He pleaded. He begged. He left post-it notes on the bathroom mirror. He printed out how to purchase a permit, how to get there, a list of phone numbers for more information complete with a recent review of how one mom spent a delightful day with her beloved son… at the fossil beds. My son has been on my case for the last three months about taking him for a day of digging, climbing, and treasure hunting. So when I asked my children last week to check their summer bucket lists – to see what we still needed to accomplish, I should not have been surprised when my tenacious eleven year old wrote: “fossil beds, fossil beds, fossil beds, I want to go to the fossil beds…. it’s the only thing I really, really want.”
I have to admit, this kind of outing does not excite me. When I think fossil beds, I think: hot, remote, boring, digging for little bits of random nothingness. I didn’t want to go. And up until this week, I had successfully played an excuse game of duck and dodge. With my feet dragging and my excuses right and ready, I filled out the appropriate paper work to purchase the holy grail of all permits: the fossil digging permit. To my disappointment, it was rather easy to obtain this little piece of paper. Also “lucky” for me – those darn brickyards are less than twenty minutes away from my front step. I enlisted the help of my sister. I knew I was going to need enthusiasm reinforcements.
Today was the day. Before I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, my son had packed a backpack with a fossil identification guide, water bottles, small picks and hammers, and rubber boots (still not sure what their purpose was – but seemed like a fine idea to me). With permit in hand, we began our adventure. We had a rough map that may have been drawn by hand, two children ready to discover pterodactyl bones, and two adults displaying forced excitement. What could possibly go wrong?
After we cautiously zig-zagged our way down the river road, I wished I had not watched 20/20 episodes entitled “Tragedy in the Woods,” or Law and Order episodes featuring transient folk coming out of the woodwork to give first-hand accounts of of grizzly crimes. By the time we reached the abandoned parking area, I could feel my heart beating in my neck and what little enthusiasm I had mustered now draining quickly. I was just nano-seconds away from manufacturing another excuse, when my son saw the park map. “There’s the path, Mom! This is the place! We made it!!”
With trepidation, we gathered our tools, locked the car, and committed to the cause. Fossils, here we come. The walking path was lush with nature that actually made an arch over us. The further we padded into the forest, the more at ease I began to feel. We followed our little map up and around waterfalls, trickling creeks, and scenic look-outs before we came to” the promised land.” Two excited voices yelled, “Mom, we made it! This is it! Let’s get going! This is a great day for digging!”
I stared at the steep, rocky hill before me and it was obvious to my children that I did not know what to do next. How does this happen? There comes a time in every parent’s life when it is realized that the little people that could at one time not buckle or unbuckle themselves from a seatbelt, now know more than the official un-buckler. My kids just raced up the hill armed with their little picks, and literally dug in. My sister and I exchanged a look, braced our knees, and began the climb upwards where we received instructions from my daughter on how to proceed. “Mom, you have to dig and then dig some more. You have to look really closely because the best stuff is sometimes the stuff you can’t see… and then, here, you have to brush, brush away the the little crumbs… that’s where the bestest stuff is. Oh… and you have to be really patient… but, I know you’ll find something special. Don’t give up.”