My kids love to watch "Elmo’s World." In one of their favorite episodes a little girl visits the American Museum of Natural History to look at the dinosaurs. She explains that "scientists called 'paleontologists' dig up the fossils of dinosaur bones and they put together skeletons which show how big they were!" The little girl plays with a toy skeleton, which she puts together "just like PALEONTOLOGISTS do!" She grins up to her mom, "Maybe I’ll be a paleontologist someday!" Fuzzy red Elmo comes back to wonder, "Where can Elmo learn more about paleontologists?" Why, the Dinosaur Channel of course!
I let my kids watch cartoons while I cook dinner, and this was the point in the episode when one day I let the food sizzle and popped my head into their field of vision. "Did you know I was—am—a paleontologist?" I asked. Oh the look of confused disenchantment on their sweet little faces! Paleontologists are supposed to be cool and exciting and amazing, but I’m just… their mom!
"Did you study dinosaurs?" Marie asked.
"Nope, I studied tiny little animals that live in the ocean, so small you need a microscope to see them! They’re called foraminifera. Can you say that?"
"For. A. Min. If. Era," three little voices dutifully piped back.
Unimpressed, they asked me to turn Elmo back on.
But the information must have settled somewhere in Marie’s brain because a few weeks later she asked me what the little animals were called, the ones that lived in the ocean and you needed a periscope to see.
"Yes. What are they called?"
"Foraminifera. But we call them forams for short."
"Did they also die at the same time as the dinosaurs?"
"Well, some did. Some died a long time before the dinosaurs, and some are still around."
"Mommy, are there still some dinosaurs around?"
This is the question I have been waiting for! For Christmas I got Nick a t-shirt that’s a riff on the classic monkey-to-man image, but this shirt shows evolution from a Tyrannosaurus Rex to a chicken. Yes it’s true: birds evolved from dinosaurs.