I had written a few weeks ago that Ben was no longer playing with trains obsessively, but now they are back, and it seems that every room in the house has either train tracks or train catalogs all over the floor.
Ben studies the Thomas the Tank Engine catalogs night and day as if he's doing doctoral research. He takes them everywhere. This morning, he missed spitting his toothpaste in the sink because he wouldn't turn his head away from his catalog.
He plans his expanding empire, telling us, "I wish I had the Mountain Bridge. I wish I had an Action Canyon Adventure Set. I wish I had Toby's Windmill." Or suggests, "Hey, I have an idea! We can go to Target today and bring home a new engine!"
He can occupy himself for such long stretches at a time that I worry sometimes that I'm not engaging him, forcing him to interact, doing Floortime stuff.
But my gut tells me that, since he's in a social setting for six or more hours a day, he deserves a break. I want home to be the place where it's safe for him to disappear into his trains (or whatever special interests he develops) when he needs to.
It used to be that Ben would recite Thomas the Tank Engine stories while we was lining his engines up or pushing them around on the tracks or stacking them into odd configurations only understood by him. His verbal and kinesthetic activities seemed unrelated except in their theme.
But now he plays with his trains, well, appropriately.
By appropriately I mean that he uses them for bona-fide imaginative play: acting out stories that he makes up himself. While he still peppers his stories with bits and pieces of memorized scripts, his material is essentially his own creation. Sometimes this original storytelling goes on for nearly an hour without interruption.
I've been trying to transcribe a sample of his stories for months, but when I asking him if I can, he says "no" or when I sneak up to him with my computer - court reporter style - he stops self-consciously.
A couple of weeks ago, I sat down quietly with my laptop and started to transcribe his story. This time he ignored me.
After awhile, he looked over my shoulder and I explained what I was doing. He silently read the what I had typed and I could sense the lightbulb going off.
He went back to the tracks and continued the story for a few lines, then looked over my shoulder again to check the accuracy of my transcription. Satisfied, he continued, checking again after a few more lines. When I asked him to repeat a line that I didn't quite get, he obliged. This continued until he ceremoniously announced, "The End."
Here's a small excerpt of the much longer story:
It was a beautiful day on the Island of Sodor. All the engines were working hard, pushing and pulling trucks up and down the line. A new engine had arrived on the Island of Sodor.
"Wow," said Thomas. "I bet he can pull a heavy load."
"Yup," said James. "He’s strong and he’s fast. He can pull a heavy load all the time."
"Well, sort of. I’m not sure," said Thomas.
"Excuse me now, I must get my cars," said Henry.
"These are my cars."
"Wait!" cried Thomas. He coupled up to his coaches and went along, but Henry kept going.
When they reached the forest, they saw the old bump, then stopped. Henry’s truck had bumped him, reeling him toward the old bump.
"Look out," cried Henry's driver. Henry was sunk.
The fat controller came to see Henry.
"You are a very naughty engine."
"I do sir. I can’t sir."
Then Edward put the tracks back on to the rails. "Thanks, Edward," said Henry.