Play 'therapy' – Thomas the Tank Engine and his enemies

I have a deep-seated love/ hate relationship with toy trains. It stems from many decades ago when my baby brother turned five. My father produced box upon box of wide gauge tracks and clock work trains, Pre-War. My brother was only mildly interested but I was enthralled, but I was also the wrong sex. Play with trains was restricted to the male of the species. Over time, interest, what little there was of it, waned. This provided the interloper with an opportunity. Under the pretence of 'assistant,' for I was always a very devious child, I would spend hours setting up the track all over the house, and in the garden in the Summer. Maybe his fine motor skills weren't up to snuff, or maybe he was just little, but either way, I was on hand to 'help' with derailed trains, The Flying Scotsman's levers, and boogies that became uncoupled.

Later, when senior daughter arrived, I played out my 'deprived child' delusion on her. Whilst she played with the Brio train set, it was only one of many toys that she enjoyed. I am fairly confident that it was precisely because we disposed of the trains when she was 14, when we came to the States, that we were doomed to make the same financial investment again for the next, unexpected, generation of children.
As it happened, both my boys, like many autistic children, went through an obsessional phase with Thomas. Experts are on heightened alert when it comes to boys and Thomas. I think that the Reverend Wilbert Awdry has a great deal to answer for. He may even be responsible for 'causing' autism, or he might have been, if he had carved the trains, rather than written the books. The accumulation of trains in and of itself, should not be the cause of parental concern.

The lining up of the said engines, in a precise formation, may merely be an indication of neatness. For mine at least, it wasn't what they did with the trains, but rather what they didn't do. They didn't actually play with the trains. This was not obvious to the ignorant, such as myself. The re-running of the stories, scripted, word perfect, following the exact page order in the correct sequence, may merely be indicative of a good memory, especially if you've read the book to them so many times that you're practically word perfect yourself.


They would examine the individual trains with minute fascination, from every angle, be able to distinguish one identically mass produced train from it's fellows. But lets not dwell on the past.

We begin the last day of President's week holiday with a certain amount of angst. I stagger downstairs with boxes of train tracks, my weight lifting exercise for the day. The two large wooden boxes full of wooden trains appears to be invisible. The clomp sound as they hit the deck, does not register with my super sensitive brood.
I creep up to them and break in.
“Are you ready to play trains with me?” Not a good opener.
“Dat is stoopid. I play electronics.” [translation = Gamecube gameboy etc.]
“Not until 5 remember, that's the rule.”
“I am die wivout electronics. I'm gonna kill dat rule!” Ah the price one pays for an increased verbal facility. The disappear to the family room to express their displeasure on inanimate objects. I let the meltdowns run their course until they are ready to accept the inevitable.


I discover that I have become so absorbed in assembling an inadequate and conventional railway system and that 17 minutes has passed. I am alone in my own hallway surrounded by train tracks. I seek out the silent ones. In the family room three heads bend over an un-inventoried electronic device, battery powered. I whip it away and herd them into the hall. I endure verbal criticism in response to my endeavours but there is no physically destructive behaviour. [translation = trash my inadequate attempts.]


I work on the psychological approach that currently has some validity with junior and prays upon his superiority complex. The phase of being the 'winner/first' should most probably be tempered, but occasionally the more reprehensible kind of parent, may exploit it. I demonstrate 'pretend play' with the wrong voice, the wrong characteristics and personal qualities of the train in question. I exacerbate the situation by the use of the wrong name and mislaying the correct primary colour. That is the final straw and I provoke him into action. He snatches Percy from me with a little too much vigour, “hey you! Giv him to me! You are too stoopid to play pretend proper.”

That must be the parental joy of being outstripped by your offspring?


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Do we have to?

If my mum had suggested that we play a board game when I was a child I think I would have died of joy on the spot. That's not to say that we never played games, it more that the occasions when we did, were few and far between. Generally we played card games when we went on caravan holidays and other games during the Christmas holidays. Other than that, it would be a real red letter day for such a thing to occur. Perhaps it’s something to do with being an older parent?

It is with this mind set that I approach my own children, “older” but not necessarily wiser.
My daughters are always eager, willing and enthusiastic. Not so the boys.

The suggestion of playing a game is always greeted similarly. It is a predictable as night follows day, which is why you need to be mentally prepared prior to commencement. You can pick a game, any game and make the suggestion. The suggestion is made verbally, with enthusiasm, the visual clue of the game box in your hand on bended knee. Assuming that the message penetrates in the first place the response is always 'why?' I know this is what they will say, and whilst I thank the speech gods that they are able to tell me this, at the same time, it reminds me that it is often the most simple concepts that are the most difficult to explain – because it will be fun, because we will enjoy ourselves, laugh together…………. Whatever the magic words are, I have yet to find them.

I know that I will have to herd and bribe the boys to come to the table – play this game with me and as a reward you can………… [fill in the current obsession]
Bizarre! The game should be the reward in my book, but that is of course because I have the wrong book and I'm definitely on the wrong page.

So saying, after all these years I have finally worn them down. They will play the game, sometimes perfunctorily and occasionally with a modicum of enjoyment, but I suspect that they're doing it for me, rather than as a pleasurable form of entertainment for themselves. There again, such selflessness on their part, as well as this additional nugget of evidence to thwart the theory of mind, gives me considerable delight.

Now they will come to the table, muttering the kind of phrases that you get from teenagers when they finally capitulate and agree to do their chores; “Alright, I'm coming,” they sigh, dragging their little bodies over in slow motion, deflated and drained.

Hey, it's compliance! No complaints from me, and I get to ‘practice’ teenagers a decade in advance.

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