Angry Trains

Jun 12

My son has a wooden train set. It’s a mishmash of those generic, nondescript wooden trains and track pieces that you get from department stores, and the fancy Thomas the Tank Engine pieces bought second-hand. Recently Heather got him a special table with trees, lakes and mountains painted on it where he can set up his tracks and play with them. He loves the table and he loves his trains, in theory. The Thomas cars fit nicely on the generic tracks, and connect perfectly to the plain wooden train cars with their shiny little magnets. The problem is that the name-brand trains are taller than the generic ones, and the little wooden train bridges too low for Thomas and his friends to fit under. Often I prop the sides of the bridges up on short wooden blocks, but as the blocks shift about through normal play, the bridges inevitably slip off their supports. Then the big trains, once again, don’t fit. This is very upsetting for my son. In his frustration he inevitably knocks some of the tracks out of place, or causes a train derailment… it’s a bad scene. He’ll play with his trains endlessly crying and screaming at the little pieces that don’t quite fit, but never stopping. It’s an almost-forever cycle of frustration and determination. There is no clear goal or light at the end of the train tunnel. He just needs things to work. To be fun… Eventually. So he persists until I distract him with some carrot sticks or a toy truck. When this happens he quickly forgets all about his angry, angry trains. We draw pictures and talk about flying in space. Or he runs in circles and flops down into a blanket, pretending to be enclosed in an egg. Things are perfect.