Thursday, November 6, 2008

Zoo Frustration

Life isn't fair. No one said it would be. God doesn't promise fair... in fact quite the contrary. But He does promise his presence.

So, God is present with me now... and He even present at the Brookfield Zoo, in spite of my current frustration.

I've blogged before about our trips to the zoo. I took TJ there the day after Leslie died. He learned of Mommy's departure for Heaven sitting under a little tiki-style umbrella over a hot-dog-on-a-stick and a fruit punch, right beside "Stingray Bay", one of his favorite exhibits. Leslie used to take him there several times a month. We paid a pretty penny for a "Family Plus" membership-- unlimited parking and admission for the 3 of us, and we could even bring along a guest on each visit... discounts on food, dolphin show passes. It was awesome.

It WAS awesome.

As much as TJ got to go, most of his visits were during the weekdays in the warm-weather months. He and Leslie typically needed to get out of the house to do something, just for their shared sanity. They'd wake up, see a sunny and mild day outside, and decide spontaneously to head to the zoo. (Of course, this past summer, such visits were not as frequent, as Leslie would need help-- someone to drive them, etc...) But it was nice, because it's only a half-hour drive, if that, and they could get there, have fun, eat lunch, and then be home in time for TJ's nap. A few times over the course of each of the last 3 summers, we'd plan a Saturday visit, where we could all go together. Anyway, it was well worth the money we spent on the membership-- so many special memories there... memories of Mommy that fill TJ's mind.

So this year, when our membership came up for renewal, I placed a call and informed them of our "situation". I said I was calling to renew, but was curious how we make out the 2nd membership card-- the one that was formerly Leslie's. (Membership card and photo ID are required both at the parking lot gate and the admissions gate.) Apparently, we could pay a little extra and have them issue a "Caregiver" card... but the problem was that we had to declare ONE specific caregiver... And I have NO idea what TJ's child-care situation is going to look like 2 months from now, let alone ALL of next year. I asked if they couldn't just issue the 2nd card to TJ, and use his birth certificate as his ID at the gate, and then admit his caregiver that day as his "guest". No-can-do. Members must be 18 or older.

You can see where this is going...

I wrote a letter to the director of member affairs at the Chicago Zoological Society. I boiled our story into a one page summary-- how special the zoo is to our family, the tragedy of the last year, my desire to maintain the membership and TJ's opportunities to visit the zoo regularly. Yesterday, Ms. Director called me back. It was all I could do to maintain my "professional courtesy". And tragically, I fear that I failed at maintaining the level of "lovingkindness" God desires me to administer in such situations.

No grace. No consideration. No alternatives. No exceptions. She merely offered her "heart-felt" condolences and then proceeded to say, "If we make one exception to one member, then we need to make every exception to every member..." yada-yada... I asked her, "Is it such a bad thing to make exceptions for ALL little kids with dead mommies??" Like I said, I confess that the "Society's" lack of grace was exposing the limitations of my own, in this situation.

We talked in circles, my stating the inequity of the situation and offering alternatives (which I mentioned above), her stating that the rules are the rules and no exceptions would be offered. Finally, before saying anything I'd truly regret, I just concluded the phone call:

"Well. I guess I can thank you for your time, in reading my letter, offering your condolences, and stuff. But basically, what you're saying is that you are not willing to make any accommodations. And what that means to me, is that a 3-year-old boy will not have the same access to the zoo next year that he has enjoyed each of the last 3 summers, simply due to the fact that his mommy died. I'm not one to pout about someting 'not being fair', but there is just something horribly unjust about this. I guess this is a part of being a single dad that I'm just going to have to get used to-- that this concept of 'family plans' and 'family passes' just doesn't apply to me anymore. Again, thank you for your time, and I'm sorry my 'business' and TJ's story is not worthy of your offering any accommodations. Goodbye."

I know I'm not alone in this type of battle. I've heard from so many single moms and dads out there, who certainly brush into this type of thing on a regular basis. I'm frustrated with my lack of awareness and/or compassion in these regards through the first 31 years of my life, before I had the "opportunity" to experience them first-hand.

So anyway... I guess we'll just have to find a new "special place" that TJ and his caregiver can enjoy on a regular basis next year. Sure, he and I will still make the occasional Saturday trip to the zoo... (his love for the place outweighs my "self-righteous indignation" which suggests I boycott)... We'll just end up paying more per visit. When I think about it, it's not really about the zoo--we'll still be able to enjoy it together... TJ just won't be able to go as often as he has in the past. It's really more about the apparent injustice of such a "kid-focused" and "family-friendly" organization being completely unwilling to make a compassionate decision or compromise.

Oh well. As I said to Ms. Director... it's their prerogative. It's their business. Their decision. Just like it's mine to stop my membership. Unfortunately, that's all the noise I can make in my frustration, and it's just such a small, tiny noise, in the grand scheme of things... Well... there's that noise, and the one I can make on this blog-- thanks for letting me vent. I just needed to feel some compassion, I guess.

Everyone needs compassion,
A love that's never failing.
Let mercy fall on me.

Everyone needs forgiviness,
The kindness of a savior,
The hope of nations...


everydayMOM said...

That story is so infuriating! They missed the point when they said that if they made an exception for you, they would have to make an exception for others. YES! They should make an exception... for a little boy whose mom died, for a little boy with a father in Iraq for a girl with a mom in prison, for families where parents live in separate states. What is wrong with showing some kindness to families who have already been through enough! Ahh!!

With Kent spending so much of his life in China, I have a lot of compassion for single parents who do this ALL the time. Your story just gives me so much MORE compassion! I think all the time about the kindergartner in town who doesn't know if his mommy is even alive. And if she's not, he doesn't have the hope that TJ has that he will see her again. I think about my nieces who go back and forth between two different homes each week. Your story helps me understand, at least a little bit, of the trials that you face everyday!

You're right. God didn't promise us a perfect life. But I'm glad that as a body, we can at least be there to support each other.

Thanks for sharing your story, which gives us a better understanding of the challenges that you and others face.

JoDee said...

Ah, Tyson. This is almost too much.
All I can offer is the next verse and chorus of your song.

So take me as You find me,
all my fears and failures.
Fill my life again.
I give my life to follow
Everything I believe in.
Now I Surrender.

Saviour, He can move the mountains.
My God is mighty to save,
He is mighty to save.
Forever, Author of salvation,
He rose and conquered the grave,
Jesus conquered the grave.

Much love to you and TJ,
Thank you for fighting for him.

Lisa said...

UGH - this is unreal to me! I always like to think to myself when situations like this arise... that whomever you are dealing with has obviously never experienced the situation at hand or they would have some compassion. I understand rules, are rules. BUT this is different....and in today's day and age..cant they come up with alternative package for single parents??? I feel a letter writing session coming on!!

Bekah said...

let us know where to mail our letter. i'm serious. this ticks me off.

Luke said...

Ty: I'm a "lurker". I go to church with Leslie's parents.

I too would like an address where I could send a polite letter telling them how this situation makes me feel.

Ben, Michele, Claire & Anna said...

yep... I follow your blog too and I'd like an email or address to send a letter to. They don't know how many thousands of people they are messing with! They are so WRONG.

A Musing Mom said...


Don't forget that our God is Sovereign. Is there any chance that He has closed this door because He's opening another somewhere else?

Check out the Morton Arboretum. It's not too far from you. They have been working very hard over recent years to make it kid friendly. And they may make accommodations that the zoo won't.

Just a caution to your readers who love Jesus: would a boycott or barrage of angry mail do anything to advance His Kingdom? What should grace look like in this situation?

I hear your frustration. Stuff like this just stinks. I'll be praying that something good can still come of it.


ann said...

Oh, how painful the realization that the world doesn't grieve with you. God can work this out to TJ's and your advantage - just watch Him! You bless me every time you write.

Anonymous said...

Leslie would want to make sure that you didn't type the letter on your blackberry while driving. :)

- Kayla

Melinda said...

I must confess I'm such a "rule follower" that sometimes I can miss the forest for the trees! Anyway, as has happened to this devout "rule follower"- I am praying that this woman would awaken at 3 am and be convicted that there are exceptions to those great rules that we rule followers love so dearly, give you a call and offer a better solution. There ALWAYS are exceptions and I hope she might awaken to that knowledge in this particular case.

Anonymous said...

Tyson, I felt your frustration and it is funny how sometimes things seem so black and white (Ms. Director) to one and gray to another (I'd guess a lot of us reading about your frustration). I agree about grace, extending it (sometimes so much easier said than done) and I too hope that Ms. Director is overcome with some kind of remorse about her very cold and strictly by protocol answer. However, I was right with you on the feelings of boycott and totally agree with your decision to not renew your membership. On the up side, many facilities are much more accomodating and can still maintain their "rules". I am certain that while going to the zoo will still be a great place to visit occasionally (sorry just can't spit out the word often) -- you & TJ will find other great places to create awesome experiences and fabulous memories.

Anonymous said...
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Tyson Aschliman said...

well... -I- feel better. :)

I'm not going to be providing any addresses or names, as I'd rather not get this lady in trouble. I may send a letter with a copy of the original letter and plea my case to the board of directors. If that doesn't work, I'll send a letter on the the Tribune's consumer advocate column, as a last-ditch effort.

I also know that I cannot keep a brother or sister from sending a letter. With that in mind, I ask you a favor: just don't write... especially with the voice from "Real America"-- no offense, SM-- at least not on my behalf. The real America also knows (or needs to learn) how to extend grace, and that cooler heads prevail. You mention Obama-- I don't think he'd approach it with an "F that!" attitude. And speaking of Obama, I think he's got bigger fish to fry right now. :)

Anyway, I don't need anyone coming to bat for me. And this lady just doesn't deserve that, as "wrong" as her position is. I can't control your reaction, but I beg you... BE KIND! If you're going to write, kindly suggest that they come up with a "flexible caregiver" plan which allows an orphaned or single-parent child to carry a membership, using his/her birth certificate as ID, and allowing one caregiver as a guest, per the guidelines of the normal Family Plus plan.

Again, I'm not encouraging you to write-- quite the opposite... But I feel the motivation in your responses, and if I can't dissuade the letters from being sent, I thought at least I'd do my best to unify our voice-- and that it be a voice of GRACE and WISDOM, and not ANGER and JUDGMENT.


Anonymous said...

I stumbled across your blog while reading the blog of an old friend, so you do not know me. I did want to say, however, that you are truly an inspiration. It takes a strong man to raise a child alone. I know from personal experience - my own mother passed away in 1995, and my father was left to raise me, my two sisters and my brother. He has done an excellent job and it seems like you are headed down the right path. All you can do now is be the best daddy you can be to your son! I am sorry for your loss. In the pictures I've stumbled across, she is stunning...and I am sure she still is, up there in Heaven.

Bethany said...

That is frustrating. Is there an option for you to just get a one-person membership and then bring TJ as a guest? That is what I have, I am a member at our zoo and then I can bring a guest. (although I did have to get a membership because the 3 kids I brought couldn't admit me as their guest even though I was a caregiver.) Good luck, that ticks me off for you.

Tyson Aschliman said...

Bethany- the problem is that the membership card is made out to a specific individual, who needs to present positive ID. The problem is not when I take TJ to the zoo-- the problem is that nobody else can take him BESIDES me, now, under the "family" membership plan. Basically, they're just declaring that we're "just not a family" anymore, since TJ doesn't have a single, specific caregiver or guardian day to day, week to week. Ugh... Anyway... I'm sending off a letter to the VP of membership, ("Ms. Director's" boss). Since this is seemingly drumming up some interest in this blogosphere, below is the letter... just to keep y'all updated "real-time"...


Tyson Aschliman said...

Dear [VP of Membership]:

Attached you will find a letter I recently submitted to Amy Hanson, in regards to our Family Plus membership with the Brookfield Zoo. The letter lays out the circumstances which have brought me to a difficult dilemma, in consideration of whether to renew our membership, and whether the Brookfield Zoo will continue being such an important part of our “newly restructured” family life, into 2009 and beyond.

I was very disappointed to learn, in a subsequent phone conversation that Ms. Hanson was kind enough to grant me, that no accommodation could be made. As a result, my son—due only to the fact that his mommy is now dead—will no longer have access to one of his favorite places in his little world as he once did, at least not without significant financial ramifications. I do realize that Ms. Hanson was only doing her duty professionally, and holding to policies that are in place, protecting the interests of the zoo. This is why I wanted to contact you and make a recommendation for your consideration: A “Flexible Caregiver” option for the Family Plus membership plan.

This plan would extend a “membership” card to a minor who has been orphaned, or otherwise has multiple caregivers during the course of a normal week. The child’s birth certificate would serve as positive “ID” at the parking and admission gates. And the caregiver could be admitted under the normal “guest” clause of the Family Plus plan. I understand that there are most likely liability issues in offering “membership cards” to minors, but the minor’s card, in this “Flexible Caregiver” option, could easily include detailed information as to how the accompanying caregiver assumes full responsibility/ liability/ guardianship on that visit.

An alternative to this plan would be simply to issue a “flexible” caregiver card for $18, rather than naming a specific caregiver. A signed note by the primary cardholder, naming the caregiver for that day and giving him/her permission to accompany the child to the zoo, could even be required upon entry.

The problem that I have (and I would assume that I’m certainly not alone here), is that I have no idea what TJ’s childcare accommodations will be 2 months from now, let alone for all of 2009. Often, it is “week-to-week”. I am happy to pay my membership fees, and even an $18 fee for such a “flexible caregiver” card, but I cannot determine, at this point, a single specific name to which I would assign such a card. All I am hoping to do is to find a solution which would offer my child the same opportunities he had when his mother was able to take him to the zoo. Indeed, it will never be the same without her, but the memories are just too numerous and special, there, for me to just sit back and accept the answer that, “no accommodations can be made” which will allow my son the same access to the zoo which he’s enjoyed through the previous 2 years.

Thank you for your consideration,

Tyson Aschliman

Michelle said...

Oh Tyson,

I doubt I would have your grace in a situation like this, but I'm proud of you for giving it another shot. I would think that, more than just someone being ridiculously anal about zoo membership regulations, this feels like someone dictating to you what kind of a family you can be, what kind of a father, when you don't want anyone telling you that TJ has to have one single more loss, one single more sacrifice in his life.

I know TJ isn't lucky, or blessed, to have lost his wonderful mother. But he is lucky and he is SO BLESSED to have a father to even THINKS of stuff like what this zoo means to him, let alone wages a whole letter writing battle to get him in to see Stingray Bay more often. The thing that will endure for him through the years, no matter how this membership card thing turns out, is the fact that TJ is so loved, by his father and by his Father.

In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! He has overcome the world.

Anonymous said...

Tyson - We check in often, but often don't write. Just keep updated on things to pray for I guess. And Jack faithtfully prays for TJ and his dad each night.
Anyway, just have to validate your frustration (I am the queen of saying I'm sending a letter...) but also encourage you as what seems a little bit exciting is that you have wonderful memories of this zoo that will always be "special" or unique to TJ and his mom and your family. As your life with TJ continues, with new caregivers, friends and maybe even new relationships, different memories can be made in a new place, and to reserve the zoo as TJ's special place might be something to hold onto. I don't know...I've never been in your shoes, so I hope this comes across okay. It might give TJ a safe "special" memory place for your family when/if new roles, relationships or other changes occur. Praying for you and TJ daily...Brittany Huyser Smith

Anne said...

God bless you Tyson - with all that you need - in every situation - be blessed.

Jilli said...

Boo on them. Start a petition! I'll sign it!

JudyBright said...

I'm sure they could make a zoo ID card for him too.

I'll second and commend Tyson about showing grace. The name of Christ is first and foremost here. If you write a letter please keep this in mind. I can see this doing quite a bit of good if other people in similar situations are helped, but it does no good to get all angry and make Christians look like jerks and close hearts to the gospel.

Rock on Tyson!

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable situation! Your grace continues to amaze me. I was all fired up and ready to write a letter too. I may still write a letter in your support, but will definitely continue to pray for you and T.J.
Blessings in 'every' situation!!!!

Anonymous said...

My heart breaks for you as you have had to walk through a situation like this one. It had to have peeled some scabs off and left you hurting again. We cannot protect our children from injustices - large or small. I can imagine there is much you wish you could (have) protect(ed) TJ from. I will continue to pray that God would fill you with his grace, and would reveal a new place for TJ to spend his days. I would echo another reader's suggestion about the Morton Arboretum - little boys LOVE the children's area. Very interactive, room to run, climb and explore... I would be happy to donate financially towards a membership if that is what it would take to make it possible for you. It would bring me joy to do that. Blessings to you and your little guy tonight...

Becky said...

Even though it is a just plain frustrating and saddening situation, you're approaching it in the best manner you possibly can...I don't know if I'd be able to keep as much composure!!! Here's hoping that some reasonable solution can be reached.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Tyson, I wanted to affirm your letter. It was non-confrontational, respectful and filled with grace. You offered a valid and reasonable solution to an issue instead of just suggesting they come up with one. It is obvious you'd rather come up with a solution as opposed to not renewing your membership. I will be praying that they read it with an open heart and mind.

As followers of Christ, we are called to be light in the darkness and you do that so well.

Proverbs 12:18 "Reckless words pierce like a sword but the tongue of the wise brings healing."

Proverbs 15:18 "A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel."

Proverbs 16:24 "Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones."

Proverbs 18:21 "Words kill, words give life; they're either poison or fruit -- you choose."

and finally Tyson, I think this verse fits you:

Proverbs 27:19 "As water reflects a face, so a man's heart reflects the man."

Press on . . .

~A sister in Christ

Sarah said...

Oh, Tyson, that just boils my blood! I would have handled it exactly as you did...and now my mind is churning on how to fix it all for TJ and you.

You know, if all your blog readers canceled their memberships, the zoo might listen...aren't there 100s or 1000s of us?

Anonymous said...

It is difficult to experience the negative consequences of grief, and yet devastating to watch our children experience it.
Ty, maybe those spontaneous trips to the zoo throughout the week are supposed to remain a "special memory" for T.J. Just as you have your "special memories" (dancing in the kitchen, walks on the beach, late night chats) T.J. does as well. Save the zoo trips for special times with daddy as I assure you each trip is nostalgic for him.