That was the first decision that my oldest son voiced upon hearing the news that we were taking him and his little brother to visit their favoritestest train in the whole wide world. Being the wise parents we are, my wife and I waited until just one week prior to the big event before telling the boys about it. Still, it was a week filled with questions. “Are we going to see Thomas today? Are we going to see Thomas tomorrow? Are we going to see Thomas on Donut Day? Are we going to leave baby bro here when we go see Thomas?” Thank every deity in the book that we had the foresight to avoid three weeks of that.
The morning of was a rainy one, and true to his word, the boy started the day off by slipping on his favorite pair of Thomas undies. All dressed and ready, he proceeded to issue a refusal to eat breakfast, choosing instead to sit at the table. Screaming. What the hell, thought I. Where’s the gratitude? Where’s the stooping and bowing? Where’s the good behavior in exchange for this big event that we’re going to so much trouble to take you guys to? In other words, where’s the expected behavior?
Waiting on the train “Do I have to call Thomas and tell him that Henry can’t come see him because he won’t eat?” It was a dick move on my part and I knew it, and I wasn’t at all surprised when the kid reacted by pulling his guns on me. I knew perfectly well I had no intention of following through on that threat. Like a bank too large to fail, this was an event almost certainly too big to skip, at least for something as minor as breakfast shenanigans. And yet there I was, dangling the prize in front of him in an effort to make him meet my expectations for how he should be acting. And when it was over, I wouldn’t have that particular prize to dangle anymore. I’d have to get a new prize. It’s not like I could threaten to snatch the pleasant memories out of his head after the fact if he misbehaved. Perhaps parents of the future will have that option. Perhaps…yes, yes.
The event was being held in the town of Burnet, about an hour outside of Austin. We arrived and parked in the muddiest parking lot ever known to man. Thomas was visible at this point, right in front of us, looming larger and larger as we made our way closer to the tracks. Here again, my kids’ actual behavior and my expectations were in conflict, and it fucked with me, even though this time they were being perfectly good. I wanted some kind of reaction, you know? A shriek, a gasp, something audible at least, but to my disappointment, they maintained their calm. In an interesting reversal of roles, it was me doing all the pointing and exclaiming. “Look! There’s Thomas! He’s right there! Oh my God!” I was the big goober and they were the ones being all cool like, “Yeah dude, it’s Thomas. Great. Let’s get some hot dogs.” Dammit, little people!
I didn’t even meet my expectations for my own damn behavior. See, the thing about an event like this is that it’s easy to be all impatient and eye-rolley about it. “Gaw, this is sooo lame!” As much as my kids had been looking forward to it, I had been dreading it. I had foreseen a day of aggravation and difficulty, of overstimulation and mass marketing. And yes, there was some of that, but no more than I typically get in a trip to the grocery store. Maybe it was the fact that it wasn’t a particularly slick and polished affair, instead having the feel of a small town festival. Maybe the fact that it was overcast and drizzly filled everybody with a bit of extra resolve to keep the mood light and not let any crappy attitudes get in the way of our kids having a good time. Of course, we hadn’t been there two minutes before I heard some other dad issue a Thomas-related threat, which only made me feel like more of a dick for my earlier idle prize-dangling. But overall, things were pretty chill. My patience remained intact.
Sir Topham Hatt We ate hot dogs under a covered area while we watched an old hippie do magic tricks. Eldest stood in line to get a balloon airplane, and giggled later on when one of the wings popped. We tried to take a picture with Thomas, but both boys broke down in tears when we got too close. Come on kids, this is your favorite train in the whole wide world! You play with him everyday! Why are you crying?!?! Maybe it was fear of his great looming face. Or maybe it was an emotional hero worship thing, like that feeling I got the time I asked Henry Rollins for his autograph. Sir Topham Hatt was available for pictures too, but he looked like an oversized Lego figure that ate babies, so we didn’t get anywhere near it.
In the line to board the train, the boys finally got a bit excited. Of course, eldest expressed his feelings with a series of glass-breaking shrieks. “What’s wrong with that boy?” I heard a little girl behind us ask, and her Mom had to make up an explanation. I didn’t threaten this time, knowing he’d pretty much have to commit a major felony in order for me to go through with pulling him out of line. Plus I sorta kinda wanted to ride the choo-choo too, okay?
RR Crossing Finally, on board the train, I got what I was looking for. The train whistled, and I heard every kid on board gasp. My son’s face lit up as the train started moving. There it is, I thought. That’s all I wanted to see. It was only a half-hour ride, the scenery was not Texas’s best, and they played that godawful Thomas music the whole time, but my kids were happy and my mood maintained. Hell, I might have even enjoyed myself. By this point, I would have expected to have been clawing my eyes out, but there again, expectations failed to be met. I couldn’t tell you why, but I didn’t argue with it. I just enjoyed the ride.