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Giraffes: The Patron Saints of Family Travel

Matt Villano

It’s often challenging to tell how much infants enjoy family trips.

They can’t talk. They can’t draw. They can’t hop on the iPad and peck out a status update to share with friends. Critics (and some of those who aren't even all that critical) wonder if little humans are even capable of processing and remembering new experiences until they hit ages 3 or 4.

Sometimes, however, those little blobs of carbon cuteness do something so obvious and blatantly blissful it’s as if they’re shouting from the Fischer-Price rooftops, “I f-ing love this, Mom and Dad, and you guys kick chubby-cheek booty for taking me here!”

I had one such moment with R, our 1-year-old girl, this week. The setting: a wild animal park near our Northern California home.

The visit started slowly. With R in her travel backpack, and her 3-year-old sister, L, at my side, we traipsed through the front portion of the facility, checking out small animals such as birds, monkeys, lemurs, a sloth and a porcupine. Few, if any, of these creatures even registered with the baby.

Then we got to the giraffes. And the kid went nuts.

First she cooed. Then she flapped her arms. Next she pointed almost uncontrollably, shrieking “Dar-Dar, Dar-Dar,” which, in R language, means “Dog!” Finally, she started slapping the top of my head, pulling my hair with glee.

Minutes passed. The reaction continued unabated. About the time R started trying to throw herself out of the backpack and over the habitat fence, one of the mother giraffes sauntered over to take a closer look at the little imp flailing on my back. The animal walked right up to the edge of her pen, leveraged that long neck to crane its head right over us, and peered down.

What happened next was gross and amazing at the same time. The giraffe stuck out its long purple tongue, extended it in R’s direction, and moved it around, back and forth, back and forth.

Needless to say, the tongue sent my kid into a second frenzy. It was purple! It was zigging! It was zagging! She was like a parrot on speed.

L and I spent the rest of the morning joking about R’s reaction to the giraffes. We laughed about it over lunch. We figured the behaviors were one-time things. Yet that afternoon, while reading “Good Night Gorilla,” R spotted a picture of a giraffe and repeated the entire sequence again.

I could go on and on about how she now is obsessed with giraffes; how the stuffed giraffe we bought her has become her best friend on Earth. But those details are secondary. The bottom line is that my infant daughter quite obviously enjoyed herself aplenty on our most recent family trip. If anybody doubts whether babies are capable of that kind of thing, just talk to the purple tongue.