Tag Archives: dinosaurs


Questions, questions, questions.

Questions, questions, questions.

This week, in fact this year, has been a time of questions. I never thought one small person who hasn’t even started school yet could have so many questions. And why do they feel like they come all at once?

If you read the Facebook page (note the quick plug there?) then you’ll know that Motormouth starts asking questions, oh, around 6 seconds after he wakes up and finishes somewhere around the time he finally falls asleep.

It’s not too bad when I can see them coming. I can try and prepare for the answer. I’ve become a dab hand at explaining things like the Big Bang, how dinosaurs died out, how tractors work or the life cycle of trees.

It’s the sneaky ones that leave me gaping like a stranded fish.

All I can say is thank the gods for Google (other search engines are available). Motormouth has got used to me saying “I don’t know, I’ll have to look it up”, and we’ve turned it into a shared task; an expedition to the library or search on the internet. It’s even seen me pacing out the length of a blue whale in a certain supermarket’s café, much to the amusement of the other customers.

But the questions I can’t predict?

What’s pineapple in Japanese?

How many meteorites are there in the universe?

How many sea creatures are in the ocean?

How many of them can live in the Arctic?

Why do pigs make bacon?

Why don’t slugs have shells like snails?

Why do sharks have fins?

Why didn’t they put orange paint in his painting set?

What’s that fish on the fish counter in the supermarket?

Why is the sky red in the evening?

Why isn’t my skin black if it’s hot today?

The list goes on.

And on.

And on.

He seems to have developed an insatiable need to learn things, not that I’m knocking that, in fact, I’m trying to nurture it, but I wonder how the playground conversation might go when he starts school.

Did you see Fireman Sam last night?

No. Did you see that National Geographic documentary on giant prehistoric sharks?

I’d love to be a fly on the wall for that one.

In the meantime, I have this secret, if slightly nerdy, dream of us sitting at the dining room table doing our homework together. I won’t mention it to him yet though.

I’ll just carry on trying to field the questions whichever direction they come from.

So, what’s the strangest question you’ve been asked?

W is for Wet and Muddy

W is for Wet and Muddy

W is for Wet and Muddy

There are some really good things about being a parent, and one of those is being able to experience the fun of being a child all over again.

Like playing on the swings (though I am positive the seats have got narrower over the years since I can’t possibly have got wider can I?).

Or running through piles of autumn leaves.

Or puddle jumping.

I don’t really remember puddle jumping when I was younger, possibly because, growing up in Australia, there weren’t that many puddles and by the time we moved back to England I was too old and grown up to do things like that.

But now we all puddle jump, providing we’re wearing wellies. (Thank you Peppa Pig.) The Other Half has taken Motormouth on Boxing Day to play on the swings and jump in puddles to get thoroughly soaked and mucky, giving me some peace to get dinner ready. I’ve welcomed them home with a bath ready-run and my sanity in tact. We’ve even got soaked on the walk home from the child minder.

The kids love it and, I have to admit, I quite enjoy it too. It’s liberating, consciously making the decision to stop worrying about them getting dirty or what people think and maybe that’s the secret.

I choose not to care what people think if I’m running around the park chasing my child and pretending to be whichever baddie they’ve decided I’m going to be. They’re having fun and if they’re having fun, I’m having fun.

Maybe one of the best gifts we get as parents is the ability to recapture some of that “live in the now” attitude to life.

I’m not advocating we do too much of that, after all, we have a bigger responsibility to keep our kids safe and teach them how to function in society for when they become adults. But sometimes, just sometimes, we shouldn’t we allow them to coax our inner child out to play?

I know we’ve only got a few years left before they’ll be too old to jump in puddles and run around the playground pretending to be sea monsters and I think I’ll miss these times more than they do.

In the meantime, I am tyrannosaurus rex, hear me ROAR!!!!


I’m Going On a Dinosaur Hunt!

We're working our way round the evolutionary spiral.

We’re working our way round the evolutionary spiral.

For the past few weeks Motormouth has been obsessed with dinosaurs. You might already have guessed this from previous posts and Face book updates, but it is definitely an obsession that shows little signs of waning.

We’ve got used to being told that the reason the toilet roll is not only all over the bathroom floor but the landing as well is because the velociraptor was bored.

Or that a passing ankylosaur made him drop his sandwich on the floor. (Apparently ankylosaurs don’t like Marmite sandwiches, or tidy up after themselves.)

I went though my own phase of being into dinosaurs, in fact, I’m pretty sure I still have a few of the books tucked way in Nanny Nutjob’s loft. (I’m planning to give them to Motormouth when he is a little less tyrannosaurus rex-like with his more fragile books).

This morning I had to tell him all about a documentary about Megalodon that his father and I had watched last night. He had the usual Motormouth run of questions. You know, the sort of things a 4-year-old boy will come out with?

What did it eat? (Smaller sharks and whales.)

When did it live? (Millions of years ago.)

Is it still alive? (No. It’s extinct.)

Why did it die? (They think it didn’t adapt well to the loss of the large prey it ate when an ice age hit.)

Is it related to the Great White shark? (They don’t think so but opinion is divided – it’s something to do with the spine apparently.)

And so on.

And on.

And on. As only Motormouth knows how.

It’s great that we have a son who is interested in learning and I hope he never, ever loses that. I also hope we’re setting him a good example. He knows I’m going to college and always checks to make sure I’ve done my homework. I have a dream that one day, when he starts school, we’ll all sit around the table doing our homework. (Yes, I know that’s sad and just a little weird.)

I’ve also been doing my homework on dinosaurs to give me at least a little bit of an edge. (There’s only so many times I can take him rolling his eyes and saying in a very patient voice “No Mummy, that one was a mammal but it lived in the sea”.)

Typically for Motormouth, he’s not just interested in tyrannosaurus rex, stegosaurus or brontosaurus. Oh no. His particular favourites this week are dunkleosteus, sarcosuchus, icthyosaurs, ankylosaurs, orthocones and lots of others I have to look up. (Knowing the name isn’t enough, I get tested on habitat, diet, size, enemies, fighting styles, methods of defence and reason for extinction.) Plus I have to know odd facts.

Did you know that velociraptors had feathers?

That tyrannosaurus rex and stegosaurus never met (there were millions of years between them)?

That dinosaurs were around for about 165 million years? (I doubt we’ll make that long before we become extinct – look at how close we’ve come and how often in only a few thousand years!)

That suchus means flesh eater?

I could go on, but I wouldn’t want to bore you.

I could also mention the slightly unnerving habit he has of creeping around and muttering to himself. When you can get close enough to hear what he is saying you realise he is basically re-enacting the script from Walking With Dinosaurs, complete with waving arms and crouching walk. He also keeps producing sticks of varying sizes for consideration as fossil bones, classifying them by species and subspecies.
Still there are worse people he could emulate. The other day he told me that Nigel Marven was the coolest zoologist around and he wants to be a zoologist when he grows up.

Or a builder. He quite fancies that as well.

It can be exhausting keeping up with it all, especially as, like most kids his age, he wants to go over the explanations several times to make sure he understands.

I’ve noticed that he wants it more frequently when it’s something that’s worrying him.

There was a burglary in the next road, so we’re making extra certain we lock all the windows and doors at night (they broke in whilst the occupants were asleep). Motormouth was there with his usual questions and we’ve explained what we’re doing, why and how he’s going to be safe. He has shown an interest in the subject before and spent days asking us at regular intervals what burglary was and that was just after seeing an advert on the TV (thank you alarm company I shall not name). Now he knows it’s happened for real near us. This all happened last night and I was preparing my mental notes for “explaining what burglary is eight different ways”. All he wanted to do today was look at the house, not possible since I didn’t know which one it was, and besides it was morning and we’re always running late in the mornings.

So it is with some relief I left him at playgroup this morning. He wandered off without a backward glance at me, on a mission to find some pens and paper so he could start drawing today’s batch of dinosaurs.

And me?

I’m reading up on the Triassic era. I’m pretty sure there’s going to be a test tonight.

Newsflash – Hunting Expedition Launched

Sarcosuchus means "flesh crocodile"

Sarcosuchus means “flesh crocodile”

Motormouth called a press conference to announce the launch of a new expedition, the aim of which was to locate and trap the mysterious sarcosuchus. Members of the press were treated to a demonstration of his hunting techniques, which consisted of putting a blanket over his head and going on the prowl with his ray gun.

Motormouth seems confident he will be able to deal with this “King of Crocodiles” which can be up to 40′ long and weigh in at an estimated 8 tonnes. “Most of the length is its snout, so I’ll be fine.”

This reporter awaits developments with interest.

Battle of Equals?

...and the winner is...

…and the winner is…

Siblings will be siblings and often want the same thing at the same time, whether it be a toy or space on someone’s lap or food. And neither one wants to back down, which can be a problem, especially when you have two who have inherited their mother’s stubbornness in full measure.

And Motormouth and Mini have.

Mini is, by definition, smaller than Motormouth, after all, he has a good two years on her.

You’d think that would be that wouldn’t you? That she would lose all the time?


It isn’t.

In fact it can be quite the opposite.

I’ve noticed that Mini has her own unique way of getting exactly what she wants.

And she does it with such style that I’m going to start taking lessons.

First of all she uses her size to her advantage. She can worm herself into the tiniest of gaps and once there she expands outwards, mainly through judicious use of elbows, to give herself enough space. This can and does include edging her big brother off someone’s lap.

Today we had a classic.

Mini decided she wanted to snuggle with Uncle Greenfingers.

The only problem was Motormouth, who had already appropriated the best spot.

So what does she do?

She starts stroking Motormouth’s hair, then giving it subtle little tugs.

Not ones that hurt, ones that he could complain about legitimately, just annoying little tweaks.

It doesn’t take too long before he’s had enough and moves away and within seconds she’s claimed his spot.

It’s so subtle, you wouldn’t know she was doing it unless you were looking for it.

Or you didn’t see the triumphant little smile on her face.

Of course there are times when she doesn’t win, like when Motormouth is dragging her across the floor by the foot, mind you, that could be down to her getting the giggles as much as anything else.

Most of the time they play nicely together and Motormouth is usually good at sharing.

In fact he almost has me in tears the other day. Mini dropped her snack on the floor. Being a good mother I picked it up before she could eat it (having first done the calculation, you know the one, where you work out the last time you cleaned the floor and factor in what the foot traffic has been like.) Anyway, I head into the kitchen to get her another snack but in the meantime she’s sitting on the floor, sobbing like it’s the worst thing in the world, which to her it probably is.

Then I hear Motormouth…

“There, there, Mini, you can have some of my cheese.”

To put this in context, there is nothing that Motormouth likes more than cheese, except perhaps yoghurt, and for him to voluntarily give his sister any of his cheese, well…

I did give Motormouth an extra sticker for that.

He’s decided he’s working towards a trip to the dinosaur museum.

Maybe he’ll offer them some of his cheese as well.

I is for Imagination


I is for Imagination

I is for Imagination

Before I had kids I thought I had a pretty decent imagination. After all, I wrote stories. I’d even finished 4 novels, all of them still stuck in that infamous bottom drawer that writers have.

I managed to find ways of amusing Motormouth quite successfully when he was smaller, not that it takes much to amuse an 8-month-old – peeking round corners seemed to work pretty well. So did playing guess the animal in sign language.

Then Motormouth got to the point where he was inventing his own stories.

At first our games (yes, our games, parental involvement was, and still is, mandatory) were recreating stories he’d been read or seen on TV.

And oh, how we have to get involved. I’ve done everything from making imaginary fish biscuits to running around the local park shouting “I’m a colossal squid” in a funny voice.

Gradually things got confusing (Yes, I know. I’m easily confused.)

First of all we had to learn our new names. Depending on what we were playing, I was Dashi from Octonauts, Penny from Fireman Sam or Jessica, Lord of Air from Gormiti.

Then it got still more confusing. We didn’t just play Octonauts, or Gormiti, or even Fireman Sam.

All of a sudden, I was Dashica from Octogorm, or Jesseny from Samiti.

At least I could recognise the stories, all lovingly, and imaginatively pieced together by a small boy in charge of his world.

Then he went off piste.

We were making up stories.

I can still tell where they’re coming from, he picks up little elements from books, TV, even his journey to school. He weaves them together and comes up with the most fantastical plots. He naturally has a beginning, a middle and an end. There’s action and, I have to admit, a fair bit of bashing and more than a little arresting of the bad guys.

Then there are the props.

Boxes become forts, boats or racing cars. A soft toy football becomes his giant basher, creating quakes to knock the bad guys off their feet when he’s Nick Lord of Earth. Coathangers become hooks when he is a digger. Bits of broken toy can become pretty much anything.

It amazes me.

And then there’s his story telling.

We’re at that stage in his potty training when he wants someone with him while he does the business, partly to inspect the results of the “thousands of poos” he intends to do.

Then he starts telling me stories, animated expression and arm gestures helping the tale along. He has even been known to open with “it was a dark and stormy night…”

What does all this mean?

That I have really had to up my performance when it comes to imagination.

And it becomes more challenging (I refuse to say difficult) as he gets older.

I’ve learnt the hard way not to help the story along. He puts his hands on his hips, looks at me with his head cocked to one side and says “No, Mummy, be quiet. I’m telling the story.

Then, just when I think I’ve got a handle on it, he comes up with the questions.

And I need imagination to deal with this as well.

It’s not about making the answers up. I’m sure he would pick me up on that. At least he always has so far when I’ve got any of the details wrong.

It’s about finding new ways to describe things so he’ll understand.

Like all 4-year-olds he has a curiousity that only switches off when he’s asleep.

He also has the attention span of a crane fly on a caffeine high.

The journey to playgroup is the most challenging.

He sits in the back, commenting on every thing he sees, and between he shoots questions at me.

Just a few weeks ago we had the following…

Why did all the dinosaurs die? Was it a volcano? (No one really knows, but most people think it was an asteroid that hit the earth and threw up loads of dust that blocked out the sun).

What’s an asteroid? (Cue explanation and we get onto the Tunguska meteor strike.)

What causes holes in the road? (Discussion followed about dene holes, chalk mines, frost expansion and subsidence.)

Could you steal an elephant by hiding it under your coat? (Uh… help?)

Fortunately, the 10 minute journey ended shortly after.

He’s persistent as well. I can understand him wanting to know what every single person he sees is doing or where they are going, but why does he have this desperate need to know where they live?

And if we can visit them for tea?

I have to reword my answers on a regular basis, not just to help him understand better, but to stop me from boring myself, and him, into a stupor (something I failed to do miserably when he asked me what burglary was for the 70th time).

Hence the need for imagination.

It’s still a vital skill for parents, finding ways to keep a small child with an active mind occupied. It’s not just on car journeys, but doctor’s surgeries, supermarkets, anywhere we have to queue, anywhere that doesn’t have toys, anywhere that has toys we want to move away from… well, you know.

You’ve probably been there.

And it can be exhausting. We love our children dearly but sometimes, just sometimes, it’s nice when they’ve gone to bed and we can savour those first few minutes that are question-free.

So, I’ve decided that I’m going to make the most of Motormouth’s story-telling and sit back and ask the questions for a change. Even if the sitting is on the toilet floor.

And as for Mini?

She’s still at the peeking round corners stage.


All Boxed In

It's a ship! No! It's a race car!

It’s a ship! No! It’s a race car!

If you’ve been watching the Trials and Tribulations Facebook page this week you’ll know that our lives have been filled with boxes.

Or rather, boxes have been filled with us.

Mini and Motormouth have been having great fun playing in the box Motormouth’s new car seat came in and it has been a car, a pirate ship, a rocket, a fort and heaven only knows what else their imagination has turned it into.

All I know is that they have been enjoying it immensely. I’m not so sure the box is, since it is now definitely worse for wear. That might, of course, have something to do with being prodded with drumsticks (Motormouth was making windows) and rocked backwards and forwards pretty vigorously. I’m not sure it will last much longer, but at least it can say it’s had an interesting life.

That could be in the Chinese curse sense of the word from the box’s point of view.

Not that they have been confining themselves to cardboard. A plastic box has also been pressed into service, although being quite a bit smaller it’s been less used.

It got me thinking.

About boxes.

And about kids playing in general.

And their imagination.

I will admit to being slightly envious of their ability to allow their imaginations to fill in any gaps or shortfalls in their playthings.

A big blanket and a few cushions and the box was a fully functioning fort. With a few additions (mainly Motormouth’s toy soldiers and his dinosaurs) it was a well-defended one. A quick change in orientation and it was a television studio where I was treated to a news broadcast. I’m not entirely sure what the news was about, and it was very quick, but that’s not the point.

A few seconds later they were zooming round the race track.

As a writer I know how much work it can be to get your imagination working properly, unfettered by the constant calls on our time. Just as I start working on something, some subconscious cue will nudge me and I’ll be thinking I must remind myself to get loo rolls next time I go shopping, or I need to pay the credit card bill, or I should really check when my library books are due back.

Then I lose the train of thought and have to start over again, which doesn’t strike me as a particularly good use of time.

In the same time, Mini and Motormouth have travelled half-way round the world in a variety of modes of transport (I had to explain what mode meant to Motormouth this morning and just had to get the example in here. His next question was why don’t the forty thieves have to clean their teeth – Aladdin again.). They’ve battled giant dinosaurs (as opposed to the small ones now on perimeter duty around the kitchen door), fought pirates, rescued helpless animals and presented their own TV show.

At least Motormouth has. Mini is content, at present, to just go along for the ride.

It’s true, each episode only takes a minute or so, since Motormouth has the attention span of a crane fly with a caffeine overdose, but when he is there, he is completely there.

Nothing else exists but the fantasy.

Admittedly, if he were an adult this might be a shade unhealthy, but as a child it’s doing him the world of good.

I know he’ll lose this trick as he grows up, truth to tell, I can’t remember when I lost it, but I hope he retains some vestige of the ability to escape into other worlds.

That he or Mini don’t lose the capacity to dream.

That they don’t end up boxed into the thought routines that dog us as adults.

That they don’t have to wait until they have children before they can start to rediscover it for themselves.

In the meantime?

I’ll just have to put up with walking around the pirate ship that’s docked in the living room and try not to step on the sharks.

Or Tic Toc Croc.