give our regards to the stolid, lackadaisical cows. Then the kids say “bye-bye, sheep” and “bye-bye cows” and “bye-bye Buster” and we head back home.

Sometimes I take Greyson and Violet on pre-dinner drives, especially on crummy-weather days when going to the park is not an option, so that they can catch glimpses of our other quadruped neighbors. It’s a kind of rural safari, and I roll down the windows so the kids can get a better view.

There are several safari destinations the kids enjoy. We can go one direction and see a goat farm, right across the street from a place with several miniature horses. We can go the opposite direction and see a bunch of donkeys, who stare at us bemusedly (and we them). Or I just point the minivan in some random direction and venture into the countryside in search of as-yet-undiscovered farms and animals that, without fail, widen the eyes of my already wide-eyed kids.

One time we stumbled upon a flock of 50 wild turkeys. And the other day, we happened upon a cluster of llamas. (Or they might have been alpacas. I’m no expert zoologist; I’m just the guy who drives the free safari vehicle. You get what you pay for, right?)

Morning animal walks have been a staple of my morning routine with the kids for years. When Greyson was 1 and 2 years old, my first act of the day multiple times a week was to carry him to a different farm that had pigs, goats, chickens, and a horse. And roughly when Violet turned 1 year old, I began carrying her to a nearby horse ranch almost every morning to peer over the fence. Sometimes the horses would stare at us from a distance, but now and then they would wander over to us and let Violet pet them. (This was a year before we befriended the aforementioned Blaze, seen in the first picture.) Our spunky girl quickly developed an equine obsession, and that has fully carried through to the present day.

It warms my heart to see the undiminished awe that Greyson and Violet have for animals, even after several years of following a similar routine through each changing season. The kids get older, but animal-watching somehow never gets old for them. Not even a little bit. I hope that their wonder will endure and evolve as they grow. I hope they will always adore animals, even when they’re 9 or 13 or 17.

But the important thing right now is to just be present in each moment, watching them as they watch the world.

So I will be present.

Because each of these moments is nothing less than a gift.