Grown-ups don’t play with toys; they have hobbies

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.

train watching

Imagine all the fights we could avoid at home if all his big brother’s play sets were enclosed in Plexiglas.

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.

watching the fire

Trains and fire trucks – the perfect storm of toys you are not allowed to play with.

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.




You work for me now

My wife is utterly devoted to our children. She does whatever it takes to see to it that their young lives are full and happy. This is a wonderful thing to see, and it warms my heart. It also makes it such a shame that this is the woman with whom I have to compete in the ruthless tug-of-war for “me” time.

I could go on and on about how deserving my wife is of every moment of “me” time she can grab, but this is, after all, a competition.

I first truly realized how much a competition it is when she explained to me that I got my “me” time when I went to work. I get eight hours a day all to myself, with no needy, helpless, little people to distract or make unreasonable demands upon me. That’s the way she sees it, anyhow.

Way back in the years before children (B.C.), I used to spend some of my numerous idle hours brewing beer. It now seems like that was decades and decades ago.

It is too bad that I can’t mow the lawn from work, because that is the sort of thing I do with the rare snippets of “me” time I find these days. In fact, my “me” time belongs almost completely to our homeowners association. It is devoted to some sort of mowing or trimming, necessary to keep our property’s appearance at or near the minimum acceptable standard. I begin to feel like an indentured servant.

I would like all of our concerned neighbors to know that our grass is not long because I am inside playing video games. I am trying to get out to tend to the lawn, but I am being hindered by certain burdens. There is a 110 lb. woman draped over my shoulders, a three-year-old with his arms locked around my ankles, and a newborn hanging by his gums from my earlobe.

The woman is on my back because her schedules show that my “me” time ended when I took off my necktie. The boy is wrapped around my legs because there is no way I am going out to play with a loud, dangerous piece of machinery without him underfoot the entire time. The baby merely figures that, if he clamps down hard enough, long enough, he is bound to coax some milk out of this weird nipple at the side of my head.

On Wednesday evenings, my wife takes the boys to her moms’ group. The anticipation with which I look forward to this is shameful. It is my opportunity to enjoy mowing the lawn without distraction. Mowing the lawn doesn’t require inordinate concentration; you walk around a rectangle with an ever-shortening perimeter. Yet, it is very easy to mow Lucky Charms shapes into your lawn when you are constantly looking over your shoulder to make sure your little helper doesn’t follow the neighborhood cat into the street and wherever else a cat-about-town needs to be on a spring evening.

There were days, long ago, when I would have spent time playing computer games, or frittered it away on those wasteful activities known as hobbies. Not anymore. Now, if I find a moment that is not owed to my sons, my wife, or my fellow homeowners, I try to work in a little reading or writing. You are enduring one of the fruits of my “me” time even now. It’s more a dried prune than a plump, juicy watermelon, but you harvest what you can in these precious moments.

This is one of my more recent hobbies. It's really difficult to do this and write a blog post at the same time, but it can be done - just not very well.

It turns out that I don’t miss computer games, home brewing, or any of my former, solitary activities all that much. My sons are much more rewarding. They are more fun than any of my erstwhile hobbies, which is fortunate because they own me. It would be nice if I could just find a little more opportunity to read and write, but I guess I’ll have to arm wrestle my wife for that.