After waiting for weeks we finally had a day with good weather, open schedule, and healthy family members, so the four of us were able to head back to the Zoo this past weekend. Our last trip there had surprising results when a video of my youngest son playing with a sea lion caught the attention of the media. It also turned into an unexpected opportunity to spread Autism Awareness (you can read about our experience here). My children had been anxious to go back and visit Sophie one more time before the heat of summer, and they still wanted to get a good look at Bao Bao before she got much bigger.
My son, Alex, has been talking about Sophie for weeks and he couldn’t wait to go back and play with her. I wanted to prepare him for the fact that she might not “recognize” him (aka: she may not want to play with visitors that day). Alex has a form of Autism, and it is very important to help him be mentally prepared as much as possible for experiences, both good and bad. We talked about the fact that even if Sophie didn’t want to play it would still be a nice day at the zoo and we would enjoy seeing the animals. Secretly I prayed that he wouldn’t be disappointed, and had an ace up my sleeve. Actually, it wasn’t an ace, it was a shiny pink ball.
We had heard a lot of great stories about Sophie’s playful nature after our last video went public. We also learned she loved the color pink, enjoyed following balls thrown in the air, and found shiny things attractive. I saw a battery-lit pink ball in the Dollar Store and I knew it was the perfect thing to help ensure a perfect playdate. When we got to the Zoo last weekend we headed to see Sophie first, and excitedly approached the underground viewing area at the Sea Lion enclosure. Sure enough, Sophie was almost immediately attracted to the pink ball and was thankfully in the mood to play. Alex was thrilled, and said, “It’s nice to see you, Sophie! I’m glad you’re back!” It warmed my heart to see him so happy, and I was also pleased when my oldest son got lots of time to play with Sophie. This was important to us because he had felt a bit left out after the video of our last encounter brought his little brother so much attention. We stayed with Sophie for a long time, and she happily followed the pink ball back and forth. I was proud when my boys gladly shared the pink ball with other children so that they could play with Sophie as well. It was a perfect morning.
The rest of the day was just as perfect, and I am happy to report that we were also finally able to see Bao Bao. The boys were thrilled to watch her exploring her outdoor enclosure and even climbing a tree. She was SO. FLUFFY! Considering how upset my kids were last time when they only saw her for two seconds, this was really a treat.
On our way out we headed by to see Sophie again, and a good time was had by all. You can watch a compilation of our playtime in the video below. We are grateful for yet another enjoyable and successful trip to the Zoo, and can’t wait to go back again. Thank you, Sophie! See you in the fall!
UPDATE May 9, 2014: Sophie the sea lion was unexpectedly found dead this morning. She was only two years old. This is a terrible loss, and my thoughts are with the entire Smithsonian family. She was a beautiful, playful animal who brought great joy to those who visited her. My family is absolutely devastated. I am so glad we got to see and play with her one last time just two weeks ago. Thank you for being our friend, Sophie. We will miss you so much!