Despite the crying during our last visit, we took our grandson, Will, back to the Heard Museum to see the robotic dinosaur display. When you are shorter than three feet tall anything larger than a cat is intimidating, especially if it has sharp teeth and looks like it might eat you.
“He’s had a whole year, surely he’s recovered by now,” I remarked to my husband, Andrew.
Soon after Andrew and I began dating I warned him that, although we were past the risk of producing children, if he stuck around he would be in danger of exposure to grandchildren. I have been preparing for grandmother status half my life. I picked out my grandma name, “Mimi”, right after my son and his girlfriend announced their engagement.
Andrew’s grandpa name is “Hoppy”, the unfortunate result of letting a toddler select the name. I warned Andrew, but he began by trying out grand-père. A French accent proved too difficult for an 18-month-old who wasn’t born in France, so it left us with Hoppy and Mimi.
My grandmother was old before I was born. We visited her on holidays where I sat in her living room long enough to absorb the smell of mothballs and mentholated back rub into my clothes. Her third or fourth husband, Mac, was my step-grandfather. He wore striped overalls and had a glass eye he popped out to frighten children. I was determined we would be a different sort of grandparents.
That afternoon at the museum we began with a brisk walk through the lobby crowded with young parents and knee high children and wove our way in a quick jog past the toys in the gift shop. As I pushed open the glass door that led outside, I held onto Will’s hand as I explained, “The dinosaurs on the outdoor trail aren’t alive, they’re just robots.”
This was not as reassuring as I intended. I realized with some irony we expect our young ones to believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, but then discourage their fear of evil robotic monsters.
We stopped at the first dinosaur on the trail. It appeared to be strolling out of the wooded area behind it, brandishing sharp claws and grinning at us with impressive rows of teeth in its gaping mouth. Bright purple and blue vinyl covered the dinosaur in a pattern that would look smashing on a pair of boots. A nearby sign announced the design was chosen by children. Will stood just above waist high beside me and gripped my hand. “I’m just small,” he announced.
“Yes,” I agreed, “but you are also brave.” Will squinted at the robotic animal and then looked back up at me as though he were about to question my judgement.
“Was it this color last year?” I asked Andrew.
“I don’t think so, and I seem to remember it was carrying a Halloween pumpkin.”
“I’m getting bigger, but right now I’m small,” Will repeated as we stood there. The dinosaur roared and nodded his head up and down as though he agreed that Will was indeed, bite sized.
We trudged on to the next display, a Triceratops. It was the size of a small car, but I felt encouraged, as this specimen was a plant eater. However, this particular herbivore roared just like the meat eaters. It also shook its giant horned head from side to side and moved its mouth as though chewing a tasty, boy shaped morsel.
“Why can’t they have at least one dinosaur that chirps, or sings a little song?” I complained to Andrew as Will huddled behind me.
We continued our stroll down the trail, stopping for a moment to enjoy each exhibit, at least until the roaring started up. Will hiked along bravely. When Hoppy pointed out a huge, ancient oak tree, Will said “That’s a scary tree,” but he roared back at some of the dinosaurs.
We approached the final dinosaur, a forty-six foot tall T-Rex, and Will stopped and held up his arms. “Carry me Mimi! I’m small!” I scooped him up, and he watched over my shoulder as we marched past the overgrown lizard.
Will wrapped his arms about my neck and we followed along behind Hoppy down the trail and past the T-Rex. From the moment your children are born, they are just looking for some way to prove you wrong, but to your grandchildren you are infallible. There are people who never experience this level of unconditional love unless they own a dog.
Once we were past the dinosaurs Will spotted a play area of child sized wooden houses meant to resemble a pioneer village. Andrew and I settled in and watched him pour rocks into a metal bucket. I tried to snap Will’s picture, but freed from the pressing danger of robotic dinosaurs, he spent his play time rushing off to explore the little houses at the frontier town. Every shot I took was of his back as he ran away from us.
I won’t always be able to pick him up, but he won’t always need to be carried. How reassuring it must be, however, to know there will always be someone who trails behind, watching over us, and ready with strong arms to lift us when we can’t go on. When we turn to them and plead, “Please carry me, for I am just small.”