An array of Thomas the Tank Engine toys lies spread out across the floor.

Crazy Train

Friends, let me tell you how madness starts.

It begins with an Amazon wish list…

Wait — too close. Let’s zoom out a bit.

It begins with a desire to make my child happy…

Sounds like a reasonable enough request, yes? As parents who have brought new lives into the world, we see them evolve from mindless, fleshy blobs into functional, mostly bipedal organisms with thoughts, feelings, and desires of their own…

But once those desires are projected toward objects of questionable motives, we’ve a right to become wary. Because deadly are the outcomes where our progeny obsess after those objects, and deadlier still when they consume us as well.

The head of Percy stares up from below an exercise bike.
He sees everything…

Toy Train Crazy, You Know

I saw it coming — I saw the signs, and I even foretold my own doom. I knew I had a predisposition to collecting — physical and digital music libraries, Magic cards, even hotel soaps and ticket stubs — and I foolishly thought that that foreknowledge would shield me from the fate that awaited me. But I was weak, worn, broken. I found the allure of the deceiver, Thomas, and his fell Friends too powerful to resist. And now my wallet pays the price.

The Thomas & Friends series of wooden toys has got me by the throat. There’s nary a body of water in the entire Wooden Railway, yet I’m drowning in it. From the very first purchase, it seduced me like forbidden fruit from a serpent. What started with only a few of Gorgonna’s favorite engines exploded into an intense yearning — mine, not hers — for more of them.

A period of weeks (I’m ashamed to say) passed where I attuned my every antennae toward the various heretical bazaars that would purvey these idols of wood, magnets, and metal. Amazon, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, thrift shops, garage sales… the possibilities for uncovering caches of rare rail-bound prizes seemed endless. And, so it seemed, would the resulting joy following their purchase.

But I knew from the beginning it was a problem — my typical idle time-wasters of checking email and dead-silent social media accounts buckled before the powerful hunger for sick deals and swelling lots of rare engines, tracks, and trucks.

The worn face of a Gordon sticker stares up from the bathtub floor.
Nowhere is safe…

The Divine Land

The obsession reached a boiling point at perhaps the greatest discovery yet — Totally Thomas, a specialty toy store with a dedicated rewards system meant to encourage (or in my case, assuage) the intense, burning infatuation for all things related to the Cheeky One.

On our first visit we unearthed an unopened two-pack of Giggling Troublesome Trucks (the 2013 out-of-manufacture model by Learning Curve, $42.50 on Amazon at the time of purchase) for half the price. We also splurged for an older, open-box trackset at a 20% discount, quenching my desire for not only more trains but for retired (and therefore exclusive) products in a single transaction. It was like stumbling into my local record store and finding the non-remastered version of Rust in Peace — I’d found the holy grail.

The decked-out Thomas train table at Barnes & Noble.
One day…

For Lack of a Legacy

Like Philip II of Macedon, father to Alexander the Great, I aspired to grant unto Gorgonna a kingdom of her own, for that which I left was… well, nonexistent. I hadn’t been into Thomas growing up, and so I didn’t have any well-worn trains to pass onto her. More importantly, I didn’t feel like I was projecting my own likes and dislikes onto her — these were her interests I was supporting, not the usual impositions we mostly metal parents usually struggle with.

Of course, I’ve been blathering on about all this in past tense — as if I’ve somehow magically moved on from eyeballing the fluctuating prices of Rocky (the medium-sized crane engine, currently $21.55 on Amazon) or Tidmouth Shed (the engines’ resting place after a long day of Hard Work and being Really Useful; the $76.80 version with deluxe spinning turntable). Such items must be carefully monitored if I’m to relinquish my hard-earned funds upon even more wooden manifestations of my love and devotion.

And the worst part? Whenever we do break down and buy another piece of our ever-expanding Thomas-verse, as soon as those tracks are carefully set into their secure (and smartly universal) positions, I’m suddenly filled with an urge for more. Assembling the world one piece at a time is granting me a vision of what could be, a utopia where Thomas is prophet, Lord and Savior and burning bush. And because I’ve become invested in the lore, the fucking cartography of the Island of Sodor, I’m even more compelled to “fill out the map,” as it were. I’m well on my way to becoming a Thomas junkie, ever in search of my next hit.

I am proud, however: we are withholding a few engines (Marion, the railway steam shovel, $8.13 off Amazon, as well as the Stanley that came with the trackset) to serve as future holiday gifts. Don’t want her getting spoiled, right? Besides, there isn’t enough room on Gorgonna’s current number of tracks to support any more engines — and that’s the real problem isn’t it?

“I know that things are going wrong for me /

You gotta listen to my words.”

– “Crazy Train”, Ozzy Osbourne

Twilight of the Idols

As parents, I think we have a natural inclination to become invested in our children’s interests. We want them to know that we’re paying attention, we want to encourage their developing emotions in the hopes of one day applying them to something constructive (maybe even constructing real train tracks someday).

But this can’t go on. If there’s anything I’ve learned about parenting in the last two years, it’s that no era lasts forever. She’ll lose interest eventually, so there’s no reason to go so hard, as if it’s a defining part of her identity (or our parent-child relationship).

Then again, she might be establishing a life-long passion; she might go on to become an honest-to-Gordon railway engineer. Maybe she’ll be able to trace her love for trains all the way back to these first few possessions; by that time, they won’t be considered investments — they’ll be inspiration. There’s just no fucking knowing!

One thing’s for sure — if I’m going to make it through Gorgonna’s third year of life with her college fund intact, I’ve got to slow my roll. This is a hype train I have to hop off of.

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