Wrecking the Camp

Petra, as we are all aware, is currently obsessed with the idea of being a paleontologist. For some time, she would find an oddly shaped rock or stick and declare that it was a specific kind of dinosaur bone. I never knew if she was pretending, or if she honestly thought that she’d struck prehistoric gold.

We just found out: She definitely knew she was playing before, because my mom gave her a fossil dig kit from National Geographic–with real fossils–and she knows that these are the real deal and the others were not. She was so excited as she carefully excavated each one, scraping the plaster around each hard piece, using the book that came with it to identify them, and cleaning them with an old toothbrush. She kept saying, “This is the most exciting thing of my life,” before she’d even unearthed a single fossil.

The excitement hasn’t been without incident, though. She had the fossils in a pint jar I gave her, and she carried the jar all over the place, even sleeping with it. Then one day, she couldn’t find it, and was devastated. She likes to hide things from herself, and then she can’t always find them again. In this case, after a fairly thorough search of the house, it turned up over 24 hours later, in a bag in another bag hanging on the wall. I only found it because she was lying on the couch idly kicking the bag, and I recognized the rattling sound as being her fossil jar. I posted about this on facebook, and got a number of great ideas about helping her have better lab practices; among the most interesting was having her photograph her specimens for documentation. I sure wish I had implemented that suggestion before tonight, though, because things took a serious turn for the worse.

This evening, Carlos was over and we were trying to play a board game with the kids. Petra was cleaning a gastropod she had just unearthed and couldn’t focus on the game because she kept hopping up to get her toothbrush wet again. After the game (Petra inexplicably won), the kids went outside to Petra’s “fossil lab” (porch bench) and they were playing with the water and the fossils. “We’re making fossil soup!” I heard Petra crow. I didn’t think much of it; after all, the water wouldn’t hurt the fossils (they’re rocks, they’re not easy to hurt). I even said something to Carlos like, “Isn’t it funny how she can be so serious about the paleontology thing, and use words like ‘coprolite’ one minute, and the next, she’s playing ‘fossil soup’?” And then suddenly, things went off the rails. Silas did something kind of gross in the bowl (the fossils were in a cup, in a bowl). I’m not going to go into details because he’s rightly embarrassed…

“Dump out the bowl right now, and then put it in the dishwasher without anyone else’s hands having to touch it, and then go wash your hands really well, with soap,” I said.

And he dumped…the cup. Of fossils. Over the porch rail into the bushes.

Petra was devastated. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her this legitimately shocked and upset. She had spent a great deal of time digging out those eight fossils, and in an instant, all of them–all of them–were gone. I was nearly in tears, myself, just looking at her little face. I sent Silas down into the bushes to seek the fossils, but they basically look like rocks, there were lots of fallen leaves, and that boy can’t find his shoes when they’re on his feet, so I can’t imagine why I thought he might be able to find a tiny ancient sea urchin. No luck with the fossil search, even though Carlos tried to help him.

By my count, she had found eight of the fifteen that were supposed to be in the kit. She still has a good bit of plaster yet to dig through. Let’s hope she finds something cool. Not all is lost, but it was a huge amount of her time and energy that he just tossed out.

I told Silas he’d have to use his spending money to buy her a replacement fossil kit. Although I was disappointed in him for being a doofus, I was proud of how he took it. He didn’t argue that he shouldn’t have to do that. He understood not just the monetary value of the kit, but also how hard Petra had worked on it. He knew that this was the right thing to do, but it still was tough to take, and I’m sure he didn’t even think of the fact that we’re going to the Mennonite Relief Sale, at which they both enjoy spending some of their money, tomorrow. I felt a little bad about having to do that (especially since I knew he had just spent a generous amount of his spending money on Petra’s birthday present), but he did just have a birthday and got everything he could possibly have wanted to buy anyway. His allowance is fairly substantial for a kid his age, and he just got his birthday raise. The only thing he ever spends money on is Pokemon cards, and he literally has a few thousand of them. He’ll survive. I think this might help him make better choices and think more carefully, too. My brother recently recounted a window that he broke when he was four and had to pay to replace–if he still remembers that, I’m sure that this episode will stick with my seven-year-old!

As for Petra, I told her it was possible I’d find some of those fossils in the spring, when I plan to replace the roses in the raised bed. She immediately asked if I would make her a sifting screen to check the dirt I’ll dig. Little Miss Practical.

Speaking of practicality, our current system of having her work on a porch bench is flawed. She keeps dropping her little digger tool down through the spaces between the boards, and it honestly was only a matter of time before a fossil fell through, too. JC pointed out that, at least until we get more kittens, she can work in the big crate we keep for them. I think I’m going to get her one of those under-the-bed totes, with a lid, to make a more permanent solution for her fossil lab. I’m sure this fossil kit won’t be her last (in fact, I know she will be getting a few similar things, with real and simulated fossils, for her birthday in a couple of days!), so it makes sense to try to help her create a good solution for it. Maybe we could even encourage her to leave her specimens in it!

Day one: the thrill of the hunt!

Coming up next week: Our family “special thing” for Petra’s birthday is a trip to Dinosaur Park, in Maryland. We saw a sign at the Smithsonian that said that lots of their fossils came from this site, not far from DC. Petra asked if we could go there, and I looked it up…and it turns out that kids very much can go there, and they can even find fossils! If they find something cool, it could end up in the Smithsonian. So maybe our tiny paleontologist will get a real find! Fingers crossed, everyone…


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