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Central Standard

Kansas City Parents At Center Of Viral 'Dinovember'


What do you do when your sleep schedule is routinely disrupted by the demands of parenthood?

If you're Refe and Susan Tuma, you respond with the spark of creative genius that only delirium can inspire. You get some plastic dinosaurs, put them in the sink, put toothbrushes in their hands, smear toothpaste all over the place, and then?

You go to bed. 

When the Kansas City, Mo., couple first set up an elaborate dinosaur scene, they thought of it as a lark, a one-time deal. But when their kids burst into their room the next morning, delighted and amazed, they were hooked.

Every night for the rest of that November, and every November since, their house has become a playground for dinosaurs (they call it Dinovember, now a phenomenon with an international social media following).

The photographs that their kids demanded they take to document the strange happenings in their house are collected in the children's book, What The Dinosaurs Did Last Night

The dinosaurs in the Tuma household have had well-behaved adventures doing things like painting watercolors and playing board games and boxing, with marshmallows for boxing gloves. But they've also set a poor example with some of their antics. One image shows the rambunctious dinosaurs sticking the metal end of a screwdriver into an electrical outlet. They break eggs and spill flour in the kitchen all over the kitchen floors. They tie up their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as though they've taken the figurines hostage.

"The dinosaurs are dinosaurs," Refe notes. "One thing that our kids have come to enjoy about the dinosaurs is that they get to do things that the kids don't get to do. They don't have to play by the same rules, so rather than our kids getting into the fruit bowl and squishing the strawberries, and rather than our kids cracking a vase or whatever it is that they happen to do, they get to experience the mischief without having to get themselves in trouble. They get to live vicariously through the dinosaurs." 

Dinovember might seem like a lot of work. And the Tumas won't lie. It is a lot of work. But then, they remind us: Raising their four kids is a lot of work. 

"I would rather have the sort of work that's fulfilling than the sort of work that's dull and endless and drudgery," Susan says.

The dinosaurs have helped the Tumas to connect, not just with their kids, but also with each other, as creative people and adults, who have fun being married and being parents.

"This just isn't something that we do, it can be something that anyone can do," says Refe, "and even if it ends up looking different — you know some people would end up using teddy bears or Barbie dolls or whatever it is that they had ... The point is if this is something that inspires you to play with your kids then make it your own and do your own thing with it."

People don't make cameos in news stories; the human story is the story, with characters affected by news events, not defined by them. As a columnist and podcaster, I want to acknowledge what it feels like to live through this time in Kansas City, one vantage point at a time. Together, these weekly vignettes form a collage of daily life in Kansas City as it changes in some ways, and stubbornly resists change in others. You can follow me on Twitter @GinaKCUR or email me at gina@kcur.org.