My three-year-old son can turn anything into a train. At home, he stands on the window seat, clicks the decorative pottery bells above him and pulls the imaginary train whistle “Toot toooot.” Sometimes he perches on the edge of the our couch, or crowds into a little round pillow bed beside my tolerant little Shih Tzu who looks up at me with imploring eyes. At the pool, my son even ducks into the front of a long row of lockers to “drive the engine.” Wherever he is, when the conductor cries out, “All Aboard,” that is my cue to drop everything and settle in beside him for a ride. It is time for me to become three again.

Often when I join him, he busies himself as the train engineer first, prepping our ride, providing a full commentary of his actions. He inevitably wanders over to an imaginary cupboard to collect “snacks” for us to take with us, gesturing with certainty as he passes some into my open cupped hands. And then, we are off! I try to stay in the moment as long as I can, I really do! If I let him guide the play, he might tell us we’re going “left, then right, then straight…then across the ferry water to Nana and Bumpa’s house.” But, if I’m in a hurry to get back to my tasks, he will graciously allow my adult self some influence on the play and “drive me to the washing machine or kitchen sink” and allow me to disengage.

Though there is always adult work to get done, there are also many moments throughout the week when I choose to slow down and see the world through his eyes. In creating a safe but rich learning experience for my son, I am doing the same for myself. More than before he was born, I now investigate the small details, like every berry that is growing in our newly planted strawberry patch. I take the time to help him move all the lost caterpillars off our path back to the safety of the grass. I allow myself to play and dream and imagine a limitless future, where I can be a pirate, a fire fighter, a marching drummer in a band or an astronaut in a rocket ship. In the place of my listening to talk radio, filled with stories of the darkest side of human nature, comes sing-a-longs to songs of love, friendship, and even faith. My new books are filled with bright, colourful visions of talking turtles, bouncing tigers and rhyming couplets about the jungle and the sea.

Yes, I play with him, but I also find myself playing more in my own life, too, letting my inner child shine through. Where once there was cynicism and mockery of garden gnomes, for example, now I have a collection of garden animals peeking out to surprise us in our little garden ecosystem. I am wearing more pretty jewelry and even colourful undies daily rather than waiting for some special event, dressing for me and not for others. I am connecting with like-minded souls more often, to share ideas and creativity. Together we are engaged in shared self-expression, co-creating meaning in a world that, I hope, will be as inviting and inspiring for my son to journey through as his own imaginary trains are now. I look forward to sharing the ride!

Paula is a single mom to a dynamic three-year-old and little Shih Tzu puppy. She can typically be seen on the playground climbers, going for an imaginary train ride with her son.