A kid's-eye report from Erth's 'Dinosaur Petting Zoo' at Top of the Park
On Saturday, by way of an introduction to Erth’s Dinosaur Petting Zoo - a free Ann Arbor Summer Festival special attraction that offers its final shows at 4 and 6 p.m. on Sunday - the woman who runs the show made a point of telling the hundred-plus kids who sat on the shady grass in front of the Power Center that there were no real, living dinosaurs in Ann Arbor, and that what they were about to see were just extremely life-like, very convincing puppets.
“Fortunately, though, you’ll forget everything I’ve just said in about one minute,” she added.
While this might cause her to feel temporarily terrified, I nonetheless hoped the answer would be “yes.”
Why? Because even as a little girl, I was a hyper-rational skeptic - thus making me, I imagine, the least fun child in human history. (“How could Santa possibly get to everyone’s house in one night, and carry everyone in the world’s stuff in one sleigh? It just doesn’t add up.”) Given my personal history, I’d never expected that I'd sell the Santa/Tooth Fairy/Easter Bunny stuff too hard to my own kids; but I’ll nonetheless confess that I’m utterly charmed by moments like when, on the morning of Lily’s fourth birthday, she earnestly asked me as her eyes widened, “Am I bigger?”
So when the Erth-Visual & Physical Inc. folks - who hail from Australia - began their 45-minute program by bringing out two baby Dryosaurs, offering up some facts about them, and inviting kids to come up and touch them, I studied Lily as she made no move to get a closer look. You never know how your kid is going to react in any situation, and clearly, this time, she was going to be cautious.
The second creature was the Meganuera (on a stick, for those anticipating the upcoming Ann Arbor Art Fair), an enormous ancestor of the dragonfly that made the rounds to kids who raised their hands (again, no move by Lily); and the third was the more bashful and playful Leaellynasaura, a small, herbivorous dino that one young audience member helped water and medicate with eyedrops. (I know. I didn’t even like to give my cat eyedrops.)
The main attraction, not surprisingly, was the Tyrannosaurus Rex, and the bulk of the show is dedicated to this volatile giant. (Lily had previously wandered from her seat, complaining about the heat and asking for water, but when the T-Rex was being introduced, she made a beeline back to her seat in the kids’ section.) The T-Rex segment features a lot of, “Oh, no, the T-Rex is out of control!” moments as kids in the crowd scramble and run away - and indeed, the puppet’s appearance and movements are impressive, as are the sound effects - and often-nervous young volunteers are asked to help feed the T-Rex; to soothe him as a tooth is removed; and to allow the T-Rex to put his mouth over one’s head. (“That was crazy,” Lily said of this last moment.) And while the show takes place in broad daylight, you nonetheless aren’t likely to notice the human legs clad in black tights beneath the T-Rex until the show is almost over. (When Lily got scared once during the T-Rex segment, her grandma pointed these legs out to her.)
Overall, did Lily like the headlining T-Rex best? She shook her head and said, “He roared too much.”
No, her favorites were the baby Dryosaurs, which she decided to approach following the show. After touching the puppet and saying, with a giggle, “It feels weird!” Lily focused her attention like a laser on the puppeteer’s arm, and reached out to touch the transitional place where the person's body appeared to morph into a prehistoric creature.
Here's what she had to say.
Yes, for better or for worse, Lily is definitely her mother’s daughter. But I cheer myself by telling myself that no matter what she says, she was still clearly affected by, and swept up in, the fantasy of the show while in the moment.
And after the show, while jumping around the haybales that circle the kids’ seating area (something several kids were enjoying), Lily suddenly asked to borrow my umbrella for this odd purpose.
I may be wrong, but it sure looks to me like she was trying to use the umbrella like a parachute, or to help her “fly” to the other bales. So while she clearly has a streak of her mom’s pragmatic skepticism, the potential for believing in magic still exists in her - and for that, I'm thankful.
The final "Dinosaur Petting Zoo" performances are scheduled at 4 and 6 p.m. today on the lawn of the Power Center, 121 Fletcher St. Admission free; donations requested; blankets recommended.