Last summer, after a rather late night with much deserved mojitos, my son Sebastian pushed and prodded me to wake up. It was 5:00 AM—on a Sunday. For many parents, the hour wasn’t so ungodly. However, I had just entered the sweet zone, when the effects of minted rum invited me to a deeper slumber. I was at the precipice, ready to succumb to dreams with a fresh coat of vivid paint, when my son jerked me back from the edge. He was tugging on a fistful of my hair.
Sebastian must have mustered whatever might he had during those pre-dawn hours to then yank my pillow from underneath me. Although my head plopped onto the mattress, I refused to budge. The idea was to ignore him and force him back to sleep. Undeterred, he tried to roll me off the bed by wedging himself against his dad and using his legs to push against me. But Archimedes’ principle did not work, and I remained unmoved. Next he pulled on the sleeves of my nightshirt so that the collar was forced against the side of my throat. He groaned, from effort and frustration. Maybe if I snored, he’d go away, I thought. But he sat by my side, silent and plotting.
A few minutes of peace passed. Then, Sebastian pinched my cheeks. Stifling yelps as his claws dug into my skin, I flung my left arm across my eyes to avoid his crab-like torture. To Sebastian, I was still asleep, but my mind was suddenly alert. And I automatically began the day—just as millions of moms do—by making a to-do list. First item: Trim Sebastian’s nails.
“Mommy, mommy! MOMMY! Open eyes!” My little boy’s voice echoed in the dark bedroom.
I lowered my arm, and replied with a guttural, “Arrrrrrgh?”
“Mommy, I said wake up.” He shook me some more. “Please. I say, please.”
This better be good, I thought. Before I could voluntary raise my own eyelids, Sebastian was already prying them apart; a fingernail pierced a tear duct.
“Hello, Mommy.” The lashes of one eye tickling mine.
My vision was still pretty blurry, but I could see his face, illuminated by the Mickey Mouse night light. Uh oh, I thought. Sebastian had crazy eyes. Focused. Determined. Absolute. He was on a mission—one he had hatched before midnight.
In the gentlest of tones, hoping to soften his exploding excitement, I whispered, “Shhh, Sebastian, Dad is still asleep.”
He looked over to the other side of his bed, shrugged and jumped back around to face me. A small knee dug into my hip. He bent forward and inched toward my ear. Thinking he was whispering, he instead yelled, “Mommy, I want to see dashornees. Ok?”
Hmmmm, dashornees? Was it Albanian, the language of my parents-in-law? It certainly wasn’t Tagalog or Bisaya, the two dialects my side of the family speaks. Dashornee? It sounded like dashuri, or love. Maybe he wanted to see Anna, one of his teachers, at daycare. But he would have just simply uttered her name with glee.
“We see dashornees, please?”
I went through my mental bilingual dictionary—toddler utterances and their equivalent translation into English—and could not discern its meaning. My parents-in-law were often easier to comprehend than my rambling toddler. Dashornees? I squinted and focused on my son’s nodding head and grin. I couldn’t let on that I had no clue what he was talking about.
So I grunted.
It was neither affirmation nor denial of his request. It was just a grunt—one that suddenly elicited a boisterous guffaw.
“Mommy, you funny. You sound like dashornees.”
Ok, I thought, a clue!
So, a dashornee has a sound. Was it like the deep timber of a tuba or ship’s hornblower? Could it create light and lilting tunes like a piccolo? Did he want to watch a concert? Gabba Gabba—the puppets from TV—were coming into town after all.
“I like dashornees, too, Sebi. I like their songs.”
Sebastian sobered quickly. “No, mommy, they not sing. They go like this.” Sebastian raised his claws, bared his fangs and growled. Then, he chomped the imaginary prey around him.
I slapped my forehead. The answer was obvious. Playing it cool, I replied, “Of course, dinosaurs don’t make music. I thought you wanted to see Barney, the purple dinosaur.”
“No, not Barney. The big dashornees!”
“You want to see dinosaurs today?”
He nodded and then jumped on the bed, oblivious to his grumbling dad, and cheered, “I see dashornees! I see dashornees!”
Sebastian and the Mighty T-Rex
Verbal agreements at dawn may not have been the most prudently made. I never realized the way the speedy negotiations had unfolded, and during which I assented to take him to the museum. He and I at least decided together that we would not head there before sunrise but would wait until after breakfast.
“Mommy, the sun still sleeping. We go see dashornees later.”
I ruffled his hair, and after a couple of kisses and cuddles, my 28-month old quickly fell back asleep, leaving me wide awake and rueful. This was going to be a long day, with a dangerous combination of willful toddler and a group of 150 million year old skeletons of giant monsters that were far from the squishy puppets and blue dogs with silly owners that he was used to watching. Maybe he would wake up and would forget the whole need to see dashornees.
But of course, he never did. Five hours later, on the way towards Washington, DC, my little boy was chanting, “Dashornees! Dashornees! I see the Dashornees!” And my parents-in-law tried to correct him with, “Dee-nosaur! No, Sebastiani, dee-nosaur!” The exchange, which seemed interminable, lasted until we reached the steps leading up to the entrance of the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History.
Upon entering the Great Hall, adults gravitated towards the giant replica of an elephant in the middle of the circular room. Kids, on the other hand, were looking feverishly around for the passageway that would bring them to the dinosaurs. Sebastian craned his neck to peer around the forest of museum visitors in search of his path to the prehistoric.
“Mommy,” Sebastian gripped my hand as he shooed his grandfather with the other. “I don’t want my stroller.”
I quickly calculated the potential outcomes of not keeping a toddler strapped in—like the vision of him using the vertebral column of the brachiosaurus as a ladder or walking off with trilobite fossils—but I decided to let him walk into the grandeur of dinosaur alley on foot. Together, we entered the dimly lit cavern, where a glass enclosure of fossils and a timeline that spanned back to the Triassic period partially obstructed our view.
Sebastian jumped up and down as we kept inching forward.
“Whee! Dashornees! I coming!”
As we rounded the corner, the Mighty T. Rex suddenly loomed over all those who dared enter. Sebastian halted and then jumped back. His eyes widened before tearing up. He fell back into the stroller his grandfather had been pushing. I don’t remember what came next except the outburst of unholy shrieks that rivaled any dinosaur’s roar.
“Nooooooo! Stop mommy! No I hate dashornees! Scary dashornees! Let’s go!”
Fat tears cascaded down reddened cheeks. I crouched down beside him, but he burrowed further into his stroller. I stroked his leg to calm him, but he kicked my hand away.
His grandparents—Nena and Gjysh—were the first to retreat back from the hall. I stood and slowly pulled the stroller back hoping Sebastian would change his mind and rediscover the excitement that caused him to wake me so early that morning. But our withdrawal was not fast enough for the little one, who wailed anew.
“Mommy, I no like dashornees. Go! Go! Go!”
We made it back to the elephant by the main entrance quickly. Sebastian’s breathing slowed. And as if nothing had happened, he blinked twice and then grinned.
“Are you ok?” I asked.
He nodded, then looked up. “Mommy, we go there!”
I followed the direction of his gaze. Up on the second floor, paper monarch butterflies hanging from the ceiling heralded the entrance to the museum’s newest exhibit. We parked the stroller outside the small-scale tropical ecosystem.. Compared to the feral and fearsome dinosaur, the butterfly exhibit was dreamy. Winged fairies seemed to float on tiny currents. Electric blue and vivid emerald green wings alit atop platters of fruits or on branches of plants. They grazed our skins and tickled our ears as they drifted by. Sebastian, unfettered, reclaimed his buoyancy as he joined the dance of the butterflies.
When we exited, my son grabbed my hand. “Mommy, let’s go.”
“No, to see dashornees.”
“I see dashornees please.”
I wanted to say no, but his eyes and the set of his chin showed his determination to conquer his fear. Maybe I was imagining it all, and I wanted him to not miss out on the wonder he had been so set on seeing that morning. Maybe I was rooting for him to find the courage to face his fear.
“Please Mommy,” he said, “I no scare anymore.”
“Ok.” We would see the dinosaurs but instead of ripping the band-aid off, we meandered slowly through the other exhibits—tamping down any building fears. But Sebastian would not look at the whales in the Great Seas section, nor the Bear in the Hall of Mammals. His chin—solid and purposeful—led the way, back down to the first floor and around the glass encased fossils and timeline, until he stood under the Mighty T-Rex.
He looked up at his former nemesis. “Hello, dashornee. I Sebastian. You my friend?”
And with that introduction, he managed his fear. We walked around the exhibit once without a wail or even a worry.
Later that evening, as I read the book, 10 Little Dinosaurs, aloud, he smiled at me.
“Did you like the dinosaurs today?” I asked my intrepid warrior.
“Yes, mommy, I scared. Then, I tried it,” he paused and gulped in some air, before exclaiming, “and I liked it!”
“I’m proud of you.”
“Me too. I tried it; I liked it,” he repeated his new mantra
Treetops and Triceratops
It has been eight months since the visit to see the dinosaurs. Since then, Sebastian cast aside the giant reptiles in favor of superheroes. However, this past Tuesday, on his third birthday, he let the superheroes sleep in. And at 9am, he and I woke up together sluggishly. It was our day off—from daycare and from work, respectively.
“What are we doing for your birthday, love?” I asked as I peppered his face with millions of birthday kisses.
“Let’s go see dinosaurs! Yay!” The era of pronouning dashornees had ended. There was a certain sadness to the whole transition.
“Mommy, can I bring dinosaur book, please?”
“Why don’t we leave that here, and let’s read about them at the museum?”
“Yay, museum!” It was nice to see his enthusiasm had not also entered a new phase. “Daddy coming?”
“No, he’s at work.”
Sebastian put his finger to his lips, and thoughtfully replied, “Oh, to make money? To buy me milk and blueberries and birthday gifts?”
As we shrugged off his pajamas, he asked, “Mommy, why you not going to work?”
“Because, I’m spending your birthday with you!”
With his Spiderman underwear around his ankles, he hopped up and down the mattress and then hugged me, “Yay! I have mommy today! I so happy.”
Then he added, “It’s ok. I have money in my pocket. You need it. It’s here.” He patted the pocket of his left leg, where he kept the $15 dollars he’s saved over the past year.
“Thank you sweetheart,” I answered, touched.
Once again, with my parents-in-law and a stroller in tow, we headed to Museum of Natural History. I wondered during the quiet ride into the city, whether Sebastian would have the same reaction he had last summer. I steeled myself as we entered the Great Hall once again.
Unlike eight months ago, Sebastian strode into the museum calmly. He looked around until his glance fell upon the replica of the elephant. He walked towards the interpretive panel to look at the pictures.
After a few minutes, he looked back at me and said, “Mommy, I’m ready for dinosaurs.”
The four of us entered the dinosaur exhibit and recognized the glass encased fossils and the timeline. Without hesitation, Sebastian walked forward looked up at the mighty T-Rex and then surveyed the entire room—from the archaeopteryx hanging from the ceiling to the stegosaurus on the far right. His eyebrows drew together. Oh no, I thought, here it comes.
Sebastian approached me. I stooped down, ready to seize him and make a hasty exit. Instead, he brought his arms up, and with a perplexed frown, asked, “Mommy, where’s the triceratops?
“What did you say?” I was unprepared not only for the question, but also for the fact that he even knew and could pronounce triceratops.
“The triceratops, Mommy. Where is it?”
Recovered, I stood quickly, and then pointed to the left wall.
“There it is Mommy! Yes, there’s the triceratops.” He ran to the display and clapped his hands. Then he zigzagged across the aisle to view each dinosaur’s bones, while oooh’ing and aaah’ing.
He would point to one display and shout, “Look, there, it’s a dinosaur monkey,” or “this is a dinosaur elephant.”
We went through the Hall of Dinosaurs twice. Our final stop was a diorama that depicted life hundreds of millions of years ago.
Sebastian climbed on my leg for a better view. He pressed his palms and nose against the glass. “Whoa, Mommy.”
“What is it, Sebi?”
He pointed to a scene, in which two reptiles battled each other. “There, a T-Rex is biting other dinosaur, killed it, and then the other one died.”
“Oh boy, that doesn’t sound very nice,” I remarked calmly, trying to disguise the surprise at his vast comprehension.
“Yea, yea,” he nodded and then continued, while pointing to a brontosaurus, “and that one eats trees. See it’s eating the top of trees. That’s a nice dinosaur.”
Score one for vegetarians everywhere, I kept to myself.
He slid down my leg and grabbed my arm. “C’mon, mommy. Let’s go Nena and Gjysh.”
“Where are we going now?” I wondered if we were going for another round of Cruise-the-Cretaceous.
“Nah,” he said. “Let’s see something else. The dinosaurs have to sleep now.”
With those words, we explored the rest of the museum. At the end of his birthday—after a trip to the National Air and Space Museum, a jaunt through the Mall’s lawn, a ride on a carousel, a play in the park with a new tricycle and his dad, and a once-a-year visit to Chuck E Cheese—Sebastian and I got ready for bed. It was close to midnight.
We picked up his dinosaur book to read together. Before we opened the first page, he kissed my arm.
“Were you scared of the dinosaurs today?” I asked my brave budding aracheologist.
“Nope. I three years old. I bigger now. I stronger now,” he growled out. “And I am a superhero.”
“Superheroes not scared of anything. Dinosaurs scared of me,” he explained.
I hugged my little guy tightly. “Happy birthday, my little superhero.”
“I love you, Mommy,” he replied and hugged me back.