child

Acting like a child gets a bad rap, doesn’t it?

When anyone says we’re acting like a child, we adults take it as the supreme insult. The mere mention of childishness conjures tantrums, ruthlessly blunt commentary, and an inability to sit still.

I was watching a baby calf the other day. Lucky for me, I arrived the day after it was born. No bigger than a labrador retriever, it flitted among the bigger cows. I could almost hear it shouting, “WHY DO YOU DO NOTHING BUT EAT GRASS? THE WORLD IS REMARKABLE! COME PLAY WITH ME!”

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Poor baby calf. For several days, it frolicked and danced and raced around the pasture. Once in a while, it stopped to watch the other cows, heads down, perpetually chewing grass and ignoring the wide world. It only took a week for baby calf to start acting like its elders, its joy forgotten as it grew into the role the others demonstrated over and over and over again.

I don’t want to end up like that baby calf.

We are born without fear, aren’t we? Whenever I watch children, I marvel at their curiosity, their sense of wonder, and their willingness to throw themselves into their surroundings. They don’t care what’s appropriate. Instead, they embrace the moments they’re given and milk them for everything they can.

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My guideson Cooper gave me the opportunity to do just that. We visited a water park. I sat on the sidelines in the blistering heat, watching the children splash and romp in the water. Every adult looked like me: hot and miserable. The kids knew where relief was.

And just like that, I didn’t care that I was fully clothed. I raced into the water and chased Cooper all over the park. We screamed and laughed and splashed each other silly. My face hurt from smiling. I was blissfully cool and happy.

What’s Wrong With Acting Like a Child? from Andra Watkins on Vimeo.

Other children didn’t look at me like I was nuts. They went up to their parents and said, “Look at that lady. Why can’t you come in, too?”

And by the time we left, half the adults had waded into the water. Oh, they weren’t romping around, shrieking like a banshee. But they stopped caring whether they got wet and embraced a few minutes of childlike magic.

When was the last time you acted like a child (in a good way)?

Tell us about it in a comment today!

what happened

This is the story of what happened when I let a six-year-old choose a vacation destination.

Walt Disney World or Universal Studios claim most adults. I can’t conjure a greater hell, especially since I spent my mistake-marriage honeymoon there. When we offered to take our guideson on an epic sixth birthday adventure, here’s what he picked:

what happened

Haven’t heard of Alberta’s Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, Canada’s premiere paleontology destination? You’re not alone. But when a kid loves dinosaurs and you love that kid, you make sacrifices, right? Including redeeming every award point you possess to make a trek to a godforsaken place you never wanted to see.

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I gritted my teeth and prepared to endure hours of staring at long-dead, horrifying creatures in close quarters. My knowledge of dinosaurs comes from the 1970s Saturday morning show “Land of the Lost.” The utter awfulness of that program banished any curiosity I may’ve otherwise had. My upbringing snuffed out what remained. It’s hard to study dinosaurs in a school that teaches the Earth’s only been around for 10,000 years.

what happened

But the most complete armored fossil ever found? Call me transfixed. It represents a species formerly unknown to science. A paleontologist worked for five years to chip it from its prison of rock. I gazed into its eye socket and wondered about the world it saw.

what happened

Why did I expect to be bored? I hoped to plow through my to-read list while he saw the exhibits. The place came at me as broccoli I didn’t want to try. A dinosaur museum held nothing for someone like me.

what happened

What’s the greatest value to approaching life with an open mind?

In this case, I’m glad I tried the broccoli. I was gobsmacked by the Royal Tyrrell Museum. When Cooper was already in the gift shop picking out a stuffed toy, I was staring at the tusks of this woolly mammoth. I couldn’t get enough of the bones, the geology, or the stories of discovery. When I threw myself into it without reservations, I loved a place I expected to hate.

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My challenge to you?

Pick your stand-in for my dinosaur museum. It can be a restaurant you think you won’t enjoy, a movie that’s been panned, or a book in a genre you don’t usually read. Don’t limit yourself. Try something you expect to hate. Embrace the moment, and let me know what happened for you.

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Dinosaur Provincial Park, the world’s largest cache of cretaceous fossils, is located in Alberta’s Badlands. Calgary, the closest international airport, is over two hours by car, to give readers a sense of how much nothing is nearby.

We did Dinosaur Provincial Park in one day.

Here’s how:

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MTM, the fossil-finding expert.

Arrive early.

While the park offers ample campground space, visitors like me who want to sleep in a lodge are out of luck. We booked an Air B & B, set our alarm clocks, and made it to the park by 9am. The Badlands are a desert environment. Mid-afternoon gets hot. Booking a morning excursion keeps everybody more comfortable.

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MTM found this gorgosaurus tooth.

Book at least one guided tour.

Dinosaur Provincial Park is massive, but much of it is a natural preserve for paleontologists and park staff. The natural preserve is only open to those on a guided tour. We chose the morning Fossil Safari and were picking our way through a fossil bed by 10am. A park guide helped us determine which of our finds were fossils (everything MTM found) and which were rocks (everything I dragged over.)

Take a gander at DPP’s guided tours HERE.

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The men enjoying our picnic by the Red Deer River.

Take a picnic.

The park offers ample picnic areas, with tables and fire pits. Firewood is even available at a kiosk. With only one snack bar onsite and the town of Brooks a thirty-minute drive away, bringing a picnic equals the best shot at a full belly.

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Because everybody puts gorgosaurus fossils in their mouths, right?

Be gobsmacked.

When we took our guideson Cooper to Dinosaur Provincial Park for his sixth birthday, we didn’t expect to enjoy it as adults. We booked a visit to the paleontology lab thinking it’d give us some blessed air conditioning. Instead, we took a fascinating tour with a real paleontologist and got a chance to touch real fossils. Outside, fossils were EVERYWHERE. By the time we boarded the bus for our sunset photography tour, we knew what to look for.

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Dinosaur Provincial Park’s Natural Preserve near sunset.

The lesson? You never know what might happen when you book a trip you think you won’t like. We loved Dinosaur Provincial Park and are already planning a future trip to Alberta to expand our horizons.

Read all about Cooper in my NYT best selling memoir Not Without My Father. Click HERE to get a copy in your preferred format.

What places have surprised you?

Tell us about your experiences in a comment today.