Guest Blogs

Mastering the One-Track Mind

Harnessing the power of obsession.

Since Enzo was barely out of babyhood, he’s had long-term obsessions. First it was construction machines. He could tell the difference between a street sweeper, a paving machine, and a combine harvester. We had to read Byron Barton’s Machines at Work and say “Goodnight Guys” every single night. At three he built his first collection: all of the Bob the Builder toys. He would go to sleep sometimes snuggling a front-loader.

After Useful Vehicles, he loved TRUCKS of all kinds — dump, fire, and monster — and he liked the song “Hello, I’m a Truck” so much that a friend made a tape of nothing but this song. Over and over and over…and the cassette was played over and over and over…

Then came the big love of his life: Trains. This was no surprise, since his first complete sentence had been, “I…hear…dat…train!” Between ages four and eight, he learned everything about trains and collected no less than seven sets. He could tell us the route of the Santa Fe and the B&O lines, and identified each type of engine that passed by with its model numbers. We were able to recycle an old family joke: “When God was giving out brains, you thought he said trains, and asked for one track.”

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Does every child obsess on things? It seemed normal to me. I had my cats phase, my owls phase, and my horse phase in junior high, during which I only read books in which the main character was of the equine persuasion. With Enzo, trains gave way to Legos, Legos to Bionicles, and sooner or later, Road and Track magazine arrived, and the vehicle obsession turned to cars. Fast cars. Cool cars. Maybe you know someone like this. The love goes deep. And the detail is fascinating. When I drive down the street with him, I can point to any car and he can tell you its make, model, year, and some interesting fact about the company that made it. It’s a specialized talent that could certainly translate to a paycheck if we could ever figure out how to harness it…

This kid is built for learning. He has an intense ability to focus and absorb, and can stay on track with an astonishing and admirable focus…but only if it is a track he chooses. With a kid like that, you have to find ways to help him keep choosing a track that goes somewhere, be it school or a personal interest. Parenting is all about watching when our kids fall off of their track, wander away from it, veer off course precipitously every time a distraction goes by. Our job as parents are to constantly put our kids back on the track. Day after day, week after week.

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