Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Day Out With the Engine of Uncertain Parentage

On Thursday or Friday of last week, Dez (our Director of Social Activities) told me that Thomas was coming to the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish, Florida last weekend.  Mace, being a boy of a certain age, is a pretty big Thomas fan (though I still have issues with his parentage -- I mean, notwithstanding the railroading use of the term "coupling," I don't understand how steam engines reproduce?  What mad scientist on the Island of Sodor has figured out how to give life to steam engines?).  I logged on to the website, found that there were still tickets available for Sunday, purchased 5 of them and then made everyone swear not to tell the kids we were going to see Thomas -- I wanted to surprise Mace, so if Casey found out, he would let it slip because he absolutely cannot keep a secret.

So on Sunday morning (our tickets for Thomas were for 2:15), we all got up as usual and headed off to church.  After church, a group of 12 or 13 of us went to lunch together.  At lunch, Mace, who was sitting at the opposite end of the long table from me, told Grandma he needed to go to the bathroom.  When they got back, he looked kind of pale, so I asked him if he was okay. 

Grandma shook her head and mouthed, "He threw up."

Does any other phrase strike the same panic inside a mother's heart than those three words?  Spoken in a restaurant?  I immediately started plotting 1) an escape route from the restaurant; 2) a contingency plan regarding the lunch we'd already ordered; and 3) the amount of time it would take to get to a store where we could pick up plastic bags and towels to put in the back seat so that the car wouldn't smell like vomit for the next three years.  And then it hit me -- what about Thomas?  And more importantly, how could I fake not being upset about the $120 we were throwing down the drain by not going to see Thomas and thereby wasting the tickets?

So Mace and I went out into the parking lot and walked around while everyone else waited for their food.  While we were outside, he said, "I want to go home."  But it had been almost fifteen minutes since he'd thrown up.  In my (unfortunately) vast experience with children's stomach viruses,  I have come to learn that if it's a virus, your kid will throw up several times in the first half hour because he can't even keep saliva in his stomach.  And Mace was exhibiting other signs of the Fluke Throw-Up -- in spite of saying he wanted to go home, he was walking around the parking lot with me looking for ants instead of asking to be carried, and when I asked him how his tummy felt, he said it was better. 

Hmmm . . . what to do, what to do. 

On the one hand, he threw up. 

On the other hand, he threw up only once. 

How bad a parent would I be, I asked myself, if we just got through lunch and then, if he did not get sick again, headed on down to Parrish (an hour's drive away)? 

Mace steadily improved through lunch.  I tried to keep him from eating (no matter whether we drove down to Parrish or directly home, I didn't like the idea of anything else not staying in his stomach and reappearing in my car, which already stinks bad enough -- we've never fully expunged the odor of wet dog caused by the dogs sleeping in the car every night for that month a few years back), but he kept taking pieces of fried chicken off of Grandma's salad until he had eaten every bit of it.  I had to share my french dip sliders with Grandma, and then Mace, once he realized how great the bread on the sandwiches was (and I know Applebee's may not appreciate an endorsement for their food appearing in the same paragraph as my son's sick stomach, but the bread they use for the sliders are so, so good).  The more he ate, the better he seemed to feel.

So . . . we spent the "Day Out With Thomas:"


And to switch gears rather abruptly on you, I cannot add A Day Out With Thomas to the Flamingo Bucket List.  Upon stepping out of our car in the parking lot for the event, I saw immediately that we were destined to be disappointed.  Everyone coming back to their cars looked hot and let down.  As a preliminary matter, I realize that to basically bring Thomas to life for little kids is a tall order, but if you are going to charge $20 per ticket, you have to do better than just make an engine that looks like the real Thomas.  The idea behind these events is to bring a little Thomas-themed fair to local railroads like the Florida Railroad Museum (FRM) in Parrish.  The FRM has a line of its own track that is a few miles long and a few engines, passenger cars, and other railroad cars (that I cannot name, but Pop Pop certainly can).  The track is not in great shape and the ride is a bit rough, but the FRM is clearly doing its part to preserve some railroading history and I applaud them for that.  My beef is not with the FRM, it's with whoever designed the Day Out With Thomas events.  Thomas was coupled to the FRM's selection of passenger coaches, which include a couple of open-air cars:


And since it was blazing hot in Parrish on Sunday, the open-air car was really our only option.  But most importantly, none of the coaches were Annie or Clarabell and Thomas didn't talk.  Sir Topham Hat made a 20 minute appearance about once every hour in a huge costume.  He was scary.  Other than that, the event had a storytelling tent where a local teenager read out of a large Thomas picture book.  She did her best, but it was obvious she had not actually practiced reading the story aloud before her debut as a storyteller came around.  The other "stations" at the event were Imagination Station, a tent set up with 7 or 8 train tables so the kids could play with the same sets they had at home and the Gift Shop tent. 

If I had to pinpoint where the Thomas folks failed us on Sunday, I would say it was with the utter lack of connection they made with these kids.  I can guarantee you that for most of the kids who went to this event, Thomas the Tank Engine is their friend and they anticipated seeing their friend and thought ahead of time about what they would say to Thomas and how pleased Thomas would be to see them.  And I don't want to be too critical of the people who are making an outright killing on Thomas merchandising, but if you can't even manage to make the "real" Thomas' eyes move, you need to hire Disney to handle your live events. 

All of this is not to say that Mace did not have as good a time as one could expect in 90 degree weather with a slightly queasy stomach:



But you could also sense that he was a little confused -- he kept asking me if Thomas could talk.  We spent a couple of hours at the event, rode the train at our appointed time, and ate some ice cream.  But to be honest, I shouldn't have spent the money on taking all of us down there (Dave Ramsey would be disappointed in me, for sure).  I can promise you one thing, I will not be supporting the Thomas merchandising machine anymore

Thomas the Engine of Uncertain Parentage is dead to me. 

May he rest in peace.

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