The dirty secret of Dinosaur Train’s Pteranodon family
As the parent of a toddler, we watch a lot of Dinosaur Train. It’s a show from PBS kids that mashes up two of young kids’ most favorite things ever: dinosaurs and trains. I can almost hear the PBS executives pitching the idea. “So, how about a show like Tomas the Tank Engine but set in dinosaur time? Oh, and get this: the train can travel through time to visit all the time periods, like the Cretatious and Jurassic—like in those movies! But the dinosaurs will be all cuddly and friendly and they’ll be super educational. Kids’ll love it!”
Sounds weird but our daughter is hooked on it. She can recite the theme song and name a ton of dinosaurs so I guess it’s educational. And as far as kids’ shows go, I actually don’t mind sitting through Dinosaur Train (unlike Mickey Mouse Clubhouse). But there is one thing that really bothers me. The protagonists, for those unfamiliar with the show, are a family of Pteranodons: a mother and father and their three kids: Tiny, Shiny and Don. “But wait, there’s one more mom!” Tiny exclaims in the show’s opening that details the origins of the family. “The last little baby was a different size. He had teeth, a tail, and big green eyes. He didn’t look anything like the rest. ‘What am I doing in a Pteranodon nest?’” Precisely. The fourth kid in the family is a young Tyrannosaurus Rex named Buddy. He hatches in the nest from an egg along with his three adoptive brothers and sisters. But I always wondered how Mr. and Mrs. Pteranodon got this T.Rex egg. It’s never explained in the show; it’s explained away in the opening with these lines “This is your family and I’m your mom. You may look different, but we’re all creatures. All dinosaurs have different features.” That’s it… no other explanation given.
Then, in episode 38 of the first season, titled “I’m a T.Rex!“, Buddy learns that he’s a T.Rex. The family stops at Rexville for lunch and they encounter a T.Rex family that is clearly identical to Buddy. I watched the episode (something I’d do dozens of times since my daughter loved that one) and each time thought: “How come no one is talking about the obvious fact that the Pteranodons stole the egg from these T.Rexes?!” The answer was clear: it’s a PBS Kids show about animated dinosaurs aimed at teaching kids about paleontology (and entertaining them, of course). The harsh reality of egg-napping avians doesn’t really fit in such a context.
But this is the internet.
I’ve written the following backstory for this episode, which takes place between Mrs. Pteranodon and her host in Rexville, Delores Tyrannosaurus. It occurs immediately following the brief introduction of the Pteranodon and Tyrannosaurus families (time 21:45 if your’e following along in the episode). While the kids are off playing together (which of course is shown in the episode), I envision the following conversation between the two mothers.
Writing this really scratched the itch I’ve had the past year or so watching this show (even if it does mean I’m writing fanfic for a PBS kids’ show). I hope some other parents out there find and enjoy my take on the relationship. Share your thoughts in the comments.
Mrs. Pteranodon watched her kids—Tiny, Shiny, Don and Buddy—as they ran playfully into the forest with Annie. Three of her kids were, of course, pteranodons. Buddy, like the kids’ new friend Annie, was a young T-Rex.
“What a nice bunch of kids you have, Mrs. P.” The voice of Delores Tyrannosaurus cut through the still, early afternoon air of the late Cretaceous. “Especially Buddy,” she added after a moment.
Mrs. Pteranodon wasn’t sure exactly what it was, but she sensed an slight edge in Delores’ voice. She turned her small, winged form away from the retreating children toward the massive carnivore. “Thank you for saying so, Delores. Their father and I are very proud of all four of our kids.”
“They’ll be playing ‘kick the cone’ for a long while,’ Delores said in response. “Why don’t we have a seat and get to know one another better?”
“That’d be very nice,” Mrs.P answered, though mainly for the idea of some shade than for the companionship. The pair of dinosaurs made their way to the shade of provided by a relatively thick copse of trees. A pile of carrion sat stinking nearby in the early afternoon sun.
“Tell me a bit about your kids, Mrs. P.” Delores said once they’d made themselves comfortable.
“Oh, they’re great kids,” she started in reply. “They’re so curious and full of life. They love to play and explore, and of course ride the Dinosaur Train! We go all–”
“How old are they?” Delores cut in, interrupting the pteranodon.
“Uh, they’re eight,” she answered, taken somewhat aback by the abrupt question. “Why?”
Delores made a shrugging gesture with her undersized arms. “Just curious. That’s how hold my Annie is.” After a moment she added “They’re all eight? Even Buddy”?
Mrs. Pteranodon nodded. “Yes, they all hatched the same day. Within minutes, actually. It was something special.”
Again, the tyrannosaur shrugged, then turned away. “Mrs. Pteranodon, would you care for something to drink?”
“Thank you, yes, Delores. That would be wonderful!” Squawked the pteranodon.
Delores handed her a hollowed-out gourd filled with a cloudy liquid. She dipped her beak in and slurped a bit. “Mmmm, it’s got a very interesting flavor.”
“Ever had it before?” Delores asked, emptying her own gourd down her mouth.
“I’m not sure… maybe I have.”
With this answer, Delores fixed her with a powerful stare, both of her large eyes fixed on the smaller dinosaur. “It’s a Rexville speciality—you can’t get it anywhere else.” She paused a moment. “You said this was your first time to Rexville?”
Mrs. Pteranodon sensed something deeper in the question. She felt a twinge of misgiving about her decision to stop here with the kids. She took a breath and mustered her courage before returning the Tyrannosaur’s stare. “It is our first time here, so I guess I have never tasted that drink before.”
The two stared at each other, the tension between them growing thick.
Finally, Delores spoke. The iciness in her tone almost enough to cool the hot air of the Cretaceous afternoon. “Where did you get Buddy’s egg, Mrs. Pteranodon?”
The directness of the question—and the implications it carried—struck Mrs. Pteranodon. She couldn’t find words to answer for a moment, all the while baking in the heat of the afternoon sun and Delores’ gaze.
“I… we, I mean… Mr. pteranodon and I found the egg and took it in,” she stammered, obviously side-stepping the larger dinosaur’s question. It was the line she’d told the kids since they hatched and everyone who’d asked since then. She said it again, drawing strength from the familiarity of the statement. Delores listened with unblinking eyes, her short arms held expectantly in front of her. Suddenly, she shook her huge head and said in a near roar: “Where did you find it!?”
Mrs. Pteranodon squawked in fright and jumped backward, unsure of how to answer. An instinctual fear consumed her as she looked up at the giant tower of angry, powerful tyrannosaurus. Why, why had she stopped here in Rexville again? The last time seemed so long ago that she’d let herself get sloppy. At worst, she was about to become an avian-shaped snack for this behemoth; at best, she was going to be exposed as a kidnapper and home-wrecker and lose her adopted son. She tried to find something to say in answer, to deflect the direct question whose truthful answer was so awful… but all she could muster was a half-hearted squawk that caught in her throat.
The giant’s mouth descended toward her. Mrs. Pteranodon registered two thoughts before reflex forced her eyes shut. First, she felt shame for the deceitful act she and her mate had perpetrated eight years ago when they slipped an egg out of an unattended nest not very far from here. Second, she wondered why Delores’ jaws weren’t open as she dove in to swallow her.
But she wasn’t engulfed in a mouth full of razor-like teeth. When she cracked her eyelids and looked she found herself face-to-face with Delores. Her hot, stinking breath washed over her as she hissed “I should rip you to shreds for what you did, you bitch. Believe me, I’d like nothing better than to devour you right here and now and spit your bones in a pile for your kids to take home to your kidnapping husband. Except for Buddy, of course… he’d stay here with me. He’s mine!”
Regardless of her intent, Delores almost did kill Mrs. Pteranodon. Her heart felt as though it had stopped and her blood went cold despite the oppressive heat. The giant carnivore’s words destroyed her inside as the fear of being eaten was overtaken by horror and shame. She almost wished she would just eat her and release her from the awfulness of the realization of her deceitful act. It had been so easy before; an unattended nest in the twilight, ripe with eggs. Mrs. Pteranodon never imagined it would be missed–let alone find herself at the business end of its mother’s stinking maw.
“But…” Delores continued through her clenched teeth, “doing so would have… ramifications for the children. While you and your mate deserve the worst, I will not orphan your children. Unlike some dinosaurs”—she here spat a wad of hot phlegm at Mrs. Pteranodon’s feet—”I care about the welfare of families.”
Mrs. Pteranodon sputtered and squawked, trying to find something to say that would either convey her relief or at least bring this awkward conversation to an end.
“Shut your beak!” Delores ordered, and her guest obeyed. “Here’s what’s going to happen. When the kids get back, we’ll act like none of this happened. I’ll take Annie aside and ask her to ask Buddy if he wants to stay here. I’ll be discreet so Annie doesn’t realize what’s really going on.” She paused for a moment. “Nod if you understand,” she said, realizing the petrified pteranodon couldn’t even utter a few words in her state.
Tears squeezed out from under her unusually long eyelashes, but she nodded.
“Good.” Now, if Buddy expresses an interest in staying in Rexville, we will find a way to let him explore that. If that interest turns into something more, I will consider telling him the truth about his family. His real family, I mean. That means me.” With that, she reared up, allowing the smaller dinosaur an inhalation free from the carnivore’s stinking breath.
Whether from the heat or the shock of her secret being revealed—or both—Mrs. Pteranodon fainted. She wasn’t out long, but when she came to she found she’d been drug to the shade. Her gourd had been refilled with Rexville’s signature beverage; her thirst won out over her pride and she drank. At last she worked up the courage to continue the conversation with Delores.
“What if Buddy wants to stay with us in Pteranodon Terrace?”
“If he does then he’ll be allowed to. He was stolen from his family once”—at this Mrs. Pteranodon flinched—”and I won’t do that to him again. Even if it means he won’t be with his true family.”
Relief flooded through her at these words. Buddy could stay with them! Maybe her world wouldn’t come crashing down? But it depended on her adoptive son’s choice. Would he stay with the only family he’d ever known? Buddy’s words from earlier that day rang in her ears: “I’m really glad you’re my mom.” She felt confident he’d chose to stay with her. But would instinct and curiosity compel him to remain with these… strangers? Strangers despite looking like him, smelling like him, and yes… were him? Fear returned and threatened to overwhelm her again. She forced herself to stop. Buddy would make the decision on his own; there was nothing that would change that now. Gratitude toward the giant beast suddenly welled up in her. “Thank you,” she managed quietly, eyes downcast.
These were not the words Delores wanted to hear. “How dare you?!” She spat as she whirled back to face the avian egg-napper. “Don’t you thank me. I’m doing what’s right for Buddy—not for you. Remember that!” She stomped away in disgust, leaving the Pteranodon alone.
An hour or so went by; Mrs. Pteranodon wasn’t exactly sure. Eventually Delores returned and seemed calmer. She sat her giant bulk down next to her guest. “How’ve you raised him when you know so little about Tyrannosaurs?” she asked, looking into the heat-shimmering distance.
Mrs. Pteranodon swallowed, choosing her words carefully. “We did our best, Delores. We let him explore his instincts. But you could tell me a little about your species so I’d be a better mom to him. If he wants to stay with us, I mean.”
Delores nodded and began explaining what it was like being a Tyrannosaur: their excellent vision and sense of smell, migrating, and of course, their eating habits. Soon another half hour had passed.
“Speaking of eating, it’s time for lunch. I’ll call the kids.” Delores inhaled deeply, then bellowed “ANNIE!“
Delores turned to Mrs. Pteranodon. “Now keep yourself together. Act natural and be yourself. Remember, I’ll tell Annie to ask Buddy and he’ll decide. Here they come.” She turned away from the winged dinosaur to the four kids bounding toward them. They were happy and hungry and blissfully unaware of the momentous revelation that had occurred while they’d been playing kick the cone.