I could have stopped it. But I didn't. And now I'm going to pay, quite literally.
I remember watching Shining Time Station when I was a kid. It must've been on after my sisters watched Sesame Street or something. I remember not really liking it. The trains kind of freaked me out, there was all manner of foolishness about a jukebox, plus it was BORING. At 8, I was probably a little old to be in the target audience anyway. Up until a couple weeks ago, I was mildly aware of the fact that Thomas is, in fact, still around a generation later, and that he is quite popular.
We got into the whole Thomas thing because it was free. I found a coupon online for a free wooden Thomas and Friends engine (choice of Thomas, James, Edward or "Lights and Sounds Percy") and I figured "Emily has never seen Thomas in her life, but hey, it's a free toy". We got Percy, of course, because he made noise and lit up and cost more than the other engines. But while we were picking him out my jaw almost hit the floor when I realized how much those damned things cost. Lights and Sounds Percy is $17.99 at Toys R Us. The other engines were $12-ish. The wooden track sets are ungodly expensive. That means the little boy who brings his Thomas play set to Little Gym and plays while his younger brother is in class is carrying approximately $500 worth of trains and train accessories in his Thomas backpack. And you give these things to toddlers to play with?!?!?!
Emily enjoyed her Lights and Sounds Percy, but never showed a preference for him over other toys. Then one day she wanted to watch a "show", but she turned down all of the "shows" we own, one after another. So I went to Netflix and tried to find something available for insta-watch. I saw a couple Thomas episodes, and I figured she might get a kick out of seeing her toy on TV so we watched one. Again, because it was available pretty much for free. Emily seemed less than impressed. In fact, she turned the TV off halfway through, which is unprecedented. "Oh well" I thought. "I never really liked Thomas either but holy cow are there a ton more trains and trucks and tractors and helicopters now then there were back in 1989".
But then the next day she wanted to watch "train show". And that is where I could have stopped it. I could have put on Elmo instead or found something else and after a minute or two she would've forgotten all about Thomas. But part of me felt that it might be good to get her interested in something more "boyish". If I had a little boy, I'm sure I would've bought him a token baby doll, so maybe it would be a good thing to encourage an interest in trains (boyish) vs. play kitchens and dollhouses and tea sets (decidedly girlish). Plus he is a licensed character with easy-to-find birthday party decorations! And part of me figured she has a birthday coming up and we could tell our relatives to get her all sorts of expensive trains and track sets and the Mt. Sodor Bridge and Cranky the Crane and ooh, I want the zoo cars....
THAT is why they're so expensive. You're buying them for your children, but you secretly want to play with them too. It'll be fun time spent together! It'll help teach them sharing! It's interactive fun for everyone! And we have a million Thomas' but we don't have Happy Birthday Thomas yet! They suck in the parents too and then they know you'll shell out hundreds of dollars for more and more engines and cars and track sets because it's something both you AND your child want to play with. I just noticed Toys R US is having a "buy one get one half off" sale on some of the trains and I will be very surprised if this day doesn't end without me having purchased two.
So we watched another episode. She spent the whole time excitedly shouting "Hi Thomas!" every time he came onscreen. And ever since then, "train show" has been the only show she requests anymore.
She can tell Thomas (Hi Thomas!) from any of the other blue engines. She recognizes Percy, although she has trouble with her "R" sounds, so his name comes out sounding like a slang term for part of the female anatomy which makes Will snicker like a very grown-up adult every time she says it. She has also realized one of the trains is named Emily, so she calls her "Emmy-train". She has started trying to say "Gordon" but she's not quite there yet.
And she truly does learn from it. She busts out with brand new sentences after every episode, and she LOVES to run over to me and tell me what just happened over and over and over (even though I'm sitting right there watching it with her) so I know she's listening intently. And there are worse things she could be watching.
So all I have to do is put up with a bunch of freaky engines always being "cross" and whining that they want to be "really useful" and pushing each other into snowbanks (what on earth are the actual drivers doing during all of this?) but then they "buffer up" and learn very important lessons about sharing and not hurrying and doing a good job, and we won't even get STARTED on the brittish kids singing "do be do be do bah" who sound exactly like the brittish kids who sang "Every Sperm is Sacred" in Monty Python's Meaning of Life....
....and then all those Thomas and Friends wooden railway toys will be MINE! I mean Emily's.
I'm fairly "chuffed" about it.