Tag Archives: toddler

First Day Of School (ever)

First Day Of School (ever)

Today isn’t just the first day of school in Chicago, it’s Niko’s first ever day of school. He’s starting preschool at our neighborhood school. Since Chicago is so big, there’s a bunch of little (and medium and large, his school is actually pretty large) school buildings and you default into a specific school based on your address. But there’s also Selective schools that, for higher grades, are Gifted or STEM or International Baccalaureate or various flavor of Charter or what have you. It’s incredibly hard to get into Selective schools in Chicago. Like, there’s literally hundreds more kids who qualify for and want to get into separate Gifted programs than there are available slots (Niko’s school has a Gifted track, but I don’t think all neighborhood schools do). We are going to have to do some serious thinking while Niko is in kindergarten about what kind of school we want him to go to for first grade and on, because generally speaking if you don’t get into your first choice school in first grade (or 6th or freshman year or whenever the school’s lowest grade is) you’re never going to get in. There’s just so much competition, so many students waiting to get in. Which means a lot of kids start really specific types of schooling (STEM, Classical, IB, a school with a fantastic music program, a school with an emphasis on physical education, etc) when they’re like 6… which is ridiculously early to make those kinds of decisions. So we might just go with the flow and keep him at his neighborhood school and supplement at home and with museum memberships and stuff. But then if he’s at a neighborhood school, will he get into a competitive high school and then college? I kind of resent that I’m feeling pressure NOW, when he’s FOUR, to do everything right so he has a successful adult academic career (which, I mean, that assumes he even WILL go to college and not just, like, become an auto mechanic or electrician or something else he’d go to a trade school and apprentice for).

I have an Anxiety Disorder and tend to spiral into alternate universes of WHAT IFs at the drop of a hat, so I’m trying really hard to just… Let Go and focus on the important thing right now, which is to shepherd Niko through preschool. The school is being less than helpful by waiting until super late to send out official notices (including school supply lists, nearly creating a financial issue for us), and not telling us ahead of time which door in a building the size of a full city block we should enter for his first day of school. I mean, if they’d just included the notice “Use door X which is on street Y” we wouldn’t have started the first day of school literally soaking with sweat and flushed from walking 4 additional blocks, quickly, in 90 degree heat. I’m also a little peeved that I signed him up for morning classes and they plunked him into afternoon, which take place riiiiight when he’s normally taking a nap. But there were too many kids signed up for AM so whatever.

But now we know what door to go to and what to do if he wants to eat lunch in the cafeteria first and we plan to have donuts or ice cream every Monday after school, and we know for sure which class he’s going to be in and which time, and that he’s going to have 3 field trips this year (the zoo, the Shedd Aquarium, Navy Pier). He’s got his own cubby and he’s met most of his class mates (and WOW there is a girl in his class who is a future Homecoming Queen/Lady President) and he’s gone on record as saying he won’t cry tomorrow when I drop him off and leave him there. So we’ll see how it goes.

School is a half mile away so unless I hang out up there (at the school? at Dunkin Donuts down the street?) I’ll be walking 2 miles a day to drop off/pick up. I’m not looking forward to doing that come winter. But we’ll survive.

Niko Dressed Himself

Niko Going To School

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My Little Pony and Dinosaur Train: Kids Television and Messages

My Little Pony and Dinosaur Train: Kids Television and Messages

Niko’s gotten interested in “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic” or as he calls it, “I Love You Pony.” He’s very taken with the show and talks about how the ponies are his friends. He’s renamed various stuffed animals as Pinky Pie (his favorite), Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and Inky Dinky (his own made up pony character, who is a lizard) and sometimes we play Ponies. The show is ostensibly about friendship, and each show wraps up with an explicit discussion of the lesson learned in that show, usually one about friendship or respect or generally not being an asshole.

Sounds good, right?

But actually it’s not.

The show models a lot of negative behavior that’s only resolved at the very end. So there’s 5 minutes of positive verbal addressing of the negative behavior, and 16 minutes of demonstrating negative behavior before then. The main focus is on the negative behavior, that’s what’s given the most attention, that’s what’s modeled for the kids. Kids who watch shows that model negative behavior with a positive ending focus overwhelmingly on the negative behavior. They act on what’s modeled. As most parents and caregivers know, “do as I say and not as I do” doesn’t really work.

I’m not really loving “My Little Pony.” Too much negative behavior is displayed, and the ending lesson generally feels overly prescriptive and too sugary sweet. It’s a lesson, and we know it’s a lesson.

So what show does my judgmental ass approve of?

I really like “Dinosaur Train.” When we first started watching it, I made fun of the show’s premise. It feels like such a marketing thing, you know? Just shoving together two things kids like: dinosaurs, and trains. Woo, hop on that merchandizing bandwagon! But the show fundamentally works. It follows 4 siblings (one of whom is adopted) and their parents and friends as they travel around studying other dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures. The kids play together really well, address and solve interpersonal issues quickly and fairly, and demonstrate great interpersonal skills and problem solving… including shutting down bullying. The parents are involved in their lives, including the dad who is kind of goofy but not because he’s a guy, because he’s a goofy character. He’s really involved and competent as a parent. Social messages in the show are delivered subtly and consistently throughout an episode instead of broadcast at the end.

“Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” is another good one. The social skills messages are more overt, since that’s the purpose of the show and it’s aimed at younger kids. But the messages are integrated and positive behavior is modeled throughout the entire show instead of being spoken about briefly at the end. Again, there’s rich involvement from male parents and guardians.

“Sid the Science Kid” also integrates positive interpersonal skills. The kids might argue or disagree, but it’s done so in a positive and constructive manner and quickly resolved. Sid’s dad is active, involved, and competent at parenting and the show makes an effort at showing a wide range of ethnicities and cultures as a norm and also emphasizing women’s role in STEM fields. There’s a big focus on critical thinking and working together and that’s again woven through the entire show and not just tacked on at the end.

It’s not a coincidence that these shows are all 1) on PBS and 2) relatively recent shows. I think there’s going to be a bigger push, at least for little kids’ programming, to get child psychologists involved in designing and writing the shows. There’s growing awareness of how kids consume media, and what they do and do not pick up on. As parents and guardians we are gatekeepers for what our kids consume. I don’t think occasional episodes of MLP or Scooby Doo or whatever will ruin a kid forever. But I do think that part of my job as a parent is to discuss things Niko watches with him. So, for instance, the last time he watched a MLP episode, I had to discuss with him how most people are terrible at things when they try them the first time but that if you work hard you’ll get good at it… a direct contradiction to the episode’s focus on being naturally gifted at things and great the first time one turns one’s hand at something new.

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It’s hard being a kid.

It’s hard being a kid.

Jason Good has a blog post about reasons his 3 year old is flipping out, and it’s pretty funny. It digs right into just how irrational little kids are, how confusing and overwhelming the world can be for them and how confusing and overwhelming they can be for their parents/caregivers. I like his blog. He’s obviously an involved and loving parent who knows his kids well and is able to put a humorous yet understanding spin on daily life. So when I first saw links to a tumblr about why a kid is crying I assumed it was a link to his site. It wasn’t. Instead, it’s a collection of photos of a crying 2 or 3 year old with a caption as to why he’s crying. The kid cries a lot, apparently. And the kid’s parent takes time to photograph the kid while crying and note down why he’s crying (milk’s in the wrong color cup, a piece of cheese is the wrong shape, etc). There’s a lot of people who think it’s really funny.

I don’t.

It’s really, really hard being a kid– especially a young kid. A really little kid flips out when his cheese is the wrong shape or her milk’s in the wrong cup because 1) that means it’s just plain WRONG and/or 2) that’s one thing in a huge world they have control over and now they’ve lost that control. Good’s blog post feels empathic. It reads as a guy who understands that it’s hard to be a little kid, and that it can be frustrating to be the parent of a little kid, but if you step back you can see the humor in the situation. The tumblr feels… I don’t know. My mind lights on words like “cruel” and “predatory” but I don’t think that’s quite it. Friends of mine suggest it’s something that was designed to go viral and sure enough, the creator and his family were on TV concerning it. But what’s the difference between Good’s blog post and the tumblr?

I think the biggest thing is that Good put in effort after the fact to list reasons his kid was flipping out and the sheer number, and ridiculousness of them, builds and is funny. And a lot of stuff he talks about were things he was doing with his kid, interacting with his kid. The tumblr is quick snapshots of a kid that already looks stressed out accompanied by one-sentence descriptions. It feels like the tumblr author prioritizes taking a photo of his kid in crises to helping his kid in crises solve the problem. Good talks about his kid, the tumblr author complains about his kid.

And, you know, sometimes parents and caregivers need to vent. Kids can be frustrating, challenging, hard work. And when parents and caregivers complain they’re frequently abused for doing so, especially if they’re women. (In fact, one friend of mine asked if the tumblr would be as popular if it were a mom writing it; dads get way more leeway to be less than saints. I think it’d fly as long as she was white, affluent, and joked about how much wine she drinks. Several “mommybloggers” fitting that description landed book deals based on their HILARZ discussions of alcoholic parenting, then checked into rehab. That really wouldn’t have worked for them if they weren’t a certain type.) So I’m all for finding and creating safe spaces to vent, to unload, to ask for help. But that really doesn’t feel like it’s what’s happening.

In my experience, which is fairly limited to my own relatively laid back 4 year old and some babysitting (age ranges from 1 1/2-7 years old) most freak outs can be nipped in the bud by remembering HALT. Is the kid Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired? If your kid (or adult) starts getting on edge and acting brittle, look at the circumstances. When did they last eat? Do they need to calm down and sleep? Do they need attention? Are they angry/frustrated and need to express that and then calm down before proceeding? For really little kids, also check to see if they need to use the bathroom or are generally over whelmed. Being mindful of your kid’s needs can go a long way toward creating a smoother life for everyone involved. This isn’t some magic bullet that will solve all your problems, obviously.

It’s also important to remember that little kids don’t have adult brains. If they ask for a piece of cheese and you give them the “wrong” shape of cheese? That is not what they asked for. Until they make certain synaptic connections, they cannot translate that. It’s not possible. Their brains are growing, and they aren’t just increasing in size they’re increasing connections and the ability to make deductions. They have very little control over their lives, so cling to what they CAN control: what color cup they use, what shirt they wear. They are just learning new skills and get frustrated easily because what they WANT to do is so much harder than it should be because they are still learning how to do it. When little kids flip out, it’s because they can’t cope with the world at the moment. Part of maturing is learning to cope with it, even when frustrating… and part of parenting is teaching kids how to cope with a frustrating world.

Or you could take photos of your sobbing child and post it to tumblr, I guess.

Edited to add:
I was talking about this with a couple other people and more than one person compared it (negatively) to The Honest Toddler. Good and THT both discuss parenting and specific child-centered situations, and tend to poke fun at adults, parents, and specific styles of parenting (generally affluent, privileged parenting) while the tumblr pokes fun at a kid… a kid who’s defenseless at the moment. Instead of holding the powerful up to scrutiny, it holds the defenseless up. It’s a bit exploitative. And it bothers me that there’s just this constant string of negative photos of a little kid having problems.

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This too shall pass

This too shall pass

A few months ago, Nesko and I were worried and upset. Why was our child acting like an out of control jackass? Was it something we were/weren’t doing? Was this a major personality change? My MIL returned to beating the drum of “it’s his medication’s fault” (he takes an oral medication for his asthma every night) but she blames everything on that. I fretted to a friend of mine who doesn’t have kids but who nannied for several different families while in college.

I keep telling you, Brig. Little kids are psychos.

She is full of wisdom!

The best part of getting advice from someone like her, someone who’s raised kids but isn’t a parent, is that she isn’t as emotionally invested in her advice because 1) they aren’t HER kids and 2) she’s worked for a bunch of different families and seen just how different kids are. So she can be all “well, this worked this time and that worked another time, your situation reminds me of this other thing” and I get a range of advice instead of “THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT WE DID WITH OUR CHILD AND HE’S PERFECT SO IF IT DOESN’T WORK FOR YOU IDEK YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.”

Anyway, apparently kids who are 3 1/2 go through this stage where they turn into horrific beasts and EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE and they challenge everything and “forget” all rules and sometimes start crapping their pants again even if they’ve been potty trained for a year because HA HA HA WHY NOT, SUCKER.

So we battened down the hatches and set boundaries and enforced rules gently but firmly and remembered to give him extra time for transitions, and… I realized the other day that I no longer want to find a nice family of wolves to take over raising my child. He’s back to being delightful and charming.

It’s not perfect, he’s back to sleeping in our bed which I HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATE. But at least he’s sleeping now and not waking up constantly screaming about how lonely he is… or just plain screaming. His actual hand to god real nightmares and night terrors have been completely gone since he started sleeping with us again, poor duck. So in theory I should be more rested. But in actuality he pushes me to the edge of the bed and is a very active sleeper, hitting and kick and working his cold feet under my body to scrape his toenails along my torso/crotch. If I put my back to him he hooks his toes into my butt like he’s a tow truck trying to haul me out of a ditch. It’s weird, man! Toes don’t go there!

But this too shall pass. He won’t be in our bed forever.

He’ll either grow out of this, too, or I’ll look up that nice wolf family I had my eye on. There’s some coyotes in the area. You think they’d take him in?

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He knows when you’ve been etc.

He knows when you’ve been etc.

Now that Thanksgiving is over, the Christmas Season can officially begin.

Ugh.

Because Niko is only 3 1/2, we don’t really have any solid Christmas traditions for him yet. Everything’s still kind of up in the air. Especially since my Christmas traditions and Nesko’s Christmas traditions are so vastly different in many respects (mine involved no tree until very close to Christmas day, taking it down on the 26th, and lots of Mass; his involves very little religion and an entirely different date). We know from past experience that putting a tree up soon after Thanksgiving and leaving it up until Orthodox Christmas triggers a lot of mental distress in me. So we’ve talked about doing non-tree decorating and then putting the actual tree up later.

Our current plan involves cleaning and prepping the house but not doing any decorating until after Nesko’s Slava, which is St Nikolas, on December 19. That weekend we can decorate and put the tree up and be all CHRISTMAS! YAY! and then leave everything up until the weekend after January 7th, which is Orthodox Christmas. We will probably do Christmas Stockings and one gift (or maybe gifts with my parents) in December, but save most of the unwrapping and celebration for January. Honestly, if I can spend the 25th sitting on my ass eating Pad Thai with glass noodles and watching shitty movies, I’ll be happy. Nesko has to work, of course, so we couldn’t really do anything big if we wanted to.

Speaking of stockings and Santa, I think one family tradition we’re going to establish is that Santa only brings small things, things that will fit in a stocking. I grew up with a kind of unhealthy Christmas gift-giving situation, and I really want to keep the emphasis of Christmas off of gifts and onto stuff like family togetherness blah blah blah. Among his stocking gifts this year will be a bunch of tumbled semi-precious stones because he’s still really into rocks and pretty things. I don’t know if he’s quite up to one of those open-it-yourself geode kits, especially as he managed to destroy one geode I gave him.

How do you handle Christmas, if you celebrate it? How do you blend differing family traditions? Does Santa visit your house? How do you manage Santa gifts?

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It’s My Fault, I Shouldn’t Have Laughed

It’s My Fault, I Shouldn’t Have Laughed

I’ve mentioned a few times that Niko has some textural issues. This is especially noticeable when he’s not EXPECTING a certain texture. So, for instance, he had a caramel-filled Hershey Kiss the other day. He bit into it and was Shocked! Appalled! Outraged! There was A STICKINESS!!!!!! That was not what he signed up for. I told him it was caramel and it was sweet and he should try it and he looked at me like I was The Great Betrayer and was trying to trick him into something. But then he touched the verrrrrry tip of his tongue within the general area of the caramel, eventually made contact, and realized it was sweet and tasted good. And then he ate the whole thing. So he’s willing to give New Things and Disgusting Textures a chance, at least some times, which is totally awesome. And I try to prepare him for unexpected textures, because then everything goes more smoothly.

So when we had eggnog in the house, I poured a very small amount in a pink Hello Kitty (“Pretty Kitty” as he calls her) cup and told him it was a little bit like milk but sweeter and a little thicker. And he tried a little sip and liked it and had an adorable milk mustache. And he tried another sip and liked it. And then he took a huge glug into his mouth and didn’t know what to do with it, his cheeks all bulged out. He headed toward the bathroom to spit it out but I intercepted him and tried to get him to swallow. He looked around frantically and I made a mistake. I made a big mistake.

I laughed.

It wasn’t a real laugh, it was a sort of chuckle-snort that I tried to suppress. But I didn’t do a very good job of it.

And then Niko laughed. Eggnog sprayed out, a mouthful of thick sweet white, all over himself, the wall, the floor.

I’m really glad it wasn’t pea soup he’d been eating.

And then he started crying because his clothing was all wet with eggnog and Nesko calmed him down, cleaned everything up, and gave him a bath. After which Niko came out and took a few more sips of eggnog and asked to drink MY eggnog which HA! HAAAA! NO! because it was impregnated with Kraken rum.

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Halloween is coming. Got your costume yet?

Halloween is coming. Got your costume yet?

Halloween is On! Its! Way! and I have no idea what Niko will dress up as. His current suggestions include:

  • Shaun The Sheep
  • Bitzer the Dog, from Shaun The Sheep
  • A cat
  • The Brown Line – no, the Red Line. No! The purple line!
  • A crossing gate
  • A steam engine!
  • A dinosaur
  • A conductor
  • A dump truck
  • a ghost
  • A snail with a big shell
  • A penguin

Oh, these ideas? They are all from one day.

Other things he wants to dress up as include various imaginary friends of his, and a character from a short story (by Betsy Byars) he read that is a tiny cat (Finley Nox) who dressed up as a watermelon but really it was a cucumber because watermelons don’t come that small. So he wants to dress up as a cat dressed up as a watermelon but really it’s a cucumber. OF COURSE. That will be a SNAP to do!

I was actually pretty jazzed about the sheep idea because I can make a sheep costume. Just sew a bunch of cotton balls to a white shirt! So we went to Target where… they did not have white t-shirts in the appropriate size. A size smaller? A size larger? Oh hell yeah! Overflowing! The size that would fit over his black sweater? All gone. Well then. We perused the costume aisle and he flirted with the idea of being a butterfly, a fairy princess, a pink sparkly cat with wings, a ninja, or just plain buying a be-ribboned sparkly star-topped wand so he’d have a new “hitting stick” (that is my hitting stick! I use it to hit things! I mean no, that is my waving stick. I use it to wave good bye to people.”). I lingered over a $30 dinosaur costume but can’t really justify spending $30 on a costume. Then I saw a papier-mâché cat mask for like $2 or some cheap price and asked him if he wanted to be a cat. He said yes. I’m going to pick up some (more, we’re running out) tempera paint and he can paint the mask himself and we’ll get a sweat suit or track suit or something in similar colors and a feather boa for his tail and TADA, cat.

And maybe I’ll get a big oblong balloon and make a papier-mâché cucumber and he can be Finley Nox after all. Or we’ll toss a sheet over him and he can be a ghost cat.

What are you/your kids going as?

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Why I say my kid is weird

Why I say my kid is weird

I tell people my kid is weird and they either look at me funny and TOTALLY JUDGE ME or they laugh and mentally high five me. Really, pretty much ALL three year olds are weird, but mine is gloriously so. And I enjoy it! I enjoy weirdos and am one myself so, whatever.

One of Niko’s tetkas (aunts) traveled to Canada a while ago and brought him back a little stuffed moose with a red knit sweater that says “Canada” on it. Niko, cleverboots that he is, named the moose Canada. Canada the moose. Canadians, if it makes you feel any better, every single elephant he has is named Carl. ANYWAY, he recently discovered that Canada’s sweater is removable and it’s sized to fit beanie babies.

So his beanie babies (kissy bear, baba bear, tata kitty, mama otter, and EW SKUNK EW GROSSSSSSSSSS; CJ the dog, C the dog, J the dog, and Delilah the dog (he’s named them after dogs he knows, CJ and Delilah); Falcon Bernouli the goat and Edward Thomas the groundhog; they all get into fights over who is going to wear the sweater and who is going to be naked.

It’s like someone ate the forbidden fruit and now they know nakedness. And sin. And there is only one sweater to go around and cover their shame! So he sets them up and he has these little voices for them, and they argue over who is going to wear the sweater (only he calls it a shirt and he can’t say “sh” well so it’s a sirt) and why. They have VOCAL TICS, for crying out loud (albeit not very subtle ones: Canada brackets his statements with a sing-songy “I’m a moose, I’m a moose, I’m a moose, I’m a moose!”) At one point, Canada was saying “Kissy Bear you have my sirt and my pants! Oh no wait nobody has pants. You have my sirt! I am naked without my sirt. I’m a moose I’m a moose I’m a moose I’m a moose!” You have to admire his commitment. Canada breaks into identity-related song and dance constantly.

His stuffed animals tell jokes and they have specialty jokes. He sets them up and has them tell jokes. And laugh. And they fall over laughing.

I just… ok.

He’s three, right? And three year olds can be huge assholes. I think we’re all in agreement there. But they can also be FUCKING HILARIOUS and oh my GOD this is such a great age. And if I didn’t have carpal tunnel and arthritis and a complete inability to follow directions I would knit a bunch of tiny beanie baby sized sweaters so everyone could be clothed and the falsetto plush bickering could stop.

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Can 3 year olds use knives?

Can 3 year olds use knives?

I grew up in a kitchen with a parent who was a professional cook for many years, which means that a lot of very basic knife (and general kitchen) safety was burned into my brain from a young age. Never put knives in the sink. Never run with a knife. Always pass a knife to someone handle first. Never touch a knife blade. Dull knives are more dangerous than sharp knives. Don’t use a too-small knife. I even know how to hone a knife on a whetstone. As I’ve said earlier, some of my earliest memories are helping my mom in the kitchen and I don’t really remember a time when I wasn’t actively helping.

Our current kitchen isn’t very usable, for a number of reasons, so I’ve been doing the bulk of my cooking solo. Even though Niko is at that magical age where he wants to help and is capable of helping in some ways, I’ve been curtailing that because it’s just so inconvenient for me. And that’s a wrong headed attitude to have, frankly. So lately I’ve been asking him to help me load and unload the dishwasher, put his dishes in the sink, measure coffee into the coffee maker… and cut red peppers.

Yes, I’ve given my baby a knife.

"A toddler stands on the Learning Tower, image taking from the Learning Tower website"

A toddler stands on a wooden scaffolding called “The Learning Tower,” which raises her height to be safely able to work at a kitchen counter. Image taken from the Learning Tower website.

Several people have mentioned using things like the “Learning Tower,” which is a wooden scaffolding that costs quite a bit of money. If we had the money and the space for it I’d totally consider it, but as it is, Niko is very happy on his 2-step stepladder. We pull it right up to the counter and we practice handing a knife back and forth handle first, and then I give him strips of red pepper to slice in half.

We work on paying attention to what he’s doing, to the cutting board and the peppers. We work on how to hold the knife in his hand. We work on remembering that the blade is sharp. We work on how to hold the food steady. We work on not going too fast. And then he hands the knife carefully back to me and we put the peppers in a bowl, and he eats them all because red peppers are basically the bomb.

I know there are dull knives that people use for toddlers. There’s some plastic lettuce specialty knife that a lot of people laud for its dull blade and inability to puncture skin. I considered getting one of those, but in the end decided that with close supervision using a real knife was the better choice. Knives are sharp. I want my child very aware of that, at all times. I want him to know knife safety, and I want him to develop cooking skills that will last him through his life. If you have young children in your life you may very well make a different choice, and I’d love to hear what you have chosen or will chose. But Niko’s enjoying cutting up his own peppers, and he’s enjoying helping me, and he’s learning a lot while doing so.

How old were you when you started using a sharp knife?

Would you let a 3 year old use a knife?

What would you do?

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2012 Day Out With Thomas

2012 Day Out With Thomas

One of the things I like about our little family is the traditions we’re developing like going to Day Out With Thomas (2 years in a row) or to Wagner Farm every year for the Rotary Club fund raising (3 years in a row) or… uh. I guess that’s it, so far.

Anyway, we made the trek up to The Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Illinois for the 2012 Day Out With Thomas. It was great. It was fun last year, but it was rainy, and Niko was younger and cranky and nap disruptions made everything terrible (everything!). And even though he’s been a jerk about sleeping and napping lately, he’s old enough that he was able to hold his shit together allowing us to explore and do more things.

"Niko Posing With Thomas"

Nikola turns around long enough for a photo.

As they do, they had platforms set up for photo ops with Thomas. There were three platforms and of course the one in the middle was the most popular. There were professional photographers and you had the option to view and purchase a pro photo (perhaps in a fancy commemorative frame?) but we did not go that route because we are cheap assholes with our own (shitty) camera. How shitty? Let me just say that if you have an iPhone 4 your phone has a batter camera than my straight up camera. I discarded literally over half the photos I took because they were crap not because of anything I did but because it’s just a crap camera. Enough complaining! Niko was far more interested in checking out Thomas than turning around for his photo op, but he was very kind and patient with us and eventually turned around and consented to have his photo taken. Bless. We only backed the line up a LITTLE bit.

"Nikola checks out a hand car"

Nikola checks out a hand car.

There are many, many sheds with trains on display– engines, coaches, freight cars, CTA cars, cabooses, and more. Most of them have signs and are genteely roped off but apparently it’s ok to climb on this one. At least I hope it’s ok. Other people were doing so and there were no ropes or signs saying not to. Here’s Niko on a yellow hand car.

"Nikola sees a huge steam engine"

Nikola is stunned by the sheer immensity of a black steam engine.

And here he is checking out a huge black steam engine which, he was quick to tell us, looked just like Gordon. Well of course.

"Nikola and Nesko in front of a steam enginge"

Nikola and Nesko stand in front of a big steam engine.

I took, no exaggeration, about 50 photos of the awesome trains inside the sheds including the Nebraska Zephyr and some simply IMMENSE engines. None of them turned out. My camera, a point and shoot, has issues with its flash I guess. The photos in strong natural light, like this one, turned out much better. Steam engines are incredibly huge! And loud! And huge! I kind of have a thing for taking photos of people in front of GIANT TIRES and have done so both here and at Wagner Farm in front of a tractor’s giant tires.

"Niko on a caboose"

Niko also got to check out a caboose.

He also got to clamber around a caboose/brake van. It’s a cheerful red, as cabooses should be.

We went on a short street car ride but skipped the longer 19 mile ride because Niko was fading fast and while Nesko thought it’d be a chance for us all to relax including Niko, I was afraid Niko would get cranky and disrupt things. We checked out the Zephyr, which Niko’s been talking about for months, and also checked out the CTA train they’ve been restoring. We were also able to check out the museum’s gift shop and we bought a beautiful print for $5 of a pencil drawing of street car passing the Chicago theater.

This was a super great time and if we lived closer than an hour away we’d seriously consider buying a membership. A family membership costs $65, which is pretty cheap, and they have lots of events and it’d be super fun to just be able to look at the trains and ride them whenever we had a weekend to do so. We miiiiight look into hotels in the area and do a 3 day vacation out there, exploring the railway museum and also the Wild West Town and KOA campground and one room school house in the are. I AM A SUCKER FOR HISTORICAL REENACTMENTS, you have no idea.

Maybe you’re curious as to how accessible the museum is. There are designated handicap parking spaces on asphalt, but most of the parking is on grass, which may not be as much of an issue on NON Day Out With Thomas days. There are wide paved walkways throughout the grounds of the museum, but many of the sheds have a step to get in and some of them are not super well lit. They have paved walkways in the sheds. Some of the doorways are not very wide. I don’t think any of the trains are accessible. They are historic trains with narrow, steep, widely spaced steps. We all had problems boarding and disembarking. The museum has golf cart “courtesy shuttles” for Day Out With Thomas, but I don’t know if they have them at other times. The museum gift shop has a ramp leading up to it, but it’s narrow inside. I saw people at Day Out With Thomas using wheel chairs, motorized chairs, walkers, crutches, braces, and assistance dogs. So obviously some persons with disabilities are able to navigate the museum. There were also a lot of people using strollers and wagons along the pathways and over the grassy areas, although those weren’t allowed on the trains or in the gift store or in the museum’s diner. There were many portapotties, some of which were accessible, but I don’t know if those are a constant fixture or brought in specially for Day Out With Thomas. The diner has a big bathroom and the lady’s room had a handicapped stall but I don’t remember if the doorways were wide enough for a wheel chair user. It’s a newer building, though.

To sum up, “Day Out With Thomas” was a great time. I don’t think it’s possible for a more perfect day to have happened. We had a really good time and just as Niko talked about last year’s event all year I’m sure he’ll be talking about this year’s event for a long time as well. If you have the chance to attend “Day Out With Thomas,” or the Illinois Railway Museum, and you or someone you love is All About Trains, check it out. It’s well worth the money and the drive.

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