You may not believe this, but every November 1, toy dinosaurs around the world come to life. For the next 30 days, when their human friends are fast asleep, they get up to all sorts of mischief. I would not have believed this either but in our house, our dinos have been up to no-good for seven years now. Come November, they get into the fridge, they use up all my lipstick, they leave toothpaste prints all over the bathroom.
Our son (now 12) wakes up every morning eager to find out what the dinos did last night. He races through the dining room, through his granny’s bedroom and into the little area of the verandah where his toys live. “Shhh,” he says, before he opens the door, wanting to be the first to peek in. Once he’s figured out the night’s events, he laughs and laughs, shaking his head at the silliness.
Dinovember is a major informal international event with thousands of dino-families waking up every morning to find their homes in chaos. Refe and Susan Tuma, Kansas-based parents of four children, came up with the idea in 2013 to encourage a sense of wonder and creativity in their children. In a post on Medium, they said, “Why do we do this? Because in the age of iPads and Netflix, we don’t want our kids to lose their sense of wonder and imagination. In a time when the answers to all the world’s questions are a web-search away, we want our kids to experience a little mystery. All it takes is some time and energy, creativity, and a few plastic dinosaurs. Childhood is fleeting, so let’s make sure it’s fun while it lasts.”
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Introduced in 2013, the idea soon caught on and became a fun thing for harried parents all over the world. Private Facebook groups devoted to Dinovember begin plans, plots and purchases months in advance. Lists are drawn up, past photos are referenced, props are ordered online. The ‘laugh’ emoji is used liberally when members share the adventures of their dinos, as is the ‘wow’ one where we gape in awe at some of the creativity on display.
While children are understandably enthralled with the silliness of it all, it is the engagement of the adults that is to be celebrated and marvelled at. At the Tuma’s home, their dinos began small. They got into the kids’ cereal box and made a mess on the dining table. In a few days though, they had broken open eggs, played in the flour and wrapped themselves in all the toilet paper available. The plots have become a lot more elaborate now, with board games, duct tape, spray paint on the living room walls.
In my home, our dinos look pretty innocent but in November, one cannot predict what they will do. One year, they had a mega-battle with the Transformers. Plastic forks, spoons and straws made for effective weapons. Another time, we caught T-Rex trying to eat up the Lego people. We routinely find Stegosaurus and Diplodocus in the fridge (and once in the freezer, all iced up, playing Titanic). Last year, they dared to creep into our bedroom while we slept and used my eyeliner to make dark whiskers on my face. You can imagine my shock (and everyone’s merriment) when I woke up.
It’s not easy for parents to keep track of the dinos and their tomfoolery to check if they’re repeating their shenanigans. Photos help. So do lists. The Facebook Dinovember community is a constant source of inspiration and last-minute advice. In November, parents everywhere pray that their kids go to sleep on time so the dinos can do their thing. Sod’s law guarantees that this won’t happen, though. Tired parents have been known to fall asleep before the dinos wake, resulting in midnight or pre-dawn scrambling.
Refe and Susan Tuma probably didn't imagine what a viral sensation their dinos antics would become. Dinovember is now 'celebrated' across the world, in homes, schools, museums and hospitals. Many libraries in the USA are running month-long programs about dinosaurs with story-time, books about dinosaurs and other extinct creatures and discussions about climate change. The Tumas have written three companion books as well which are fun and full of that aforementioned wonder. The latest ‘What the Dinosaurs Did the Night Before Christmas’ is now in stores. It's hard not to get caught up in the charm of it all.
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Everybody benefits in Dinovember. We have fun, sure, but we’ve also learned so much about dinosaurs. We’ve read books and watched films and documentaries about the creatures. Our dinos learn new things as well. Despite our best efforts, some of our dinos sneaked into our suitcases on vacations. Most come back, but some wander off to new adventures like a Parasaurolophus who is probably still wandering around Hong Kong. Last year, some dinos were introduced to Thesaurus (not a new species). Others had a yoga class to relieve pandemic stress. Ever seen a T-Rex do a downward dog with those tiny hands?
Some of you might be cynical about this. Why would parents want to make more work for themselves in already busy lives? A lot of effort goes into planning and keeping things fresh every year but it is worth it to see that joy, bewilderment and amazement on little faces each morning. This is especially important during these days of quarantine and lockdown where our kids have had to cope with an unbelievable year already. It brings some magic into my own day, as I laugh with my son and gasp at the ridiculous situations our dinos find themselves in. It’s a moment of adventure and levity, one that is not screen-related.
The past two years have been tough on parents and kids alike. Prolonged confinement, the looming threat of illness, the loss of close family and friends have taken a toll on our physical and mental health. During the pandemic, dino lovers were especially worried. What would dinos-under-lockdown do?
Turns out that dinos were more responsible than humans. Across the globe, dinos showed up with diy-masks, covid testing facilities for dinos and other toys and free vaccinations. They managed social distancing, too, while we struggled with staying indoors. We could learn a lot from them. They were just dino-mite.
Chryselle D’Silva Dias is a Goa-based journalist.