Finn’s Paleontologist Birthday Party

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The prehistoric animals were dressed and ready to go long before I was:

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But the birthday banner was up, (created by some of my amazingly talented student volunteers after school)…

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…and Finn’s welcome sign waited outside the front door.

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Out back, tiny dinosaurs were arranged on tables already covered with paper I had sponge-painted with therapod footprints and decorated with either kid-made volcanoes,

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…or prehistoric ferns:

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We also had a dinosaur drawing table ready with crayons, paper, and step-by-step instructions on how to draw a variety of prehistoric herbivores and carnivores.

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Finally, as guests were starting to arrive, my sister and a friend (thank you Sunshine and Lisa!) helped me to get the food and drinks on the table. We had fossil mix, Dino Bone breadsticks shaped out of pizza dough, whole-grain jurassic dinosaur and ordovician sea-shell pasta, and a plate of sauropod-shaped sandwiches and chopped vegetables I called brontosaurus bites, for which Finn reprimanded me after the party. “Brontosaurus isn’t a real dinosaur name. It’s called an Apatosaurus. You should have called them BRACHIOSAURUS BITES,” he said, even understanding my alliterative designs.  Oops. Sorry, Finch. I forgot.

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The coolest thing on the food table, though, was my sister Sunshine’s fruit dinosaur masterpiece, with beady red-grape-eyes and sharp watermelon-rind-teeth:

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Outside, the beverages were ready…

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… and a serious Jurassic Adventure awaited:

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But first we had a fossil hunt to embark on. In preparation, child paleontologists received fossil specimen collection bags and paleontologist hats.

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Each bag contained a sharpened dinosaur pencil, a blank fossil report fastened to a clipboard, a prehistoric animal fact sheet identification book, a brush, and a rolled-up map that was tied with string. The rest had to be discovered — or actually uncovered — by the young scientists.

The kids unrolled their maps…

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… and began their quests:

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The first destination was Dino Skull Tree — our Royal Poinciana — under which they found rocks embedded with various dinosaur skulls. Daddy had baked them into rocks himself using a dough made of coffee grounds, flour, sand, and water.

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They then made their way to the Ancient Fossil Pit, where they dug through mulch to find fossils of ammonites, trilobites, fish, crabs, and other ancient creatures:

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The final dig site was the skeleton bed, where they had to excavate bones of dinosaurs and other prehistoric reptiles buried within a taped-off section of Daddy’s raised-bed vegetable garden.

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After collecting all three specimens, each paleontologist returned to “Base Camp” for clean-up and “inspection.”

Daddy helped the young scientists to break open the rocks to reveal the hidden dinosaur skulls,…

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…and then the kids cleaned and worked to identify their three fossil finds.

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They filled out their fossil reports…

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…and then ran off to partake in a Jurassic Adventure…

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Some also took a prehistoric swim, luckily without any Liopleurodons,…

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…unless, of course, you count this one:

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The only thing that stopped what Finn would call “the rumpus prehistorica” (yes, his phrase) was, of course, DESSERT!

We served some fun fossil rock cookies,…

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…but the real star of the dessert table was the spectacular cake made by my sister Ilianna and her husband Brian, who have amazed us in years past with a 3D Firetruck cake, 9 cake Solar System, and 2-foot tall WALL-E cake. This year, Finn had apparently made specific arrangements with Aunt Ilianna and Uncle Brian months in advance, because when I raised the topic with them, they said that Finn had already put in an order for this Triceratops skeleton in dirt:

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It was pretty unbelievable, especially when it started to roar (literally). I wish I had video…

IMG_7778 BlowingOutCandlesFinn was awed; he collected all of the fondant bones and asked us to put them away “to play with later.” Then he ate the dirt.

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It was delicious.

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A letter to Finn, six-year-old boy

IMG_7907 IMG_7951 Finn,

After your shower on the day you turned six, I wrapped you in a towel, picked you up with great effort, and carried you out of the bathroom as if you were an oversized bundle, saying that this may be the last birthday on which I’ll be able to do such a thing. I delivered those lines lightly, but now as I think about them, they feel heavy. I’ve probably done the post-bath-wrap over 2000 times, pulling one side of the towel across you one way and then the other the opposite direction in criss-cross fashion to keep you warm, secure, and enclosed within my arms. But it’s getting difficult for my 100-pound body to lift you these days. As much as I’ll always wrap my arms around you, you’re far too big a boy to contain inside of them.

You’ve marked this past year with mammoth steps taken in shoes that you’ve finally tied yourself. You rode down our neighborhood street on your TWO-WHEELED bright orange mutant mongoose bicycle, scored your first soccer goal in your own cleats and shin-guards, and started at a new school in a very mature-looking polo-style uniform (which you didn’t want to wear). In all three instances you hesitated, stepping back in trepidation before you stepped forward to win what we call “the battle of the brain.” At first you feared falling off your bike, avoided the action in soccer practice, and clung to me crying when I dropped you off as a new kindergartener. But you learned that with practice you COULD balance on two wheels and take control of a soccer ball, and after over a week of teary drop-offs at school, I heard you tell yourself one morning, “I HAVE to beat this!” You still struggle with moving outside of your comfort zone, but you’ve learned that internal battles are yours alone, and that your success in mastering your fears depends upon leaving my arms.

And the truth is that much of the time, you don’t even want my arms around you. Whereas you used to always ask me to pat you to sleep, now when I lie down beside you at bedtime, my hand lightly on the small of your back or at the silky nape of your neck, you often suggest I go to grade papers or exercise. It’s something I used to remind you I had to do when you didn’t want me to leave at bedtime. Now you remind me.

You’re so independent, Finn. You took it upon yourself to make your own birthday party “invitashin” this year — over two months before your birthday. According to your version, complete with starting and ending times, menu, and pictures of dinosaur digging tools, the party would be eight hours long, and we would be serving ham, hot dogs, and eggs — despite the fact that we are vegetarian. You’ve also taken it upon yourself to write and illustrate a few of your own dinosaur books this year, such as Dinosaurs Rule!, which opens with a table of contents and contains hand-drawn hyperlinks, and DINO ABC, which identifies and illustrates a dinosaur starting with each letter of the alphabet and includes not only phonetic spelling but also a small human stick figure on each page for size reference. You’ve created your own board game, too — entitled, of course, Dinosaura — which cleverly allows us to use small plastic dinosaurs as game pieces, but has boxes that get incrementally smaller toward the bottom of the board so that when a player gets down there, only a dino’s tail can point to the proper spot.

Most colossally significant, however, is the fact that you’re a completely independent reader. Although I’ll always love reading with you every night, you still spend a fair amount of your time reading on your own, and even voluntarily participate in the accelerated reader program at school. You’ll read about anything, but prefer your science topics: you’ll sit for long periods poring over dinosaur information cards or digging for details in fossil guides or Jurassic-sized prehistoric animal encyclopedias, a hobby that has made you an expert. I never imagined that before the age of six you would surpass your parents in your weighty knowledge of a subject. My kindergartner has become my teacher.

I like to think that you’re mine, Finch. But you are in your own right a scientist, reader, soccer player, bike rider, swimmer, illustrator, and, yes, a little giant of a comedian. You are your own boy. A six-year-old boy. I’m so proud of you, Finn.

With T-Rex hugs…

I love you,

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