Recession watch: No zoo visits this year

This post is part of a series about real-life signs we're in a recession.

I was pregnant with my first son, Everett, when my family bought a membership to the Oregon Zoo. Here in Portland, obstetricians actually suggest eager moms-to-be walk up and down the hills at the zoo when they're trying to stimulate contractions.

It didn't work much, but it started a family connection to the zoo (and hilariously, a baby mountain goat was born the same day as Everett), and now that we have three children, we've upgraded to the most serious membership of all. My husband's favorite thing to do with the children is to get on the bus (we've given up our family car) and take the boys to see animals. With the $100 annual membership, all our visits are free but for snacks.

Ahem. But for snacks. Visits have been few and far between lately, because the snacks at the zoo now seem so expensive. Even though the baby doesn't ask for elephant ears, buying even one treat for every family member with a full set of teeth can set us back $20 -- more than our typical family grocery budget for a day (and we haven't had a zip of nutrition, in all likelihood). I don't mind packing snacks for the boys to go on an afternoon excursion (especially if that leaves me home alone in peace), but have you ever taken a five-year-old and three-year-old to the zoo and refused to buy them the treats offered at every turn? Umm-hmmm. Avoiding the "gimmes" when we truly can't afford to satisfy them is the reason we now spend a lot more of our entertainment time enjoying the wildlife in our own backyard.

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