Jerry Nelson: Life lessons from a T. rex birthday party

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
Jerry Nelson

It had been decades since my wife and I attended a toddler’s birthday party. A recent birthday soiree proved to be a revelatory experience.

Our grandson just turned three and his cousin, Charlie, who also had an end-of-April birthday, just turned two. It made sense for their moms to throw a joint birthday bash for the little guys, to deal with both tornados of chaos at the same time and place.

But first we had to get to the party venue. This involved driving south for most of the day until we reached the Kansas City area, where the boys and their parents live.

According to the USDA, Kanas City is several hardiness zones ahead of the area where we live. After our long, cold winter, and the slow start to spring, it felt strange to look out the car window and see an increasingly green landscape. Once we arrived at our destination, I couldn’t help but think, “My God, their lilacs are blooming! And their peonies are budding! Is this Eden?”       

Thanks to the benign weather conditions, it was possible to hold the birthday party for the two little guys in a lush, green residential backyard. Our spring has been so chilly, we will be lucky to able to do something similar by August.

One thing that I noticed about modern birthday parties is the type and quantity of balloons. When our sons were youngsters, we would purchase maybe a couple of latex balloons to mark the occasion. Nowadays, it seems that each child’s birthday is celebrated with enough helium-filled Mylar balloons to potentially loft the tot into the stratosphere.

Dinosaurs are a big thing with kids these days, especially for boys. This means having dinosaur-shaped balloons, dinosaur-themed gift wrap and, of course, toy dinosaurs. It also meant that the birthday boys were prone stomping around in the steamy, primordial jungle of the backyard as they held their arms in a T. rex-like manner and exclaimed “ROWR!” at anyone and anything that they encountered.

From what I observed, here are a few rules for living the toddler life:

Never walk anywhere when you can run. Hopping or skipping is even better.

It’s perfectly acceptable, table manners-wise, to use the fingers of one hand to put food into your mouth while holding a fork or a spoon in the other hand.

It is altogether right and proper to exclaim “No!” to every question that you are asked. A guy needs to be especially forceful when answering such extremely personal questions as, “Do you need to blow your nose?” or “Is it time for a nap?”

Conversely, you can quietly acquiesce when offered a second piece of birthday cake. Your mom is likely to praise you and give you a kiss on the cheek if you also say “pwease” and “fank you”.

You should always be making some sort of noise. A lack of racket is likely to attract the attention of some snoopy adult who will inevitably be wondering why everything is so quiet.

It was a big deal to have a movie camera of any kind (can anyone say Betamax?) back when our sons were young. Nowadays, everyone, including many family pets, has a smartphone that features a miniature movie studio. Today’s tots are so accustomed to being photographed that they automatically strike a pose and smile whenever they see someone pointing a smartphone at them.

My wife and I relearned that little boys are perpetual motion machines. They seem to have exactly two settings, namely, “asleep” and “go as fast as you can!”

I once read that a fully trained Marine was tasked with duplicating every move that a three-year-old boy made. The Marine was rendered prostrate with exhaustion after only half an hour. My wife and I can empathize. We get tired from merely watching toddlers tearing around.

It’s a proven fact that every system contains a finite amount of energy. My wife and I have the theory that we used up all of our energy when we were kids. This explains why we tire so easily now.

After spending a few days with our toddler grandson – just when we were getting accustomed to the constant noise and motion – it was time to return home. To her credit, my wife didn’t need to wipe her eyes until we had driven several blocks.

Motoring northward, I looked across the laser-level flatlands of the Missouri River floodplain and the tortured but greening accordion folds of the Loess Hills. It made me think about contrasts and the passage of time.

And in my mind, I could hear a small T. rex exclaiming, “ROWR!”

If you'd like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at and at booksellers everywhere.