I was given an unexpected gift. I was able to turn back the clock, on a snowy day in January. I was able to live an experience that I’ve regretted missing the first time, and thought was gone forever. A writer can rewrite chapters, but who has that luxury in life?
I often feel a bittersweet-ness as my kids grow up — the wonder of seeing both boys become functioning future citizens, and the simultaneous mourning of the little boy days left behind. The days of toys and picture books. The days of trains.
The Professor was the one who lived and breathed trains, from age two until what we can now refer to as the Unfortunate Nascar Years. Trains, every day– the first thing he talked about in the morning and last thing discussed at night. When he first learned his dad was an engineer, his excitement surely stemmed from the belief that Dad drove the trains.
The Little One’s interest in trains seemed to stem more from the need to do whatever his older brother did, and then the thrill of systematically destroying his brother’s meticulously crafted layouts. I remember little of the days we can now refer to as the The Dark Years, when each day seemingly ended in wailing and gnashing of teeth in biblical proportions. Granted, this only lasted from approximately 2001 – 2006, which if you do the math is… well, many, many days where I knew I should feel grateful for the priceless opportunity to be a full-time mom, but I often didn’t. I wished many of those days away. If I published a memoir of journal entries from that time, the volume would serve as an excellent form of birth control.
It is entirely possible that I never played trains with The Little One for more than 10 minutes in all those years. He was such a Pocket Nazi during his formative train-playing days that I would lose my temper with him often, and have to remove myself from the situation before I went all out and lost my mind. I loved that kid fiercely, but let’s just say I frequently needed to count backwards from 100. Thousand. I’ll leave it at that.
I thought about the trains, and many of their old toys, just last week when we cleaned the entire house in preparation for guests. As we piled toys onto basement shelves and closets, it became clear that a thorough sweep of the Basement Land of Misfit Toys is long overdue. He kept saying “Ooooh, I remember THAT!” and wanting to take things out while I was putting them in. He’s a tween, half demanding to be grown-up NOW, and half still a little boy. Someday soon we will purge the toys that they have not played with in years, I thought to myself, with a twinge of… something, undefined.
Then, during yet another snow day home from school, The Little Man unexpectedly carried the impossibly heavy bin of wooden trains upstairs — the old, well-worn Thomas trains and bridges and tracks – and he looked at me. Without a word, we went together into the den and we played trains on the floor. Together. I had so much fun, and he did too. We took a picture of the final creation. I think I’ll frame it in a double frame, with an old picture I have of him, “Colezilla”, stomping through a huge train layout with a look of devilish glee.
In those old days, I never had the patience. I was always too busy trying to find time to be me. Now I was given the incredible gift of a do-over. A mulligan of motherhood. And I treasured every minute.
Becoming a writer was just a dream back then. I saw many women were able to combine motherhood and writing very successfully; I had not yet reached that chapter, in those years. Today I have the space to write, and play, on a magical, snowglobe-y day.