OUT--THE DINOSAURS ARE COMING!
“ROARRR!! ROARRR! ROARRR!!!”
shrieked my five-year old grandson, Matt. I cringed and shook my
head, my eyes apologizing to the man opening the door for us.
Matt’s energy and aggression
at playing dinosaur was increasing. He had started to ‘attack’ whomever got too
close to him whenever we walked to and from his home. He claimed to be an Allosaurus from the Cretaceous period. He was a carnivore, he boasted. He
constantly growled and had even tried to bite the woman who ran the corner
Allosaurus runs 20 miles per hour…has a hinged jaw that pushes out to eat huge
chunks of meat…it's just a little smaller than a Tyrannosaurus Rex, G-Ma” he
Matt watches all the National
Geographic programs on dinosaurs and remembers most of what he learns…so I
didn’t argue with him.
But his behavior had worsened
in the last few weeks. His teacher reported he had begun to act out
at yard time at school. His parents Voiced their concerns to me that he
was unusually rough and disruptive, and, to make matters worse, their
three-year-old daughter had been influenced. Beautiful Sarah, who enjoyed
being a girly-girl was beginning to growl and roar.
The energetic Dino game became
more warlike soon after the events of September 11. Matt witnessed the first
plane attack on the television in his school classroom. When I picked him up
that day as quickly as I could to assure his safety, he excitedly related what
he and the rest of his class had seen.
I was surprised the TV had
been on, but then rationalized perhaps it was appropriate for kindergarteners so
they would know why their parents, relatives, neighbors were concerned if and
when they overheard their conversations and expressed worries.
But the dinosaur behavior was
different after the attack than before it. I began to link the more aggressive
acts to his viewing the crashing of the Terrorists’ planes into the Twin
Towers. Terrorism was working…bringing out in a child behavior designed to
defend himself from harm—preparing it for battle with the unknown.
Matt loves playing with his
dinosaur collection, but also loves his Thomas trains and cars equally. Most
little boys enjoy playing dinosaurs, but not as vigorously, as rough, or as
often as Matt was of late. I decided I should get involved (just a tiny bit
since I’m only a grandparent and not a parent). A story, I thought, would
work. Something easy for Matt to relate to.
“It’s story time, kids,” I
announced as we entered their apartment. We removed our shoes as was the custom
and cozied on the couch. I began in my G-MA fashion.
“Once upon a time there was a
playground park in Battery Park. Many children, you, Matt, and you, Sarah,
enjoyed that park more than those in your own neighborhoods. I was a special
park with a carousel, lots of sandboxes, water sprays. And,” I exclaimed to
give the story energy, excitement, “…swings that went all the way to the sky…and
monkey bars and ramps to slide down.”
"That's our family's favorite park, G-Ma.
my Thomas Train kite there, once!
“Yes, you did, Matt.”
“Me too,” Sarah chimed, not
to be forgotten. “I play soccer there. Kick the ball.”
“That’s right. The park was
beautiful,” I continued. “There was a lovely grassed area where kites were
flown like you did, Matt, and a sidewalk where bikes were ridden and even
roller-skating was permitted. Benches were plentiful and on most nice days, the
roomy grassed area was dotted with picnickers, people reading and just relaxing.
It was a park for families and those without. Across the water, we could see
the Statue of Liberty ‘ waving to us’.”
“Were we playing there, G-MA?
Were we riding the carousel,” Sarah questioned.
“Yes,” I continued. “But all
of a sudden the ground shook. The carousel swayed, and I hollered to you and
the other kids to run, the T- rex’s are coming. They will destroy the
playground like the airplanes downed the towers. Hurry, hurry.”
We got up and ran around the
small living room, pretending to be afraid of the T-Rex’s. My mind
raced ahead to figure a way to continue my story so that the make believe
predators could be stopped by someone or something the children would relate to.
Ah, I figured it out just in time before I exhausted all my energy running from
the T-Rex’s, and we
sat back down on the couch. I caught my breath and continued.
“Brook’s mommy--who is a fire
station volunteer and knows lots of the firemen--was watching the entrances to
the park for all of us. She sounded the T-Rex alarm! Do you know what it was?”
“No,” Matt said eagerly.
“How about you, Sarah. What
alarm did she sound?”
“No. She loudly tooted the
Thomas Train whistle. Toot-Toot! Toot-Toot. The alarm sounded at all the New
York City Fire Stations and most importantly at the station that housed King
Kong, the huge gorilla the city had tamed to defend the playgrounds against the
“King Kong…he’s big and
tough,” Matt said.
“That’s right. He is. King
Kong rode on the biggest fire trucks because he heard Brook’s mom give the
“Wow, Brook’s mom blew the
Thomas Train whistle, G-MA?” Matt looked up, his blue eyes dancing with
“Yes, your friend Brook was
playing at the park too. His mom was ‘on duty’ to watch out for the Dinosaurs.
When the Dinosaurs heard the sirens, and saw mighty King Kong roaring their way,
they ran away.”
“The T-Rex was afraid of King
Kong?” Sarah cuddled closer, and put her small hand on my arm.
“Yes, Sarah. Very afraid.
The Fire Chief rode alongside King Kong, and we, the grandparents, parents,
uncles, aunts, friends and children all cheered them for protecting you guys.
The Fire Chief said you children are safe and your playgrounds are protected.
Even though the T-Rex smashed the playground with its big feet, they said they
would rebuild it someday. And to have Faith and not be afraid.
“How do we not be afraid,
G-Ma?” Matt snuggled closer.
“We say the magic words.”
“What magic words?” Sarah dug
her fingers into my arm.
“Semper Vigilantes! Say it
with me! Semper Vigilantes.”
“What’s that mean, G-Ma?”
“It means, Always Vigilant.
Like Brooks mom. She was watching out for us, standing guard. Semper
Vigilantes means to not be complacent…to think about how to be Happy and Free
all the time…so T-Rex’s won’t scare you.”
“Like those bad men who
crashed the plane into the buildings, GMA. Are they trying to scare us?”
“Yes, Matt. They want you to
be afraid. But you know you have King Kong to protect you. But we all have to
work together. We have to mind our parents. And our guardians. And not be
violent. Not try to scare people, or be like the bad people who want to scare
“You mean, not to growl at
“Well, Matt, yes. Growling
at someone you don’t know might scare them. They might think you didn’t like
Matt thought about it for a
minute. “Maybe I should only growl at Sarah and GPa…when we’re playing…”
“That would be good, Matt.
That way Brook’s mommy wouldn’t think you were a T-Rex and blow the Thomas Train
Matt laughed. “I was only
“Just think about it, Matt.
Why scare anyone except someone you know who is playing with you?”
“G-Ma, G-Ma, that was a cool
story,” said Matt. He paused then continued. “I’ve been thinking a lot about
seeing the buildings fall that used to be right by that park. Why wasn’t
anybody watching for the planes so they didn’t hit the buildings?… and ruin our
great park?… like Brook’s mommy watched the park in your story?”
And, there it was….True, my
grandson is smart and catches on quickly. Both his parents are Phi Beta Kappa’s. I
hoped he would understand my story, and he did, in his own way. I hoped to
tell him in the story that violence is scary; and that to scare people isn’t
fun for them.
I wanted both Matt and Sarah
to understand the importance of vigilance against terrorism—to feel good that
people were watching for the bad T-Rex’s, and, that they, the children, had to
watch their own behavior, and not become the violence the Terrorist tried to
“G-Ma, where will the T-Rex's
go now that King Kong scared them away?” Matt turned toward me, his eyes
swirling with question marks.
“Where they can, where they
can, Matt. They go where people live who are complacent and don’t stand guard.
They sneak up on playgrounds and run over them with their big feet, and knock
down buildings, and make people cry. But only if people aren’t looking out for
them like Brook’s mother was. That’s why we don’t scare people, Matt. If
people get scared, it brings the T-Rex’s back.”
“Can we still play Dinosaurs,
G-Ma?” Matt questioned. “I won’t play so rough and bite anymore.
Sarah chimed in. “I want to play. But I will play gentle, Okay, G-Ma?”
I smiled. Maybe they got the
message. I hoped they did. “Sure, it’s a deal”, and I added, “I think I’ll be
a plant eater, maybe a Stegosaurus?”
“Good idea, G-Ma,” Matt said.
“Yeah, G-Ma, good idea,”
Sarah giggled, probably imagining me as a Stegosaurus.
Then both the Allosaurus
(Matt) and the little T. Rex (Sarah) growled back playfully, and pulled
at my hand to run around the apartment, chasing each other, and growling softly,
without violence, without Fear.
To Sophia 3: "Haunted By Halloween"