April 17, 2015 by Dadinator
My son has been watching Thomas. He watches more Thomas than I thought my hypothetical son would watch, but that hypothetical son is well and truly expired now. He was usurped by the flesh-and-blood model back in 2011.
It’s Saturday morning and we let him watch TV while we make our exhausted way around the house, I make pancakes on auto-pilot and The Mamanator has a brief lie in. He loves Thomas, especially since we discovered what he now calls “Thomas Old-School”. The original series, voiced by Ringo with actual model trains instead of freakish CGI beasts with cartoon voices of the show’s current iteration (CGI and the death of children’s television is the subject of another post.)
Interestingly since he started watching it he’s become slightly obsessed with making his own toy trains crash, bash and fall off things…. Thomas The Tank Engine has a lot in common with TAC advertisements. Should they ever appoint a Worksafe inspector in the Island of Sodor, Sir Topham Hat is going to spend a long time in jail, I have no doubt.
However, that time is upon us. Pancakes are done (sourdough with freshly milled buckwheat by the way – yes I’m a foodie hippy wanker). The stack stands in the middle of the table surrounded by condiments, crockery and cutlery. It is time for breakfast. I take a deep breath in and prepare myself, because…..
It’s time to turn Thomas off.
“Time to turn off Thomas Lad” I say, my voice quivering slightly in fear of what is to come.
Duck and cover….
I brace myself for a force 4 hurricane.
Wait for it.
Wait for it.
WAIT FOR IT.
I close my eyes, widen my stance and lean into the wind slightly. Ready. Impact in 3, 2, 1.
“Thanks for letting me watch Thomas Daddy!”.
I fall over. Okay, I admit that I didn’t actually fall over, but I was shocked enough to. I stand their agog, wondering if this is some cruel toddler trick. Some form of torture. Admiral Ackbar flashes through my head.
But no. No, he smiles. I realise I’ve paused too long, that this silence could be filled with a shriek if I don’t say something fast. “Bahdahehzawitzah….. *ahem* I mean… ummmm…. You’re welcome….?…? Would you like some pancakes?”
“Oh Yes please!”.
Still suspicious I walk over to the table and he sits. “Can I have some syrup please?”
What? No reminder needed? Who is this child? WHO?
But he’s mine.
Something’s changed. I don’t know what it is or what it was or when it occurred, but there is a change. And in spite of my initial misgivings it is not at all scary.
Somewhere in his head cogs have turned, things have shifted and the brain has reorganised itself. I’m not sure if it happens in a sudden rush of if it’s incremental. I’m not sure if it is in fact incremental, but expressed as a sudden rush. I’m not sure of anything, and fortunately neither are the greatest authorities on the mind out there, so I don’t feel dumb.
Somewhere concepts such as time, consequence, commitment and promises appear to have gained a toehold. They’ve been floating around on the surface of his brain for some time.
There have been constant reminders: “remember what we discussed?”, “can you use nice asking please?”, “What did Daddy/Mummy say earlier?”, “Does screaming like that get you anything?”. There has been constant reinforcement: “That was lovely asking!”, “Well done for calming down so well” or “Doesn’t that feel better when we don’t throw ourselves on the floor”. There has been a lot of frustration, a lot of deep breathing and a lot of tears. But something has changed in our toddler.
Of course that assumes we had or have any effect at all. Quite possibly this was always going to happen, some kind of natural brain-maturation was inevitable because as he grows he can’t avoid some kind of maturation, may as well be the brain. And, of course, it is possible this is just a phase and we’ll be back to tropical cyclone Lad before long.
Believe me he has his days. I’ve been yelled at, slapped, the target of projectiles and even bitten once or twice. We’ve had tantrums over nothing, tears because we disagree on the colours of objects and howls because we’ve run out of butter (I sometimes want to join in…)
We play little games observing the world and I ask him of a red car “Is that car green?” only to get “NOOOOOOO!!!!” thrown back at me. If he can’t find a toy he will sometimes demand “FIND IT!” of me before I remind him to look for it himself. “NNNNNNO!” is the response to that piece of advice most of the time. He occasionally hits his sister. He insists that he is incapable of eating something with great gusto and enthusiasm. And sometimes he just squeals.
Yet I am optimistic. Or naive. Or a mix of both. I cannot honestly say how much or how little impact we are having. That’s not the point. There are days when it feels like we are banging our head against a brick wall – it feels about as productive and about as painful. But then there are days like this Saturday a few weeks ago, when our head seems to barrier tunnel (I did physics at uni once…) through the wall and break through to the other side – as if by chance.
Perhaps that’s why I wanted to write this, to preserve this little moment of pleasant surprise nestled in amongst the mess of life with a three-year old who is still learning how to regulate his own emotions, and how to express them.
And, if I may share this with you all, I’m very proud of him.
At the very least, I figure I’m going to bask in this little moment of glory and patiently wait for my son to grow into a teenager. Then I can remind him how charming he used to be when I get monosyllabic grunts from him for about 4 years. (I teach secondary school, I’ve seen what’s coming).