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Playing With Trains, Girl-Style

Play dates with Maddie’s good friend
Maxum have had an unintended –and, I’m afraid,
potentially expensive – side effect: namely, the girl’s
fallen in love with Thomas.

As Maddie entered toddlerhood and I saw all my girlfriends with
sons spending big bucks on Thomas the Tank Engine stuff, I smiled
smugly and thanked my stars I had a girl with no interest in those
big, endless sets with bin upon bin of pieces. Even when Maddie saw
a few trains at church in the nursery, she never seemed interested
and I thought myself safe. But when Maddie saw Maxum’s big
Thomas table, with bin after bin underneath it filled with trains
and tracks, she was intrigued. And after she checked out a Thomas
video from the library, she was hooked.

We still haven’t bought Maddie any
Thomas toys, but she now owns several Thomas books and two Thomas
videos, courtesy of the used bookstore. I’m not quite sure
what she sees in those Thomas videos, since each story is about
five minutes long and those still train “faces” with
the roving eyeballs seems a bit creepy to me, but whatever.
Maddie’s lack of trains, however, has not deterred her in the
least, and she has drafted all her Little People and Sesame Street
cars to perpetually re-enact scenarios about Thomas and friends.
You’ve never seen Thomas until you’ve seen Noah as Sir
Topham Hatt directing Elmo in a convertible as Thomas.

Realizing we can’t put off our surrender any more,
we’re planning on getting a few Thomas trains for Maddie for
Christmas. To that end, we’ve had Maddie test out all the
different kinds at Maxum’s house; he’s got both the
travel size and the full size. I, of course, have been hoping
Maddie would like the travel size, both for its compactness and
ease of cleanup as well as its cheaper price tag. But Maddie has
definitively announce a dislike of the travel size pieces; in her
words, “They’re not pretty and they don’t go

In my words, my kid has freakin’ expensive taste.

So we’re stuck looking at those stupid trains that come for
15 or 20 bucks a pop. And the worst of it is, I can’t even
hit Criag’s List or a resale shop for them, with all the
Thomas recalls that happened in 2007. I’ve got to pay
full-price for these things or risk Cora taking a bite full of lead

I spent a long time trying to figure out Maddie’s
near-obsession with Thomas, and after watching her a while I
finally got a grip on it: the girl loves stories. It’s the
same reason she has just gotten into the Little People sets –
she’ll play with them for hours, acting out books she’s
read or stories off the top of her head. And with Thomas,
she’ll re-tell the stories from her books and videos, acting
out the entire plot with whatever’s handy. I especially like
the way she imitates the Thomas narrator so completely:
“‘ Where are you going, Percy?’ Thomas asked his
friend,” Maddie will say as she has two trains face each
other. “‘I’m going far away from you,’
Percy replied as he stormed off in a huff.” I find it
fascinating that she doesn’t simply do the dialog, and love
that she writes from this omniscient point of view. She’ll
try acting the stories out herself, too, at the grocery store with
me; I’ll be big Gordon with my full-size cart as Maddie is
the smaller but spunkier Thomas with her toddler grocery cart,
buffering and parking alongside and racing me down the aisles.
“I may be small, Gordon, but you’re slow,”
she’ll exclaim as she darts ahead of me.

And that, I think, is the difference in the way girls and boys play
with trains and trucks. Boys see action, stunts to perform, cars to
crash – potential physical excitement around every corner.
And girls see a story, a play to be acted out, which is why Maddie
loves Thomas – full of characters and feelings – and
not any other train or dumptruck set.

Maddie’s already said she doesn’t need any train track,
just the cars, so I’m breathing a sigh of relief on that
front. And no train tracks mean no seventy-dollar way stations or
docks or whatever. So for now we’ll indulge her come
Christmas, and see how much longer she rides this train.

At least it’s not as messy as Legos.


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