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.