After reading the packet, I realized that Marina would be spending a week working in the children's zoo and the camel barn, and since she owns one pair of raggedy jeans that still fit, I figured some thrift shopping would be necessary. My mother told us that all the major department stores were having big sales, but who wants to buy a brand new pair of jeans to muck out goats and chickens?
I also used our alone time to impart some vital wisdom on my oldest child:
Watch out for the llamas.
I used to work in the children's zoo when I was a teenager. I've been very lucky to have a large assortment of unusual jobs in my life. The zoo job was my first. You would think a city girl wouldn't be cut out for something like cleaning animal pens, but I was a city girl whose father raised chickens in the backyard. How's that for surreal? A large apartment building on one corner, a smaller building on the other, and ours was one of six single family houses nestled in between. You could find us by the crowing.
I actually enjoyed spending mornings cleaning out the pens at the children's zoo. Everyone learned quickly that you tried to be the first one there in the morning so that you would have your choice of pens to clean. I think the most popular to clean were the goats or the chickens. The goats were very sociable and enjoyed rubbing their horns against the hose. The chickens would move hurriedly out of your way. The sheep were difficult because no matter how clean you managed to get the pen, it was always dirty again by the time you stepped out of the cage. No one liked doing the geese. There were two very nasty African geese whose mission was to corner their helpless attendant and bite down really hard on any soft spot. I had a gorgeous purple welt on my thigh after tending them in the small petting area one day. I'm sure they could identify the children's zoo attendants by their clothing, because they never attacked visitors.
And then there was the llama. I was eager to clean the llama's pen the first time I had a morning shift. I loved llamas from when I was very little. I fell in love with their big eyes surrounded by curly black lashes, their long woolly necks, and their mouths that seemed to curve up in a smile. But now I was in a zoo uniform cleaning a llama pen. Each time it passed me, I patted it affectionately and continued cleaning. It was slightly taller than me, so when I looked up at it, I had a perfect view of that smiling mouth. That mouth that was now showing teeth.
And then it spat in my face.
The only way I can describe it is that it felt like I had just been slapped by a warm, wet hand covered in sand. Ouch. The soft smile now seemed like an impish grin. I spent the rest of my time playing "duck and cover" as I quickly finished sweeping up and left the enclosure. Gone was my innocence as I learned an important lesson from watching animals.
Cute creatures can have nasty habits.