All aboard

            The trains.  The trains began before he could walk, before he could talk.  Just the sight of a train would make his arms and legs start pumping as we held him in our arms.

            By the time he was two, he had discovered the little blue engine.  It began with a few books, a couple of toys, and it burgeoned, until he was the prime target for the marketing of all Thomas shows and all wooden tracks.  Since we have a hard time saying no to books, we owned no fewer than twenty books about the various trains on the Fat Controller’s railway.  And these were very, very boring books.

            We are, however, a little more firm about toys.  We try to buy only toys that will actually get used, things we can be pretty sure the kids will find new and creative ways to use for some time to come.  We are trying to keep our house free of pieces parts and abandoned board games.

            Given the force of Zachary’s passion, we indulged.  Birthdays, Chanukah, and visits with the grandparents all netted him new trains, new tracks, new accessories.  Remember, there are eight nights to Chanukah.  We have a lot of trains.

            The Thomas affair lasted a year and a half.  We went to meet the little blue guy live and in person train – twice.  By this time, Benjamin had discovered the trains.  A sucker for anything on wheels and a coveter of whatever his brother has, even before he could walk he would infuriate Zach by crashing through an elaborate line set up on the living room floor. 

            And then it stopped.  We still read the books, Benjamin still grabbed a train or two at times, but Zach lost interest.  He went from building road blocks and inventing cargo runs to other interests, like coloring, play dough, and whining.  The train bin sat abandoned.  I did not regret the investment, as those trains had consumed him for more than a third of his life, but I was sad to find his first love affair was over.  I felt a little sorry for Salty and Toby and all the rest as they gathered dust in the corner of our temporary apartment.

            And then, one day, like the phoenix or a certain son of God, they rose again.  One day, I noticed that Benjamin (22 months old) was spending a lot of time sitting in one place, focusing on a single activity, an unprecedented state of affairs.  As I held my breath, I pulled out the bin.  I set up a track for him.  And then I retreated.  Forty-five minutes later, he was still completely absorbed.

            Zachary came home and found his brother deep in train play but unable to set up his own tracks.  And the love was rekindled.  Now, Zach takes one end of the room, with his buffers and his level crossings.  Ben takes the other end of the room, with his bridges and tunnels.  Somehow, he has learned the names of all the trains without being taught, and I hear him crowing “Emily!” like he has found a long lost friend as he pulls out a certain green engine. 

            Suddenly, I can get things done again.  Sometimes, I can even get Zach to set up the tracks for his little brother.  The world has re-opened.

            Mornings begin now with Benjamin busting out of his room shouting “Trains.  Have to play trains!”  And the Sodor railway is once again running on time.

15 responses to “All aboard

  1. My children – first my son, then my daughter (who covets her brother’s interests too), had a long-lasting (over 6 years) love affair with trains. When I finally took the entire set to our local charity two years ago, it was a defining mom moment. They had let go and it now was my turn.

    Now the playroom is fully stocked with L*gos and B*onicles. Sigh…

  2. I can only estimate the amount of $ we (and various relatives) have invested in my son’s Thomas collection. You know what? My son is 9 and though he probably wouldn’t admit it to his friends, he still likes to play with that stuff.

    So as far as I’m concerned, good investment. And now Sir Topham Hatt’s voice is stuck in my head.

  3. Busy kids are a beautiful sight, especially when it is of their own accord. We have to go to the bookstore to visit Thomas since we really don’t have the space at home, but that helps make him more special for us.

    Congrats on your re-found freedom!

  4. if you find yourself heading north… check out the Tehachapi Loop… apparently it’s some great feet of railroad engineering, and you can sit on the hill and watch the trains make this cool loop over itself (or is it under? i forget) as it climbs the mountain.

  5. This is so weird. As I am reading this post, my almost 5-year-old is watching PBS — that’s right, Thomas! He too has been off playing trains most of this last year. But I’m thinking that with this jump in development, it may come back as he learns to build his own tracks. It is one of the few toys I’m insisting we bring to CA — both because of the costliness and the way it appeals differently at different ages.

    I hope he becomes just as absorbed again!

  6. We love the rediscovery of toys. We also try to limit, hide them away when not in big use, and bring them back out again after some time— Suddenly they’re like brand new! And it’s good fun to see how their play changes with the toys with time/age.

    Our favorite investments so far: Gears, Quadrilla Marble Run, Mobilo, & Haba Building sets. Can you tell we like putting things together? Just gotta invest in good plastic containers ,too!

  7. Yeah for trains, and time for mom!
    I make a habit of putting some of my boys toys away (out of sight) for a while and then take them back out a few months later. It is like Christmas when they see them again. Like a brand new toy, only I haven’t spent a dime! Woohoo!

  8. Dash was not too happy when we gave his forgotten trains to his little brother. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t played with them in a while. So, they are back in full force.

  9. Thomas the Tank Engine and all the other trains in the land of Sodar are the only toy’s that do NOT break when thrown down the stairs.

  10. How exciting that Zach loves it again, too! This is an area where boy vs. girl is so different. My girls’ first loves were Barbies. I won’t be sad at all when they tire of them!

  11. the blue engine and friends are O’s great love right now…and this made me rather sniffy, imagining us a couple years down the road, hoping there will be a round 2 for all the leftover Thomas stuff that O hasn’t loved to death by then…

  12. Oh the joy (and dementia) that is 3 and 6, wherein the kids THINK UP THEIR OWN ENTERTAINMENT and then ENGAGE IN IT, but wait it gets better ON THEIR OWN!

    I confess that P2 has a train table and car and train tracks. Barbies too.

    So glad your boys love those trains, even if inconsistently LOL.

  13. D used to also love trains… for 10 plus years. His room was decorated with trains, bedspread and all. But in time, trains were replaced by rockets and space shuttles and all things that fly – and so our large financial investements of his collection of wheels and whistles, planes and flying saucers now sits in boxes in our garage,one day awaiting his children… because he eventually found girls!

  14. I tried very hard–being a modern about gender and all–to get my daughters to engage in train play. But I sort of hated the Thomas book/show/cost too much to really sell them on it.

    I’m happy to hear your children have found a way to give you a break!

  15. Ah, Thomas. Thomas gave me many free hours, Thomas who so engrossed BOTH my (polar opposite) boys.

    I must thank Thomas someday. ;)