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MONIQUE BATSON — Roadtrip disaster leads to best day since start of the pandemic

Memorial Day has long served as the official start of summer. Pools open, water parks resume and all of a sudden it’s perfectly acceptable to go to the beach when the day before was just as hot.

But there was something different about this year. Parks that were empty for a year were filled with people, music and laughter. Streets were lined with cars as families gathered at homes. The sun was bright and beautiful.

It felt like a reset rather than a start.

Like the first day of the year we didn’t get to have.

Now both two weeks out of our second vaccine, my daughter and I decided on a whim to travel to the Houston Zoo. That was something my kids and I did often pre-COVID — just up and go, find something to explore. We would spend Saturday nights eating pizza and bowling. (Bowling might be a strong word for what we were doing, which was attempting to hit pins with a heavy ball but instead just adding depth to the gutters.) Sundays often were spent with movie marathons, resting from our adventures the day before.

And then came 14 months of rest.

No adventures, just pajamas and Netflix.

So naturally, we were both overjoyed for our trip to the zoo. The drive to Houston was an hour of loud pop music, gas station snacks and laughter. The Museum District was beyond packed, but once we found a place to park, we happily walked two miles over to the zoo while discussing all of the animals we couldn’t wait to see.

We got to the entrance, already sunburnt and sore, only to find they had hit capacity and stopped selling tickets.

And just like that, our pop-music filled bubble of happiness had been popped. We were no longer excited. We were just hyper-aware of the walk back to the car.

We decided to get lunch and think about our options.

Prior to our trip, my daughter had mentioned a butterfly conservatory in Houston. I wasn’t familiar with this, but she desperately wanted to go. So over enchiladas and queso, I reserved tickets online (after calling to ensure we wouldn’t be told they had hit capacity). I didn’t realize this was part of the Houston Museum of Natural Science — somewhere I’d never been. Although I had seen an article about an exhibit closing after Memorial Day that I was interested in attending. So while waiting on our reserved butterfly time, we got tickets for that too.

That’s when we reverted from ages 40 and 19 and both became kids again.

The butterfly conservatory was incredible. It’s an escalating dome enclosed in a rainforest setting with butterflies swirling around like leaves on a windy day. And if you stand still for longer than a minute, you’ll end up with at least one on you.

And my child wasn’t leaving without a picture of a butterfly on her.

So for almost an hour, we roamed this rainforest in the middle of Downtown Houston, photographing the hundreds of butterflies. And after she held one, we left for the other exhibit.

I had seen photos of the museum before and knew there was a giant T-Rex somewhere in the building. And we are both crazy about dinosaurs. We found it, marveled and then headed for our exhibit.

Five minutes later we were lost and staring at Jurassic Park. There were dinosaurs everywhere — big ones, little ones, scary ones.

We were like kids in a candy store. We forgot about the other exhibit, roaming around the replicas like we had stumbled on Isla Nebular, practically sticking our heads in dinosaur mouths for photos.

And with 30 minutes left until closing, we headed for the other exhibit and wondered around in marvel.

By the time we left, we both felt like we had spent the day at the gym. Muscles we hadn’t used in months were screaming. Skin that hadn’t seen much sun in a year was burning.

And even still, all we could say on the way home was, “What a great day.”

Next weekend we’re going to the zoo.

I made sure to get the tickets online this time.

 

Monique Batson is the Port Arthur Newsmedia editor and can be reached at monique.batson@panews.com.