The hunter becomes the hunted

A couple years ago, I wrote about how Buster (then a baby) vexed Big Brother (then a four-year-old) by crawling among his play sets and tearing up all his railroad tracks.

And now you may be thinking: “Two years ago? This blog has been around that long? Wow, this guy doesn’t know when to give up!”

I don’t.

Anyway, Buster and Big Brother still fight over toys sometimes. But there are many other times when they play together, and (dare I say it?) co-operate to build things. There are even times when Buster accepts instruction from Big Brother in order to accomplish his playtime goals.

fine art

Working together to create a masterpiece of sibling co-operation.

Buster has no recollection of the havoc he caused to his brother’s play sets, nor of the gnashing of teeth resulting from his destructive ways. As far as he recollects, all of his frictions with his older brother have been honest disagreements between different engineering visions.

This lack of recall must make it especially hard on him that payback is a bitch.

There’s a New Baby in town, and his devotion to wanton destruction burns just as brightly as Buster’s ever did. The sock is on the other foot. Of course, the second sock has been pulled off and discarded, in the tradition of babies everywhere.

Now, Buster is the gnasher of teeth, shouting, “No, Baby, no!” using the same frantic urgency with which it was once directed at him. New Baby does him credit by living up to the very standard of disregard for admonition that he himself established all those forgotten times ago. Lack of recognition, coupled with an uncoupled train, makes it a hollow honor.

sacrifices had to be made

“I’m willing to let you chew on the plastic tunnel if it will save my train.”

I can’t explain to Buster that the unprovoked baby attacks he is enduring now are the same as he used to perpetrate. He can’t imagine that he could ever have been so annoying. Even if he could, it would only make him wonder why Daddy insists on bringing up random bits of ancient history that clearly have no relevance to his current suffering.

Daddy needs to be solving problems in the here and now, rather than telling his old-man stories of questionable accuracy.  New Baby needs to be taken away and possibly housed in a cage until Buster is good and done with his trains. Then, New Baby can be let out to tear them apart, so that when Buster is asked to pick them up, he can explain that New Baby was the last to use them. This is the kind of scenario that Daddy should be orchestrating, instead of fabricating some sketchy moral justification of New Baby’s outrages.

So much for compromise

Appeasement never works.

This house needs some law and order against the depredations of little brothers. At least until Big Brother gets home from school. Then we can renegotiate what little brothers are allowed to get away with.

Never let it be said that Buster doesn’t consider both sides of the issue.


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.



Forget about the gold, we’re going for the purple

We may have experienced a minor breakthrough.

Being a five-year-old boy, our son likes to play when he should be doing work in school. Throughout autumn, he got better at focusing on his work, mostly through the skilled guidance of his teacher, but also with our encouragement.

Then Christmas break hit, followed by a parade of snow days. The routine of school became hodge-podge. His attention to school responsibilities regressed. We started getting disappointing reports from his teacher.

He lost privileges at home. This got his attention, but it wasn’t so good at holding it when he was in school.

There’s a color chart in his class. Everybody starts on green. With good behavior, kids can be promoted to orange, then blue, and finally purple – the pinnacle conscientious pupil-hood. Behaving poorly can sink them through yellow into red.

Our son took a few tastes of red. Friends suggested that maybe he was bored in school. Okay, bored is an excuse when you’re a super-genius whose talents lie three grades ahead. Bored is not an excuse because school work is more boring than play. He’s a bright kid, but I believe a super-genius would have mastered telling time by now.

One day we found an add-on to his train set on clearance at the store. At 75% off, we couldn’t pass it up, but we lacked an occasion for him to get it. We made a deal. If he stayed on orange for a whole week, he could have it. If not, I’d return it to the store.

75% off! Like I was going to return that? So some other parent could bag that deal? I’d keep that thing in the basement until he was 50, if it took that long to earn it. But he didn’t know that.

The best wedding gift ever.

If the boy doesn’t get to purple, this may end up being his wedding gift.

The next day he jumped to orange, and brought home a golden ticket. His mom and I gave him high fives and did celebratory dances. The next two days brought more orange, high fives, hugs, and dancing. Best of all were his proud smiles.

On the fourth day, he slipped back to green. I’m sure it was all a misunderstanding, but what was done was done. I said I’d give him another chance. If he made it to purple one time, he could have the train.

Funny thing though, he didn’t seem so concerned with the train. He seemed more interested in making his parents proud.

The next week, he fluctuated between orange and green. Then, one day, I was greeted with the news that he’d reached blue. There was much rejoicing. He didn’t mention the train.

The next day, as I hugged him goodbye in the morning, he asked, “What would you do if I got on purple today?”

“I’d be so happy that my head would just about blow up.”

He laughed. I think he’s close. There’s a train at stake. But most of all, it’s a chance to blow up his dad’s head with pride.

How to drive a toddler over the edge

This truth is self-evident. One-year-olds are patriots in their zealous devotion to the pursuit of happiness. They want happiness, and they want it now. They’ll let you know, quickly and unambiguously, when the path they are on deviates from that ultimate goal.

The path deviates regularly, because the things that make a one-year-old happy are often disruptive, destructive, dangerous, or all of the above. Further frustrating the pursuit of happiness is their reluctance to abandon the notion that parents can make all their wishes come true, regardless of the laws of physics or better judgment.

Our one-year-old’s happiness is hindered by baby gates. He isn’t bothered that they prevent him from going down the stairs; someone will carry him down, if he asks. Baby gates frustrate him because they have a mechanism that he cannot operate. He doesn’t need freedom to pass the gate; he wants the knowledge to open it, to liberate himself from ignorance.

gateway to hell

This gate has a long history of vexing one toddler and numerous adults. It has been pulled out of the wall twice – probably not by the toddler.

Once, when he was especially frustrated by the gate atop the basement stairs, I tried to explain the purpose of baby gates to him. I told him that baby gates wouldn’t be useful if all manner of little people could operate them. I was careful in my explanation, but he acted like he didn’t even understand most of the words.

I asked him if he would like me to take him to the basement. The look he shot me said, “Mommy, my juice, and the gate I was working on before you butted in are all up here. What the hell would I want with the basement?”

Toy trains are another frustration to the boy. He loves playing with his big brother’s trains. Big Brother, in adherence to rule number one of The Boys’ Guide to Optimal Utilization of Toy Trains and Real Dads, owns several incompatible sets. The cars of one set won’t hook to the cars of another. This drives the one-year-old into a toddler-sized fit of apoplexy.

His dream is to make a single chain of all the diverse engines and cars in the house. He gets annoyed when he can’t get two cars to hook together. Then, he taps me with his hand and points to the troublesome connection. Since I can’t make incompatible trains fit together, I’m left trying to explain.

the problem with trains

All the connectors are the same color, but somehow that’s not enough. Were the baby Vanderbilts saddled with such trials?

Incidentally, if you want to know what frustrates a man in his 40s, it’s trying to explain compatibility to a toddler.

I finally got him to understand the color coding – blue hook doesn’t fit into white hole. Then he brought me two engines with only white holes as connectors, tapping me on the shoulder and pointing to the work he needed done. You should have seen his face when I tried to teach him that the two whites couldn’t connect without any hook pieces. Knowing what I know of his toddler language, I’m pretty sure he called me a lying sack of something or other before he flung the engines across the room.

How could any child build a viable transportation system with parents like this?