After watching that “Lost World” movie I couldn’t stop thinking about dinosaurs. Mom said they lived a long long time ago, before there were any people. I guess they were in charge of things back then. People were in charge of all the animals now, though mom said that people were actually animals too, called “homo sapiens”. But she said we were different from other animals because we could talk and do more thinking.
I wondered what it would be like to be an animal that couldn’t talk and didn’t do so much thinking. It seemed like you would have to do most stuff by yourself because you couldn’t ask anybody to help you. Though maybe other animals that were the same kind as you could just figure out that you needed help WITHOUT talking. I didn’t really talk much when I was a little kid before I was three years old, and I was okay, though I could tell what other people were saying to me, and I still could do a lot of thinking.
Molly and I played together and helped each other sometimes without talking, when we could figure out what the other one was thinking. But that didn’t always work, when the other person was thinking a bunch of stuff at once, and you had to ask or say stuff to figure it out. But most of the time, talking just made playing more fun. And I also found out about so much stuff I didn’t know talking to my other friends like Paul, and the older kids like Danny and MaryBeth and Ricky, or the kids I talked to in the park.
And how could you do the playing and pretending I liked to do all the time if you couldn’t do a lot of thinking. You had to do LOTS of thinking to pretend. And how could you play baseball with other kids if you couldn’t talk or figure out other kids’ talking. If you didn’t think very much, I couldn’t even imagine what that would be like, because I always did so much thinking. I guess you’d just do stuff without thinking about it, and other animals would just have to watch you and figure out if they wanted to do that stuff with you, but not by thinking about it a lot.
Molly hadn’t seen the movie and didn’t know about dinosaurs, which was bad, because we always wanted to know the same stuff, and talk about and like the same things. She wanted to go see the movie but her mom told her to ask her dad to take her. So I had to tell her all about the story in the movie, and what I had figured out so far about dinosaurs, even though I didn’t really know very much yet. It was hard to do, even though I liked doing it, and it wasn’t the same as if she had watched the movie too. I told her we could try to make some dinosaurs out of TinkerToys and the pirates and the goodguy soldiers would have to figure out what to do about them.
I even told mom I wanted to find out more about dinosaurs, and she said she’d get some books from the “library” and that we could also go see stuff about them at the “Natural History Museum”, whatever that was. She said she had read in the newspaper that they had dinosaur “skeletons”, which she said were all their bones, hooked together like they were inside their bodies.
She said all animals had skeletons, even people. She said you could feel the bones in your skeleton if you pressed on the different parts of your body until you found something hard inside you. I tried doing that and Molly did too, and we could feel them the most inside our head, our chest, our arms, and most of the other parts of our body except our stomach, our bottom and the top part of our legs.
Mom read me books about dinosaurs she got from the library. The books had pictures and names of the different ones and whether they ate plants or other animals. The names were in other “languages” that mom knew about, but the book said what the names “meant” in our regular “language”, our regular words. The word “dinosaur” meant “terrible lizard”, and I thought that was pretty neat. The giant “Brontosaurus”, which just ate plants, meant “thunder lizard”, because the ground shook when it walked like it did when there was real thunder during a storm. The “Stegosaurus”, which just ate plants, meant “roof lizard”, because it had big square bones sticking up from its back. The “Triceratops”, which had three big horns sticking out of its face, meant “three-horn face lizard”. And neatest of all was the “Tyrannosaurus Rex”, with a giant head and mouth full of big teeth, that ate other dinosaurs, and meant “tyrant lizard king”, which I thought was the neatest name of all.
I asked mom why a dinosaur would eat other dinosaurs. That seemed strange, because people didn’t eat other people. But mom said that since dinosaurs were a bunch of different animals, some kinds of dinosaurs killed and ate other kinds of dinosaurs for food. She said that we were “mammals”, and we also killed and ate other kinds of mammals like cows and pigs. Hamburgers came from cows and pork chops and bacon from pigs. I asked her how we killed them, and she said it was pretty yucky, but she would find out if I really wanted to know.
I tried to remember all the dinosaur names, so when I took the books over to Molly’s house to show her all the pictures, I could remember, and tell her all those names when we saw each dinosaur picture, since I couldn’t quite read those long strange words yet. I told her that mom was going to take me to the museum, and Molly said she wanted to go too, because she wanted to “learn” everything that I knew about, so we could be the same, or at least almost the same.
Molly used that “learn” word that grownups used a lot and thought was really important. Also older kids used it when I asked them why they had to go to school. They said that you had to go to school to “learn” things. I didn’t get that, because I thought I was already figuring out things and I wasn’t going to school, except for Play School.
Mom did take Molly and me to the museum. Dad said he would “watch” David down in the basement while he worked in his office, though mom said David would be mad that I got to go but he didn’t. David was pretty good at playing with all my toys now, but I knew if I had something set up in the basement he might wreck it. Mom said I shouldn’t call them “my toys”, because they were David’s toys too. I didn’t know if I really liked that, because I thought mom and dad should get David his own toys so he didn’t have to play with mine. They did get him new toys for his birthday, but not more of the same toys that I already had, like Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, and soldiers.
I remembered sneaking up from the basement and hearing mom and dad talking in the backyard, when they didn’t think I could hear them. She said that she needed him to spend more time taking care of David so she could “get out more” and not feel so much like a “drudge”. I didn’t know what that word “druge” meant, and Molly didn’t either, but it didn’t sound good. And I figured I couldn’t ask mom or dad, because they would figure out I was “spying” on them. That’s the word the girls in the park used when they would hide and listen to what the boys were saying.
The museum was this really big building, and when you went inside there was this really big room with the top part way up high. There was this giant “skeleton” thing that Molly and I first thought was a dinosaur. But mom read the sign that said it was a “mastodon”, and it was a “mammal” and not a dinosaur. Like dinosaurs, it wasn’t around any more, but it had been around a long time ago when people were living in caves. Mom had read me about people living in caves instead of houses in that “Child’s History of the World” book.
So mom asked the woman in charge where the dinosaurs were, and asked her about this one dinosaur, that “allosaurus” kind, that mom had read in the newspaper that the museum got. Mom had read me about it in the books from the library, so I knew that name meant “different lizard”, because it had different kinds of bones. The woman said we couldn’t see that one yet because they were still working on it, but they had another one, an “edmontosaurus”, that we could see in another room. We went and saw it but it didn’t look as good as that “mastodon” thing, because the bones were flat on the ground even though they were hooked together.
But the woman in charge also said they had dinosaur “dioramas” and also had toy dinosaurs you could buy in the “gift shop”. The “dioramas” were pretty neat because they kind of looked like what I saw in the “Lost World” movie, only smaller and not moving, but kind of like I would set things up when I was playing. It was interesting how they did them. They were big glass boxes with a ground part with pretend trees and pretend toy dinosaurs, but the back part was like a picture that looked real.
And then that “gift shop” place had dinosaurs we could buy, and mom said we could buy four of them to play with. Molly and I thought and talked about it for a long time and decided I should get the tyrannosaurus rex, brontosaurus, triceratops and the stegosaurus. Each had the dinosaur’s name on the bottom part in little letters sticking out. Molly and I were so excited to get home so we could start playing with them and making up our own stories like the story in the movie.
When we got home, she and I had to decide whether to set up the dinosaurs in the basement or the backyard. I thought the dirt pile in the backyard would be the best place because we could make a “plateau” out of the dirt, like in the movie, where the dinosaurs could live. The goodguy soldiers and the badguy pirates would both try to go there to find those “diamonds”, so they could get “rich”. We broke off really small branches from the spruce trees to stick in the dirt “plateau” to make it more like the “jungle” in the movie. I had to do most of this figuring out because Molly hadn’t seen the movie yet.
Molly finally stayed at her dad’s new house and he said he would take her to see the movie and I could come too to see it again with her. But when we were watching it she got mad when I kept telling her the really neat parts that were going to happen before they did. Her dad said that when you go to a movie, part of the fun was being surprised by the scary parts. But it was neat to see it again, so I could remember all the good story parts. And after she saw the movie, Molly liked that I had told her to see it, and thought it was as good as I told her it was.
So now Molly was excited about dinosaurs, not just because I was, but because she was too, even without me telling her about them. She got her dad to take her to the museum again and they got a whole bunch more of those pretend toy dinosaurs from the gift shop. She said her dad got her stuff because he was worried she wouldn’t like him as much because he didn’t live in their house anymore. I don’t think he needed to do that, because Molly REALLY liked her dad, even if he didn’t get her more stuff. But I guess HE didn’t know that, because I guess not all grownups could figure out things about kids that other kids could. He wanted her to keep her toy dinosaurs at his new house so she would want to go there to play with them. But Molly said she wanted them to be at my house with the other dinosaurs so we could play with them all together in my backyard. Molly’s dad’s new house didn’t really have a backyard. And Molly’s house had a backyard, but didn’t have a dirt pile like mine.
So Molly and I set all her dinosaurs up on the “plateau” I had made in my dirt pile, with a bunch more little branches from our spruce trees and from plants from her backyard and from the lilac bushes in the park. It looked really neat, like the “jungle” on the plateau in the movie. And we made up stories about the pirates and the goodguy soldiers going to the plateau to try to find the diamonds. They would fight with each other, and the dinosaurs would fight with them to try to protect their plateau, even though we figured the dinosaurs didn’t care about the diamonds. And it was Molly’s idea to use those little round glass “marble” things she had as the diamonds they were trying to get. It was all pretty neat, and we could do lots of different stories.
Paul came over too and played with us. He had seen the movie and gone to the museum. He even went back home and came back with some of his dinosaurs to put them on the plateau with Molly’s and mine.
Sometimes the goodguy ships and the pirate ships would have “battles” in the grass ocean part around the island. Dad had told me that word “battle” when he talked about parts of the war where there was a lot of extra fighting with soldiers getting killed and wounded and other stuff like tanks getting blown up. He said though the Germans were “losing the war” by the time he went “across the ocean” to fight them, they made one last try to win by doing that “Battle of the Bulge”, where they tried to “break through the American lines”, in the middle of the winter and get behind the British army and mess them up. He said the British were “allied with”, which meant they were on the same team as the Americans to fight the Germans.
I asked him how they knew the Germans were losing, and if they kept the score like in a baseball or football game. He laughed at that, which I didn’t like, but then told me that was a really good question. I thought maybe he said that because he didn’t know the answer, but he said that pretty much everybody could figure out the Germans were losing. “Even the generals”, he said, laughing again. He said some of the generals. weren’t very smart, but others were “sharp”, which meant smart, like that “Patton” guy that was in charge of his army. He said the guy that was in charge of the British army, this “Montgomery” guy, was “overrated”, which he said meant he wasn’t as smart as some people thought he was.
That was all really interesting for me, that you could have smart and not very smart generals on the same team and that they could get their team in trouble because they had different ideas of what to do. I told Molly about that, and Paul too when he came over. We used that in some of our stories where the goodguy soldiers had this one general who wasn’t smart and got most of his guys killed when they tried to get the diamonds on the dinosaurs’ plateau. Then the other goodguy general, who was smarter, had to rescue that other general and his last guys from where they were trapped by the dinosaurs.
When I told mom I wanted more books about dinosaurs, she took me to the library, where they had so many books I couldn’t even believe it. Mom said they had “thousands”. We “checked out” four more books about dinosaurs and “renewed” the two she had gotten before so we could keep them longer. I got to have my own “library card”, so I could check out books without mom from the library building or that “bookmobile” thing.
Back at home she and dad read them to me so many times that I could at least sort of read them by myself. Some words I now knew what they were just by seeing them so many times. And others, if I didn’t remember at first by just seeing them, I could remember after I made the letter sounds that she and dad had told me how to say. It wasn’t really as hard as I thought it would be to read, you just had to do it a lot to get used to seeing those words. Mom said they would teach me all the parts I didn’t know at school.
I still was wondering about regular school. All the older kids I knew, like Danny, Ricky and Marybeth, said you had to go to school or you’d get in trouble. Margie, who went to that giant “high school” place across that big “Stadium” street at the end of our street, said it was okay because she “learned things” and got to “hang out” with all her friends. Danny and Marybeth said they liked it because they “learned things” too. Ricky said it was “stupid”, but you just had to figure out how to get your teacher to like you, then it was “easy”. All grownups seemed to like Ricky, so I guess he had them figured out.
I asked dad why I had to go to regular school. Why I couldn’t just go to Play School.
He looked really worried and asked, “Don’t you want to go to school? You’ll learn so much that your mom and I don’t have time to tell you about. Everybody goes to school. I went. Your mom went. You’re such a bright kid, I bet you’ll like it a lot!” Dad was still going to school and he was a grownup, so I guess he liked it a lot.
I didn’t know what to say to answer his question, because he seemed worried about me now. I didn’t think I could tell him that I didn’t like grownups being in charge of me. I’d heard other grownups say that moms and dads were supposed to be in charge of kids, and that bad moms and dads let their kids “run wild”. I guess that was because they didn’t think kids could figure things out for themselves. I felt like if I said that I didn’t want to go to school that he might think I was really bad, and maybe he’d even spank me again for saying that.
I asked mom the same question. She never got worried when I asked her questions, and if she got mad at me, she’d tell me she was mad, but then she wouldn’t be mad anymore. If dad got mad, he wouldn’t tell you and he’d stay mad for a long time, so I really didn’t want that to happen. And mom had never spanked me, because she even told other grownups that spanking was bad. She would at least tell me the real reason I had to go to school.
“You know Cloob”, she said, “It’s your dad’s and my job as your parents to make sure you are able to learn all the many many things you need to know to be a grownup yourself someday. That’s a whole lot of things, believe me.” She was using that “learn” word again that everybody used when they talked about school.
She kept talking. “But most of us moms and dads are so busy with our own lives, having jobs to make money, or taking care of all the chores, that we don’t have time to do all that helping you learn ourselves. So a long time ago, all the moms and dads and other adults in our whole country got together and decided we would set up these places called ‘schools’ where all our kids could go to learn together. Some of us grownups who were really good at showing kids how to learn things became ‘teachers’, who would work in schools and be in charge of helping you learn all that stuff you needed to learn.”
“Does that make sense?” she asked, making her face look funny like she wasn’t sure it did make sense.
It kind of did and it kind of didn’t, but if I had shaken my head or said no, then mom would have made me ask questions about what didn’t make sense to me, and I wasn’t ready to do that. I got the part about “learning things” being important, because every day I was figuring out new stuff that helped me, like how to ride my bicycle, helped me go more places by myself or with other kids. And I did really have to figure out better how to read because I figured all those things that grownups knew but kids didn’t were in those books. And all those different counting things with numbers were important too. But did I have to go to this place where the grownups were in charge all the time and they didn’t just let you play with more toys like in Play School?
Mom looked at me, and I could see her watching me thinking and not doing any answering.
“I can see that you’re still dubious, mister Clubius!” she said, smiling her big smile showing her teeth.
There was that “dubious” word that meant you had to think some more about it, and sounded like my old nickname “Clubius”. I had my newer nickname, “Cooper”, that was kind of like my regular name now, because that was the name I would tell other people, kids or grownups, was my name if they asked me. Mom and dad said that was my name to other grownups too, at least the ones that were their friends. But if they didn’t know a grownup, like that “doctor” guy or that “dentist” guy, then they told them my name was “Jonathan”.
“That’s okay”, she said, “I get that you’re not sure. That you have to actually see how it is yourself before you can make your mind up. You’ve always been like that, even when you were a baby. You were always cautious and studied something and didn’t take our word that it was okay, until you had it all figured it out for yourself.”
“Even talking”, she said, “At first we were worried that you were having trouble learning things. But both your dad and I realized that you were just taking your own time to figure it out, and once you did, you went gangbusters with it.”
She made a serious face and used my real name and said, “Forgive me Jonathan.” Then she thought some more and said, “Forgive me COOPER. That’s your name now. I hear you tell people that that’s your name.”
“Forgive me, COOPER”, she said again, “That I still think of you as my little ‘Clubius’, and that I’m just a person who’s a mom and really proud of her son!”
She reached out her hand to run it through my hair like she had done when I was little. Without even thinking first I pulled my head away from her hand.
She saw that and said, “Fair enough. You’re not my little baby anymore. You’re your own person.” She pulled her hand back, looked at me and smiled.
Still looking at me, she put her hand on the front part of her head and moved it back through her hair as she was thinking. “I am really REALLY hoping that you’ll like school. Like that opportunity to learn so many new things that either your dad and I don’t have time to teach you, or don’t really know about ourselves.”
“I want to read by myself”, I said.
“Of course you do”, she said, shaking her head, “Just figure that out and the world is your oyster!”
“Oyster?” I asked. She tilted her head back and laughed.
“Like an oyster, the world is yours to open up and scoop out all the good parts”, she said.
That all sounded kind of strange, and she hadn’t really told me what an oyster was, but I didn’t say anything. I figured that if I went to regular school, at least I’d figure out how to read by myself, and then I could look at all dad’s books, and all those books in the library or that “bookmobile” thing that was on the street next to the park sometimes. I was already seeing really neat stuff on TV, but I figured all those books would be even more neat stuff, because there were way more books than TV shows. But I didn’t want regular school to be like that nursery school place I went to, that one day before I went to Play School. That was pretty bad.
I thought about Molly. I hadn’t asked her about going to school. All the grownups and older kids said everybody had to go, so I figured she would have to go too. I wondered if Molly and I would go to the same school. That would be really neat and make it much better, as long as other boys didn’t tease me about having a “girlfriend”. I always worried about that, and Molly and I didn’t play together so much in the park when there were other boys around.