Tyrannosaurus rex may have gone extinct 65 million years ago, but in our house, he still reigns supreme.
All three of my sons are obsessed with dinosaurs, and not in the “we would choose dinosaur pajamas over fire truck ones” kind of way. Their obsession manifests more as hoarding enormous books packed with full-color, detailed descriptions of these prehistoric beasts and interrupting me while I’m making dinner to ask, “Mommy, did you know that spinosaurus was the largest carnivorous dinosaur? And that it hunted for fish? And that it had webbed toes to help it swim in large rivers? Mommy, DID YOU KNOW THAT?!”
My seven-year-old initiated this love of dinosaurs several years ago after a visit to a local science museum. As soon as he was old enough, my four-year-old happily joined in, and now even my two-year-old can shout “I’m a hungry diplodocus!” when he’s stomping loudly around the living room.
At this point, I live with three walking, talking dinosaur encyclopedias. The giant, long-necked creature on that backpack? Don’t casually call it a brontosaurus. That’s a brachiosaurus, thank you very much (you can tell by the angular ridge on its skull).
The depth of my sons’ collective knowledge is impressive, but it’s more than slightly intimidating to normal people, i.e. anyone whose expertise in the world of dinosaurs is limited to a single viewing of “Jurassic Park” back in the 90s. My kids get some strange looks, and that’s okay – people expect kids to have unusual, all-consuming interests when they’re young. What they don’t expect is for those kids’ parents to also become living compendiums of information about whatever that much-loved topic happens to be. This is decidedly more awkward and less socially-acceptable.
The parents of dinosaur-obsessed children will come into possession of more facts and information about the prehistoric world than they could ever possibly need in their day-to-day lives. They will eat, sleep, and breathe dinosaurs right along with their kids. (I have a disturbingly high amount of nightmares about being stalked through a city by a tremendously hungry T-rex.)
They will also forget that the vast majority of the population does not share their family’s same passion for extinct reptiles. Recently, a normal, non-dinosaur-obsessed person was visiting us, and this conversation happened in our living room:
Normal person, pointing to a picture in my kid’s coloring book: “Oh, look at that green triceratops!”
Me, without missing a beat: “Actually, I think that’s a styracosaurus.”
Normal person: “A what?”
Me: “A styracosaurus.”
Normal person: “Oh. Well it has horns, so I just figured it was a triceratops.”
Me: “They’re very similar, but the name triceratops means 'three-horned face' and since that dinosaur has six horns stemming from a bony neck frill and only one horn on its face, it’s probably a styracosaurus.”
Normal person: *backs away slowly*
I promise I wasn’t trying to be a snarky know-it-all. I’ve just absorbed some very specific facts about the correct classification of herbivorous ceratopsian dinosaurs from the Cretaceous period and find it difficult not to share them. It comes as easily to me now as stating the weather: “It’s so warm out today! Did you know that argentinosaurus could have weighed up to 100 tons?”
I’ll admit that this is weird, but can we pause for a moment and acknowledge how awesome it is? I know it makes me “that weird dinosaur mom” and that’s a label I’m never going to shake, but how many people can tell the difference between a triceratops and a styracosaurus? (Aside from paleontologists and my seven-year-old, obviously.)
Parents teach their kids all kinds of things: how to read and write, ride a bike, share their toys, take care of their bodies, be kind to their family and friends. But kids teach their parents some pretty cool things, too – things they never thought they wanted to know, but once they do, it becomes an organic part of their life, and one more way to strengthen the parent-child connection.
I have a bachelor’s degree in English, but I spend most of my day explaining to my sons why we don’t put our feet on the table or sit naked on the couch. I don’t have much expertise in any particular area, and even if I did, it would mostly go to waste in the pile of diapers, dirty laundry, and cheese crackers I’m usually buried underneath. It’s nice to have advanced knowledge about something most people only have a vague understanding of, and it’s even cooler that that knowledge came directly from my kids.
Don’t be offended the next time you hear me differentiating between an allosaurus and a carnotaurus, or musing that chickens are direct descendants of the velociraptor. I’m not trying to make you look bad. I’m just trying to show my kids that I’m listening to them. I want them to know that when they come to me, bouncing with excitement, to tell me a newly-gleaned fact about their favorite subject in the whole world, I appreciate their enthusiasm. I love that they love something so much, and I love that they want to share that something with me.
I wouldn’t mind a little recognition once in a while for my efforts. Before you call me “that weird dinosaur mom,” just know that I’ve worked hard to remember that the Triassic time period comes before the Jurassic because it’s important to my kids. Before you laugh at my growing bank of mostly-useless facts about dinosaurs, ask yourself this: had you ever even heard of a styracosaurus until now? I didn’t think so. (You’re welcome.)
If you have a budding dinosaur aficionado in your house, one of the best ways to bolster his or her interest is through access to books that bring these ancient reptiles to life. My two older sons love DK’s "Dinosaur!," National Geographic’s "Ultimate Dinopedia," and "If Dinosaurs Lived in My Town" by Marianne Plumbridge. My youngest son cracks up over the hijinks in "What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night" and could stare at the pictures in Roger Priddy’s "My Big Dinosaur Book" all day.
Parents struggling to keep up with their child’s fluency in prehistoric elocution will appreciate "Oh Say Can You Say Di-no-saur?" from the Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library series, because it includes a guide to phonetic pronunciation (thankfully).