Aspen Princess: Now I’m a believer |

Aspen Princess: Now I’m a believer

Alison Berkley Margo
The Aspen Princess

When the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad pulled up at the station, steam puffing dramatically from its pipes like spout exploding from a whale’s blowhole, I could feel my throat tighten, eyes moist with tears. It felt that big: a real, live choo-choo train.

I can only imagine what it looked like through my son’s eyes as Ryan held him on his shoulders for a better view. His little mouth was dropped wide open, and he would point, but then his arm would fall to his side, as if too stunned to make the physical effort. He didn’t make a sound, his little legs draped over his father’s broad shoulders clad in red pajamas with feet.

We were all wearing our pajamas, which is the tradition for the “Polar Express,” the railroad’s seasonal celebration of Christmas based on the book and the movie of the same name. I’m not sure it’s the best parenting decision we’ve ever made, but we’ve let our almost-2-year-old watch the movie at least a dozen times in preparation.

Ryan is a huge fan of animated movies. I think part of it is the voice work he did on the radio and having gone to broadcasting school, he understands the level of skill that goes into it. He also loves the creativity and the fantasy and the storytelling.

“It’s a cartoon,” I’ll say. “Can we watch something else?”

Unless there’s a child in the room, I’m not interested in watching “Aladdin” or “The Lion King” 500 times.

To share his love of animated movies with his young son is understandable, if not permissible. Weekends are a time when I sort of clock out and let them do their thing. If they want to watch a movie while I’m happily laying in a pool of my own sweat at yoga, so be it.

The only problem is during the week, all my baby wants to do is watch the damn movie. He points at the TV and goes, “Boy-a-train! Boy-a-train!”

If you’ve never lived with a toddler, they are like little tyrants who order you around all day and then cry hysterically like it’s the end of the world if they don’t get their way. Your only chance of placating their exacerbated cries is to distract them.

“Do you want me to read the train book?” I’ll ask, not sure why I am asking my child for his permission.

“No book! Boy-a-train!”

That’s when the babe throws himself face down on the couch for an admirable performance of earth-shattering despair while I do my best to ignore him until he either forgets about it for finds something else to do. The best is when he opens one eyeball to see if I am watching but on the sly so as not to disturb the outburst. This somewhat sophisticated act of manipulation always blows my mind.

Still, all the movie watching was worthwhile when the real, live Polar Express pulled into the station, the movie soundtrack blaring from the speakers, the whistle loud and engine hissing. There was a re-enactment of the first scene in the movie that was whole hearted and not at all cheesy, as I feared it might be. It was truly beautiful.

The train itself is a living piece of history that has been impeccably maintained, all dressed in lights like a grand dame making her entrance in a sequined gown. The route between Durango and Silverton originally began in 1882 to transport silver and gold mined in the San Juan Mountains. That’s like ancient history by Colorado standards. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a slice of history that is not only well preserved but alive, something to be experienced that’s not encased behind a glass case. Not to mention in a world where we live most of our lives with our noses in our smartphones constantly barraged by inane information, to experience something like this felt even more special, if not poignant.

Even better though, is seeing it through a child’s eyes.

I realize I’m not the first person in the world to have a kid and have my world turned upside down. But the way people always talked about how hard it is to become a new parent, all these sacrifices you have to make and sleep you have to forgo, I never in a million years expected to love it this much.

After decades spent partying and eating out at hip restaurants and all our energy focused on our outdoor exploits, it turns out I’d much rather be doing kid stuff. I love kid stuff! I loved hanging at the local ice skating rink and at the rec center pool and riding the big water slide, and nothing has ever made me happier than a big steam engine train to the North Pole for a visit with Santa. (Though I should mention Santa is apparently a source of sheer terror for kids this age. When he made a visit to Levi’s school the teacher said, “It was like a scene out of a horror movie.”)

I also never thought I’d be one of those moms who would catch my kid’s puke in my hand when he got car sick, but that happened, too. Nothing like going over four mountain passes with a kid who gets car sick on mountain passes. Thank god someone suggested the motion sickness bracelets because (Eureka!) they actually worked on the way home.

Santa did give Levi a bell from his sleigh, which he accepted. A few days later, when we were sitting in our living room at home, he picked up the bell, put it to his ear, shut his eyes tight and said, “I beef,” imitating the scene in the movie where the little boy who lost his faith in Santa said, “I believe.”

Thank you, darling baby boy for making me into a believer, too.

Happy holidays to you and yours. Email your love to


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