Once upon a time, there was a little boy who loved dinosaurs. He’d play with dino figurines for hours, draw pictures of them and roar around the house in full character. It started before his first birthday, continued on through toddlerhood and kindergarten and now, at age seven, remains his key interest. Sure, he likes other things - Beyblades and Pokemon and snowboarding, to offer a few examples - but dinos are his one true love. This is a kid who would choose a vacation to the badlands over a trip to Disney World any day of the week. He has already decided which paleontology program he’ll be attending in university ten years from now. BBC documentaries are his bible and the ROM is his church.
I don’t know how it started, but I can’t imagine him any other way.
While other kids were picking their favourite superheroes and sports teams, my son was busy comparing the merits of the dimetrodon vs the spinosaurus. Jurassic Park both delighted and offended him because on the one hand, dinosaurs, but on the other hand, the velociraptors were not portrayed in an accurate size. He corrects people who talk about a ‘pterodactyl’ because they’re actually called a ‘pterodactylus’, a type of pterosaur, which he would argue is not technically a dinosaur but instead, a prehistoric flying reptile. He’ll explain the difference between different theropod species but insists that he doesn’t have a favourite dinosaur because there are too many to choose from. (I kind of like the triceratops, for what it’s worth.)
My son dresses almost exclusively in dino-themed clothing, from his pants and shirt down to his socks and underwear. His winter hats and mittens are dark blue with grey and yellow triceratops on them; his bedsheets are printed with fossils. There is dino-art on his walls and the bed is covered in dino stuffies. He was more dinosaur reference books than an actual library. This is not a dedication he takes lightly. He is Dino Dan without the elaborate fantasy sequences. At least, as far as I know.
One night, when my son asked for a bedtime story, I quickly spun together the tale of a mosasaurus and a plesiosaur swimming together in a prehistoric lake. (“Those are prehistoric marine reptiles, not actual dinosaurs,” my boy pointed out.) In my epic, made-up-as-I-go-along adventure, the plesiosaur peeked his head out of the water and spotted a sabre tooth tiger lurking on the shore. At this point, my son sighed deeply. “Those creatures didn’t exist at the same time,” he explained. “Right,” I replied, searching for any answer that would get my kid to bed sooner. “But...the sabre tooth tiger was magic?”
“Ok,” he reluctantly agreed. “Magic.”
We finished the story, he went to sleep and I won that round.
If this all sounds like a lot, it is...but also, it’s no different than raising any other busy second grader. He’s a bright, funny, imaginative kid with a lot of friends. He loves music, art and climbing dangerously high despite my protests. Just like some kids love Batman or Sidney Crosby or sharks, my kid loves dinosaurs - like, really loves them - and he’ll tell you about it, probably more than you’d ever want or need him to. Just ask his teachers.
When I first became a mom, my dino-knowledge came primarily from the original Land Before Time film, which is totally unscientific and perhaps the saddest children’s movie ever. Today, after listening to approximately 800 hours of David Attenborough narration in various scientific documentaries, I could probably teach a first year paleontology class. My son would teach the upperclassmen, obviously - I’m not on his level.
I realize that in all probability, this will end at some point. Unless he actually becomes a paleontologist (which hey, he could totally end up doing), my son’s dino-obsession will dull and slow down over time and eventually, fade away. We will no longer have dino Lego sets all over the house or realistic T-Rex models sitting casually on playroom shelves. He’ll grow up and move on, and a new chapter of life will begin - and honestly? I think I’ll be really sad about it.
Every childhood stage that comes and goes marks a passing of time that parents cannot slow down. Our kids hit milestones and then soar past them, into a new phase of life and then off to another. It’s hard to keep up, and it goes by in an instant. It’s beautiful and natural but in so many ways, it creates tiny ripples of grief for the days left behind. Just like I miss the scent of a fuzzy newborn head or the feel of a toddler falling asleep on my shoulder, one day I’ll mourn the dinos that no longer cover my son’s clothing and bedroom. Watching children grow is a blessing, but it’s sprinkled with heartache.
I may not care much about dinosaurs myself, but I love my children more than anything and this fixation has been a major part of my son’s childhood. I will never look back at his school photos and not see a dinosaur shirt. I’ll always remember how he cuddles up to me in his dino jammies. I’ll never forget that a pentaceratops has five horns on its face because I’ve been reminded so many times.
I didn’t choose what my son loved, but I love him, and I know I’ll miss this one day. Until then, we’ll have more trips to the ROM, more bedtime stories that get messed up because I can’t keep track of prehistoric eras, and endless hours of BBC documentaries to go.