Stop and Play With the Train Set

It was one of those days. You know, the kind of day that pulls the rug out from under you before you’re even fully standing upright. The kind of day where, if someone asks you what’s wrong, there isn’t really one thing you can say. Just a series of things, really. A series of small, insignificant things that add up to one of those days. The kind of day, as it turns out, in which you’re crying in a public place at 10:15 in the morning. Surrounded by the snack your son threw on the floor, and the millions of forms you needed to apply for an ID card they still won’t give you. And sporting the beginnings of a migraine. Like I said, one of those days.

I’m not looking for sympathy here. Crying in a public place is not a badge of honor for me. And my goal the whole time was to suck it up and get out of there. But I (like all of us) have bad days sometimes apropos of nothing, and this was one of them. But that’s not the point. The point is what happened next.

Wiping my eyes and collecting my forms and the crushed up pieces of rice cake adorning the floor like new-fallen snow, I shoved the stroller out the door and headed straight for Starbucks. A cold drink on a hot day, a muffin for my son, some air conditioning. That was what we needed, I was thinking. But then there was a train set on the sidewalk.

Not a discarded train set, broken and useless, but an actual train set on a table outside a toy store. A train set for playing with. “Look!” I said to my train-obsessed son. “There are trains right here on the sidewalk. Do you want to play?” “Yeah!” he said, hopping out of his stroller and heading over to the table. “It’s Thomas!” he said gleefully, picking up his old friend and zooming him around the track. Huh, I thought to myself. A train set, right here on the sidewalk.

When my son grew bored, I took his hand and we walked a little further. And there, a few doors down, was another little table, with a family of toy cats sleeping peacefully in little toy beds. “Look!” I said, to my little animal-lover. “Little toy cats sleeping in beds!” My son laughed. “That’s silly!” he said. “Want to play.” I told him he could. And he happily woke the little cats up and set them up at the little table for their breakfast. (He made the Mommy cat go get it for them in the kitchen.) Huh, I thought to myself. Little cats to play with, right here on the sidewalk.

When the cats were done with their breakfast, my son and I headed to Starbucks. Where we had our cold drinks and shared a muffin in companionable silence. My headache was beginning to ease. My hurt bewilderment at the behavior of the bureaucratic tyrant at the ID place was shifting to a much more comfortable righteous indignation. But the day, I was thinking, was still not a good one.

Back on the street, as I was getting ready to strap my son into his stroller, I looked up and saw that we were standing in front of a toy store. Another one. And it was the kind of shop filled with the sort of whimsical toys you never find in Toys “R” Us or Target. Things made out of wood, and felt, and twine. Things I would never buy (because they cost too much) but that remind me of another time and place I never lived in and can’t quite put my finger on, but love nonetheless. Huh, I thought to myself. Just the kind of toy store I love, right here next to Starbucks.

“Let’s go in here,” I said to my son. “Cars!” he yelled delightedly, picking up a red one. “And planes!” They had everything he loves and nothing he doesn’t. After the cars and the planes, he found a toy shopping cart and make-believe food. (We “went shopping” and cooked the food at a little toy kitchen.) Then there were xylophones to play and ukuleles to strum. A sort of whirligig thing on a stick was a big hit, as was an unknown object my son pretended was a vacuum.

And then, when it was just about time to leave, we discovered a marble run that dissolved my son into inexplicable fits of giggles. The marble went down a shoot, circled a hole and plopped through. Simple really. But man oh man, did he think that was funny. And his giggles made me giggle. And my giggles made him giggle harder. Until we couldn’t stop. Didn’t want to stop. And I just kept handing him that marble, and he just kept putting it in and we just kept laughing. And laughing. And laughing.

At 10:15 I was crying in a public place. By noon I was laughing in one. It would be easy to say my mood changed because of my son. And it did, in some ways. He’s my reason for even trying to turn my day around in the first place. But I think, that day, he had a little help. Help from Someone else. Someone who put in our way exactly the things that would make us feel better. And opened my mind (opened it long ago) to seeing the things He put there.

Some days are just bad days. Some days there are no train sets, or little cats, or marble runs. Parenting (and life) are full of those days. And please don’t infer that I’m trying to say something asinine like “Every cloud has a silver lining.” All I’m saying is this: stop and play with the train set. You’ll be very glad you did.

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