My toddler has a new nickname for me: Milk Carton.
This started off as Milk Car, my designated portion of the train as I follow Asher–who goes by Engine–around the house or along the edge of the sidewalk (in his worldview, curbs are tracks). Asher still nurses, so the nickname is quite literal. My husband is Caboose–as he walks behind me, he likes to joke about my Dairy-ere.
“Let’s go chugga chugga, Milk Carton,” Asher will say. He makes his train-whistle-and-engine sound, starts pumping his piston-rod arms, pretends to put coal in his coal car (the back of his pants), and we’re off and running in a line, like a family of locomotive ducks. I wish we had our own personal film crew so we could watch a time lapse of ourselves choo choo-ing on curbs all over town–at my dad’s assisted living place, in the parking lots of restaurants and grocery stores and playgrounds and banks.
I honestly don’t remember when or how Asher’s train obsession began–perhaps when I introduced him to vintage Thomas episodes?–but it struck early and hard, and continues to chug along, unabated. The first time he saw a train in person, at Travel Town in Los Angeles when he was 1 1/2, he went practically apoplectic–his joy so severe, it was almost like rage. “Choo choo!” we have him screeching on video. “Choo chooooooo!”
Our living room is a maze of wooden train tracks, our house full of trains of all sizes, styles, and materials. Trains and train-related books and puzzles and other railway tchotchkes are a given on any gift-giving occasion. We bought season passes to the local amusement park so we can have an easy train ride nearby. He tells us he dreams about trains almost every night.
What is it about boys and trains? Is it the phallic shape? The power of the engine? The desire for forward motion? The comforting structure of the tracks? I honestly don’t know, but judging from all the other little boys we see at the train museum and other train events, it’s a pretty primal connection.
Whatever the cause, I am happy to encourage Asher’s passion in all things loco. I always want him to pursue the things that give him joy, that help him learn and grow and feel a sense of agency and connection. Plus, as parents, we spend so much time in the driver’s seat; it’s nice to just be Milk Carton for a while, to step behind my sweet little Engine and follow his steam-powered lead.