When Nathaniel Epstein was about eight years old and visiting our house, he seemed fascinated with our son’s toy dinosaur, so we let him take it home.
In the years that followed, “Dinosaur” became a constant companion for Nathaniel, who recently transitioned from living at his childhood home in Baltimore to the more independent setting of a Towson group home.
“Dinosaur has been a faithful friend, accompanying him on all outings, helping him to feel fearless, plays with him all the time at home, too, and sleeps with him at night,” said his mother, my longtime friend, Jennifer Bishop.
“He has a big callus on his hand from carrying it at all times,” she told me.
I asked Jennifer to try and explain what Dinosaur means to Nathaniel because the heavy plastic brontosaurus (well, actually, she believes, the vintage Carnegie Collection by Safari Brachiosaurus) has gone missing.
Left behind at the Dave and Buster’s in White Marsh on Friday, Dinosaur is now nowhere to be seen, and Nathaniel and his mom are distraught.
“His caretaker called me in tears,” she said. “That’s been about 15 years of constant dinosaur companionship. Traumatic!”
Prehistoric and Powerful
Of course, in the scheme of things on a troubled planet, a missing toy is small potatoes. But we all need something to get us through those troubles.
Could Bishop find a substitute Brachiosaurus on the internet? She’s trying. Though her son, who turns 23 on Monday, is pretty particular, she discovered.
When Nathaniel first acquired the prehistoric pal, his mom tried to find a substitute, so she could return the toy to us.
“But it wasn’t an exact match and Nate wasn’t having it,” she recalled.
Dinosaur got a bit battered, but the family would never think of replacing him. When his leg broke off recently, Bishop said, sculptor Paul Daniel, “made an ingenious hardware repair – not an easy feat.”
Besides, and this is just me speaking:
There’s got to be something powerful about this particular object, after all it’s been through to help Nathaniel make his way in the world as a person with intensive special needs.
A freelance photographer, veteran photojournalist and incredibly devoted mother, Bishop has chronicled this evolving relationship with a keen eye.
“Looking back at the photos, I realize he mostly started playing with Dinosaur at home and then – starting five or six years ago, when he had more transitions to face and went out more – he began taking dinosaur everywhere with him.”
Anyone who follows Bishop on social media has seen these great shots – Nathaniel clutching Dinosaur to get through a scary medical procedure, Nathaniel brandishing Dinosaur proudly as he walks up to get his school graduation certificate.
Dinosaur should be looked at as a transitional object, Bishop came to realize. “The one thing that never changes and is always there, his best friend.”
Writing up this story – in hopes that Dinosaur may be properly remembered, if not returned – I asked to make sure I wasn’t mistaking what name has actually been used in the household to refer to Nathaniel’s great companion.
“Maybe you call him ‘Dino?’”
“Nope, ‘Dinosaur,’” Jennifer replied firmly.
“He actually says it perfectly. One of his few perfect words.”
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