A Reality Check, From Thomas the Train

SpongeBob, Patrick Starfish, Times Square

This weekend, we took the kids to see a Thomas the Train live stage show. “Daddy?” Bennett asked me on the way there. “Will Thomas be real?”

“No,” I said.

Drew practically swerved off the road. “What?!”

“He’ll be a character,” I explained, “like when we saw SpongeBob in Times Square.”

“Yes, Bennett,” Drew emphatically corrected me. “Thomas will be real!”

It was like I’d blown the whole Santa thing or something. I mean yes, Thomas is real in our hearts, kid, but you’ve been on “real” trains. Are they rendered with pen and ink? Do they have expressive faces and buddies like George Carlin? I didn’t want to set the boy up for disappointment. The Times Square SpongeBob spoke with a thick Mexican accent and practically grabbed his tip right out of my pocket after we snapped his picture. Instead of a pineapple under the sea, he smelled like he lived in a box under the Queensboro Bridge. I wasn’t expecting much more from this show.

Thomas & Friends Live, Thomas & Friends stage, Thomas the Tank Engine, Thomas the TrainWe filed into a theater with the barest of backdrops on stage. It was basically a green door and the Thomas logo. Even next to Times Square SpongeBob, this seemed bush league. Bennett was silent as he waited for the show to start. And waited. And waited.

This is a kid who gets antsy waiting for me to spread peanut butter on a mini bagel. He just stared at the stage for half an hour, barely making a peep.

“When Thomas comes out,” Bennett announced at one point, “I’m going to dance with him.”

thomasaudienceEventually, a woman with a microphone took the stage and told us that after the show we’d have an opportunity to get our picture taken with Thomas. I thought Bennett might explode. “When it’s your turn, please move quickly across the stage,” she implored us. “Also, Thomas asked that you not touch his face.”

Then, another two-legged, zero-engined character took the stage. He introduced himself as Driver Sam, and he wore an engineer’s overalls and hat. This is where having gay dads colors your perspective on things, because other parents probably thought Sam was just a delightful, enthusiastic young man belting out the Thomas theme song. As for my partner and me, our gaydars started to overheat. His go-go boy good looks and overinflated biceps could not go unacknowledged. We quietly whispered jokes about Driver Sam checking his Grindr backstage.

Driver Sam instructed the crowd to sing along with him, and we did… for maybe the first 3 times he ran through the theme song. Then he did it about 8 more times, repeating the same lame choreography over and over. “One more time!” he shouted, long after he’d lost us all. That’s when it became clear. Driver Sam’s job was to fill time.

Enough, Driver Sam! Bring on the Beatles!

Driver Sam coached us on how to properly greet Thomas when he arrived (i.e., give a big wave and shout, ” Helloooooooo, Thomas!”). We practiced it about 14 times.

Thomas the Train, Thomas the Tank Engine, Thomas Live ShowThen, finally, the green doors we’d been staring at for the last 45 minutes opened. Behind the scenes, a couple of stagehands gave a push, and Thomas’ familiar face poked out about two and a half feet from Tidmouth Sheds, then came to a stop. Thomas was as tall as Driver Sam, yet despite his cartoonish appearance, he was far, far less animated than his human co-star.

I realized this was all the Thomas we’d be getting. He wouldn’t be venturing into the audience or moving across the stage. He wouldn’t be joined by any of his train friends, and he sure wouldn’t be dancing with my son.

“Helloooooooo, Thomas!” we all cheered, dutifully. I glanced over at Bennett, to see if he was as unimpressed as I was. Instead, he looked like he’d just seen Elvis.

“He’s real!” Bennett shouted. He turned to me and said it again. “Daddy, he’s real!”

At that moment, I simultaneously felt like the world’s biggest jerk and the luckiest man alive. I knew instantly that I’d be reliving that experience, that pure, perfect little chirp of “He’s real!” over and over for the rest of my life. I’ve replayed it in my head about a thousand times in just the last two days.

I’d forgotten that at my son’s age, your ability to buy into fantasy is incredibly high, while your taste in live theater is incredibly low. This was the most thrilling moment of his young life, and that made it one of mine, too, because the way Bennett feels about Thomas is the way I feel about Bennett.

Sometimes I can’t believe he’s real myself.

35 comments on “A Reality Check, From Thomas the Train

  1. I took my boys to see the “real” Thomas in SLC in May of 2011. It was a real train on a real track that actually took us for a real ride. šŸ˜‰ I don’t think it can get any better than that for a child.

    Thank you,


    • I agree. Sometimes I read blogs and think, ‘I can do that. Why am I not doing that?’ But then I read a post like this and realize: I have my ah-ha moments AFTER reading something like this, not before. Keep up the fabulous writing! I am falling in love with your sweet little family.

  2. You are right, what a lame show. But then, children simply see the world with different eyes. I was just today reminded of that when my little monster, who is currently away for a week with his daddy, came online on skype and announced proudly: “Mommy, I have just made a poo. In the toilet!” Way to go, son!

    I agree with Naia, in the UK there are a few real steam trains that have been made up pto look like Thomas and some of his friends, and they tour the country, stopping every weekend at another historic railway company. You can ride the real train, and it’s always accompanied by some sort of play where Thomas comes to the rescue or such. All on real tracks and with real drivers and steam and grease. The little monster was over the moon when we took him to one of these events one Sunday, he was talking about it for months afterwards.

    That last sentence, that was writer’s gold! Well done, Jerry.

  3. When kids say things like ‘real’, it’s a relative term. The stage-show Thomas was a physical object in a real space, that’s real enough for a child used to seeing him animated on TV! Sounds like a pretty lame show, though.

  4. Having taken my boys to four years worth of “Day out with Thomas” I feel your pain. IT is great when you let yourself go and believe with your child’s eyes though. However, I am glad that we have outgrown Thomas and I don’t have to go see the “Live” show

    • Ha, I know how you feel, but isn’t there just a small part of you that misses those shows? No? Well, ask me how I feel after 3 more years of this, I guess, but for right now, I wouldn’t trade these horrible shows for anything, just due to the company I’m with. šŸ™‚

      • A part of me misses the joy he got from the shows. And honestly it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. But I do prefer Star Wars and Phineas and Ferb which I get to enjoy with them now. But I wouldn’t trade the days with both of them and Thomas for anything in the world.

  5. Kids question things like this and you will definitely be asked if Santa, the Tooth Fairy, etc are real. Until they are at an older age (say 9 or 10), the answer they WANT to hear is “yes”. Please don’t be one of those people who feels they will traumatize their child if they “lie” to them by telling them Santa is real. Those people are idiots. No one has ever sought therapy for the Santa “lie”. Thomas, Santa, etc are all fantasy. Kids love fantasy and want to believe it’s real. It’s only lasts a short time. Enjoy it while it lasts.

    • Hey, I wish you hadn’t left this comment anonymously. I definitely took it to heart. I’m one of those idiots who feels a little guilty about the Santa lie, but you’re right, I’m not the least bit mad at my parents for making me believe it, and my kids won’t be either. I can’t imagine childhood without it. Thanks.

  6. Don’t worry parents – by the time kids realize these characters aren’t real – they’ll forget that THEY once thought they WERE! Infact they’ll have a whole different view of lots of things — so will you.

    Well done (as always).

  7. I just stumbled onto your article about “how to talk to your kids about gay parents” and am so grateful. Thank you so much for your simple and eloquent writing on the subject. Seriously. My 6 year old saw a school friend’s high school aged sibling kissing his boyfriend after school today and I caught my son staring at the two of them attempting to work it all out in his head. Aside from feeling like kissing (with any set of partners) is not really appropriate for the school playground at pick up, I’m certainly comfortable with the idea, just not sure how to explain to my son. I sincerely appreciate your encouragement to use the words “gay” and “some” and “most” etc. Well put. You’ve put my mind at ease about how to discuss this when he does ask. Thank you!

    • Thanks so much for the comment. I’m glad I could help. The most important thing is that you know the topic will come up at some point and that you’re prepared for it. Sounds like you are!

      BTW I kind of agree about kids that age kissing on the playground (regardless of gender). I’m kind of conservative about those things, too. šŸ™‚

  8. I love your writing. I don’t even have kids and can’t related but you’re hilarious so I read you anyway. I appreciate how you have found a balance between being gaga over your kids and still being a ‘person’ who has adult views and thoughts no matter how ‘jerky’ they might be.
    The last lines are just about the cutest thing I’ve ever read and the Grindr comment up there with the funniest. Perfect balance!

  9. While your entire post was great… the last two lines brought tears to my eyes šŸ™‚ My kids are still very young so I am thankful for your insight into live theater and what I have to look forward to *sigh* but at least there’s a gold pot at the end! šŸ™‚

    • Strangely enough, there were 4 grownups sitting behind us at the show, 2 older couples who both came without kids. I mean, I would NEVER want to see something like this on my own. The entertainment value — and there’s a LOT of it — comes from watching it through your kids’ eyes.

      • Oh man I just know I’m going to run into those people and they are going to start talking to my kids… Or at least that’s what always seems to happen where I am… And I hope there is SOME entertainment value in my kids eyes otherwise I will be stabbing myself with a dull spoon… If my kids don’t even enjoy it… I will cry. If they do, well, then it will be an amazing day that I will never forget.

  10. Pingback: My First Weekend Post! « AsylumMom

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