A Drive From Hazelwood to New York Teaches A Valuable Lesson In Toddler Expectations
Sometimes our little ones remind us to appreciate the little things.
My small family of four left our home here, waved goodbye to Hazelwood, then St. Louis, then Missouri and drove 18 hours to New York to visit my parents for Christmas. Two days before we left, our van died, so we ended up renting a cheap, compact car and quickly discovered that compact is really code for super cramped!
Eighteen hours is pretty hard to endure in any sort of vehicle, but a small cramped one, full of Christmas presents, snacks, diapers, a toddler and a 5-month-old, just makes it all the more exciting. Rewind a few days.
Just after we found out that our van died, I figured I would try to pack light and dug a small suitcase out of a pile of odds and ends in our basement. The last time we used the suitcase was nearly two years ago, when my oldest son Caleb was very small. Upon opening one of the outer pockets in the suitcase, to my surprise I discovered three DVDs, one of which was “Thomas and Friends.”
After a few moments of confusion, I recalled that we had borrowed a friend’s portable DVD player for our last vacation, hoping that it would entertain Caleb. The device unfortunately hadn’t worked, and I must have forgotten about the DVDs.
It’s important to note that Caleb is obsessed with Thomas trains. His stocking stuffers were in fact, a bunch of train cars for his little wooden track. So I was delighted to discover the movie (which at that point he still hadn’t seen), and wondered if he would enjoy it. After all, he enjoyed playing with the toys. Because Caleb has a speech delay, his words are extremely limited. His reference for trains of any sort is a very enthusiastic, “Choo-choo!”
We left our house at 4 a.m., and as soon as I buckled Caleb into his car seat, I turned on a DVD player and popped in the movie, just to see his reaction. His eyes lit up. They sparkled. He giggled in delight and shouted, “Choo-choos” as loud as he could, unfortunately waking his younger brother Jake. Caleb was beyond excited. I cannot even express how amazed he was to see his favorite toys on a screen in action.
Well, as action-packed as a Thomas movie is, he could not get enough of it. The menu features a repeat play option, which we finally selected after hitting play about five times for Caleb. His pleas to watch it over and over admittedly frustrated my husband and I, and about six or seven hours into the trip we wondered if we might have to wear earplugs because we had heard nothing but the same movie about a hundred times. But he watched that movie for 18 hours straight. Over, and over, and over again. And got the same amount of entertainment and excitement out of it each time. In fact, if it was possible, I'd dare to say that he was more excited each time he saw it.
On Christmas morning, Caleb ripped open lots of gifts, all of them carefully selected. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have expectations. Certain gifts I whole-heartedly expected him to jump up and down over, and others I thought would at least bring a huge grin to his face. And even though there were giggles and grins, and he was as grateful as a little two-year-old could possibly be, after every last gift was opened he sat in the middle of new toys, books, clothes, and crinkled wrapping paper, and declared “choo-choos” as he pointed to the television.
My parents, husband and I had to laugh. Rather than playing with any of his new toys, Caleb was content simply watching his “choo-choo” movie. That was all he wanted. It made me stop and reassess my mindset about Christmas, holidays, and just gifts in general.
Often as parents, I think we have high expectations of what our children should want, and even how they should respond to gifts we give them. I certainly thought that my carefully selected presents would be a hit. Little did I know that a 25-cent yard sale deal from the bottom of a dusty old suitcase would be the biggest gift of all.
And in the end, all I can really do is smile about it. Part of me is glad that Caleb didn’t look around him and ask for more, as he would probably seem spoiled. I know that he did like the other presents he received, and he did indeed play with them.
But every morning since Christmas, the first thing on his agenda when he gets out of bed is watching his movie. It makes him happy. And it doesn’t bother me…even if I do get the songs stuck in my head and find myself humming them in the car, the shower, and while making dinner. I’m probably more of an expert on the characters in "Thomas and Friends" than I am in world politics at this point, and that’s okay with me.
Ah, to be young and innocent again, when finding contentment was simple and easy, because the truth is, it’s the little things in life that count the most. Often, the smallest and youngest people can teach us those important lessons. We just have to listen.