>For Real?

>You know, it sounded like a good idea at the time.
Oh, how wrong that can be…..

Fair Warning: heat exhaustion induced rant ahead:

First let me back up:
Due to the enormous popularity of our recent practice of consistently going on Kid Dates….it soon came to be Little Man’s turn. Typically, a Kid Date is a movie, preferably on cheap movie night – that way it’s win-win, all the way around! Kid date works like this: one kid, one parent, on a rotating basis. In a big ol’ family, it’s a key thing and it’s a wild success.

Let me reiterate this most successful formula: one kid + one parent + one cheap movie + snacks = mano a mano bonding and happy campers all around.

Well, as said, it was Little Man’s turn, up next in the hopper. My dear friend, we’ll call her “Jill” (you know who you are!) sent me a link to a “Kid Event.” This particular Kid Event was one I’d seen advertised before, and resisted. It was a special “Meet (we’ll call him Timmy) Timmy the Train,” complete with special ride and fun filled activities! Sounds like a no-brainer right? What four year old in America wouldn’t just be giddy at the thought of such a stupendous opportunity!?

Again, let me back up a bit:
I have a bad history with “Kid Events.” Meaning, I have put in my time at the Barney sightings (yes, I realize I’m dating myself, can’t be helped), the Princess on Ice, Pokemon movies, you name it. And I learned something about myself that I am not particularly proud of and is not pretty: I am a major party pooper for Kid Events. It is a slow painful form of torture for me, a psychic excruciating bamboo under the fingernails sort of deal. I always end up with a migraine.

Thus, I have cultivated the art of just saying “No” to Kid Events. This policy has surely saved us almost a college tuition, I am sure. Well, the textbooks, at least. And the kids don’t seem to miss them (they are, mostly, blissfully unaware). That works for us! I’ll spare you my rant on the pervasive take-over of our children’s entertainment with licensed characters…. And hey, I’m not a total ogre, I have a daughter that gets shivers of joy at the thought of a new Little Mermaid movie….so we are clearly not totally off the grid here.

Anyhow, this is all to give the background: that nowadays it is a pretty rare thing for me to agree to attend a Kid Event. But, I must have lost my head, because I did. Actually, however, I feel a bit snookered, and shame on me, I should’a known better. I mean, really, what was I thinking?

See, I watched an episode of “J & K, plus 8”, that oddly compelling show about the family with 8 little ones that you don’t intend to watch and then find yourself kind of mesmerized. {This show I initially thought of as a sort of train wreck, don’t watch it because you’re really just watching the chaos….but now, I think they have some good points and really, despite the inevitable chaos and insanity of having so many kidletts at once, they seem to love each other. So maybe it’s not so bad as I first thought.} Anyhow, we just saw an episode where this family got to go to this very same Kid Event! What are the odds? (I know…doh) But hey, it looked really good! I mean, they got to sit up in this beautiful train compartment, with lovely Craftsman-like woodwork and it was spacious and empty (because we couldn’t see the crew that was filling the rest, I know…) and bright and clean. Really lovely, even if the littles ones weren’t appreciating it as they might have, hey they are three years old, they don’t know their Craftsman from their Art Deco yet, give ’em a break. The day on this episode was clearly warm but everyone stayed fairly fresh and got to wander around the quaint railroad station and even shake the hands w/ the “Timmy” station master. A fun day all around.

So. I must have lost my head for a moment because before I knew it, I had clicked us two tickets to pick up at will call and we were going on a Kid Date to see and ride “Timmy the Train.” Woot Woot!

As the morning approached, I admit to a small frisson of dread. But I shook it off. This was time with Little Man, just him and me. Good stuff. I couldn’t even tell him in advance as he would pester us all to death. So I had the fun anticipation of waiting to tell him until it was just time to go. I knelt down:
“Little Man,” I said, ” are you ready?”
He nodded.
“Do you want to go see…Timmy the Tank Engine?”
His eyes grew huge and a grin spread across his face.
“And ride on the train?””
He sucked in a big gulp of air, “For real?”
“For real, buddy.”
He grinned and nodded and hugged me, all at once.

It was hands down the best part of the morning.

So we drove downtown to the train yard. As we pulled up and we directed to any available parking, my dread mounted. We parked a good 3/4 miles away, weaving in and out among the tired toddlers in strollers. We got out and hoofed it to the entrance. Right away I could see how badly I had been misled, in my own stupidity. The difference between our local Kid Event and the one I was mesmerized by on TV was like the difference between going to Disney World and the local fair…and I mean the kind of fly by night fair that pulls up in your local supermarket parking lot with a few pickup trucks, a ride or two that can be pulled behind said pickup and tightened with a good wrench, and bails of hay. This is the difference between minor celebs in America and the rest of us: the Joe and Jane Schmoes, the regular people.

The will call window was a table by the porta potties. We grabbed hands and grinned big grins and said, “let’s go find Timmy!” We had 45 minutes to kill before our train ride. We looked at the lines for the two lemonade stand: 20 mins, easy. We looked at the line to meet the station master and get a picture (another fee): 30 mins, at least. Aha! A tent, two tents. Bonanza! Because this train yard was not quaint cobblestone with Victorian gingerbread stationhouse and cute shaded benches like J and K8 had; this train yard was asphalt baybee, and the sun was brilliant in the cloudless sky and mid 90’s.

So we held hands and went to go check out the jam packed tents (or, roofs). One was the “Imagination Station.” Oh boy, that sounded like fun. As we approached, Little Man got slower and slower, holding my hand and pulling behind me. He was not interested. And really, who could blame his as the “Imagination Station” consisted of coloring crayons and some mimeographed sheets for the most part. Hmmm. On to the second tent/roof. Again, the pulling, shy sweaty unsure. This tent/roof was the Viewing Station: bales of hay on the asphalt with a tv on the far end. Still no sale here. Still, saved by the announcement: time to line up for the ticketed train ride, woohoo! So we went to find the lines. Find them we did. No tents or roofs here. Ten chain linked lines, crowded already with sweating families and kidletts and baby types. Nope, not allowed to bring drinks on the train.

“Where’s Timmy?” Little Man asked.
“He’ll be here soon!” I said.

Finally, after what seemed like a week, after leaning on each other, withering in the heat, picking Little Man up to hold him as his little four year old legs wilted and then he could drip all over me too…the both of us a sweaty drippy gooshy mess, just like the rest of the grim families in line, “Timmy the Train” pulled into the station!
The excitement was…..underwhelming.
Timmy was the engine all right. He chugged by our little chain link lines and on past the chain link fence view. The rest of the train was, again, not the lovely charming painted wooden cars “J & K8” boarded; rather they were the dull steel cars of the local line. Oh. But we boarded them, we found our seat, we looked at the one feeble decoration for the day (I think, maybe they always try for such festivity): a single strand of pink mini lights, hung around the top of the ceiling.
The senior conductor, God bless him, gave it his best. He was sweet and solicitous of us all. Surely because we were all on the visible verge of heatstroke, red faced, rolling sweat, panting. He tried to keep the patter up and the smile on. Kudos to him. So the train started to roll, it rolled on way for about maybe 15 minutes, then it rolled back again. We passed the train warehouses. We passed the dense green foliage by the river. We passed under the freeway.
And here is where the trip/even just caved for me. Of course, as we passed under the freeway and by the river, we could glimpse into the homeless abodes. We caught a moment of their lives, the carefully crafting of a life and community under the bridge, fragile but real. And as ever, it is so hard to see and feels so helpless. So I prayed as I passed. And a few, only a couple, of the adults stood up to see better….but it was like a sideshow and it hurt. Because it is not a sideshow, ever. It’s all too real. And I thought of the money dropped on this, by me, and I winced. I thought of how this event was raking in the bucks for their overpriced commodity, it was such a racket. And I was a little bit sick. And I was part of it…out of love for my son and wanting to have that special time. But suddenly, even more now, it was a lot less special. So another “Hail Mary” and prayer for those we passed.

And as we got off the train, I sighed and grabbed my boy’s sweaty hand. I stopped fuming and feeling sorry for ourselves, because really, we have it so good. I did not stop being ticked at the Event, however. So, we walked back.
And my son asked to see Timmy. And we walked and walked to the front, to catch a glimpse of Timmy. Hot and sad, sick (me). But there was a line to see the face of Timmy (of course). And that line was at least 30 mins long in the unrelenting sun and hot. And there was a fee to see Timmy. So. Cheap cranky frustrated mom that I am and was, I steered my son around the line and as far around crowd as we could scoot. We saw Timmy from a little afar. And Little Man was mostly happy. We looked at the crazy overpriced hot dogs, but Little Man wasn’t hungry, he was too hot. I wasn’t hungry, I was sick at heart and head. As we were about to pass out, we bought a lemonade from a stand that was empty (5 bucks!).

And we decided to go home.For Real?

So. That was our date. We had a nice time together. He hugged me tight and we rubbed noses and smooched. We walked as quickly as we could to the car and said a prayer of thanksgiving for air-conditioning and for our many many blessings (ok, silently, me). And then we drove home, quietly, thinking about the very mixed up message of this very messed up event (ok, me).

So, for me, stupidity springs eternal it seems. I should’a known better. Really, on all the levels, I should’a known. For my son, I guess it was good. He’s four. He saw “Timmy” and he spent the morning with me, which still holds high value for him at his young, innocent age.
And for me, I will be thankful for what I have: a little boy who would rather be with me than almost anyone, no matter the sweaty rolling heat, who gasps and says “for real?” at the good things. Even when when what’s real can get so mixed up.

2 thoughts on “>For Real?

  1. >Some friends of mine recently went with their entire family to Disneyland in the middle of July. Hell. On. Earth. In all the pictures, everyone looks sweaty and cranky. I get it. Stories like this make me mad, not at you, but at the “American childhood” of corporate characters that feed the consumerist machine. Kudos to you for making little man happy. But I get your dilemma. Even at age one, I’m already steering Abe away from any “character” that might suck him in. It’s a tough one though now, living where we do.


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