A Summer Ritual

A collage of a mother, her young boys, and the pandas at the National Zoo.

Submitted by Leigh T. from Maryland

The last three panda babies are synonymous with my motherhood journey and my love affair with the Smithsonian's National Zoo. 

I had my first baby in 2008; we started going to the Zoo regularly when Lucas was an infant (he napped in his stroller on his first trip), and we fell in love with Tian and Mei—it was so special to have pandas at our Zoo. I had my second baby in 2011, and in 2012, I remember the joy and then the searing pain when Mei had, and lost, her baby. 

The next year, I took my two little boys to see Bao Bao, the ball of black-and-white fluff, who we first watched on the Giant Panda Cam as a squealing stick of butter. We wept when she left but were overjoyed to welcome Bei Bei and then Xiao Qi Ji. 

Taking my now three boys to see the pandas has become a summer ritual for us. We pack a lunch of pasta salad and we know exactly when to arrive to get a good spot in Lot B. We head for the Asia Trail so we can see the pandas in their early morning glory. We've watched panda babies come and go as I've watched my own children grow from little boys into young men. 

The thought of losing our beloved Mei and Tian and the promise of new life that they bring makes me weepy, just as I weep at the thought of my own kids flying the nest. 

It’s been so comforting to know that those magical, spotted, black-and-white balls of fluff would be there, munching on frozen watermelon and bamboo or rolling in the snow. They are part of the background music of my life as a mother. What a hole they will leave.”

Image courtesy of Leigh T.

The Panda Memories Project

In September 2023, the Zoo invited members of the public to share their favorite moments with Tian Tian, Mei Xiang, Xiao Qi Ji and the rest of the pandas that have called Washington D.C., home. Here are their stories.