A dinosaur in my pocket

In the middle of our morning story meeting, I reached into my pocket for a stick of gum, and almost popped a stegosaurus into my mouth.

Not a full-sized one, mind you. My pockets aren't that big. Nor was I totally surprised at this turn of events (nor were my peers) because I've been pulling dinosaurs out of thin air for a few years now. I normally pick them up off the floor on my way out the door, like some sort of domestic paleontologist. If not, these toy dinosaurs would face an even worse fate than their real-life models 65 million years ago – being turned into the doggy equivalent of Tootsie Rolls for our pooch, Reggie, who fears neither T-Rex nor Allosaurus when she finds them conveniently at nose level.

My kids are dino-crazy. All of them. If it has anything to do with dinosaurs, they want it. It's hard to calculate how many hours of my life I've spent reading stories about dinosaurs, playing dinosaur games on the computer with the kids, listening to "The Great Dinosaur Mystery" and "Dreamosaurus" on the stereo, or watching Disney's "Dinosaur," the BBC's "Walking with Dinosaurs," or even the recent "Dinotopia." If I could get those hours back, I would have enough time to read Robert Parker's entire "Spenser" series of detective novels, build a new deck, and bring peace in our time to the Middle East.

Bobbie, who just turned 5 is the ultimate dino fanatic. She can't remember to pick her dirty socks off the floor, or to knock before she charges into the already-occupied bathroom, but Bobbie can name every kind of dinosaur that ever existed, the size of its eggs, whether it was herbivore or carnivore, and what time period it lived in.

"Oh Daddy, don't be silly," she said to me the other day when I ventured a comment about the movie "Jurassic Park." "Everybody knows that the T-Rex lived in the Cretaceous age."

Really? You mean Hollywood got it wrong? Go figure. Then again, a movie series called "Cretaceous Park" might not have sold as well.

Sometimes I worry that this dinosaur thing might get out of hand. Bobbie madly loves the T-Rex, Sue, and when she discovered that Sue's bones had left the Museum of Science in Boston after its exhibition period ended, she cried for days. Sue was her "friend," in some way I have yet to understand. I just hope she doesn't get as attached to teenage boys as she did to a full-sized replica of a 65 million-year-old beast that would just as soon have had you as an after-dinner mint as be your buddy.

When I left for work this morning, I noticed her forearms were covered in dinosaur tattoos. While these tattos wear off over time, I told my wife that maybe this wasn't such a good sign for the future.

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"Well, aren't you worried that in a few years she'll want to get real tattoos and pierce her tongue? Don't you think it's a little bit obessive?"

"Tom, you're wearing a Boston Red Sox cap, shirt, and underwear. You listen to the games on the radio while you watch them on TV, with the sound turned up for both. You have box scores e-mailed to your cell phone and stay up until 3 in the morning when they play on the West Coast. I don't think Bobbie is the one we need to worry about."

Obviously I need to talk to her about the difference between an obsession and a healthy New England pastime.

But here's something I've discovered. When your kids develop an interest in something, you develop it as well. I've learned more about dinosaurs from my 5-year-old than I ever could have learned in a college course, and had twice as much fun doing it. I really do know the difference between a triceratops and a protoceratops, that the reason the dinos disappeared wasn't just about a stray asteroid body-surfing planet Earth, and that the stegosaurus had a brain the size of a golf ball, which actually helps explain the ancestry of a few people I know.

So, maybe knowing a lot about dinosaurs isn't so bad. True, this may not make me much in demand for after-dinner conversation at the Ritz-Carleton, but man, I can sure hold my own at preschool snack time.

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