Saying goodbye to Thomas the Train
One of the first tantrums my son ever threw was over Thomas the Train. I remember it vividly, because, if I’m being honest, I found him kind of cute during it. It was bath time, which meant time to stop playing with his Thomas engines, and — as the story often goes for 2-year-olds — he wasn’t happy.
“I want to play Thomas!” he said through tears as he stamped his foot. At the time, he wasn’t talking up a storm, so I remember being pleased with his ability to communicate and bamboozled by the adorable baby belly that stuck out over his diaper. We all knew trains were on the fast track to becoming his favorite toy, but it was the first time the emotion behind this preference had been so apparent.
As time progressed, his love for Thomas the Train intensified. We started off with the wooden tracks and a small group of magnetic trains. We had only the main crew at first — Thomas, Percy, James, Emily and Gordon. But the older my son got and the more his track-building skills advanced, we switched to the TrackMaster tracks and coordinating battery-operated trains. I would often shuffle down to the basement on weekends at 7 a.m. to find my husband and son putting the finishing touches on an entire Thomas world that connected the Super Station to the Turbo Jungle Set, as obscure trains, such as the Troublesome Trucks, Bill and Ben and The Flying Scotsman, whizzed by.
My son was a card-carrying fan boy. He had a Thomas the Train T-shirt, backpack and — need I even say it? — birthday cake three years in a row. And whenever I took my oldest daughter to the library for new chapter books, unprompted, she would detour to the little kids’ section to grab a few Thomas books for her younger brother. We were all in on it.
But in the last eight months, things have changed. Now 5 years old, my son’s once borderline-concerning obsession clearly is starting to wane. He no longer feels naked if he doesn’t leave the house with a train clenched tightly between each fist; we read more National Geographic Kids and “Fly Guy” books than anything else lately; and I can’t remember the last time the tracks that once spread like Kudzu on the basement and living room floors left their plastic containers.
I’m not proud to admit it, but there were times when I committed the ultimate parenting sin: wishing time would go faster with my son.
“Things will be easier when I can reason with him,” I’d think in the throes of yet another meltdown. “I can’t wait for him to actually sleep in,” I’d say to my husband almost weekly in reference to our son’s signature 5:30 a.m. wake-ups. “He needs to get better at dressing himself,” I’d murmur when we were running late.
Now, in his last year of preschool, all the things I yearned for in order to make daily life run more smoothly have materialized, just as everyone said they would. And what seems to be left of that short and very specific time is a tower of boxes filled with everything one could possibly need to recreate the entire Island of Sodor.
While my oldest daughter seemed to fly through her toddler years, going from baby to little girl in the blink of an eye, my son — mostly, I think, due to the different maturity levels possessed by boys and girls — has seemed to stay small much longer. When my youngest child was born a year and a half ago, my older daughter, who was 6 at the time, immediately took on the role of second mother. My son just wanted to play with the baby’s toys. He was potty trained a year later than his older sister, leaving a diaper-clad 3-year-old padding around the house. He had a pacifier past 2. He still calls jack-o-lanterns “jack-o-lanterins.” He’s still a baby. But, I know, not.
A few weeks ago, my son, my only boy, turned 5, and there’s no denying that, in the last year, he has started coming into his own. He has play dates with friends. He only needs one push on the big swing before he’s pumping himself into the wind. His viscerally sweet lisp is a little less discernible. And he didn’t ask for one train for his birthday. A nature pack for “exploring,” a telescope, some art supplies, a book about surfing — these are the things he’s into now. This is his next phase.
Even though I still have an actual baby at home in my youngest daughter, I’m not so secretly holding on to everything I can get with my son — how balloons still completely elate him, how he’ll happily listen (and dance) to “Baby Shark” with his younger sister, how he still wants to be snuggled tightly every night until he falls asleep in my arms, his little face smushed into my hair. When will it end? In a few months? When he’s in kindergarten? Can we make it to second grade?
“Please, let this go on a little longer,” I often find myself thinking now.
On a freezing cold day in January two years ago, when I was pregnant with my second daughter, my husband and I took the kids to see a live Thomas the Train show at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. My daughter, who was never really into Thomas, was a trooper, and my son — well, he was completely out of his mind. As the conductor marched around the small stage in a striped hat and overalls, singing the Thomas and Friends theme song, my husband and I watched our newly 3-year-old son jump up and down and sing along. I didn’t want to take myself out of the moment — but also knew I’d want to relive it — so I took a dark and blurry video of my son that, yes, I still watch.
He looks small to me in the grainy video, but not so unfamiliar from the boy he is now and the one he’s becoming. Same smile. Same hooded eyes. Same zeal and determination, only a little less agile. He’s happy. Fidgety. Silly. Never too far from his parents. A little boy in all his glory.
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