A few months ago, I asked my 5-year-old boy if he wanted to read one of his many Thomas the Tank Engine books at bedtime, as has been our usual custom for the past couple of years.
“No…Thomas is for babies. Let’s read this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles book!” he said. My heart sank. Putting together train tracks on his bedroom floor, watching the old Thomas episodes on Netflix, and helping him into his Thomas pajamas nearly ever night have been my “go to” father/son shared activities for as long as he’s been old enough to interact with me. Naturally, I didn’t want it to end. He’s 5. I realize he’s going to move on in his choices of entertainment over the next 13 years, but I certainly didn’t expect it to start this soon.
“Thomas isn’t for babies. I’m big, and I love Thomas!” I argued.
He didn’t care; he was finished with Thomas.
For the next several weeks, it was all Ninjago or Ninja Turtles. I feigned interest. I thought about letting my parents know that the Thomas phase was over, as his birthday would be here in September, and my mom shops early (and often).
On Friday when I came home from work, I noticed an enormous series of train tracks spread across our living room, foyer, and down the hallway leading to his bedroom. I set down my briefcase and heard the old greeting of “Wanna play trains, Daddy?” I’d gone without for most of the year. We played trains, and I didn’t ask why. I just enjoyed the moment.
Tonight before bed, he pulled out one of his old Thomas books and asked me to read it with him.
“Does this mean you like Thomas the Tank Engine again?” I whispered, concerned his answer wouldn’t be affirmative.
“Daddy, I thought about what you said. Noah said Thomas was for babies, but I told him you really like Thomas, and you’re CERTAINLY not a baby, so I decided I like Thomas, too.”
I had to avert my eyes.
“You know what? I’m really proud to hear you say that. Being an individual and having your own opinions about things–even when they differ from what you hear from friends–is going to become rarer to see and harder to do the older you get. I’m glad you’re practicing early.”
I cut the light and allowed myself a few seconds of confidence in my parenting. Then, I walked back into his room.
“Can I take a picture of you with your Thomas toy and book right quick?”
“Why?” he asked.
“I want us to remember this conversation. I think we’ll be be glad we did one day.”