Every day, as I followed my son up the outdoor steps from his daycare to the parking lot, a mound of flat dirt surrounded by its former grassy self, called out to him next to the top step. He could no longer pass that sloped area without inspecting, walking on, kicking up, digging or stabbing it with a stick. Many days he made it through the entire school day with just a tiny smudge of jelly from lunch or a smear of paint from art time on his clothes, but come dismissal, his pants and coat quickly became faded by loose dusty dirt in ten seconds flat.
I no longer arrived with the expectation of getting straight to the car. I had given up on telling him to not ruin his brand new shoes or to not lay belly down on the hill. His desire was too great. His willpower was too strong. What’s another load of laundry? It’s not like I go many days without starting a load anyway. Initially, when his obsession with this dirt pile started, I thought he just wanted to get dirty. We all know getting dirty is the greatest thing ever when you’re a kid! Plus, it was like an oddly placed sandbox! But after several days of dirt-filled pit stops on our way to the car, he finally informed me he was digging for dinosaur bones! There was actually purpose in what he was doing!
Of course he’s digging for 70-million-year-old bones on the surface of a modern-day schoolyard in East Tennessee!
At the eager request of a friend suggesting we bury a fossil and another friend unexpectedly gifting us a real shark tooth days later, I set out to plant a “dinosaur tooth.” The mound wasn’t necessarily tiny, and I never knew where he would dig each day, so I had to be sneaky and smart. As he was focused on one spot facing away from me, I was able to shove it under the surface. After suggesting he try a new area, he eventually kicked it out with his stick, leaving it right in front of his face for a good thirty seconds before he noticed it. He picked it up, examined it, and questioned if it was a bone. “It looks like a tooth,” I said, “Like a dinosaur tooth?” His face lit up and he asked me to hold onto it. As we walked back to the car his excitement showed in his stride.
The perseverance in his daily dino-digging left me yearning for what’s to come from his future endeavors.
Will this ambition and tenacity carry over into his adult life? I realize right now his four-year-old imagination is soaring with enthusiasm over what he’ll find and how easily he thinks it can happen. But will that eagerness for the things he wants in life dwindle as time moves on or will he be able to make a parallel move from kid to adult with the same passionate gusto? Will he maintain this level of determination in his future job? Will he put in this same level of effort each day to strengthen his marriage? Will he sit in dirt as a dad and dig for dinosaur bones with his own son, experiencing the same joy he once had digging for them himself? I hope he can hold onto the thrill of being a kid and continue finding a zest for life even as the responsibilities of adulthood emerge.
Ever since we found that tooth, he’s had very little interest in that dirt pile. He got what he came for and has since changed his after school pre-car procrastination to climbing a very special tree. Now I can’t go a day after school without praying I don’t see him fall through branches as he ventures higher and higher. Although I make him stay low enough that I could help him, it doesn’t change his aspirations of reaching the “tippy tippy top.”