showering with dinosaursEver since my wife and I separated I’ve been showering with dinosaurs. They belong to my son, and out of either laziness or… okay, mostly laziness, I usually just kick them to the foot of the tub and enjoy the swearing I get to exercise when I step on their inflexible plastic bodies. No one could say Stegosaurus wasn’t ready to defend himself, with that tail and plating, even if only three inches long. You step on one of them while naked and tell me you don’t back off.

To be honest, they don’t stay there just because of laziness. My son is with me half the week, and during that time they stay in the bathtub for his ease. After dinner I fill the tub and he jumps in and he and the dinosaurs hold a convention discussing number theory (“What is eight plus eight?”) and semiotics (“Why are ‘feet’ called ‘feet?'”) and evolutionary divergence (“Do eyes have eyes? How can they see if they don’t?”). Afterwards, the conference room is drained, the bubbles dry up and my son gets stories in bed.

So, this morning, after piercing my sole with a poorly proportioned pterodactyl, I considered how failure to evolve can lead to something worse than non-existence. It can lead to a shrunken, plastic, artificial misuse of a being’s nature. If dinosaurs—creatures that ruled and defecated upon the planet for 750 million years—turned into toys in a bathtub, what chance do I have?

This is no minor consideration. I’ve been plundered by evolve-or-die situations lately. My marriage evolved in a way that others might think of as death, but my ex and I know better. Certainly there was pain and fear, but there had been pain and fear for those first fish on land realizing they could walk and breathe and that thrashing for death wasn’t necessary. My ex and I found our way onto land and found a better terrain than we could have hoped for, a closer bond, stronger support from one another. Tiktaalik roseae found its way up on land, and didn’t even need a divorce lawyer.

My writing process has had to evolve or die numerous times over the past seven years. I used to write by hand, but that had to end as I never had work in a form that could be submitted. Like Triceratops, I have less time for transcription than I would like. I used to write when the urge struck. Then came a son and his urges struck instead. I began to write on the train, during my commute. It was a long ride from southern Brooklyn to mid-town Manhattan. I wrote three novels on that long ride. I have since moved. Math works like this: shorter commute equals less writing time. I now also take my son to school, take a total of four trains every morning, and often that many home. Getting a seat has become not only a luxury but a rumor. I stopped writing on a laptop due to lack of seating, wrote on a Nook while standing. But now even getting to a safe spot to type on the Nook is trouble. So I’m slowly backing up my alarm clock, heading to a 5 a.m. wake-up. Baby-steps. I’ll write when crickets are readying for bed. Is that a diplodocus I hear in the kitchen nosing my Keurig?

Most importantly, my parenting has evolved. My son has taken to living in separate apartments amazingly well. There was terror in his mother’s and my hearts for weeks about how to tell him that we would be moving to separate homes, that he would spend time with each of us but only rarely with both. When he looked at us and said, “I’ll have two rooms, and two beds!” and asked if one could be a bunk-bed, we realized he’d be okay.

So began the evolution from co- to single/part-time-parenting. The pressures of long hours spent with a child, the emptiness of long hours without. And I wake in the morning, and I write, and when my second alarm lets me know that writing is over and the workday has begun, I carry my oh-when-will-it-be-strong-enough coffee cup to the shower, and I step over the dinosaurs, though he hasn’t been here for two days and won’t be back for two more, though it would be easier and neater to put them in the box by the tub, though all I do is shower and glimpse at them and think that someday he’ll tell me they’re stupid and he doesn’t want them and they’ll be gone and I won’t even have them as a reminder that he’s not here.

I mourn the dinosaurs leaving. I mourn him taking my hand when we walk outside, though he does it every time, without being asked, and I try not to think of myself as being locked in a countdown to the day when he treats my hand like I know he’ll treat the plastic dinosaurs. I try not to imagine my being lost at the foot of the tub with them. Evolution is realizing that you’ll survive despite all your best efforts.

I mourn him growing even as I revel in it every time I pierce my sole.

I must rise earlier. I do. I never used to think of myself as a mourning person.

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SEAN FERRELL is the author of Man in the Empty Suit (Soho Press, 2013) and Numb (HarperPerennial, August 2010). His short fiction has appeared in The Cafe Irreal and won the Fulton Prize from The Adirondack review. He lives and works, in no particular order, in New York City. You can find him online at www.seanferrell.com

18 responses to “Showering with Dinosaurs”

  1. Rachel Pollon says:

    Wow. This is fantastic. My brain matter is too marbled from lack of sleep to think of much more to say. But I wanted to at least say that. Pleased to meet you and your writing, Sean.

    R

  2. JohnO says:

    Nice piece here.

    It’s funny what the tea leaves / tub detritus tells us. My father (no one’s exemplar of fine parenting) bought our kids Hot Wheels, because he always hated stepping on them. He also bought them a miniature accordion. We still have the Hot Wheels, I think, on the off-off chance our little guy will want to take them for a spin. Or maybe because I’m still holding on to that possibility.

  3. Ali says:

    This was heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time. Wonderfully written.

  4. Dan says:

    I’m only 20 but this still connected with me, nice work sir.

  5. Patty Blount says:

    First, I’m sorry. It’s never easy to face changing feelings, even harder to talk about them.
    Second, this is a glorious post. I’ve always loved reading your posts about your son. I’ve always admired your intelligence but when it’s accompanied by these rare glimpses into your heart… I melt. It’s so easy to see you’re a wonderful dad. Trust me, your son will be fine as long as both of his parents remain united when he eventually figures out the “Mom said no so I’ll ask Dad” game.

    They always do. Trust me. *winks*

    I mourn the loss of baby carriages and Fisher Price toys but damn near bust with pride when I read an article my journalism major is writing, or hear a song played by his trumpet-loving sibling. (He recorded Happy Birthday for me last November and I cried buckets.) The dinosaurs will be shoved aside, but never, never the love.

    *hugs* You seem like you need some 🙂 I write AFTER work. I keep sleeping through the damn snooze alarm in the mornings.

  6. Renee says:

    Beautiful post. Thank you.

  7. Jen Stayrook says:

    As someone with a 1 1/2 year old, this post absolutely crushes me. I don’t want to have to think about a day where there won’t be kid’s toys in my bathtub.

    If it helps, I’ll play dinosaurs with you over Twitter. Then we can write meaningful tweets about “The scream heard round the world: Which is worse? The stegosaurus or the Lego blocks?”

    HUGS.

  8. Gloria says:

    This is just beautiful. As a week on/week off parent, I can relate to what you write here. For me, it’s the laundry. I love doing the boys’ laundry when they’re not home. It goes into the washer stinky and sweaty and reminiscent of long hours spent being little boys, and it comes out perfectly clean (and stained) and exactly the size and shape of my guys.

    • Sean says:

      Thank you, and I know exactly what you mean. Laundry has a different meaning for me now as well. You should have seen me when I realized he had outgrown my favorite of his tee shirts.

  9. Jane Hammons says:

    Beautiful. Captures that dumbfounded quiet of sudden unfilled spaces. Keep the dinosaurs close.

  10. Harley says:

    Good grief this is wonderful and heart breaking and true and tragic.

  11. Zachary says:

    This is a fantastic piece! I’m kind of floored by how your brain is capable of connecting all of these bits and memories and histories together. When I take a shower I usually just think of ways to avoid getting soap in my eye.

  12. Barbara says:

    Sean, hooray.

    I can’t even think of anything else but “change is hard” and “you’ll get through this”. But you will. And you guys are all doing a great job.

    My favorite dinosaur is ankylosaurus.

  13. Wonderful piece, especially in its brevity & restraint. The quiet spaces say so much here.

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