I always try harder with my firstborn’s birthday. It’s some kind of personal psychological healing from all the trauma of the day he was born. Like with most parenting choices it has nothing to do with him and everything to do with me.
Along came birthday number six.
Now being an enthusiastic sort I spent far too much time googling fun things to do in London in summer with kids and opening up a rabbit hole of internet tabs that didn’t allow me to restart or shut down my laptop for weeks.
I settled on ‘Dinosaurs in the Wild’ – an interactive experience that was described as “FUN FOR ALL AGES” and “A MUST SEE of the YEAR” and (my personal favourite) “Absolutely ROAR-SOME!”
A six-year-old boy. Dinosaurs. How could this possibly go wrong?
Four tickets. One hundred pounds. Not a cheap day out. However, I managed to get the tickets for the day of his actual birthday. Winning!
D-day, or should that be B-day: We’re excited, we’re going to ride a bus and the tube, but most excitingly we’re off to see dinosaurs! We take photos as we wait for the bus, I Instagram the occasion (for my mom and the four people from primary school who follow my account), we make our way up through London and finally arrive. My son is equally excited and nervous; we’re growing our new experience muscles.
The dinosaur experience starts as you enter a time travel machine that takes you back to the Jurassic age. The lights are dark, the sounds are loud, the shaking of the time machine is real and my husband and I share a look that says, “We may have pushed the boat out too far on this one.”
We make it through the time machine. It’s followed by a drive in an all-terrain vehicle from the time machine to the base. Okay we can do this. Dinosaurs are walking around peacefully outside the windows, it’s scenic and calm… until it’s not. Until two dinos decide to fight next to us bumping the truck. Another dinosaur jumps on top of the vehicle. The interactive experience means that the shoves and bumps can be felt through the seats we’re sitting on and my son is close to tears.
After a few tense minutes we make it to base where we are safe. I let out the deep breath that I didn’t know I was holding. Gratefully we walk through the mild excitement of the research labs and medical bay and dinosaur nursery. For the highlight of the tour we move up into the control tower to watch the dinosaurs through TV screen windows 360 degrees around us. It’s really pretty. My son is hiding behind me but soon he starts to feel comfortable that nothing bad will happen and moves forward to take a look out of one of the windows.
We were so close. So close to finishing off our dinosaur experience hopping back into the now familiar ride back from base to the time machine and being transported back to present day… so close.
Lights flashing, sirens blaring, dinosaurs attacking, actors yelling, people running and one birthday boy crying hysterically and holding on to his mother as if his life depended on it.
We’re herded out of the control tower under a lake while the ruckus continues.
Survival mode kicks in, I lower my voice and start to repeat over and over to my son, “It’s not real, it’s not real, those are TV’s, those are actors, there are no dinosaur crocodiles above us, nothing is real.” It didn’t help. I’m not sure who was more freaked out. Probably him. We finally made it past the sea dinosaurs and into the time machine where the actors finally stopped screaming. Once the clock had turned back to present day we were tumbled out into an overpriced gift shop that I have never been more excited to see.
My son turned to us with the remnants of fear and tears in his eyes and said, “Please! Don’t ever make me do that again”.
Of course as his mother, who paid one hundred pounds to ruin her son’s birthday on the actual day, my response was, “I promise we’ll never do that again. Look! Choose anything you want.”
A soft dinosaur toy for each child and another forty-five pounds later we left. My son was starting to feel better but my husband and I were still reeling so we went to the Lego store. We let both children choose Lego. Another sixty-three pounds later we headed home, in doubts about our parenting skills.
Needless to say, this year when I asked my son what he’d like to do for his birthday he quickly responded with, “I want to stay at home and do nothing.” “Is that because of the dinosaurs?” I queried. “Yes.”
There’s a chance I’ve ruined both my son’s birthday and dinosaurs for him.
Our inadequacy as parents is one of the many reasons to hold onto hope in Jesus!
My constant prayer is that God protects my children from my weaknesses but most importantly I pray that God calls my children to Him, to the best parent they could ever have.
Instead of beating myself up for being a completely imperfect mother I will cling to his word and pray instead for their salvation. Romans 8:28 “and we know that all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
We will also steer clear of dinosaurs.