Raising Baby T. Rex: Terrifying Sharks for a Toddler Ocean Explorer

My hand-painted white tee featured a crudely drawn killer whale and the words “Save the Whales,” because it was the 90’s and I was really into Free Willy. I was 10. My career goals included joining Greenpeace and cutting whale nets to free all captive marine life.

The right-side-up killer whale I painted looked more like a breaching blue whale because I used way too much white paint. My overzealous painting resulted in my teacher giving my “Save the Whales” design an award. The t-shirt was displayed in the hallway outside her classroom for a few days of schoolwide recognition.

I was obsessed with animals and the environment as a little kid. My parents got me a subscription to Zoobooks (They’re still in print today!) and I devoured each edition. My favorite show was Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures. I don’t know if the early ’90s were heavily influenced by environmental action or if I was just personally fascinated with it

I vividly remember this one PSA spot that came on PBS in the mornings about conservation. It showed a spunky animated fish tragically losing all the water in his pond because some careless animated child let the water run while brushing his teeth. If you waste even a minute amount of water, you’ll kill a happy fishie! That’s what I took away from the ad. I was always harping on my parents to turn off the lights when they left a room or to cut the soda rings so sea turtles wouldn’t die.

I was earnest AF about my mission: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! Save the Whales! (Cue “Will You Be There?”)

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My parents encouraged my interests, but they weren’t big on whales and they definitely wouldn’t consider themselves environmentalists. Why did I have such an interest in animals? Later, why did I develop a love of poetry when literally no one in my household read or wrote poetry? As an adoptee, I’ve always wondered about nurture vs. nature. Was one of my biological parents a writer or lover of words? Did I just love animals because my parents had pets? Or was it because of something in my nature?

Remi just celebrated her first Christmas that she actively participated in! Her first Christmas, at three months, she didn’t understand and was mostly just a baby prop to pass around to family members. Last year, at one, she liked her presents but didn’t understand the holidays conceptually. This year, at two, she could point out Santa and say, “Ho ho ho!” when prompted. She unwrapped her own presents (and some of ours) with excitement. She said, “Thank you!” for her gifts and has been sorting and playing with her new toys all week.

Her most favorite toys are definitely the cheap plastic ocean animals Waffle found on Amazon. These are… not attractive ocean animals, but they’re very realistic? Honestly, I think they’re terrifying and monstrous both in design and texture. She LOVES THEM.

Ahhhhhhhhh!

She got quite a few presents that were ocean animal oriented this year. Right now, Remi’s napping and these are the toys she left in her wake from this morning’s play time. All of them were Christmas gifts.

I don’t know why she loves the ocean so much. Some of her other toddler interests are more predictable and we definitely played a part in shaping them. Dinosaurs, for example, were sort of forced upon Remi and, well, it makes sense that she’d be attracted to them since we decorated her room with them and have been talking about them since her fetushood. Books are a constant in our house. She has had them in her play area and as part of her bedtime routine from a very early age.

The ocean, though, is all her.

It must have started with the PBS show Splash and Bubbles when Remi was really little. It definitely got more intense after introducing Finding Dory over the past year. The discovery of Baby Shark sent her into a total frenzy.

Remi’s obsession with ocean life is very specific. For a while, she was just generally into animals, but in the past several months, she’s specifically into aquatic animals above all others. Since she got her ugly, soft, rubbery sharks and sea animals, she hasn’t even taken out her stuffed cat and dog toys. She can name different types of fish like eels, rays, clams, seahorses, octopuses, pufferfish, and sharks.

I don’t know how she even picked up on this, but we were reading Remi a new Splash and Bubbles board book recently and there was one page of the cartoon characters reacting to a plastic bag floating in their reef. Remi got visibly upset, pointed at the illustrated plastic bag and exclaimed, “Oh no! Oh no! Bad!”

Watching Remi become her own person is endearing and unfamiliar. I still wonder about nature vs. nurture. Is her empathy for aquatic life somehow related to my investment in freeing the whales when I was a kid? Do we share some biological need to take care of vulnerable creatures and our natural world? Is there a personality trait, or some random strain of DNA, we share that draws us both toward marine animals? Is her interest in sharks solely because of Baby Shark or is it also because Waffle is obsessed with Shark Week and watches videos about sharks as a hobby? He doesn’t watch them with Remi, though. Did we plant these seeds, either by nature or nurture, without intending to?

I don’t know, but I’m sure that I’m going to watch Free Willy with Remi as soon as she’s old enough to appreciate it.


4 Queer Parenthing Things I’m Currently Overprocessing

1. I’m Baking!

Because we started watching Nailed It: Holiday! Edition on Netflix, Remi’s been especially interested in playing pretend cooking. She gets her play food out and uses a plastic spoon to stir her pots and cups while exclaiming “I baking! I baking!” What a great age to enlist her help in making cut-out sugar cookies for Christmas, I thought! How much fun we will have, I anticipated! Wrong. I was wrong.

For starters, I kicked off this journey by making the very, very, very stupid mistake of touching the blade of my immersion blender while it was plugged in and… immersion blended the tip of my finger. Don’t worry! It was just the one pulse! And a LOT of blood. HAHA. OK. I was using the immersion blender inappropriately to begin with, but that’s a whole other story. (No, my finger probably did not need stitches? Yes, it’s gross and going to take a long time to heal.)

After I had a mini panic over the kitchen sink and decided that a Christmas Eve urgent care trip wasn’t necessary, I finished up the cookie prep. After dinner, I asked Remi if she wanted to help with some baking. She was so excited, ya’ll! She really wanted to help.

What I didn’t anticipate was that she would not be able to press the cookie cutter into the dough by herself, which was fine, except that she really, really wanted to do it by herself, without help. (“No! My turn!”) She also didn’t understand that you have to cook the cookies before you can eat them. Many emotions and a frustrated crying sesh later, we presented her with a star-shaped cut-out fresh from the oven. “I baked it!” she said before taking a dino chomp.

I didn’t take any pics of the cookies or the toddler baking activity. I have deep regrets and you’re just going to have to believe me that it happened.

EDIT: Waffle did take pics after all! Thanks, Waffle!


2. Cativan

Hat tip to our friend who rightly called Waffle out on missing an opportunity to hashtag his post #cativan!

Long story short, after over two years of Jeter making very little progress toward returning to a good quality of life post-baby, our vet offered anxiety meds and we decided to take the plunge. Jeter definitely has higher levels of anxiety than any cat I’ve lived with before. Before we had a kid, though, he’d adapted to our house and he was very social and cuddly and happy in his home.

Since we brought Remi home, he has consistently separated himself from the family and rarely comes downstairs until we put her to bed. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if the meds were the right decision. I didn’t know how he’d react to it, but it’s actually helped a lot! Now I just need Remi to take it down about 10 more notches so Jeter will be inclined to trust her.


3. We’re All Doing Our Best OK

I am months behind on putting together a book proposal that my agent wants to get out and the publisher for my first book is interested in seeing. MONTHS BEHIND. I keep thinking I’m going to get it done, but it feels impossible. Sometimes I’m heading into a guilt spiral, but then I remind myself that I’m not pushing it off because I’m lazy. I’m just doing too many things. I know I am. I don’t know where to pull back because I either need to do these things (day job/mom job) or I want to do these things (Autostraddle/teaching) or both. I just want ya’ll to know that I don’t have the answer to work/life balance. I am actively talking myself into believing that my time is valuable when I feel so behind on something so important.

I used to see these badass queer feminist parents out in the world doing activism, doing long hours and important work – traveling around speaking at colleges, writing books, writing blogs. I thought they had it all figured out. I realize now that it’s hard and we pretend it’s not hard because we feel pressure to make it look like we’re killing it. And, like, no one person is “having it all” without also occasionally having a total emotional breakdown.

I know I can look like one of those people. I signed a book deal before my child turned one! I write for this amazing site; I work for a heavy-hitting nonprofit civil liberties defender and I take cute pics of my family for Instagram. I just want you to know that it’s really, really, truly challenging. I couldn’t do most of it without an incredible, supportive co-parent and I constantly feel like I’m disappointing someone.

(Like literally right now Remi woke up from her nap 20 minutes ago and I’m pseudo-ignoring her because I just need to get this piece finished before I make her dinner! She’s fine. She’s singing to herself in her crib, but, it’s definitely not GOLD MEDAL PARENTING.)


4. Still Cute Though

On that note, I thought you might like to see these pics from a mini-session we did with Jessica Stringer, the same photographer who did Remi’s newborn and one year pics. They’re incredibly good considering Remi sat still for exactly zero seconds for during the entire 20-minute session.

I can’t believe we’re those people who pay other people to take pictures of their kids, but HERE WE ARE. What’s next? A minivan?! Please don’t let it be a minivan…


KaeLyn is a 37-year-old (femme)nist activist, word nerd, and queer mama. You can typically find her binge-watching TV, over-caffeinating herself, standing somewhere with a mic or a sign in her hand, eating carbs, or just generally doing too many things at once. She lives in Rochester, NY with her spouse, a baby T. rex, a xenophobic cat, and a rascally rabbit. You can buy her debut book, Girls Resist! A Guide to Activism, Leadership, and Starting a Revolution if you want to, if you feel like it, if that's a thing that interests you or whatever.

KaeLyn has written 211 articles for us.

42 Comments

  1. What a great present! A new KaeLyn article. 😊

    And I gave my 12 y o niece your book for Christmas and she told me it looks very interesting (which is about as enthusiastic as she gets these days, so I’m counting it as a win).

  2. ok but why was this summer the summer of Baby Shark

    like why now? what mistake of internet virality caused this very old campfire song to become The Toddler Hit Of 2018

    babies come up to me at work, nodding frantically, tiny fingers miming in prompt “do do, do do do do”

    admin is trolling teachers with baby shark related peraphinalia

    i will grant you that it’s better than the finger family song, or that nightmare version of five little monkeys that somehow slithered its way onto YouTube despite being an awful cacophony of discordant sound, but still i wonder:

    why baby shark

    • I don’t know, other than that Pinkfong blew up on Youtube. The Pinkfong version of Baby Shark is two years old, too! I don’t know what made it suddenly go super viral in 2018, but that’s the internet for you, @mic-k-ey! We watch a LOT of Pinkfong videos now. They’ve almost replaced Little Baby Bum.

      The Finger Family Song is…disturbing. I didn’t realize it had a viral moment, too. Thank goodness we missed that…

      • @kaelynrich oh lord, about two and half years ago it was all the kids were singing! i had no idea what it was, because as a preschool teacher, i generally don’t watch the videos (no screen time in school!): i just learn the songs via the kids, and then sing them in class.

        “why are all these babies singing about, uh… ‘daddy fingers’?”

        was the question that led to my introduction to the terrifying world of kids youtube, where videos are designed to be baby crack cocaine, and your child’s clicks = ad revenue

  3. Love this! My kiddo developed an ocean fascination for some reason too. She loves anything ocean related. Have you watched Moana? I found it way more palatable than other Disney movies and makes my 90s-save-the-whales heart happy. Also did you listen to the Rainforest Rap as a kid? That song still gets stuck in my head. I do think early 90s pop environmentalism was A Thing. I was right there with you. Also fun fact about younger me: I fulfilled a childhood dream and actually did deckhand on a save the whales boat!

    • WAIT! I forgot about Moana, @mayim-juno!

      That was her very first favorite movie. OMG. I didn’t even think of that. We used to watch it literally every day. Also, yes, I loved it and I cried the first time I watched it.

      I need to hear more about your whale rescue boat experiences! I thought I’d become a marine biologist at one point, the slightly less radical version of cutting whale nets.

      Also, the Rainforest Rap! I think I missed this gem at the time, but I just found it and gave it a listen and it’s definitely got that awkward 90’s nostalgia white-people-trying-to-be-cool vibe.

  4. I don’t ever want to be a parent but you almost make me want to be one because watching your child go from being a completely dependent baby to becoming their own independent person must be a truly amazing thing. I love reading about Remi growing up and your honesty about what marketing’s like.

    • This is delightful on so many levels. I am kind of marketing parenting to a specific demographic, honestly. I remember looking for examples of queer families that I could relate to and not being able to find much, so I’m really honored to be able to share with anyone who’s looking to see themselves reflected in parenting narratives.

      I feel you and I love sharing with you, @emilydanvers! I never wanted kids, either, and I don’t necessarily think I ever changed my mind, as weird as that sounds. My so-called biological clock never kicked in, even when I was actually trying to get pregnant with Remi. Your experience of not wanting to be a parent is totally valid! It wasn’t until my mid-30’s that I was even open to the idea and I doubt I would have pursued it if I didn’t happen to marry someone who really always wanted kids.

      I remember talking to Waffle about how I thought raising a kid was going to be “a really interesting project” and it truly has been! It’s fascinating and chock full of uncertainties and discoveries!

      • Oh I love the idea of raising a kid being a project! That has so many lovely connotations for me and also seems realistic too. Especially since most projects turn into a case of throw away the unhelpful instructions and make it up as I go along, which seems accurate for most parents!

        Admittedlly I’m not really looking for parenting stuff but it feels like what I see from queer parents is the process of having a child or dealing with discrimination and not the day-to-day stuff of actually raising that child so it’s really cool to read about your experiences.

      • It is a fascinating project! Ours was so obviously a little PERSON from her very first day. She might not have had words or logic or any of that fancy adult stuff but it was just so clear that there was a consciousness in there processing everything and having opinions. And watching her develop has been pretty awesome. (Don’t mean to sugarcoat, parenting is hard. But she’s worth it.)

  5. It’s so hard to let go of the idea of having it all. It’s impossible! There are always trade-offs and you have such limited time every day to do all the things. You’re doing great mama! Be kind to yourself and don’t forget to take time for self-care.

    And yes that family pic is so sweet and you all look so cute!

    • These days, I often think, “WHAT DID I DO WITH ALL MY TIME BEFORE?!” But then I remember I was on, like, two nonprofit boards and going to actions and meetings most nights and some weekends and staying at the office late at night. Busy just looks different now! Take care of yourself, too, @laurenaf!

      • ‘Busy just looks different now’ is honestly the most perfect description of parenting life and I wish I’d had someone say that before I had kids.

        I love these updates, thank you for sharing! And has Remi tried Octonauts yet? Not sure if you can get it on BBC America or something but it’s amazing! I find it extremely soothing and it is super educational. I’ve learned so much about marine life!

        Happy New Year!

  6. “I don’t know if the early ’90s were heavily influenced by environmental action, or if I was just personally fascinated with it”

    Oh, it was a THING.

    Captain Planet, Free Willy, FernGully. Everything was the rainforest this, the rainforest that. The back of every comic book I owned had ads for the WWF. If you subscribe now you get a plush animal, and a pin, and you get to save the jaguars.

    In my favourite PC game, back in the 1990s, you could play REAL LIFE wolves that lived in a wolf sanctuary in the USA, and you could read about them in the manual, and you could “adopt” them by donating annually and get pictures and written updates about your wolf, and go visit, and I was SO UPSET that I couldn’t spend all my money on saving the American timber wolf because I was on the wrong continent.

  7. I love reading the parallels between your own childhood and Remi’s, I don’t think enough people remember that they were (and still are) children !

    And yes those family photos are da absolute Bomb. Remi though. Only two years old and already that piercing alertness in her eyes. Freakin’ awesome.

  8. Also also, good luck with Jeter! My sister’s first cat that she got as An Adult was re-homed from the family of a kiddo she nannied. The kiddo was two, and Too Much for the cat, who started peeing everywhere in protest.

    Turns out she had cat diabetes!

    Now my sister has four cats because she is a crazy person

    • Thanks! It’s slow-going, but I think we’re making progress. I’m glad your sister was able to provide a better house for the cat! Cats peeing outside the litter box are usually indicating a health issue, so I’m glad she was checked out!

  9. Yaaaaay I love a Baby T-Rex column.

    The stuff about baking reminded me of baking with my younger brother – there’s an 8 year age gap between us and he always wanted to get involved when I was baking growing up. We still bake together to this day so it’s nice to see some interests don’t go away as you get older. I don’t know if he got it from me or what but I’m glad we have it in common.

    Also also also check out Cooking With Mazzy on YouTube – not only is it super cute and soothing to watch – I always think that Mazzy’s dad does a really good job of giving her baking tasks she can handle with her tiny adorable hands 😭 in case you wanna try again with Remi!

    • We’ll definitely try it again, today maybe even! It wasn’t really that bad, just a little frustrating for her. In fact, I already bought smaller cookie cutters that she’ll have an easier time pushing through the dough without our help. And we might make some cupcakes today!

      OMG Thank you for directing me to Cooking with Mazzy, @dottydresses! The best! I think Mazzy’s a little bit older than Remi, but it’s giving me good ideas for the near future!

  10. Omg, that same exact pbs cartoon haunts me every time I turn on the tap. I took that very much to heart, I remember it blowing my mind as a toddler.

    Agreeing with everyone that save the animals and environmentalism in general was a big 90s trend. What sweet, innocent times those were! When saving the environment was somehow not controversial. I was into it, although not obsessive, but it’s no mystery where that came from because my parents were big hippies – you would appreciate this song my dad, a folksinger, wrote from the point of view of a whale, using the melody from an old whaling song: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=DuGS_cCq1CI

    My wife and I are a year behind you in the parenting journey – and thank you, by the way, we’ve been following this column since you started it and it’s been so reassuring and illuminating to be able to follow someone just a step ahead of us. I think a lot about what kind of person our kid is going to turn into, with what kind of interests, I can’t wait to see what emerges. My wife and I have discussed a lot what we think might go into influencing this, so I loved reading your thoughts on this with a slightly older kid. My wife is convinced that whatever we find the most difficult to get behind is what he’s going to go for (partly because she’s worried I’m setting myself up for disappointment, and feels guilt for disappointing her own fundamentalist parents) but I think whatever it is it is going to be so neat, and probably he’ll be into at least some of the things I’m excited about for him to discover. So far at 13 mo it’s too early to tell, but I keep looking for signs. For a while he was really into sheep, but that’s because our neighbors have them.

    We’ve also talked a lot recently about trying to make sure we’re looking out for things he’s passionate about exploring but might not be able to communicate – we both remember things like this from our childhood (wood carving for both of us, also tap dancing for me) that we could have gone into deep and gotten a lot of pleasure from if our parents had picked up on our interest or if we had been more pushy people. Since they weren’t things our parents got excited about, they didn’t realize how excited we were about them. Anyways, that’s the angle we’ve been thinking about this parental vs child interest thing from recently.

    And I very much relate to wanting to know what’s going on in your toddler’s head! He only has a few words right now, but the one he uses most frequently is “dis!” (this) while he points at things he’s noticing. Half the time I can’t even tell what he’s pointing at (something out the window, for example), let alone what he wants me to notice about it.

    • Hi, @sienak! It’s awesome to hear from other queer parents!

      It’s amazing when they start picking up more words and can actually describe what they’re looking at. Just recently, I’ve been able to ask Remi in quiet moments (like car rides) what she’s thinking about and she’ll sometimes answer. Often, it’s about something earlier in the day. WILD.

      Our pediatrician told us to just go with what Remi was into once she started expressing an interest in certain things or hobbies. For a while, it was horses. She was into cars for a bit. She likes dinosaurs, of course. “The ocean” is probably the first thing that we didn’t really encourage (until we figured out how much she liked it). I’m interested to find out what her favorite colors are, how she likes to dress, etc. She picked out her own outfit today and it does not match AT ALL, but I love supporting her in figuring out what she likes and wants.

      • I can’t even imagine being able to ask our kid what he’s thinking about and getting any kind of answer, it’s amazing to think that’s coming for us.

        By the way, I meant to mention that my wife also cut off the tip of her finger with an immersion blender, although in a more serious way where she’s now missing the top joint. Everyone, be extremely careful with those things! I hope your finger heals quickly and well.

          • HAHAHAHA @hester and @sienak! Blender disaster injuries was not the kind of queer connection I was anticipating making with anyone this holigay season, but here we are!

            I hope everyone is safe and unplugs their kitchen accessories before attempting to touch sharp parts in the new year!

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