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Life With Toddler: Trainspotting
May 17, 2012

With a toddler in tow, the mundane becomes utterly fascinating.

Take today for instance, Bug and I were two blocks into our daily trike/walk around the neighborhood when we hit toddler gold. There on a corner in all its noisy magnificence was a wood chipper accompanied by Bug's newest obsession, a cherry picker. The fact that they were denuding one of the largest trees on the street of all its leafy glory was sad for me, but that emotion was overridden by how excited I was for Bug as we stood and watched the noisy operation. Just when things couldn't get better, a fire engine strolled by. I pointed it out to Bug. He tore his eyes away from the tree trimming operation long enough to grin at the firemen who clanged their bell for him and waved. A wood chipper, a cherry picker AND a fire truck?

Stumbling upon active wood chippers and cherry pickers conveniently placed within walking distance is mostly subject to serendipity, but we can always count on the happenings of Fridays and Mondays. Friday is the day when the recycling and compost trucks trundle in to put on a loud and spectacular show in the cul-de-sac. Bug stands on the couch, his face as close to the picture window as toddler-ly possible, and chortles and shrieks and waves. Sometimes we get lucky when, due to some scheduling screw-up at home base, a third, bonus truck arrives to fruitlessly patrol the cul-de-sac, checking the bins that were already emptied. Those are good days.

Bug stands sentry at the same post on Mondays, when the yard guys arrive to make a tremendous amount of exciting noise with leaf blowers, mowers, and clippers. They've made such an impression on him that few weeks ago, I caught Bug walking around the house with an empty paper towel tube tucked under his arm. "It's a leaf blower!" he announced happily. I hurried to my closet to dig out a spent wrapping paper tube and presented it to him. His eyes lit up at this longer -- and therefore more accurate -- leaf blower. He immediately dropped the paper towel leaf blower and tucked the new one in its place and continued to drone out a mechanical noise as he walked around, blowing imaginary leaves out of his path.

I was never much interested in trains as a kid (much to the disappointment of my train-obsessed dad). I found them boring and infuriatingly slow and endless when we had to stop for them at crossings. However, because of Bug's insatiable train appetite, I now go to train shows, plan our walks around train schedules, and teach him words like "bombardier," "hopper," and "locomotive." I ask my dad questions about the mechanics of train coupling and what rail grinders and ballast are, so I can pass it along to Bug. One afternoon, Bug and I spent a total of two hours on a bridge, at a crossing, and at a station in order to net five train sightings. TWO HOURS!

Before Bug, I also wasn't interested in garbage trucks, cement mixers, leaf blowers, cherry pickers or the difference between an excavator and a common digger. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure I found them boring. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't all Cabbage Patch Kids and Barbies as a kid. My sister and I amassed a huge collection of Star Wars action figures and starships, and it is source of lasting disappointment that we never got the Millennium Falcon, but cars and trucks and machines outside of their toy state didn't interest me in the least.

However, since Bug the presence of a local construction site is breaking news in our house. I once went to a town hall meeting to learn about the city knocking down an old gym and building a bigger one in its place. Everyone else was there to complain about the increase in traffic, noise, and cost to the city. I was there to find out when exactly all the big machines would be coming in so I could plan accordingly.

Car trips, both long and short, are filled with opportunities to point out big rigs, cement mixers, and any other large vehicle and when we see them, the thrill that runs through the entire car is completely genuine.

Such is my toddler reprogramming that on my way to the grocery store, a southbound Caltrain passed alongside me, causing me to reflexively yell out, "TRAIN!" To an empty car. And I'm not the only mom to do that. While on a walk with Katie, she excitedly pointed out a fire truck on the street below, which would be an odd thing to comment on under any other circumstances. But it wasn't odd to me, I was all, "Yeah, look!" And then Katie confessed to me that she's also been compelled to shout "Train!" "Fire truck!" or "Bulldozer!" when her son isn't around.

I love that Bug's interests weren't mine before he came along. I love that he is his own person, and that even with his nearly three years to my nearly 39, he's able to introduce me to new things. He's not a mini-me, dovetailing his interests to match mine. Nor am I forcing them on him. Everything that fascinates him, fascinates me, and I take great care to learn as much as I can about whatever it is so I can share it with him. Just so I can watch his eyes and his face and hear his shrieks of delight.

Before Bug came along, I never could have imagined having the following conversation about a fire truck, a cherry picker, and a wood chipper.

Me: "Oh, my GOD -- guess what we saw on our walk today?!"

Dr. Mathra: "YES! Oh, I'm so glad you saw it! [Note that I didn't even have to say what "it" was] I passed it on my way to work and wanted to text you but I couldn't safely do that from the bike. And then I was going to send you an email to tell you about it but I didn't, so I'm psyched you guys found it on your own! Wasn't it amazing?"

Me: "Amazing. He loved it. But also? A FIRE TRUCK drove by WHILE WE WERE WATCHING THE WOOD CHIPPER!"

Dr. Mathra: "No. Way!"

Me: "They rang their bell and waved and everything!"

Dr. Mathra: "Wow. What a great day."

Me: "The best."

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Stephanie Vander Weide Lucianovic