Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I Bet He'd Dinklage A Train

Son: It's Annie and Parable Day!!!

My son got a new train this past weekend for his collection. It was this Hiro train. He likes it very much. It was a pre third birthday present (it's not even this month) from the in-laws who earnestly abandon the frozen north every February for three months in an Airstream trailer-home until they are darn sure the Winter is over. However for the week leading up to it we had to lay some foundations to explain it to him. Firstly - it's not his actual birthday. Nor is it the birthday of the other two people present also getting a card and presents. Secondly he will be getting a present - but only from that one subset of the family whom are going away. Because no-one else is doing it isn't an indication that we hate his guts (we have all kinds of exciting indicators that we use for that).

Lastly - deciding that he expects a specific present after the one he'd be purchased had been wrapped already will not lead to arseholishness. He's not a bratty little git and doesn't ever exhibit ungratefulness. But he is still under three years of age - which means that he can establish a reality about what should happen, and any deviation from that is upsetting. And he had mentioned about ten times that he wanted Annie and Clarabel to go with his train set. Which we left unchecked because it was a good hint (very subtle...) about what we could get him for his actual birthday. But then by the end of last week he'd started going on about how much he was looking forward to Annie and Clarabel Day. So we set out to repeatedly dismantle any notion that it had anything at all to do with that.

All of which reminded me of two things I'd long hoped to establish with regards parenting. The first was to not overdo gift giving. It's a pretty common for parents to say they don't want to spoil a child. We had done superbly with that with our daughter. So now at nearly six she hasn't yet tapped into the excessive commercialism that is squarely aimed at kids her age and their parents. So much so that she not only has no interest in a lot of generic stuff aimed at young girls, but actually expresses a, "Oh not this crap...?" attitude to simple things like Disney movies. They get put on at school for her class sometimes and she tells me afterwards that they are so boring. Which has nothing to do with me at all - she genuinely has an aversion to them (I can't even interest her in Pixar stuff - she just is instantly uninterested in it). Anyhoo - not spoiling had actually ended up being odd because we had so frequently hit the good thrift/consignment stores around us that when we took a stroll down to Toys R Us a few weeks back it was odd to us that we actually had a good mix of some of the stuff already there. But more importantly - we could wander around in there without either kid breaking down because we weren't actually going to buy anything.

But the second thing I'd hoped to establish was that neither of my kids become emotionally attached to one specific thing. That just seemed unhealthy and also equates to shunning other things on principle because they aren't the one thing you obsess about. My daughter has rolled through a few things that have strongly piqued her interest. But once she starts showing an over-reliance of her time on thinking about them I tell her we'll do something else for awhile. One rule we have is that if it upsets you enough to cause crying or a fit when you have to stop doing it, then it's probably not a good idea to be doing it so much in the first place. So I'm now at a point with her, for example, where I can tell her that her desire to play Angry Birds had become too strong again and we'll leave it for awhile - and she just said, "yeah that makes sense."

My son though is completely different kettle of fish. His entire world revolves around Thomas the Fucking Tank Engine (as I have now come to refer to it). I did ween him a little onto spaceships and dinosaurs for a bit in the Fall. And I know I can steer him off towards Superman stuff because it's the only other thing he's gushed about with any passion. But I was a little turned off when looking at various ways to help him get into that whole world when it just seemed to be a revived commercial enterprise designed to shove shitty toys but with a Superman logo on them at kids. Hence our confusion some time back at seeing a $50 Superman SUV battery operated toy. The idea a blinged-up Superman SUV exists is like rubbing a comic-book fans nose in a big pile of Stupid. But I will be renting the DVDs this week and am slowly introducing him to the easier-to-read books at the library about him.

But we still feed him his Thomas habit because it makes him that happy. But now he's taken it to a new level. Instead of wanting to watch episodes of Thomas he wants to watch Youtube clips of other kids (and various very exiteable middle-aged men) talking about their own Thomas collections. All complete with twitchy Blair Witch camera work and often replete with story lines the kids have made up on their own about how Thomas crashed into the dog water bowl. My son freaking loves watching that. I have no data or proof, but I'm assuming that being enthralled by Thomas The Tank Engine and wanting to replicate it in your own life is one thing, but that being hooked on watching other homemade videos of kid's collections is an entirely different level of obsession. Which means we are now entering trainspotter territory. And not the inertly sexy Peter Dinklage type either. This is the reclusive all-I-can-think-about-is-knobbing-a-toy-train territory.

I know this is true because last week at the library he ran off excited to the DVD rack to pick up the copy of Thomas and The Magic Railroad to watch. I nixed the idea. I simply cannot take seeing that again. Psychiatrists can on and on about why a parent goes on a demented, violent death-spiral all they like - but I can attest that having to watch that utter wank for the fiftieth time has to be high on a list of triggers. Anyway - I nixed that idea and told him under no circumstances are we renting any Thomas bollocks (I may have actually said that as well...) this week. He reached for it again anyway because clearly I was being ridiculous. So I said no again. What he heard instead was, "No - I hate you and I wish I'd never had the misfortune of ever seeing your pathetic, stupid face. It's a shame the local pond is frozen because given half the chance I'd drown you in a pillowcase because you're so bad at things like pushing trains, wearing Thomas pajamas and hiding under blankets before popping out and yelling "TRAIN!!!!" at the Thomas ghost you claim is coming to get us." He didn't have a melt down. He just shut me off. I no longer existed. I had to carry him rigid out of the library and he shunned me for the rest of the day.

So now I'm tempering how we engage with Thomas. I've decided that cutting him off would be harmful. Instead I'm going to show him that it's perfectly healthy to be really interested in it. But that there are plenty of other things to do and like as well. Because as shallow and silly as it is - I don't know if I can endure a child who latches on to an obsession at 12 months of age and never lets go of it. Because just being one thing - no matter what it is - does project an image of what you are out to the world. Granted Thomas isn't all that nefarious. It's not as if he's oddly obsessed with zombie massacres like a few other kids I'm aware of. But when all you have is Thomas - and masses of it - that paints a strange and unusual picture that is every bit as odd as those people who's every inch of life is focused on the adoration of one thing. I've met a few in my time. There's the woman I used to work with that was so over-the-top about horses that I swear she whinnied. And another woman I know had erected a shrine to Toby Keith in her office cubicle. The only thing she spoke about were work issues and Toby Keith. The day I jokingly referred to him as Keith Toby will go down in infamy in that office as the day that a barely-five foot woman sharply used the words," His name is Toby Keith. Not Keith Toby. He's not an idiot...." but actually meant that she would stab me to death with her official Toby Keith fountain pen lest I apologized immediately.

All of which is makes my commitment to buying as many England sports shirts I can lay my hands on in the area and giving them to my daughter to wear seem more amusing to me. Other side of the coin and all that. I'm not a nationalist of any type - seems absurd to me. I feel more affinity to the UK than where I am now. It's home in one sense - but I think of home (Bristol) as somewhere I didn't grow up and only lived for two years. That'll probably change. But I don't feel American at all in spite of being here 5 years this time and 4 the last. The public patriotism of that sort of thing seems weird to me. I like living here. But in one sense I'm floating on top of the flotsam - like a conscientious objector - very much in my own independent nomadic universe. And roping my daughter in to broadcast the sporting prowess of our tiny nation in the meantime. Lets see if people around here really do admire fervent nationalism as much as they appear to if it involves a white girl with a strong American accent expressing devotion to a totally different country.

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