On board / By James M. Chesbro
Published 1:03 am, Friday, April 9, 2010
My fragile fatherly ego has an incessant need to feel as though I am providing for my son, which is why I needed to make him a train table. I suspect my reverence for inspiration and creativity wanted to build him a platform, a specific place, for his mind to play.
Last spring, in our driveway, I removed the top of a sturdy, unused coffee table that hit my son at the waist when he leaned over it. I made pencil marks in the four places where I drilled the wood together. My son, James rested both forearms on the table, scribbling purple Crayola circles, each time nudging the board just out of place. He watched me slide the pencil behind my ear, and began to stomp his foot when he couldn't do the same with his crayon. I revved the drill twice, thinking James would love it. He cried.
My wife brought him inside to watch from the den. "Help Daddy outside, help Daddy outside, help Daddy outside," and the meat of his chubby hands pounding the sliding glass door merged with a lawn mower down the street, a car speeding by, and a few birds chirping in the tree overshadowing the garage.
After I screwed the wood together, I spread the milky paste across the plywood. The surface looked like a sheet of melted mulch. I smoothed out the grass paper and flecks of green rubbed off on my hand. I squeezed glue onto gray pipe insulation and pressed the foam against the edges.
The table isn't much more sophisticated than a board on two sawhorses with an old tablecloth draped over it. The foam bumpers seemed like a good idea, but I've stopped replacing the pipe insulation because James pulls it off. When I remove his little body from the middle of the table, the grass paper stains circles around his blue-jean knees.
He plays with his train in the late afternoon. The sunlight floods the floorboards. The rays move over the Velcro of his gray sneakers as he shuffles around the perimeter, linking all the wooden engines and their tenders together with the magnet buffers.
After I tie two ends of a comfort blanket around his neck, the cape flaps over his shoulders as he runs around the dining room table and returns to the living room to demolish the village around his wooden railway. Blankly monster is my son's mischievous alter ego. He spreads his arms, arches his back, closes his eyes and laughs like a villain. He rips apart the tracks, sends the bridge flying, trees, signs, and engines crash to the floor.
He takes the cape off, James returns, sings the "Clean-Up" song he learns at school, and grabs the fallen pieces one by one. "We have to make a new Island of Sodor now," he says. He takes the engines to the coffee table in front of the sage green couch. The table is James' imaginary "wash down," a Thomas and Friends term for the place the engines go for cleaning. "They are dirty," he says to himself.
James likes helping me reconstruct his layout. We connect tracks. He places the blue train, Brit, and his wild-eyed friends on sections of railway that line the green table. He tilts his head, makes engine noises, emits high-pitched whistles in coupled bursts, and watches the wheels turn. The trains are departing and his imagination is on board.