Large Family Outing–Our Trip to the Zoo

The rhino was Lorenzo’s favorite animal.

People often ask us questions about having a large family. We have ten kids (our eldest is 20). It’s on my writing to-do list to write more on the subject. I especially want to highlight the realities and real struggles of a big family along with the joys because I think a lot of people who haven’t grown up with a lot of siblings (like Manny and me) aren’t prepared for the day-to-day of it all. 

I recently took the kids to the zoo along with my parents who were visiting from California. The zoo trip is a glimpse of what an outing with our family looks like. Here it is:

Milwaukee County Zoo or Bust!

Manny had to work, so it was Scarlett (my 20-yr old) and me, my parents, and my nine other children ages 14, 12, 10, 8, 7, 5, 4, 2, & 11 months old. I planned to leave Saint Nazianz at 10 AM because I’m a realist and know it will be impossible to leave any earlier. I figured planning on 10 AM would mean we actually leave at 10:30 and I was only off by a minute–we left at 10:31.

The first thing you need to realize if you are going to have a large family is you will rarely leave on time, and the sooner you accept that, the better it is for everyone. Having unrealistic expectations is just asking for trouble!

So we got on the road, and I didn’t have a chance to make myself a cup of coffee. Between running around finding lost shorts, managing kids who were packing the diaper bag and the lunch bag cooler, keeping Antonio (the baby) reasonably happy as he chased me around the house in his walker, and attempting to do a dozen other things including getting myself ready for the day, I had no choice but to skip coffee. I told everyone to eat something before we left.

Well, me without coffee wasn’t gonna work so I figured I would get gas, then coffee at McDonald’s. After I ordered my coffee, Scarlett asked for a breakfast sandwich. Two of her sisters wanted one too because it turns out only the younger kids ate breakfast. Just like me, the older kids went without eating or drinking and just got ready to leave! Well I didn’t need a bunch of hungry bears on the drive so I asked who wanted food. Unfortunately, I only heard one of the girls say they wanted a sandwich, so I only order two instead of three–World War III almost started in my van ya’ll! Thankfully peace was attained by Scarlett offering her McGriddle to Vivi.

We got back on the road after coffee and getting gas with my parents following behind us, the kids were happily singing along to one of our favorite church music CDs. Life was good for awhile again, and world peace was safe for the moment.

After navigating through bumper-to-bumper traffic in Milwaukee due to road construction (there are two seasons in Wisconsin–Winter and Road Construction) we finally arrived at the Milwaukee County Zoo. It was 1 PM.

Because it was 1 PM I know the kids are going to be hungry so once we park I tell the crew to make a sandwich before we head into the zoo. My parents who were driving in their vehicle, come over and have that look on their face. You know, the ‘Seriously? Another delay?’ look. Yes, so it goes when traveling with a large family. Everything is slow, and there are lots of delays. My dad told me he had thought the absolute latest we would arrive at the zoo would be 1 and there we were. Again, plan for earlier but expect everything to be later–it’s for your own sanity.

After eating and cleaning up (and putting on sunscreen!), we finally make our way–no not to the animals–you guessed it–the bathroom. After a 1 1/2+ hour drive you better believe we needed a bathroom break. Even though Antonio (11-month old) was changed before we left, he had a diaper explosion and a new rash. It’s a good thing my mom instinct told me to grab the diaper rash cream before leaving the house. Sera (2-yr old) also had a leaky pull-up, so she gets a new outfit and pull-up too.

Okay, bathroom break complete. I then announce we are using the Buddy System and pair up the grandparents and Bigs with the Littles, and the Middles with each other. The crew is divided into the Bigs (20-10yr-olds) and Littles (5 and under) and the Middles (9 &7). I remind everyone to stay with their buddy at all times. Now we can go into the park and go straight to–no not the animals–the stroller rental. I have Antonio in his stroller, but we will need one for Sera because she is too small for all the walking. Thankfully, this was a quick process, and we quickly move on to our first animal.

Finally!

And we saw penguins! The kids were excited. After that, we make our way to see Gorillas, and monkeys and similar creatures. The boys got a huge kick out of the monkeys, and I asked them, “See why I call you Littles monkeys? You act crazy like them!” They laughed.

Next was the alligator section with tanks full of fish, Leopard Sharks, Jellies, and giant turtles. The kids “Oohed” and “Aahed” and were amazed at how many swimming things were larger than many of them!

Once we got out of that exhibit area, I did a head count. So far and for the entire day, all the kids were great about staying together and not running off. Only Lorenzo trailed behind once because he was upset over something trivial (really he was just tired and needed a drink and snack). Having so many Bigs and adults to Littles made a huge difference. So next thing to remember, if you are going out with a large number of young humans, especially in a busy place with crowds, have enough adults or older children to help with them.

Also, a smart move is to take lots of snacks and water. Lots. The kids devoured and drank every last cracker, apple, cheese stick, chip, and bottle of water I brought with us to the zoo. We only spent $39 on cold lemonades for everyone. Yes, $39 on drinks. But imagine if I hadn’t packed lunch, snacks or water!

The Littles were “super excited” to see the elephants, rhinos, and giraffes. Sal’s favorite was the cheetah. Everyone was excited to see a red panda because of Master Shifu (Kung Fu Panda). It was priceless to see the looks of wonder on the kid’s faces over their favorite animals.

Diego and Antonio–our oldest and youngest boys.

Older Sibling/Younger Sibling Bonding is the BEST!

I also enjoyed seeing my oldest son, Diego, play and help with his two youngest siblings. He chose to be Sera’s buddy and pushed her around half the day. He took her out of her stroller and held her up to see the animals. He also gave Antonio a break from his stroller and picked him up and played with him while we enjoyed the peacock’s show for the peahens. It’s times like those that I am so proud of my kids.

Not that everything went perfectly. We had some bickering throughout the day, and I had to swap buddies around a few times as the kids wore on each other’s nerves. You have to expect that. Kids are kids; siblings will annoy the heck out of one another no matter what.

At the Crossroads

We finally reached the crossroads which is that point where you can exit and have a fairly good chance of getting to the car and food with minimal meltdowns or continue on and risk a huge avalanche of children falling down. I’m a seasoned mother of ten and knew which road to take so we left after one last stop at the flamingoes and of course, the bathroom.

Once we arrived back at our vehicle, I got directions to a Culver’s near the hotel my parents were going to stay at, and we got on the road. That is after changing a diaper, unpacking the stroller and putting it away, swapping booster seats around and listening to a child wail that he couldn’t ride with Nana and Papa. In-between all that craziness I did receive a sweet text from Manny saying he was thinking of me.

So, then we were on the road. Due to construction, I missed my exit, but we got back on track. Once on the freeway, there was a minor meltdown, and Lorenzo hit Lucas in the eye. I’m still not too sure what they were fighting about as they were in the third row of our 12 passenger van and I couldn’t really hear them over Lena’s refereeing and threats that they wouldn’t get ice cream at Culver’s if they didn’t stop fighting. She managed it like the pro big-sis she is.

Once to Culver’s Lorenzo did apologize to Lena and Luke and peace was once again restored. So we took over three booths and got the baby in a high chair. Then I got some paper, pencil and went into waitress mode. I wrote everyone’s order down because no one likes their cheeseburger the same way anyone else does. One cheeseburger had lettuce only on it–can’t imagine why only one person wanted theirs made like that.

With list in hand, I went up to the counter, and the cashier said, “Oh boy, a list.” Yup, lady, a list. I hope you’re ready for this. Impressively she was. Only one mistake but she read it all back, and we fixed it. 12 meals ordered for just under $100 (Good thing Papa was paying).

So we ate, and everyone was famished which meant the mealtime went well. No goofing around or complaining. I only had to take one burger back to have more fixin’s added that were forgotten. All in all, dinner was smooth.

It was time to get ready to leave which meant cleaning up the mess because we do not want to be that huge family who left a disaster, so we cleaned extra. I also started sending kids to the bathroom before we got on the road. All of this takes awhile, but we finally get outside and surprise! We have another diaper disaster. It’s a good thing we were headed home because the baby was out of outfits!

Can we just be home already?!

We all said goodbye to my parents who were going back home to California and thanked them for the day at the zoo and dinner. Everyone was full and tired, so they pile into the van with minimal fuss. The drive home is uneventful except for two things: First, Manny got home early, and the house is locked, and he has no key. No problem he says he will have a beer and watch the baseball game at the local bar while waiting for us. Manny is a seasoned father of ten and knows this kind of inconvenient thing happens from time to time–he is ready for anything at this point. Second thing, I was pulled over in a little town called Kiel for my registration being expired. The officer looked in the van saw all the sleeping kids and decided to be kind to me; he wrote me a warning.

Once home, we unloaded and got the Littles ready for bed. The kids were excited to see their dad, they were rested up from snoozing in the van, so they stayed up for another hour excitedly discussing the day at the zoo. Everyone slept in quite late the next morning.

Wow, I’m tired all over again writing about it! We don’t go out too often to events and places with everyone because it is expensive and a lot of work to just get anywhere. But we manage to do enough, and the kids see plenty of things. It’s not like when we had just a few kids though, having a lot of children and taking them places is an event, every, single, time. The big plus is there are that many more smiles and laughs and memories made when we do go anywhere. Being prepared and having the right expectations for the day makes a world of difference.

                          

3 Comments

  1. Fascinating glimpse into your life. Thanks for sharing.

  2. And you listen to Byzantine cd’s and they like it!

  3. BTW that is Joe Cirou. If you know French you understand the pun on my name

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