Extinction distinction

Kate Oktay
Kate Oktay
On many levels I imagine I am a fairly disappointing mother. Sort of the opposite of the earth-mothery, baking-in-the-oven-types, but also the opposite of the sporty, cheering on their child on the football field, or the politely clapping at ballet types. More the sort who cackles with friends while mostly ignoring their child falling off a swing.

These less than completely nurturing tendencies are not helped by the fact my daughter prefers what I like to call boring books. And, because I am a bad mother, this is also what she calls them. "I like boring books!" she announces to amused friends, disconcerted family and horrified teachers.

I realise that STEM is important, and that you shouldn’t discourage natural interests, but it’s just that reading about it is so mind-numbingly dull. God. "The Jurassic period began blah blah million years ago, which is the middle age of the blah blah era." It’s like reading the ingredients on the back of a shampoo bottle. Every word is 13 letters long.

"Why can’t you just get a nice story about a rabbit who makes friends with an elephant or something?" I say plaintively as she drags more textbooks out of her bag after school library day. "Maybe something about a unicorn who fights a shark?"

The school librarian is irritatingly good at her job. "Jill knows the best books for me!" my daughter says joyfully, clasping a new encyclopaedic tome to her chest and kangaroo jumping it around the circumference of the living room for a few rounds before pouring over pictures of fossils.

"Hmmm, d’you reckon Jill would like reading them every night?" I ask in as light a tone as I can manage, as she begs for another page of colourless facts to stave off bedtime for a few more minutes.

"That’s it!" I said, after month after month of book after (boring) dinosaur book, "No more dinosaurs!"

I almost instantly regretted this, as she started in on space, geology and atmospheric science.

"I give up," I said, quietly, after a few weeks of reading about igneous rocks, the size of Jupiter’s moons and the water density of cumulus clouds. "Bring back the dinosaurs."

You have to know when you have lost.

But, by some strange the-universe-has-a-sense-of-humour type coincidence, I have ended up working with the kind of people my daughter wishes I was, and a job at Otago Museum has definitely given me mothering bonus points. I am surrounded by people who know about things that make my brain sag at the very thought of having to think about them; the insides of small insects, how many years before a specific set of stars will be on a specific horizon, what the acidity of the oceans will measure in 50 years. Thuddingly, drudgingly boring, but these are my daughter’s people, and she is smitten.

Who knew that a mainstay primary school hobby of putting spiders in jars was actually a job? These are people that do exciting things, not just hang around inside writing rubbish for a brochure no-one will read.

But now there is the dinosaur exhibition, and because it’s coming to the place I work, this connection has moved me up from less-than-average-on-a-good-day, to literally the coolest parent in the 4-12 age bracket. And these dinosaurs are even something that the least sciencey person in the world (cough, me, cough) can get excited about. An 8m animatronic t-rex that senses movement and roars. A touchable cast of a fossilized nest of dinosaur eggs. Massive skeletons and science demonstrations featuring explosions in the school holidays. I have spent weeks telling people about it on the phone while making a "grrrr" sound and doing tiny tyrannosaurus waving arms that the listener can’t see, but is strengthening my colleagues’ opinion that I might not be just a bit annoying, but actually properly nuts.

I am, for the first time, getting actually interested in the same thing as my daughter is; it turns out science is quite fun when it is in gigantic robotic form. I am reading her godawful library books with slightly less dread, and in turn she is finding my brochures slightly less pointless.

Finally! I told my boss, we are achieving our vision statement of inspiring curiosity! Even hitting the most difficult to reach target market, the actively disinterested in everything except their next meal and mindless scrolling on the internet.

 - Kate Oktay


The only parents too scary are the Spartans, who go on about 'cotton wool', order their kids up trees and throw them into rivers to swim instinctually.

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