by Julie Green

It was the nicest compliment I’d received in a long time.  Not foxy.  Not clever.  Not kind, even.  But really useful.  For those of you unfamiliar with Thomas the Tank Engine, allow me to enlighten your poor sheltered lives for a moment.  Thomas, based on a series of old books by Rev. W Awdry, tells the tale of a little blue steam engine from a little island remarkably like Britain, only sunny.  For some odd reason, Thomas and his ‘steamie’ friends are positively revered by the under-four set.  And my two-and-a-bit-year-old is no exception to this enduring trainspotting obsession.  He knows every engine by heart according to its colour and number.  He asks to watch Misty Island Rescue at least five times a day and, I’m slightly loathe to admit, can recite whole sections of the film verbatim.  If you have a girl, count yourself lucky.  But then, I guess payback comes with puberty…

If, on the other hand, you haven’t heard of Thomas, you’ve obviously been living under some quaint rock in the Gulf of Mexico, and frankly I’m jealous.  The Thomas franchise is thriving, to say the least.  The cost of the full wooden railway set will make your eyes water.  Not to mention the DVDs, books, CDs, T-shirts, shoes, toddler beds, bedding…  You name it, and Thomas is probably steaming all the way to the bank on it.  He’s my son’s first superhero crush, and I suppose he could do worse.  Thomas is known as ‘the cheeky one’, and even though he tends to goes about it the wrong way, he’s always trying to be useful.  Usefulness, you see, is next to godliness on the quasi-British island of Sodor. 

Which leads me back to the compliment.  The other day when my son declared for no good reason, ‘Mommy is a really useful engine’, I (no pun) stopped in my tracks.  Talk about nailing it.  Talk about kids being perceptive.  Really, I could hardly argue with him.  Most days I feel exactly like that machine, chugging thanklessly from one task to the next.  And yet I knew in my son’s limited estimation, being ‘useful’ was a compliment of the highest order, and I was tickled for the recognition.  So, at least he isn’t taking the endless diaper changes, cooked meals, and laundry loads for granted.

But toddlers by their very nature are tempestuous and contradictory.  One moment there will lovely cuddles, the next whining and sprawled-on-the-floor tantrums to rival the likes of Naomi Campbell.  The other day, though, was a first for us.  And as firsts go, it’s one I’m not proud to admit.  He tore a brand-new library book.  I was mortified.  My son. Tore. A. Book.  I had to breathe in the bag.  Where did he learn such destruction?  Was it an innate impulse?  Here, in our very own book-worshipping household, he ripped a freshly illustrated page… 

And yet he is inexplicably sensitive and will cry at the slightest thing.  Like when he hears the song ‘Home on the Range’, which just so inconveniently happens to be on many children’s CDs.  What’s so offensive about this song, anyway?  Beats the heck out of me.  I can think of many songs off the top of my head that make me want to cry (Bieber), but none of them are about buffalo or antelopes. 

So the next time he’s writhing on the floor or throwing his dinner overboard, I’m going to smile and recall my usefulness.  And the time he announced at the dinner table — without prompts or bribes, I might add — ‘Mommy, I love you’.  Forget the Bieber, that was music to my ears.  Now, if only I can find a way to record such utterings, for playback when he turns 16…

Julie M Green (aka Little Green Mom) is a novelist and freelance writer who rants and raves about all things mommy at Little Green One.  She lives in Toronto with her husband and two-year-old son, Jackson.  Visit or follow her on Twitter.



  1. It’s great to hear your kid say something like that and they so rarely say it to your face. As far as the Thomas obsession goes, rest assured parents of girls are not saved from that.

  2. Cindy Bickerstaffe Reply

    I just loved this article. Excellent. Well written. So true useful Mommy.
    Keep up the writing. I look forward to following the adventures of little green one.
    A pleasure to read.

  3. So true, Kristin. In any case, I guess it could be worse: it could be Dora!! And thanks for reading, Cindy 😀

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