Following the Lead of a Child

The first time my eight year old son, Riley, stepped onto a tram, the experience opened his eyes to a new, fascinating hobby. We now wonder how this passion for transportation and trams will influence his choices as he gets older.

We moved to Dresden, Germany last July, accompanying my husband on a year-long transfer required for his new job. I wasn’t going to drive in our new city, so traveling by tram became the best way to get around. We spent our first week in Dresden taking rides, getting off at random stops to explore different sights. Riley became our navigator. He took tram maps and taped them onto his bedroom wall. He was amazed at how each line ran and to satisfy his curiosity, we often stayed on a tram until the end, just to see what was there. He was so passionate about his new hobby, that we were not surprised when he announced that someday he would move back to Germany to become a tram driver.

I gave him jobs to do for me. Instead of GPS or Mapquest, I had Riley. “If I want to go to Elbe Park Mall, what tram do I need to take to get there?” He would quickly research on his map, and then give me the two trams we would need to take. Later on, Riley would be able to tell us from memory, what trams to take to get to new places in Dresden, since he had the tram map memorized with all the lines.

When taking the tram to school one morning in the early fall, he announced that he wanted to sit behind the driver. He watched intently through the glass, as the driver guided us through the city. The next week, Riley brought a notebook, and started writing down notes of things he observed the tram driver doing. As a parent, it is always fun to watch your children, as they learn and develop new interests. For my husband and I, we were having fun with Riley and his enthusiasm for transportation.

We exposed Riley to all the public transportation in our new city. One weekend, we went hiking to the Swiss Saxony, a majestic gorge that offers breathtaking views. To get there, we decided to take a bus, then a train, then a ferry. On the way home, we took a boat. Riley enjoyed every minute. Another day, we took a monorail up a small mountain to a little residential area in our city. Again, Riley’s brain was spinning and he was truly in awe.

As we travel to different cities in Europe, Riley loves to ride on all the trams. He collects maps of the tram lines in these cities, and keeps them for souvenirs. Subways and buses are also fun for him.

In December 2010, we visited Singapore, spending time with my husband who had traveled there on business. While my husband worked, Riley, our daughter, Maggie, and I, explored the city. Once again, Riley’s assistance proved invaluable. He would map out our subway directions over breakfast, and lead us to all the places we wanted to see. I walked behind him in the Singapore subways, laughing to myself, as he led us to the correct subway, even after many transfers.

Riley amassed an incredible record, leading us astray only once. Last Summer, after living in Germany for only one month, we went “Back to School Shopping.” After finishing our errands, we realized that our normal stop by the Altmarkt shopping area was under construction, and we were forced to find another tram stop. Riley spotted a bus and convinced me that it would take us to the train station where we could transfer to our tram.

Because he is the “Tram Man,” the nickname we affectionately gave him, I obediently followed him onto the bus. We were on for a while, when Riley said to me, “Mom, I promise, it’s the next stop.” He said that a couple more times, each time our stop did not come up. I had no idea where we were, but Riley took it upon himself to find out. He studied the map of the bus stops and discovered we were on the right bus going in the wrong direction. We got off at the next stop, and decided together what bus to take to get back home.

After more than an hour, we finally walked into our apartment. Riley kept apologizing to me, and asking me if he was still the Tram Man. I reassured him, “Of course.” I will never forget his excitement that afternoon when he had sole responsibility for taking us home. And he loved his nickname—Tram Man.

When we go back to our village in Ballston Spa, New York this summer, Riley will be without all the transportation he has had here in Dresden. He wants to redecorate his room and have a tram theme, and tells us often that he will miss the trams here when we move back. He plans on taking pictures of every tram to make a collage. For Christmas, he received tram models from Dresden and the other cities we have visited in Europe. These are his treasures.

I wonder, as he grows up, how this passion and this experience will influence him? Will he become an engineer or city planner? Will he, one day, live in a big city? When moving to Germany, we knew our children would benefit from living in another culture, another country, and traveling to many other countries here in Europe. It will be interesting to see how their year in Germany will influence them as human beings. How much are they taking in? How much will they even remember? Will this year influence decisions they make as adults?

As Riley looks at his maps, studies them, and even memorizes them, his road to the future is still to be traveled.