Lessons from the Hunger Trains
There is a strange Christmas ritual at my house that always makes me laugh. This year, it also served as a great reminder to enjoy the gifts each day brings.
This ritual is based on a game my kids invented when they were quite young, and it continues to entertain them to this day.
I’m not sure if the impetus for it came from being stuck inside on a rainy day or if it was one of our Minnesota snowstorms. It might even have been the result of hitting their maximum TV time for the day (the horror!).
Whatever calamity it was, it left them stuck in the basement with the same old toys and bored, bored, bored!
All that boredom must have fueled their creativity. Inspired by a fascination with The Hunger Games films, they resurrected a huge box of Fisher-Price Geotrax trains and collected all their Nerf guns.
Voila! A new game was born.
The Hunger Trains.
The rules of the game
The Hunger Trains game soon became a magnet for the neighborhood kids. It was easy to learn and fun to play.
- Set up the train tracks so they block all movement in the basement.
- Start the trains running along the tracks.
- Load a Nerf gun with plenty of ammo.
- Attempt to shoot your opponent’s trains off the track (before they do the same to yours)!
It’s simple, but goofy, fun.
This year, my now-grown children laughed themselves silly for hours as they played.
As I watched, I realized that buried in the fun were some good life lessons for the year ahead.
Use it or lose it!
The first lesson came when my son dug the plastic bins of tracks and trains out of the closet. The engines wouldn’t start.
A quick check of the batteries revealed they had been left in the previous year and become corroded over time.
My son pulled out the dead batteries, cleaned up the engines, and powered on the trains.
The lights were on, the sounds of the engine filled the room, but the wheels refused to turn.
Hunger Trains Lesson #1: Use it or lose it! Trite but true. Just like those forgotten batteries, anything you care about needs attention and regular activity. That includes you.
Hunger Trains Lesson #2: Take time to do it right. Whether you’re putting away a box of toys or polishing a blog post, a few extra minutes now can save you time later on.
The answer is out there
So we consulted Google: savior of the lazy, the desperate, and moms everywhere.
The YouTube video that Google sent us to was … well, it seemed a little dubious.
An earnest man who was way too old to be playing with trains instructed us to take out the old batteries (check), put in new batteries (check) then slam the train against a hard surface.
We laughed. Stupid advice, right? It sounded like a great way to break the train.
So we moved on to the next video, then the next, and the next.
Guess what? Again and again, the only solution we found was to slam the engine down to unlock the engine.
Reluctantly, we decided to give it a try.
Our first attempt was pretty timid. My son placed a sweatshirt on top of a thick carpet, then gingerly tapped the stubborn engine against it.
Still no joy.
Hunger Trains Lesson #3: The answer is out there. Keep working the problem and stay open to possibilities.
Hunger Trains Lesson #4: To paraphrase the Rolling Stones, the answer may not be what you want, but it just may be what you need. Try something new, take a risk, and be fearless!
Maybe it needed more than a gentle tap?
We worked up our courage, tossed the sweatshirt aside, and knocked the engine against the carpet. Again, and again, and again …
We went back to the drawing board, scanning websites and videos. The solution was always the same: whack the engine against a hard surface with wince-inducing force.
Finally, we had to choose.
We could give up and put the trains away, or we could take a risk and truly follow their advice.
Fed up and losing patience, my son walked over to our granite countertop and slammed the engine down.
Instantly the wheels started to turn and it rolled off with a happy little sound.
Hunger Trains Lesson #5: Sometimes you need something to knock you out of your inertia and get you moving. You’re tougher than you think.
Let the games begin
After the Christmas day presents and feasting were done, my son and daughter disappeared into the basement. Soon laughter floated up the stairwell. I wandered down to see what they were up to.
At 18 and 20, my son and daughter aren’t kids anymore. On this day, they played like they were. They were carefree, full of giddy joy and completely absorbed in the moment.
Sitting side by side together on the floor, they set up the tracks, routing them over plastic mountains, bridges, and tunnels.
With a “Happy Hunger Trains” salute, the games began, They set the trains chugging along the tracks, gleefully spraying them with Nerf bullets. There were fist bumps, a little smack talk, and lots of laughter.
It was a very good day.
Anything can happen
Today the house is quiet. The trains and the tree ornaments are packed away in their bins. We’re all immersed once again in the busy rush of the day-to-day.
Yet several weeks later, I remain restored by the laughter we shared.
I’m grateful for the lessons I learned, That one brief experience left me with so many things to ponder and enjoy.
It made me realize how many gifts every single day brings — and how many I’ve been missing.
Every day sparkles with beauty and unique promise. It is yours and yours alone. Anything can happen.
Hunger Trains Lesson #6: Life is not the sum of your achievements or the checkmarks on your to-do list. It’s thousands of tiny, inconsequential-but-meaningful moments, all strung together in an infinite chain.
The links on that chain stretch from your first blink in the maternity ward to your final goodnight. Enjoy every moment.
Savor the day
Every morning, the day’s blank page lies open and inviting, potent with possibility. How will you greet it?
Every evening, the adventures of the day, large and small, lie behind you. What nuggets of gold will you pull from that shimmering stream before you leave them behind in yesterday?
Did you learn something?
Did you stop and take it all in for just one moment?
Did you look around you and see, really see, the mundane and magical world that surrounds and supports you?
Forget the minutes ticking by and the days on the calendar. Measure your day in smiles, in surprises, in fleeting touches and moments of true understanding.
Savor the gifts of the day.
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