Sam hates train sounds. As soon as he hears the whistle blow, he turns his big eyes on me and asks wordlessly, "Again?" He whimpers a little and his mouth and chin do a sad little dance. I feel terrible and say so. I explain that it's just a train, that the sound he's hearing is the whistle, that it's a warning to people to stay off the tracks. Then I explain what tracks are, but he keeps those big, mildly alarmed-looking eyes on me and I finally say, "Train. It's a train, Sam. It's okay. It's not going to hurt you. I won't let anything hurt you." As much as I hate seeing him frightened, I do love comforting him. It breaks my heart in so many achingly warm ways.
This reaction of Sam's has persisted for a week or so. It must be torture for him because trains go by all day and night. We only live a few blocks from the tracks and we tend to keep the windows open when the weather is nice so I get that look often. Today I did something I hadn't done before. Instead of my usual long-winded explanation, I simply said, "train" over and over again. I said it slowly and purposefully the way I do words I'm trying to teach him. He seems hungry for these sounds and watches my mouth intently, so I draw them out for his pleasure. I find they sound new and foreign to me this way. Today I realized you can't say train purposefully without ending up with a smile on your face. It's not a real smile, but it's the shape of a smile. Try it. Train. See? Anyway. Sam got it. The more I said "train" the more I smiled. Before I knew it, Sam was smiling, too. He'd forgotten his fear after losing himself in the word. I took it as a tremendous victory.