We attended a Model Train Show. It was a huge pavilion filled with overgrown kids and their toy trains. It may offend some hobbyists to have their train sets called toys, but I’d feel dishonest calling them anything else. I had toy trains as a kid, and the trains I saw at the show look suspiciously familiar.
The show has a lot of people selling bits and pieces of train sets and associated toys, and a few people displaying the working sets they built. These sets are indeed impressive, with multiple tracks and detailed landscapes. They are far more elaborate than anything I dreamt of creating as a kid, because I was a kid and lacked the treasure and years necessary to amass such collections.
These kids, having invested many dollars and one lifetime, are seniors now. To be fair, some still cling to the edge of middle age. But there is a child left in all of them. They still get a joyful gleam in their eyes talking about trains. They are boys, owning the knowledge of age, surrounded by a toy store of their own making.
And who could be the mortal enemy of these men so innocent and childlike? Who could be the bane of these happy purveyors of toys?
Actual children – the ones not yet corrupted with knowledge of antiquity or the concern for monetary value – the ones inspired by the instinct that God endowed in them to reach out and touch a toy because it’s a toy.
“Don’t touch that!” I heard this shouted by more than one raspy voice at the train show. It made me sad, and not because it was yelled at my children. It was only said quietly to my children, by me, every 10 seconds. I wasn’t planning on buying a train, let alone a broken one.
But I wasn’t sad for the children who got yelled at. I was sad for the yellers. It made them seem less childlike and more childish.
It made me realize that, in this Little Boy Heaven, little boys weren’t welcome. The big boys were in charge, their love of trains tainted by a fondness for valuable objects.
My son wanted to buy a die-cast airplane for $140. One of the few financial joys of parenthood is opening your wallet wide, tipping it over, and letting your child see exactly zero dollars fall out.
“Ask the guy if he takes credit cards,” my boy suggested.
The boy didn’t understand that if I paid $140 for the plane, he’d never lay a finger on it. The only time he might see it is when we’d use it for our centerpiece at Thanksgiving dinner. It’d be one of our family’s most valued possessions. Valued possession aren’t for fun; they’re to worry about.
That is the difference between big children and little children. Little children don’t worry. They play. And toys get broken. And the future is still long and bright ahead. And life goes on.