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What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night: A Conversation with Creators Susan and Refe Tuma

Susan and Refe Tuma are the authors of the Dinovember books, including What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night and What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night: A Very Messy Adventure.


Parent Co. caught up with the creative couple, parents to four children under the age of eight. Here’s what they had to say about living the Dinovember life.

PARENT CO: The photographs in the Dinovember books are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Your dinos blow the Elf on the Shelf and the Mensch on a Bench away by miles, in my opinion, and also provide a secular option that allows any family to get in on the fun previously reserved for specific religious holidays (albeit tangentially, as much as such a product can be considered for “religious” purposes). Can you describe the genesis of Dinovember?

via Dinovember.tumblr.com

REFE TUMA: When our son was an infant, he had some minor health problems that kept him up at night for hours. Two years into this, Susan and I were exhausted. We’d get up in the morning and have nothing left for our older kids, and they were starting to notice. We needed some way to reconnect with them.

One night, after putting the kids to bed, we came across a box of dinosaur toys. On a whim, Susan decided to set them up on the bathroom sink and give them the kids’ toothbrushes. We figured it might give the kids a laugh in the morning. We went to bed without thinking much more about it.

The next morning, our daughter burst into our room and pulled us out of bed. The dinosaurs had come to life and she had caught them brushing their teeth! Her reaction was so unexpected and priceless. That’s when we knew the dinosaurs would have to come to life again. And they did, for the entire month of November.

via Dinovember.tumblr.com

PC: A Pinterest search for “Dinovember” ideas yields seemingly endless results. How did the month-long family activity become an Internet sensation and two-book deal with Little, Brown?

RT: In 2012, the very first year the dinosaurs came to life, we started taking pictures of the messes they were making. We put a few on Facebook for friends and family, and jokingly called it Dinovember. Everyone enjoyed it, and they were a bit of an inside joke.

In 2013, the dinosaurs returned—and we found out that our kids weren’t the only ones interested in what they were doing. Friends and family started sharing the photos, and on top of that our kids were telling anyone who would listen all about their crazy dinosaurs. We wanted an easy way to explain what on earth our kids were so excited about, so I wrote a quick essay describing what Dinovember was and what it was about and posted it on a new site, medium.com. I figured, whenever someone asked us what our kids were talking about we could point them to that essay and the photos, and it would make a little more sense.

Instead, Welcome to Dinovember was read [on Medium] more than 2 million times in 24 hours. It was syndicated by the Huffington Post and the story was picked up by the Washington Post, Metro UK, and others. I started getting emails from literary agents and editors who wanted to talk about expanding the essay into a full-length photo book. We were in complete shock (and excited out of our minds!).

We wanted to make two books, one for the adults who had started following along with Dinovember, and one just for kids. John Parsley at Little Brown shared our vision and, along with our wonderful agents Liz Farrell and Kristyn Keene, helped orchestrate a deal with Little Brown and Co. and children’s imprint Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

PC: From what I understand, your family’s home is truly the scene of the crime in these photos. What’s the worst mess the dinosaurs ever made?

SUSAN TUMA: That really is our house! As for the worst mess—the dinosaurs once created an avalanche from our refrigerator’s ice-maker. It stood 4’ tall and 3’ wide and took over 750 lbs. of ice. It’s in one of the final photos of What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night, but we also have a photo of two of our kids sledding down it. It was that big.

PC: Setting up the dinosaur scenes and seeing your kids’ reactions must be so fun. Who does the clean up?

ST: Not the dinosaurs, unfortunately—if only we’d gone with robots!

The kids will often play with whatever the dinosaurs got into the night before, so a lot of the clean-up during Dinovember isn’t all that different from any other month; if the dinosaurs do crafts, the kids do them too. It’s a mess either way. (Of course, if spray paint or broken eggs are involved, it’s going to be mom and dad doing the cleaning.)

PC: The Dinovember books are very art-forward, but they also tell a story. Can you describe the story writing process? Who does the writing? What’s the most important message the books send?

via Dinovember.tumblr.com

ST: We truly work together on every step of the process. That’s one of the benefits of doing projects like these with your spouse—we live this stuff together. Refe started out doing most of the writing since that’s a big part of his background, and I (Susan) took the lead early on in the photography department. Now there isn’t quite as much distinction—it’s almost entirely collaborative. It’s just more fun that way. We have different approaches, and so often one person’s idea is refined or informed by the other’s. It actually brings out the better work from both of us.

Our books are definitely about the importance of childhood imagination; the spark and the wonder of it.  We hope they’re also an invitation to parents to engage in that wonder as well, with their children.

PC: Do the kids still think the dinosaurs come alive at night, or do they know it’s you? How did you explain this to them and what was their reaction?

RT: It depends on which ones you ask! Our youngest two are aged 2 and 4, and they absolutely believe. Our oldest (8) is in on it now. She likes to help the dinosaurs out from time to time, and has come up with some great ideas. So far, our 7-year-old has chosen to keep playing along ;).

PC: What’s interesting to me is how you created a family tradition that was all your own—I think that’s what many of us parents want for our own families. It’s more meaningful than a commercialized product bought at a store ever could be. What did Dinovember teach you as parents and as a family?

RT: I think we’ve learned that all good things in life are messy, especially when kids are involved. And that inspiration can be found in the unlikeliest places—even in a box of old toys.

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Dear Jeff Bezos and all who have anything to do with Amazon Prime Day,

I just want to start by saying—I know you are trying to be helpful. I love you all for that. I honestly do. But, you are kind of making me feel a lot of pressure today. Like, in a good way, but also, in an anxious way.

Let me explain…

On any given day, as a mother to three children, I have a certain level of anxiety. While it's not constant, I do have my anxious moments. Why? Because there are various versions of the following: Me asking my two older daughters to get their shoes on what feels like 500 times as I am changing my 9-month-old's very, very, very messy diaper while I am trying to figure out what I can throw on to wear in about five seconds while I am repeating brush your teeth, brush your teeth in my head so I, in fact, don't forget to brush my teeth.

Not even to mention the mental load that weighs on my mind every single day. Remember to flip the laundry, fill out the school forms, cancel that appointment, reschedule this appointment, order more diapers, figure out what we're having for dinner, squeeze in a shower, lock the basement door so the baby can't get down the stairs, find better eczema cream for my middle daughter, get more sunscreen...the list goes on and on and on.

But then you Amazon Prime Day me and I'm having a lot of feelings about that.

Because you're reminding me of things I need to order, to think about, to be on top of more.

The little potty that's on sale reminds me that I need to step up my potty training game for my 2-year-old. That super cute dollhouse reminds me that I need to think about my daughter's first birthday in two months (WHAT!). That face mask reminds me that I need to remember to wash my face before bed because I forget waaaay more than I remember which is terrible.

But then I realize, these deals are going to save my mental load by fixing my life. Right?

Like, I never knew I needed an Instant Pot until you told me it was only $58. Now I am scouring Pinterest for meals I want to prep in my own. THIS POT IS THE TICKET TO GETTING MY LIFE IN ORDER.

Do we need more plates and cups for the kids? I mean really they only probably need about two plates and two cups each but YES. Yes I do need more cute kids kitchenware. THESE PLATES ARE THE TICKET TO BEING A GOOD MOM.

What would I do if I had five Echo Dots? I don't know, but let's find out because they're only $29! THESE DOTS ARE THE TICKET TO EFFICIENCY.

If I order a Vitamix at 30% off, I know I'll lose the baby weight. Think of all the smoothies I'll mix up! I mean, I just lost a pound even thinking about the smoothies that thing can whip up. THIS VITAMIX IS THE TICKET TO A SEXY BOD.

Buying this trendy, floral dress will step up my mom style significantly. THIS DRESS IS THE TICKET TO KEEPING MY COOL.

Okay, then after I add all the fixers to my cart, I realize… I have 99 things, but necessity ain't one.

I mean, I have everything from waterproof band-aids to bras to dresses for myself and my kids to an alarm clock and books. I basically feel like Oprah—You get an Audible subscription! You get an Audible subscription!—but instead of these products magically being paid for by Queen O herself, the money is coming from my bank account, which is a lot less fun of a game, TBH.

And if I am being honest, I don't need much help with my order-things-from-Amazon-and-pretend-it's-being-paid-for-with-Monopoly-money game as I am quite often coming home to an Amazon package wondering what it could be, opening it with the enthusiasm of a kid on Christmas morning—even though I am the exact person who ordered whatever is inside of that Amazon box.

But today, on Amazon Prime Day, you tempt me with all the deals. And yes, my anxiety, blood pressure and adrenaline rise. And yes, my bank account might temporarily decrease—BUT if we are being fair, with the savings I'm getting on things I would buy anyway, I am basically making our account increase overall. Right?

And while these things aren't going to make me skinnier, or cooler, or more put together—I'm okay with that. I am doing a pretty good job on my own. But some of them will actually help my life in a few different ways at a reasonable price, and I am grateful for that—for real.

Now, Bezos, please end this 404 error nonsense and let me purchase all the things!

Thank you for all the savings and excitement,

Mamas everywhere

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Usually when celebrities post swimsuit photos on Instagram they don't exactly look like your average beach-going mom, but former Bachelorette (and mom of two) Ali Fedotowsky posted a series of bikini photos on Monday that are both beautiful and relatable.

"This might be my most vulnerable post on Instagram ever," she wrote in the caption for the photos which show a postpartum belly that looks like a real postpartum belly.

"At the end of the day, I know it's important to be open and honest about my postpartum body in hopes that it helps even one person out there who is struggling with their own body image," Fedotowsky (who just gave birth to her second child in May) wrote.

In the first photo of the series she's wearing a sarong around her stomach, but in the second and third photos Fedotowsky reveals the kind of stomach many mamas sport: It's not perfectly taut, she's not showing off any abs, but it is definity beautiful.

"If you swipe to see the second photo in this post, you see that my body has changed. My skin around my stomach is very loose and stretched out, I'm 15lbs heavier than I used to be, and my cup size has grown quite significantly," Fedotowsky writes.

The photos are a sponsored post for Lilly and Lime Swimwear (a line made for women with larger busts) but that doesn't mean it wasn't brave. In fact, the fact that it's an ad makes it even more amazing because research shows that when advertising only shows us bodies that don't look like our own, women become "generally more dissatisfied with their body and appearance".

Ali Fedotowsky

On her blog Fedotowsky notes that a lot of comments on her previous Instagram posts have been followers remarking how slim she looks, or how much they wish they looked like she does postpartum. By dropping that sarong and showing her tummy Fedotowsky is showing other mothers that there is nothing wrong with their own.

"While I appreciate the positive comments, you guys are always so good to me, I keep trying to explain that I'm just good at picking out clothes that flatter my body and hide my tummy," she wrote on her blog.

"I bounced back pretty quickly after I gave birth to Molly. But things are different this time and I'm OK with that. I'm learning to love my body and embrace how it's changed. I hope I get back to my pre-pregnancy shape one day, but that may never happen. And if it doesn't, that's OK."

Ali Fedotowsky

It is okay, because our bodies are more than our swimsuit selfies. They the vessels that carry us through life and carry our children and provide a safe, warm place for those children feel love.

Loose skin is a beautiful thing.


Thanks for keeping it real, Ali.

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Amazon shoppers were anxiously awaiting the countdown to Amazon Prime Day, but when the clock struck one, er three, the website went down.

On Monday afternoon shoppers were trying to get their hands on the much-hyped Prime Day deals but instead of low prices, many users just saw 404 errors, continuously refreshing pages, or had issues keeping or adding items to their shopping carts.

CNBC reports shares of Amazon were down during the shopping glitch, and many shoppers took to Twitter and Instagram to discuss how all they could see on Amazon were the dogs who decorate the site's 404 pages.

As cute as the dogs are, shoppers are getting tired of seeing them, so hopefully Amazon gets things back up and running soon. Analysts had projected Amazon would rake in $3 billion dollars this Prime Day. Time will tell how much of that was lost during the great dog picture debacle of 2018.

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"Say you're sorry!"

"Go apologize and mean it."

"You don't sound like you're sorry to me."

"She won't want to be your friend anymore if you don't apologize right now."

Sound familiar? This is a hot topic for many parents. We want our kids to have good manners, to truly feel and show compassion for another, to want to apologize from a heartfelt and authentic place—yet when we tell them to say they're sorry, what are we really communicating?

I think:

  • I need you to apologize so I can feel better about what just happened...
  • This is how we fix problems...
  • I need you to do what I say ...
  • You need me to tell you how to feel and behave...
  • I'm in control...(bigger and stronger wins)
  • Integrity is secondary to apologies—what you do doesn't have to be aligned with how you feel or think... just do it anyway.

Whew. Maybe not the message we really want to give.

Yes, manners are important and apologies are necessary. But, encouraging the growth of this from within—a genuine desire to (re)connect and show compassion, being in our integrity—is essential for healthy relationships.

Think about it. How might you feel if, after being hurt deeply by a friend they brushed you off with a cursory, "I'm sorry" or after a tearful yelling match with your teen that left you feeling raw, your spouse said, "How could you lose it like that?! You need to go apologize to him!"

I'd venture to say you might feel more hurt, maybe misunderstood and alone, or even mad.

Often, situations our children are in that we catch ourselves telling them to apologize are defined by just the same kinds of feelings. Hurt whether they are the one doing the hurting or being hurt; frustrated and mad that their favorite toy was grabbed, a cool idea rejected, some other injustice experienced; misunderstood because their feelings and thoughts weren't respected, because the adult missed all that led up to the conflict, because they weren't listened to; alone because they are misunderstood, not listened to, hurt on the inside, feeling rejected; MAD because they really didn't like what their buddy did and their feelings overflowed.

Having your child say "I'm sorry" is going to do very little for a child to grow an understanding of how they feel, why they feel, what they can do with all these feelings—all precursors to compassion.

The words I'm sorry" are more often about our need, not our child's. So what can you do to grow the genuine, integrity based, heartfelt ability to apologize?

1. Role model, always

Be genuine with your own apologies. Voice compassion for your child, others, and their situation.

2. Name and affirm feelings of all parties involved.

Just think, if your spouse, following the tearful yelling match with your teen, had said, "Honey that was really tough. Let me hold you for a minute while you pull yourself together," how might you now feel? How might that change the next step you took? I bet you'd feel connected, understood, cared for, and in a better position to now re-connect with your son and apologize for losing it. And it would have come from a genuine place within you.

3. Give choices or ideas.

"What can you do to help him feel better?"

"When you are ready to let her know you feel sorry, she'll appreciate it."

"Can you use your words or would you like to show her you feel sorry?"

Words, smiles, pats, sharing a toy, playing next to—these are all authentic ways kids can show they are sorry.

4. Notice what your child chooses or does on their own to express their apology and their feelings and name it.

"Thank you for offering your special stuffed guy to your friend. You wanted to help him feel better. What a nice thing to do to let him know you felt sorry."

And now you are helping your child learn a bit more about what healthy, caring relationships look like. Genuine apologies are on their way. It takes time to grow a child who can tap into their inner selves and respond with compassion and honesty in a difficult situation. Time, patience, and gentle guidance... trust this. "I'm sorry" will follow... and be truly meant.

Relationship building all around.

Originally published on Denali Parent Coaching.

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