Thomas the Train Rage

Well that blew.

It was our “Day Out With Thomas”, when a rail-riding, full-size “Thomas the Train” visits sleepy train stations with operable train tracks.

In our case, the Essex, CT, train station attaches some coaches to a locomotive, followed by Thomas, and makes a 20-minute trip to the local dump, and then back to the station.

Last year, our trip was idyllic. Ellison bounced along to the songs during the ride, thrilled at hugging a dressed-up “Sir Topham Hat” and riding a jankety fair rides dotting the parking lot.

This year’s day out started out euphorically. For the entirety of our fifteen minute drive, Ellison chanted, “I want to ride Thomas!” The cuteness drove me crazy.

At the station entrance, he skipped and chanted, “I’m so excited to see Thomas! Hooray!”

I love it when he talks like he’s reading a “Dick and Jane” book.

Colton was equal parts confused and excited.

We cheered Thomas’ arrival from the previous trip to the dump.

As we proceeded toward the boarding area, Ellison noticed a table sponsored by PBS displaying swag and a gift basket of Thomas toys.

Ellison walked up and asked, “Can I have that?”

The PBS woman said, “It’s not for sale, sweetie, but your daddy can register to win it. Would you like a PBS pen, instead?”

“No, thank you,” he politely responded…sneeringly.

I gave my spam email and a fake address to the PBS rep woman.

As we turned to board Thomas, I saw tears streaming down Ellison’s face.
“What’s wrong, buddy?” I ask.

“I wanted the Thomas basket.”

You must be kidding. I didn’t expect to be one of those parents with one of those kids crying during this supposedly idyllic day.

Also, Ellison didn’t usually begin tantrum tears silently. Usually his hands go to his wide-open mouth and his cry is deafening.

I knelt down and said, “Buddy, that basket wasn’t for sale. I’m going to try to win it for you. But now is the exciting part. We’re gonna ride Thomas!”

Ellison whimpered and walked with fogged glasses (which adorably happens every time he cries).

We rode on Thomas for the 20 minutes in each direction to and from the dump. The first five minutes are deafening: kids screaming and parents frantically shouting to smile for pictures. It’s mayhem.

And then the passengers just stare at swamps and the back of dilapidated houses located near the railroad tracks. The return ride is understandably quieter.

Ellison sulked the entire time.

After disembarking from the train, I suggested we visit Sir Topham Hat (some poor sot forced to dress in a stifling plush costume.)

I forgot that meant walking through a massive Thomas pop-up toy store.

Ellison’s head almost exploded as we entered the store. He sprinted frantically around the displays grabbing and pointing. None of this happened last year when he had no concept of acquisition.

Apparently capitalism ruined my son over the last year.

I was suddenly re-living my childhood with my mom. During our summer road trips, my number one destination was gift shops. I’d beg her to buy absolutely anything: toys, books, doilies, figurines, ashtrays. Didn’t matter what. Acquisition was the name of my game. I’d hurry us through museums, memorials and monuments to GET TO THE GIFT STORE. I’d present crap as “educational” to help my case. Usually I came up empty-handed. Mom was no impulse buyer.

Eighty-seven years later, I’m watching my son act like the Tasmanian Devil and asking myself, “What would Mom do?”

When I said “no” to the dual train set of “Iron ‘Arry and Iron Bert”, Ellison’s channeled his inner Claire Danes in her 1990’s tearful glory; hands shot into mouth, glasses fogged.

And Thomas enraged me.

During the next few hours of bartering with Ellison, I looked around: were ANY of the other parents having fun? Was I the only adult infuriated with Thomas? Why have I become so bitter?

And then Ellison peed his pants. Again.

More tears, more internal rage.

Gavin: he’s 3. Give him a break. You need to be better about stopping to make him pee every 30 minutes.

Thomas soured me on any fairs. They’re chock-full of ways to make kids cry.

I should have managed expectations better. Do I say, “You can buy one treat?” I suppose so. But why must I feel obligated to buy something, anyway? Must I check asceticism at the door?

My mom never bought me shit from things like Thomas or county fairs or street fairs or Disneyland. Because of that, I loathed festivals like “Taste of Colorado” or “Lakewood on Parade”. I was a diabetic in a candy store. But I didn’t throw tantrums, cuz I expected nothing. I just wondered why we bothered attending. Mom liked the free concerts. But Julio Iglesias was not interesting to me as a 9-year-old (nor is he now.)

Back to my kids: how on EARTH do you manage DisneyWorld/Land/Hell? Seriously…tell me your secrets.

The day would have been more fun if we’d just gone to a lake and thrown sticks in the water.

Simple pleasures.

We did exactly that later in the afternoon. And it was bliss.

When we sat down for dinner, Ellison was starving and shoveled kale salad and asparagus into his mouth. (I know. Roll your eyes, now.) I asked, “Has it been a good day, Buddy?”


“What was your favorite part?”

“This,” indicating his empty plate of vegetables.

I surrender.


  1. One of my husband’s and my son’s best memories of all time was throwing rocks at floating
    logs in an icey cold bay in Door County, Wisconsin. They re-named the bay, “Bombadiers Cove”
    because they imagined they were bombing the enemy ships (logs) and winning the battle
    handily. I applaud your “less is more” approach…knowing that you will, on occasion, let
    yourself be “pushed over” and that’s ok too. Wanna know what one of MY favorite childhood memories was? My Mom actually said “yes” one fine day in 1960 when I oh-so-meekly cowered before her at George’s Meat Market (a dumpy little wood floor place with kid-stuff in a side room)
    holding up a shiney (read that “cheap”) heart-shaped pendant on a chain. She actually said “yes” and I loved her for it and will never forget it.


  2. I can relate! A hard part of parenting that no one tells you about. How much crap do you buy and how to say no to an adorable kid. I have found that before a trip/outing, I let the kids “earn” money by doing chores around the house in the days/weeks leading up to it. Then they have their own money to spend when we go somewhere. Inevitable, the oldest will save his money and find the best bargain and something he REALLY wants (even if it takes multiple stores…ugh). The middle child will buy the first thing he sees and the youngest will choose carefully but still spend money at the first store. But I must warn you….this process can be long and arduous and usually ends with me longing for an adult beverage after spending 45 minutes roaming the gift shop. However, they learn the lesson of working for something and how to spend money wisely.


    • Yep, Lisa. You make perfect sense. Silly how i just didn’t have my own head in the game in preparation for this day. Earning the treat will be an effective tool in the future. Good advice, as expected. You’re a wealth of tips. Why aren’t you blogging? Oh wait. Three kids, a business, family obligations. Never mind. Just filter them through me. Xo


  3. I relate to everything you describe…except one thing…Julio Iglesias doesn’t interest you? Nooooo! Check out Zeffireli’s La Traviata and then tell me that. ❤


  4. Life is short, the years go by quickly – if you can afford to indulge your child with one item that he is passionate about then I say do it. They tend to want lots and lots of what they see so I have said no many, many times but have also said yes when I thought it was meaningful. As I prepare to send my oldest off to college and look back over the years, I wish I had said yes more often! BTW, did you really expect that YOU were going to have fun at the Thomas outing with your 2 young kids and LOTS of other young kids????


    • You’re so right…I should have managed my OWN expectations of fun…and it’d have been more tolerable. Good to say “yes” once in awhile, for sure. I just didn’t have my head in the game, ahead of time. How quickly we can forget.


  5. I don’t have a solution for the acquisition problem, but here’s a thought: maybe it would be helpful to say, before going into difficult retail situations, that they can have one thing within a certain price range if they don’t continuously bug you in the store. Maybe they can quietly point out the things they like, and at the end, you can buy one thing. Other times, it may be best to just avoid the store.
    Also, as I recall, they will continue to surprise you with other situations for which you are not prepared, especially as teenagers.
    Finally, there’s one practice I found helpful in general, not specifically for acquisition syndrome: Always compliment them when they are well-behaved. Maybe even give them a small treat or reward if it’s an especially long or big event. It’s always good to “Accentuate the Positive!”


  6. I’m actually picturing you taking this pic of Ellison crying. Wish I could’ve seen that. One of these days our kids are gonna smack us, while they’re crying, for taking pics of them in the throes of misery. I once took a pic of Bodie, freaking out, cold and soaked, like RIGHT after he fell in a lake. It was funny, how miserable he was. I’m cruel. Shadenfreude. Love it.

    At least you’re able to reflect on crappy experiences. It’s your own, more affordable therapy. Good for you.


  7. I think I had this experience once at a zoo. in order to leave, you had to pass thru the gift store. I was pretty mean. when the boys (they are grown now) were little, they called me the Evil Momster. The one spot we all fell in love with was some sort of K’Nex festival in Seattle. We could make our creation, they’d weigh it, and we’d pay a small amount (relatively, K’nex are not cheap) and it was good to go. Granted, Dad’s creation was much bigger than the two things the boys made, but we were more impressed with the man who made an entire center console for his car. As for the tear photo. Most awesome you are!


  8. We recently took our 3 children to the Adirondack Musuem. Our oldest is 6 and he spent the entire time rushing through every exhibit, not stopping to really look at or read anything. He loves to read. When it came time to exit through the gift shop we remembered the many experiences we’ve had like yours, usually ending with red faces, embarrassment, anger, and crying children. Thankfully he had to go to the bathroom so we quickly left. By the way, do not go to the Ripleys Aquarium in Myrtle Beach. It was probably the worst gift shop situation we’ve ever been in.


    • Thanks for the heads-up about Ripley’s! I’ll do so. I think I’ll do a better job, next time, of negoatiating “Ok, you get to choose one goodie.” I just wasn’t prepared for the materialistic melt-down. Oi. Live and learn.


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