Some simple words can have a dramatic impact


“I can’t play with dinosaurs anymore, Daddy.”

“What are you talking about? Why not?”

“Girls don’t play with dinosaurs or snakes or sharks. We play with unicorns and mermaids.”

I died a little bit inside with that last sentence. 

Don’t get me wrong: I love when my little girl puts on one of her princess costumes and walks on her toes to pretend that she’s wearing high heels. And there’s something that warms my typically-frozen heart when she pulls herself up by grabbing my neck and gives me surprise butterfly kisses. She is my precious little girl, and there is nothing in the world that means more to me than that.

But no more dinosaurs? No more sharks? I mean, yeah, no more snakes, but snakes are slimy and disgusting and stuff, so that doesn’t bother me. But dinosaurs? That’s like Picasso without a paint brush. Eddie Van Halen without a guitar. Me without a bacon cheeseburger.

Anybody who has walked into my home over the past few years has been suckered into finding a spot on the floor so he or she could play dinosaurs with Riley. Point reporter Laura Walter? Dinosaur veteran. Our technical wizard, Shaun Lambert? Lots of dino time. If you dare darken my doorstep, you better be prepared to stage an epic battle between a triceratops and a T-Rex, or face the wrath of a 3-year-old who does not rest until you do as she demands. 

Well, at least that’s how it used to be.

My little girl has always loved her dinosaurs. She has watched every episode of “Dino Dana,” “Dino Dan,” “Dinosaur Train,” “Land before Time” and every other dinosaur-related program more times than I could watch replays of the Ravens smacking around the Steelers last Sunday night, and I could honestly watch that about 7,329,416 more times...

But I digress.

This latest pronouncement that she was done with dinosaurs left my head spinning. How could it be possible that a girl who drove us batty by wanting to play with dinosaurs — or stage epic shark-versus-dinosaur battles in the bathtub — every moment of every day was suddenly not interested anymore? Why was she all of a sudden more interested in traditional gender roles than what she simply enjoyed doing? Who did this to my baby girl?

Going back to our earlier conversation, I had to ask her what had happened. 

“Why can’t girls play with dinosaurs, Riley?”

“I don’t know. They just don’t.”

“Who told you this?”

“Everyone knows.”

“Well, did you know that you can play with unicorns and mermaids, and also like playing with dinosaurs and sharks?”

“No, you can’t,” she said, laughing at the crazy old man telling her she can play with whatever she wanted.

“Sure, you can. Watch this.”

So, without further adieu, I snap, crackled and popped my way down to the floor, grabbed a mermaid doll and put it on top of a rubber stegosaurus. The mermaid “rode” the stegosaurus like a bucking bronco, and Riley quickly joined me on the floor, laughing as the mermaid bopped up and down on the rowdy dinosaur. She picked up the stuffed unicorn she had been playing with before and started staging a fight between it and a plastic pterodactyl that was perched atop her bookcase. 

“See? This is fun, right?”

“Yeah.”

“So, can girls play with dinosaurs?”

“OK.”

“Did you know that boys can play with unicorns if they want?”

“No, they can’t,” she said, laughing at the thought. “Unicorns are girls’ toys.”

“Riley, you can play with whatever you want, as long as it doesn’t start a fire or involve broken glass or natural gas leaks.”

“Can I play with monsters?”

“Well, toy monsters. I wouldn’t really want you hanging out with real monsters in the back yard or anything.”

“Can I play with grapes?”

“You can eat grapes. You’re just being a smarta... you’re just having fun now, right?”

“Yeah.”

And, so, the two of us played. She went back to simulating loud “roars” as her dinosaurs moved about the floor, and would find joy in having her unicorn come rescue the mermaid from impending doom when surrounded by a team of prehistoric monsters. I jumped in when she would permit, but couldn’t get this whole conversation out of my mind.

“Riley, where did you hear that girls can’t play with dinosaurs?”

“Or snakes.”

“Yes, or snakes.”

“Or sharks.”

“Yes,” I responded through clenched teeth. “Where did you hear this?”

“I don’t know. But girls should play with dolls.”

“Do you believe me that you are allowed to play with dinosaurs, too?”

“OK.”

I never did figure out where she picked that up, but I was feeling pretty good about my remarkable parenting skills as she played with her battery-powered T-Rex.

“Daddy, when can I have a baby?”