This year, I bought an annual pass to our local zoo. I love going to the zoo with my daughters. I think it’s a great way to appreciate wildlife, get outside, and teach them about conservation. (Side note: it is much more persuasive to my kids when I say, “we’re not going to use plastic straws because we want to help the turtles” when we’ve seen turtles at the zoo.)
One Saturday afternoon, we drove down to the zoo and were walking in about an hour after lunch. We passed at least 10 families leaving with screaming, sweaty, sleepy children. I smiled and wished them all well. If you are the parent of a small child, you’ve been there: you’ve stayed at the zoo (theme park, play date, the beach, restaurant, etc.) too long, and leaving was miserable.
One of the reasons I like having an annual pass is that it makes it much easier to leave while we’re still having fun. I know we can make another trip to ride the train, see the giraffes, go down that path to the otters, etc., and I never feel like we have to see “everything” in one trip.
That day, we went to the exhibits the girls were most interested in (pigs, kangaroos, and cheetahs), then we played at one of their interactive exhibits for a few minutes, and after about two hours, we left. I patted myself on the back for leaving before my children were a screaming mess.
I don’t always succeed in following my own rule. The last time we went to the zoo, I was the parent dragging a sobbing three year old back to the car (I didn’t let her buy a slinky in the gift shop). But, when I remember this rule, I am much happier.
While we’re still having fun — we’re not too hot, we’re not too hungry, and we’re not too tired — and we have the physical, emotional and mental reserves to do hard things like leave the zoo. But if we wait until we are too hot, hungry and tired, leaving is going to be miserable. Hot, hungry, tired people take a HUGE amount of energy to manage.(I originally said toddlers here, but who are we kidding, getting any hot, tired, hungry person to do something takes a huge amount of effort.)
So, today’s little life hack is to save yourself the trouble.
Before you go somewhere fun, note to yourself how long you realistically think your kids will last (they will not make it all day at Disney World, I promise). Then subtract 30 minutes. That is when you probably need to go. That is when everything is still fun, and you can cheerfully pack up and leave.
You will have better memories of the experience, which will mean you’re more likely to do to fun things again in the future.
I promise, you don’t have to get all the fun possible out of an experience. You can note when you’ve had a “good enough” time, and then stop.