What big teeth you have.
(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 10/25/2013)

The three-year-old took his dad and me to the zoo this week. The little guy is a chick magnet. Everywhere we went, he was so happy playing with dad, laughing and grinning, that young ladies 100 yards away were looking at him and smiling. Which caused them to look at me and smile because they knew I was with Peter, and Peter’s an obviously really cool little guy.

[pullquote]There’s something really great about watching a youngster discover new things, even – maybe especially – when he has no real idea what he has discovered.[/pullquote]

First it was a ride on the Metro to Washington, then lunch outside the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Peter loves dinosaurs, and he knows which skull is the Triceratops and which the T. Rex. He found a Pterodactyl, which he properly identified as a bird, and oohed over the monsters behind the glass of a miniature Jurassic Park.

After a couple hours in the museum, Dad, son and Papa John were back on the Metro, this time to the National Zoo. The little fellow likes elephants best, and snakes next. We didn’t see any snakes, though, because we spent too much time looking at, for instance, Grevy’s zebras tussling. I had never heard of Grevy’s Zebras. I never knew there were enough species of zebras that there needed to be a qualifying name. It turns out, there are three main species of the striped horses: Grevy’s (named for a former French president), Burchell’s (named for British explorer William John Burchell, and Mountain.

In another pen, Cheetahs chased each other around the perimeter, and in yet another Red Pandas snoozed in tree tops. A Cloud Leopard wandered down a path until coming to a particularly comfortable section of deadfall tree, whereupon he stretched out to look suave for the camera. Otters, ever the “look at me” performers, swam in a pool at the top of a stream. One of them swam back and forth on its side of the glass, looking out at the toddler performing on the other side – our side.

There’s something really great about watching a youngster discover new things, even – maybe especially – when he has no real idea what he has discovered. Imagine looking at the wonder on the lad’s face and, being 22 times as old as he, realizing how little time either of us occupies in the grand scale of the universe.

There was a video with a clock that based the history of the cosmos on an hour. Forty-five minutes from the start, a huge rock smashed into the Yucatan Peninsula and wiped out nearly everything that walked the surface of our planet, leaving behind only the bones three-year-old Peter identified as “that’s a T-Rex!”

At 58 minutes, humans arrived – his ancestors – several million years ago.

A few years ago, his cousin would go downstairs to watch “Jurassic Park” on video. She would watch over and over, and each time scream at the humans to “watch out! It’s coming to get you! It’s behind you!”

The same cousin, now a high school sophomore, is into ancient history. And “Jane Eyre” – the movie version she watches the same way she once viewed “Jurassic Park.” I sometimes wonder what she’ll grow up to be.

She calls me “Old Person.” I’m jealous of the truth that I’ll not get to see how she feels, when she is the age I am, about being an Old Person, and realizes how little time she actually has spent here.

One of my favorite movie lines is from “Contact,” in which a young Ellie Arroway (played by Jodie Foster) learns from her father, Ted (played by David Morse), that the universe is so huge, “If it’s just us, it seems like an awful waste of space.”

One day, if no one bounds his imagination, the three-year-old may just grow up to discover he is not the only occupant of all that space. He and his cousin may just find links between them and something older than Jurassic Park. That, I would really like to see.