Saturday, October 06, 2007

They found a T-Rex? At the National Zoo?

On our zoo day a couple weeks ago (see 9/26/07 blog entry) I stopped to scribble a note to myself; wanted to share this with the general public...

Scattered around the mammal areas of the Smithsonian National Zoo are some sculptures of dinosaurs. I suppose they are there to represent animals the zoo wishes it could host (as one section in the zoo illustrates the life of a dodo bird, and explains why it was doomed to extinction)...but, it is a bit confusing, when you consider that any parent walking thorugh a zoo with his/her child is expecting to show what live animals look like, how they behave and sound. Sometimes you send a message to your children you'd prefer not to send like, "orangatans are sad," or "monkeys are shy."

I don't like that part. I do feel good, though, knowing that many of the animals are found injured, and that others have been bred in captivity, and would have difficulty surviving in the wild. Zoos are wonderful places for animal studies, and behavioral research; they emphasize conservation, and educate the public on the value of all living things. So, even when I emotionally suffer in empathy for most of the primates or others, I do see the bigger picture.

However, the dinosaur presence caught me off-guard.

My Dashboard dictionary puts it this way:
zoo, noun. an establishent that maintains a collection of wild animals, typically in a park or gardens, for study, conservation, or display to the public.


So, this was the blogging moment: I was engaged with my children at the anteater statue as Logan attempted to force feed the poor stiff with an imaginary bucketload of ants, then we climbed all over the bronze family of chimpanzees, taking on their form and poses.

We moved on to live animals and eventually came around a corner to large dinosaurs, where I paused. A woman and her daughter walked by the T-Rex skull statue, complete with a seriously sharp set of choppers.

"Wow, Mom! They found a T-Rex?"

And the mom simply said, "Uh-huh," as they walked on.

Um, no! They didn't find a T-Rex! They found the fossilized bones of T-Rex's...skeletons...evidence of animals no human eye has ever seen alive! "Uh-huh" was her answer?

Now, I understand that NOT all moms feel called to homeschool their children, and that I have been seen, by some, as making too much out of the "teachable moments" in my children's lives (or, rather, of not needing to turn every moment into a teachable one...), but come on! Engage!! Be involved!! Converse!! Give that child some respect.

"Yep, they've found lots of bones from T-Rex's, and that is just a sculpture showing the size of the head, and the sharp teeth--yikes! Can you imagine getting chomped by that momma?" OK, now move on. No BIG deal, just ATTENTION to the moment. Now, turning that into a "teachable" moment might look more like a page out of Enchanted Learning's website, with the sizes of dinosaurs described, the era of their existence, what we do & do not yet understand about them, the theories of how they became extinct, etc...

I am not expecting that of anyone at every moment of the day...but at least attend to what is in front of you when you have a moment with your children.

Remember Thornton Wilder's GREAT play, "Our Town"? Oh! I was so changed by seeing it performed live. I confess, much of my approach to parenting came from the poignant moments I saw acted out before me on a bare stage when I was a teenager.

After her death the character "Emily" is allowed to revisit one day of her own life. Here is the direct quotation from Wikipedia that describes my life-altering scene:

"Mrs. Gibbs advises Emily that if she is to pick a day to relive, she should pick one that is insignificant; the reasoning behind this suggestion is that not only will Emily relive the day, she will also observe the day with the knowledge of the future. Emily decides to revisit her twelfth birthday. She is at first overwhelmed with joy, but this succumbs to tears, when she realizes how much she took for granted when she was alive and how quickly life speeds by. She says "We don't even have time to look at one another." After one last look at Grover's Corners and being alive, Emily tells the Stage Manager she is ready to go back to the graveyard. She asks, "Doesn't anyone ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute?" The Stage Manager responds. "No. Saints and poets, maybe; they do some." Wilder emphasizes that we, while we live, seldom appreciate the precious details in our lives."

Enough said.

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