It started as a hobby. One train and a couple of tracks were all Miles needed to entertain himself. Those were simpler days.
As his ability to create elaborate scenarios in his mind grew, so did the demand for the toys to bring them to life. As the first grandchild on both sides of the family, he had plenty of gift-givers who obliged his obsession. Our train collection grew exponentially. Train tracks weaved through our living spaces like weeds.
A train table from Craigslist later, and we were able to contain the track sprawl and give Miles a small world from which to let his imagination run. By that time, train tracks had spawned bridges, roundhouses, intersections. Thomas and Friends had met (and befriended) the Chuggington crew. Things were busy on the train table, and as scenarios became more elaborate, space became a commodity.
Like so many urban cities, we had nowhere to go but up. One level became two, which became three. If our train table is its own ecosystem, naturally mimicking urban development, Miles joyfully cultivated it with the same love as a lead engineer.
I admit that I got as into the construction of our train table as Miles did (occasionally more). The endless combinations made the table like a puzzle that needed solving every day. Whereas Miles was satisfied as long as the tracks held together, I strove for perfection. I wanted to find the most optimal train track setup within the constraints of the table. I still haven’t found it.
I like to think of the evolution of our train table as a reflection of the growing complexity with which Miles interacts with the world. His imagination has gone from supporting one simple, circular motion of a train to elaborate story lines where friends interact, problems are solved, and bad guys are vanquished. We’ve created a world that mimics his own, in train form.
I know this is a phase, but I’ll be sad come the day when trains don’t interest him anymore. Those little pieces of wood and wheels have for so long symbolized his innocence that when they’re gone, we won’t be able to help feeling a sense of loss. When he walks away from the train table, it means that I will have to as well. And the perfection I’ve been striving for will be in someone else’s hands.
What toys define your kids’ childhood? What play scenarios do you share together?