dino day: when extinction is a blessing

Today I took the boys to Dino Day at a local museum.

I should have known, when the traffic approaching the museum was so heavy on a Saturday morning.

I should have known, when I finally made the turn into the lot and saw thirty cars in line, waiting to pay for parking, red brake lights screaming as loudly as my children, who'd been promised a Dino Day and so far had only gotten red lights and juice boxes that I wouldn't even let them drink in the car because I might not have all the answers but I know the answer when the question is "can I drink my juice box in the car."

But somehow, I convinced myself that maybe the museum was like an enchanted tent in Harry Potter, and all 5,000 of us could fit inside the building quite easily. Airily, even. We might not even see any other people. Our footsteps would echo as we pretended to do ballet in the Dino foyer.

I should have known, when I saw a line of one thousand people curving around three sides of the massive building.

I should have known when we joined the line, Buster bucking and swinging his legs less like a giddy child and more like an Argentine striker.

I should have known when Chicken pulled on my sleeve, looked up at me with his big brown eyes, and said, "Mommy? Waiting is not easy. But Dino Day is worth it."

But somehow, I remained confident that this was an outstanding idea. Once we got inside, I knew, the crowd would disperse throughout the exhibits. There would be a natural resettling of bodies. It only felt chaotic because there was nothing for us to do out here.

There were signs that seemed to confirm my optimism, quick gasps of air that brought the flames of my hope surging back to life:

- A family bailed, right in front of us, and the 5 or 6-year-old son had to be carried, sobbing, back to the car. Chicken asked, "Why is he so sad?" And I said, "Because he couldn't stay for Dino Day." Chicken said, "Oh. Are we gonna stay for Dino Day?" I said, "We're going to talk about it before we make any decisions, okay? If you get tired of waiting you just let me know. We can go play hide and seek in the field." Chicken smiled, "I can wait a little longer." Everything is going great. You're teaching him patience and self-control. You've got this.

- A museum employee walked down the line, talking and pointing up to the front of the building, then waving her hand as if to suggest that some people could just go right on ahead inside, for gosh sakes. When she got close enough, I heard her asking, "is anyone a museum member?" I called out, "if I join can I skip the line?" She smiled, "yep! You can just go straight up to the front..." I assume she trailed off once she realized that I was gone, long gone. Fuck patience and self-control. There is no membership fee too steep.

But I should have known, when we walked inside the Members Only door into the foyer, and saw the wall-to-wall, crushing, wailing, humming, tight-faced crowd. There would be no ballet here today.

I should have known, when all of the dinosaur fossils laid out on draped tables at toddler eye-and-hand level, could not be touched.

I should have known, when the paleontologist or whatever fixed his glassy stare on Chicken and grinned, a little wildly, tiny droplets of sweat literally careening off his forehead as he spoke, "SO WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE DINOSAUR LITTLE GUY?" Chicken ducked behind my legs and froze. I smiled and said, "he's a little overwhelmed. This is quite a scene." The man's face did not change at all as I spoke. He looked like a rubberized face mask of a Disney substitute teacher - nerdy, panicked, smiling for dear life. He'd gone round the bend.

I said, "oooookay, thank you," and started to back away through the crowd. He stood up and yelled at Chicken, "SO WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE DINOSAUR?" Chicken buried his face in my jeans. I called back, "it's Huayangasaurus!" He laughed, shook his head and said, "What an imagination on him, huh? Next it'll be a Cheeseburgersaurus!" I stopped backing away and said, "It's a real dinosaur." He shrugged and said, "I've never heard of it."

oh that's cute
did he draw that?
no, alan
the american museum of natural history drew that
oh really?
like the american museum of natural history and magical lasagna and unicorn boners?
the fucking
you know what
never mind

I wish I'd asked for Alan's supervisor, so Alan could have gotten a stern talking-to in an echoey back hallway.

Alan. This isn't Free First Thursdays. This is Dino Day, motherfucker. This is the SHOW. Now get your ass to the fucking library and do not come out until you have memorized all seventeen seasons of Dinosaur Train.

I should have known, when my shell-shocked children did not even try to touch the fossils that were so clearly set out at touch-level, in that hot, noisy room, as an elaborate psychological test to measure juvenile impulse control while enduring enhanced interrogation techniques.

But somehow I justified staying, just a little longer. We'd already parked, bought the membership, come inside, been accused of counterfeiting dinosaurs. We should get some fun out of this too, right? At the very least we should do that dino dig I'd heard advertised! Let's go get dirty, right? Someone hand my kids a hammer! SOMEONE LET THEM TOUCH SOMETHING.

I should have known, when Chicken asked a septuagenerienne in a snappy khaki safari vest if this was the line for the dino dig, and when she looked back at him blankly and said, "we don't have a dino dig."

I should have known, when Chicken's eyes filled with the efficiency of a graduate of the Claire Danes Academy of Dramatic Weeping.

I should have known, when Safari Barbara repeated, "we don't have a dino dig..." over Chicken's guttural sobs... and then pulled a handful of fossilized leaves out of one of her 83 pockets and showed them to Chicken, "but we do have a fossil dig!"

What the fastidious fuck, Barbara. You breakin my kid's balls over here? You breakin my kid's balls over fossils versus dinos? Come 'ere. I wanna introduce you to somebody. In the trunk of my car.

I should have known, when Buster and Chicken both fell to the ground, writhing and crawling in opposite directions, while Safari Barbara pulled a map out of another of her 83 pockets, to make sure I could follow the gripping tale of "how to get to the Pinewood Botanical Fossil Center, only seventeen hours south of the city." I should have known.

But we were already in line for the dino dig. Sorry, fossil dig. WAY TO FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT, Safari Barbara.

I should have known, when Buster went calm and obedient.

I should have known, when I looked down and saw a bright pink pacifier, not our brand, bobbing up and down in his mouth as he sucked with vigor and relief. "Hello!" I yelled, and pulled it out of his mouth. There was only one other family within range, so I tapped the mother ahead of us on the shoulder.

She whirled around, her expression one of homicidal annoyance. Obviously. Like all of ours. I held out the binky and said, "I am so sorry... I think my son just grabbed this from your daughter and put it in his mouth." The woman, whose expression had blossomed into the kind of violent disgust you usually only see at Donald Trump rallies, said "No. My children don't use... those."

Her husband turned around, eyebrows raised, and she filled him in. "No," he said, as if it was the first time, "my children don't use... those."

I should have known, when Rip and Mitsy Frothingtwat Von Wankerbush responded to the binky in my hand as if it were a mound of pure uncut heroin, or actual Pepperidge Farms goldfish crackers.

But birds gonna fly, fish gonna swim, Katie gonna crack a joke to lighten the mood. And also, if I'm being honest with myself, to reclaim a little bit of dignity and social power.

"Well, my children use em!" I laughed, leaning in conspiratorially. "The little one loves them so much that he steals them from strangers at the museum and puts them in his mouth!"

Mitsy had already turned away from me. I can only assume that my gauche visage and the unruly countenances of my heathen litter of savages made her feel icky. Rip did not even crack a smile. He said, his voice low and serious, his head so stiffly vertical that I couldn't even find shelter in an empathetic head tilt: "that is awful."

"What?" I felt sure I'd misheard him. Or maybe when I said, "my children use pacifiers and sometimes steal them from others," he'd heard, "My children don't use car seats or vaccines."

He clarified. "That is very unsanitary."

I should have known, all along.

And at that point, I knew.

It was time to make like a dinosaur and vanish without explanation.*

*Well, not entirely without explanation.

As we walked back to the car, the boys scampered and spun through the grass and danced on a loose grate cover, delighting in the clank and rattle their own heavy steps could create. I finally busted out those juice boxes and the boys drank so deeply they gasped and coughed when they finally resurfaced.

Chicken said, "Mommy, Dino Day was pretty fun."
I said, "Oh? You thought so? What was your favorite part?"
He said, "I don't know. Not the part at the museum."

I should have known, after the nightmare of parking and the $45 membership and the hot jostle of the rooms and the untouchable artifacts and fucking Alan and fucking Safari Barb and fucking Rip and Mitsy. I should have known, after this allegedly child-centric experience that could not have been less friendly to children and families, with its tone-deaf volunteers and a glaring empty hole in the ground where there should have been something for children to fucking touch.

I should have known that the best part of Dino Day would be juice boxes, sunshine, and a loose grate upon which to dance.


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