It didn’t strike all at once. The dinosaur thing was kind of a slow burn; maybe you could call it an awakening. I’m not even all that interested in dinosaurs to be honest. The little I know about them comes from when my little brother was around three, and he cataloged them like an encyclopedia, pronouncing their long stumbly names like a miniature paleontologist. He’d point his small finger at the picture book and methodically state them one by one: stegosaurus, triceratops, ankylosaurus, archaeopteryx. A toddler mouthful.
Fairly recently, I finally gave myself permission to take some risks and dust off interests and talents that I’d tucked away while my children grew. I (like most of America) stumbled upon the Chewbacca Lady. This woman’s infectious laughter over discovering this mask lifted a fog I hadn’t even realized was there. It reminded me that I used to have fun; I used to be fun. When the kids were little, I had game. We’d deliberately go outside in the rain and splash in puddles until we were all covered in mud and our sides hurt from laughing. I’d make up rhyming couplet clues for scavenger hunts all around the house with a surprise at the end. Instead of finger painting, I’d spread an old sheet on the kitchen floor and the kids painted with their feet, making rainbows with their toes.
Before that, I was the friend up for spontaneous shenanigans in college. Water guns, karaoke, hilarious skits and performances. Somewhere in the crush of responsibility and adulting, in the service of respectability or convention or simple emotional exhaustion at curve balls lobbed my way, I’d forgotten. I’d forgotten how it felt to laugh until I couldn’t breathe, to listen to my music even if it wasn’t anybody else’s tune. Silliness and tomfoolery had been shushed.
Scrolling through random videos one day, I saw a giant inflatable T-Rex frolicking on a trampoline, his tiny arms flailing in the air. Something within screamed THIS. This ridiculous silliness looked F.U.N. I announced it to my family: Guys, this is what I want for my birthday. I replayed the video, pointing as T-Rex twisted in the air. For Mother’s Day. For Valentine’s or Easter. I want this get-up. I’m not kidding. My husband and grown children were not amused. I saw their quick glances, which settled the matter once and for all.
Two days later the UPS truck pulled up out front, and I danced to the porch with a grin plastered across my face. Pure glee. Christmas in June. I broke open the box, pulled out the costume and yanked it on.
“Whatcha got there?” My husband approached cautiously, trying to gauge just how far his wife had unhinged.
Once it inflated the dog went wild. Apparently dogs are not evolutionarily equipped to deal with 65-million-year-old reincarnated dinosaurs. This is why I have always been a cat person. A saber-toothed tiger would have pounced and carried me around like a limp mouse, but the dog just cowered under the table. I promptly went outside–with some difficulty, as I was now about 9 feet tall–to stalk the donkeys in our field. Surprisingly, small donkeys do not respond positively to carnivorous predators. Especially ones who laugh uncontrollably while attempting to run.
So began the Year of Rex. Every now and then, when the occasion warranted, Rex appeared: waving a sparkler on July 4, reading dino stories in the children’s section at Barnes & Noble, playing Pokemon Go at the mall, riding a two-seater bike, rock climbing. Rex went everywhere, playing in the fountains at a Florida mall and running from the waves at the beach. He failed miserably at making snow angels. The tiny arms were his fatal flaw.
Turns out a couple of guys have a thing called #trextuesday, and they release a video each week of T-Rexes doing random things. The Rexes even went on a European tour, riding in London cabs. People hardly batted an eye! My own family went to Italy earlier this year and practically made me sign a contract saying I would not let T. stow away in my suitcase. (They are easily embarrassed and clearly need some remedial lessons in how-to-have-fun-and-not-care-what-others-think, but each of us must walk our own path. I can only be a beacon on a hill.)
A few friends and family gave me wary looks at first. They asked, “Should we be worried?” “What’s with the dinosaur?” I casually shrugged. “A mid-life crisis?” “Some weird role playing thing?” Nope, just something to delight in.
On my dad’s last birthday while my mom was still with us, she slipped us five kids cans of Silly String when he wasn’t looking. While he opened presents in the living room, she crept up behind him and gave us the signal. We let loose, neon pink and green foam spraying furiously, coating my father’s head and filling the room with laughter. I can still picture the surprise and disbelief on my father’s face. That was two days after Christmas. She’d just been diagnosed with the cancer that would take her 10 months later.
In the midst of that crushing news, with family all around, that Silly String gave us permission to laugh and remember that–despite it all–life still held delight. Even when–maybe especially when–finances, children, health, relationships refuse to be wrangled, we can choose to find delight, silliness, moments of sparkle.
The Rex has developed quite a following, and it’s sometimes been surprising. I’ve had more than one person kind of take me aside and whisper conspiratorially, “I love your TRex,” like it’s a big secret. Glancing around in case some of their delight is showing. He’s served his purpose in my life, reminding me to fly my flag (and I’m not talking about those unfortunate upper arm flaps that move about on their own). Coincidentally, he last made an appearance around the time of the 2017 total eclipse, so it wouldn’t be the first time his species went extinct because of some wild astronomical event.
My family has made it clear Rex is not under any circumstances allowed to appear at any upcoming graduations or weddings (although, I ask you, who ELSE would have such a memorable ring bearer??). I suppose such lines must be drawn. Maybe it’s time for T to retire. Maybe his ship has sailed, and I’m ok with that.
Look what I saw the other day: a rainbow balloon unicorn. *stifled giggle* Don’t tell my family.