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TODAY

Saturday, April 20

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Airbags

I often ask myself if I am doing a good job raising my son, Vincent. Each day is a journey into the unknown with new challenges and unplanned situations. Even the most controlled event could go haywire and leave me frazzled. If I can be this affected by the smallest situation around me, imagine how a baby may feel where every day is an exploration of never-before-seen surroundings?

Whenever I take my son out to a new place like a museum or park, I try to introduce it in small steps -- bit by bit. Last weekend we went to Brookfield Zoo for the first time, and rather than walk around the entire zoo and overwhelm him with every single animal, sight and smell, we focused on two places: the dolphin presentation and "The Living Coast" exhibit.

For an additional $2.50 (children under 2 are free to both the zoo and the show), the Brookfield Zoo dolphin presentation, at the Seven Seas Dolphinarium, is perfect for all children. The show itself lasts about 20 minutes -- not too short and just long enough to satisfy any dolphin lover. You are treated to an entertaining and informative presentation about the lifestyle and habits of dolphins.

Vincent's first encounter with these amazing creatures proved to be a good one. Focused and enthralled, he sat quitely on my lap watching the dolphins weave and dive and splash all around the pool. Aside from the dolphins, he also watched the audience: the sounds of laughter, looks of surprise, different faces and shapes provided endless amusement.

From the dolphin presentation, we took a nice stroll to the other end of the zoo, towards our next destination. The leaves were falling and the wind brushed them across the ground, every step providing a new sensation, a new experience for him: red cheeks from the brisk walk, hobo squirrels begging for food, geese pooping, other children running.

We finally reached the "The Living Coast." Having never been there myself, I had no idea what to expect, but like Vincent, I was soon captivated by it as well. The beautiful exhibit recreates the western coasts of Chile and Peru. The all-too-brief tropical diversion was a nice escape from a typical Fall day in Chicago.

The first animal that greets you is the moon jellyfish. A darkened room with a dramatically lit tank shows off the ethereal jellyfish as they dance and float. Look up, look down, the stingers appear less ominous -- almost inviting. Sleepy-eyed, my son followed their every movement.

Next, you see a wall-to-wall tank filled with tiny hammerhead sharks. Then an aquarium full of brine shrimp (alas, none of them are wearing bows in their hair -- cheap-ass sea monkeys). The next room, the next and the next all bring new sensations: sea horses, Humboldt penguins, giant turtles and bats. A happy, yawning baby subtly signaled the time for departure and we headed back to the parking lot.

Ready for your visit? My son has a penchant for water-related animals; find your baby's niche and focus your visit on that. Is it the birds with their looming and soaring? The reptiles, whose silky slithering mesmerizes little eyes? Or the large pachyderms? Boom, boom, boom go their steps, baby's body feeling each vibration. What will your baby lean towards? Other zoo possibilities for you and your family include Tropic World, the Swamp, the small mammal house or perhaps the Hamill Family Play Zoo, which is designed specifically for children infant to 10 years, but note, does tend to get busy.

There is no need to try to cram every inch of the zoo into one visit. It is no fun for your baby and stressful for you; begin by introducing any new place in smaller pieces at a time. You'll be able to savor every moment with your child and aid their natural curiosity and observation skills.

Brookfield Zoo
8401 31st St.
Brookfield, IL 60513
708/485-0263
Open daily 10am to 5pm

General Zoo Admission
Adults (12-64) $8.00
Children (3-11) $4.00
Seniors (65+) $4.00
Children 2 and Under Free
Members Free

Children's Zoo Admission
Adults (12-64) $1.00
Children (3-11) $0.50
Seniors (65+) $0.50
Children 2 and Under Free
Free admission November to March 1.

Hamill Family Play Zoo Admission
(does not include Children's Zoo admission)
Adults (12-64) $3.00
Member Adults (12-64) $2.50
Children (3-11) $2.00
Member Children (3-11) $1.50
Seniors (65+) $2.00
Member Seniors (65+) $1.50
Children 2 and Under Free

Seven Seas Dolphin Presentations
Weekdays 11:30am, 2:30pm
Weekends and holidays 11:30am, 1pm, 2:30pm
Adults (12-64) $2.50
Children (3-11) $2.00
Seniors (65+) $2.00
Children 2 and Under Free

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About the Author(s)

Alejandra Valera is a new mom and writer. If there's a baby- or kid-friendly place, product or event you think she should cover, email her at .

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