On Safari

When I first met my husband many, many years ago, and he told me he was from South Africa, I had all sorts of curious questions for him. One of them was “Do you have like zebras, or giraffes that come through your back yard?” In my hometown of Tucson, AZ we saw javelinas, rattlesnakes, scorpions, bobcats, coyotes, etc. in our backyard, or sometimes even the front yard all the time. So when he said he lived in South Africa, it seemed a reasonable assumption on my part that this…

might show up in his backyard. He gave me a look, that he often does, indicating his uncertainty of my sanity, and said ‘no we do not.’

After living in the States for a couple of years, where we had all sorts of wildlife in our own backyard here in NC, he has determined that my question was not as stupid/ insane as he once believed.

This past December we were in South Africa for three weeks, visiting family. While we were there, we decided to do a safari through Kruger National Park. The park is exactly what my younger, more naive self envisioned. It’s an enormous game reserve where wild animals are literally right outside your car window.

Our first day there was chilly, which was quite a rare thing for being the middle of summer. Cooler, cloudy weather meant two things. One- more animals out in the daytime; and two- longer, more frequent car naps from Esmé. It actually made for quite a pleasant car ride.

As soon as we got into the park she was out like a light. Literally, a herd of water buffalo tromped past our car and she didn’t even flinch. She was out cold.

Emile was most excited about seeing a pack of wild dogs. Apparently they are very rare, and we saw the whole pack (if you look closely you can see some of them hiding in the trees in the picture above), which was very cool.

I was most excited to see the elephants. So much so that when one appeared outside my window I actually shrieked from surprise because it snuck up on me. I shouted for Emile to stop and we skidded to a stop, nearly scaring him away. He carried on walking to a mud/water hole, where we were able to get an amazing view of him drinking water. We were soooo close! It was crazy, and a little unnerving because the last time we went to Kruger we were charged by an elephant. As it was, there was another car that got a little too close to him. The elephant started shaking his head at them, so we hurried up and got out of there.

Also of note…twinning with the zebras! And I didn’t even plan it! Emile said I was being ridiculous, but I made him take my picture anyway.

The best part of our first day in Kruger was seeing lion cubs! There were at least four of them that we could see up on this ridge near the road. The mama lions were a little farther down the river bed, but still visible (not in any pictures we took unfortunately). It was such a treat to be able to see these guys in person.

Our second day in Kruger turned out to be a family day for the animals. It started with this family of four impalas. It was so cute because the mom was leading the way and the dad was nudging them along to cross the road from behind.

Then we saw a family of giraffes. This guy actually stood for quite some time right in the middle of the road, before moving to the other side, so that we could get by.

My favorite family viewing was, of course, the elephants. I mean, look at that little guy!! Baby animals are just the best. Esmé was actually awake for most of the day this time around and the elephants ended up being her favorite as well. She kept holding up her Charlotte Bear and saying “Look Shah-lot (Charlotte)! Look! There’s al-a-fants back dere!” After each animal we would see, we would ask her which one she wanted to find next. She always said, “Al-a-fants (elephants)!” It was so fun to see her enjoy them as much as I do.

We also got to follow these guys around for awhile. They started out a little ways off, on the right side of our car but then jogged away. When we turned right on the next road, it turned out that they were going the same way we were! Emile was hoping that they were in pursuit of food, but after awhile they plopped their butts down just to hang out on the side of the road. I thought they were pretty cute little hyenas.

When you go on safari, you aim to try and find what they call the “big five,” which are the lion, a buffalo, an elephant, a leopard, and rhinoceros. We were happy that we’d seen three of the five, but really wanted to find a rhinoceros. Seeing them has actually become harder due to heavy poaching. They are extremely shy of people, and try to avoid the roads.  We actually got to a point in our last day where we decided to head back to Johannesburg, because it was getting late.

As we were leaving the park, my husband was looking around and said “This looks like good rhino territory, I’m going to stop the car and do a scan.” So he put the car in park, got out his binoculars and literally started scanning the surrounding landscape. I was very skeptical because there were miles and miles and miles of land stretched out before us.

You know what? He found one…. A MILE AWAY. Can you believe it? You could barely see it with your naked eye. Honestly when I looked without the binoculars, it looked like a grey dot, no bigger than the tip of a ball-point pen, moving through a mass of green on the hillside. I was seriously so flabbergasted. That was like park ranger skills. Husband man stole my ‘eagle-eye’ title that day.

 

Little E Starts Preschool

Esmé has been really pushing boundaries with us lately, and also perfecting her tantrum techniques. Whenever things got overwhelming, and I felt like I wanted to quit being a parent, I would tell myself “She starts school in January. You just have to make it until January.” So really, a big part of me has actually been looking forward to this. For months I have been daydreaming about my twice weekly sessions of blissful solitude.

Guess what? It finally came!

Guess what else?? I totally lost it on her first day, and spent half of my three and a half hours bawling my eyes out.

The morning of her first day started out just fine. We were all excited for her to start school. We set out her clothes the night before. I woke up early to make her a good breakfast. We all got ready and took lots of pictures of Esmé in her outfit with her backpack on. My husband even took time off of work to drive with us and drop her off.

On the way to the school, I started to get this feeling of unease. My chest felt tight, and I felt very jittery and anxious, but I figured that was normal since this was such a big change for us, and that would be the end of it.

We got to the school and my spirits brightened when I saw she had her own hook to hang up her bag with her little name on it. Then we walked her into her classroom and she got a little shy, so she hid behind my legs for a few minutes, and my anxiety went all the way from my stomach up to my collarbone and my throat closed up.

Once Esmé saw the other little kids playing, she ran off to join in.  Meanwhile I stood there trying to talk around this lump in my throat to her teachers and my husband, willing myself not to cry in front of my child.

We said goodbye to her, and she gave us a quick hug before running off to play again. I swallowed, and swallowed, and swallowed and successfully fought off my tears until we were out of her classroom.

My husband ushered me out and I cried the whole way home. I cried at snack time, because she wasn’t there to share it with me. I cried at Target because the preschool director was kind enough to send me a picture of her, holding a classmate’s hand:

So then I missed her all the more.

I finally got it together around 10:30, and managed to keep it together until it was pick up time. The preschool director greeted me at the door and asked how I was doing, so I got a little blubbery again, but just a little. I pulled it together again quickly before I headed to her classroom.

I was so excited to see my little love. I walked down the hall, grabbed her things and peeked in her classroom. There she was playing with play dough. She took one look at me and said “Where’s Papa?” As soon as she heard he wasn’t there, she went back to playing with her play dough. So much for missing me.

Her second day was easier and harder at the same time. She couldn’t wait to get to school, but then when she got there she got really attached to me. She didn’t want me to leave, and after I said “Bye!” she started a very sad little whimpering cry “Mommyyyyy.” My heart just about broke, but I somehow managed not to cry until I got home again, and it was only for a little bit (improvement!). I then spent the whole time wondering if she was ok.

Apparently I am not ready for twice weekly sessions of blissful solitude. I know it will get easier as time goes by, but I just miss my little buddy, and am having a very, very hard time letting go.