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I think I can…rethink I can…

August 18, 2010

My four year-old son is obsessed with trains.  Obsessed may an inadequate word. Hopelessly devoted to trains may be more accurate.

"I'm just a fool who's willing to sit around and wait for you" (Who knew she was talking about Amtrak?)

Like many kids his age, he has toy trains.  He watched Thomas the Tank Engine and the new Dinosaur Train (which is just unfair to parents.  Dinosaurs + trains?  Really PBS?  I thought you were on my side).  At the library, if there is a train book on display, or on the shelf for that matter, it usually ends up at our house.

On our last trip to the library, my boy found this gem:

Personally, I didn’t want this one to make it into the book bag.  The way I remembered it, the little broken-down engine uses the power of positive thinking and some muster to huff its way into success, thus creating in little children the wrongheaded narrative that everyone who falls on hard times can just pick themselves up and “think” their way up the hill.  I certainly didn’t want those bootstrap capitalist ideas taking root in my kids, no sir!  I also remembered reading something somewhere once in an evangelical Bible study arguing that the Engine’s guise of self-esteem building was really a shill for religious “I-worked-to-get-salvation” meritocracy.  So two strikes, Engine.

Either way, I was hoping a quick read-aloud would satisfy my son and I would be able to slip it back onto the library cart without him noticing.  As I read, I realized that the engine was carrying loads of toys and candy.  The book basically made a list of everything that will turn your child into a spoiled glutton.  I turned the pages, hardening myself to the idea of EVER taking this soul-destroying book into my home.

My son was, of course, enraptured by the story.  The train broke down.  It asked for help from one engine passing by, and then another and another.  The toy-toting engine was rebuffed time and again by those fast, sleek engines set on their course, unwilling to help out a little defunct locomotive.  I kept waiting on the train to think its way out of the situation, but in my mind this little sucker was quickly turning into the robbery victim in need who was helped by the Good Samaritan.  Just then, a Samaritan of sorts came along.

A small engine, not really big enough to help the toy train, drove up and surveyed the scene.  When asked to help the halted train, this new train wasn’t too sure if it could do the job.  But then it said those magic words: “I think I can.”  Then came the refrain I’d despised most of my adult life.  Though, unlike the story in my head, in the real version, the little engine that could was a little engine that could help someone else.  Its effort was not expended on itself alone.  It was huffing and puffing and determined to assist someone in need.

That book left the library with us.  And once I finish this post, I’ll be opening up another browser tab to renew it.

**But not before I leave with you with a little treat from once of ABC’s greatest lost opportunities:

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