A trip to Columbia (Station, that is)

“I want to go to Columbia. Because it’s a really good place, and they have toothbrushes there.”

So said The Girl, my four-old daughter to me on the SkyTrain just yesterday. You see, on certain days, I pick her up from daycare in Surrey, and bring her back to my house, where she’s played with, fed, bathed, and Treehouse-TV’d, before she goes back to her mum’s. But, since I have no car, it’s public transit for us.

One of the advantages of the system lately is The Girl’s fascination with maps – maps of anything. But, in the stations, there are all kinds of maps for her to look at. She’s fascinated by the correlation between images and real life locations, and the idea that she is inside of those images in a representational sort of way.

She hasn’t explained it to me this way, of course. Instead, she fingerpainted me a map, and showed me where my house, her house, Nana’s house, Gram’s house, and her daycare are. Amazing.

But, needless to say, if she sees a map, she wants to find out where we are on it. And at some juncture, she focused on Columbia Street Station as the be all and end all on the SkyTrain map on our journey back into New West. One day, we got off there because I needed to buy her a toothbrush (hence the toothbrush reference). And for the last few trips, we’ve been getting off the train there at her insistence, even though the station closest to me is New West proper.

As if that means anything to a kid.

I explain to her that Columbia Street Station is further away from my house, and that getting off at Columbia means extra walking. There are times when, without a car as I am, the Girl complains about how much we walk. Opinions about car ownership are pretty cut and dried as far as the Girl is concerned. “I wish you had a car,” she says. Fair enough. In any case, the extra walk (which is not really that much of a hardship) doesn’t deter her. She’s got it bad for Columbia Street Station and that’s that.

I do have a theory.

First, I think it’s the novelty of getting off the train one stop early. To her, Columbia Street Station has been the one we pass to get to the station we’re really going. It has an air of mystery. And mystery has a certain gravitational pull to a child, and to many adults too. Who, as they say, can resist a good mystery?

Second, to a kid that young, I believe locations are experienced differently then they are as adults. Everything is so much bigger, and generally more explorable. And there is more of a chance that a story will happen. The imagination is activated so easily by every corner, every stairwell, every concourse. It’s appeal perhaps rests on the way the light hits the station’s wall tile as the sun is sinking, or on the way a corridor twists out of sight, making one wonder what fanciful land it may lead to.

Who knows what Columbia Street station feels like for the Girl right now to make her think it’s so great. But, that’s a part of the wonder of childhood, and part of its tragedy too. Eventually, we leave those keen kid-perceptions behind. In their place, we favour of the explainable, the mundane. We stop expecting stories to happen.

But third, I think dresses may have something to do with her fascination with Columbia Street. In another post about New Westminster I wrote, I talked a bit about the wedding district and how quirky I think it is. I especially like the presence of the Paramount wedged in there. And the Tattoo parlour.

Anyway. The dresses.

There are all kinds of dresses of varying colours and cuts to be seen in shop windows along Columbia Street. As much as The Girl’s recent love of maps captures her imagination, her love of princess-stuff and glamour outdates it. One can see the appeal, the raw fantasy that those garments evoke. Who knows? Maybe this is tied back to the idea of the story, too. It’s a story people tell themselves all the time – the one that ends in a “happily ever after”. We all need that particular tale, I think. And along Columbia Street, for a little girl, those happy-ever-afters are plentiful, woven into the fabrics of dresses waiting in the windows.

To a child, any place can be extraordinary, given the right conditions. It strikes me that if we could take a fragment of that with us into adulthood, then life would be so much richer. We’d get a rush of joy just by getting off the train one stop early because one day we had so much fun searching for toothbrushes, and looking at dresses through shop windows.

When the Girl gets older, she’ll be harder to impress. She won’t find joy in the same things she does now. And she’ll temper her expectations for happily-ever-afters with a necessary wariness in an unpredictable world. That is what it is to grow up. But, I hope she retains that seed of childhood wonder. And I hope she’ll always have the adventurous spirit to get off the train early and not be afraid to explore the maps set out for her as she navigates her way into adulthood.

As a nod to the Girl’s fascination with dresses, here are …

5 songs about dresses.

10 Replies to “A trip to Columbia (Station, that is)”

  1. I am with the girl on this one. I would choose Columbia Stn 9 times out of 10 over New Westminster Stn. Even as a kid, I liked that end of New West (and there is way more there now).

    For me, its all about walking past Copp's Shoes. Huge memories of that place for me. That's where we got our back to school shoes.

  2. I live on Columbia Street and I love looking at all the windows – jewelery at the pawn shop, Army & Navy, dress stores, shoes, etc. It's a great street!

  3. Thanks for comments, guys.

    To be fair, I like Columbia Street too. I like high streets as a rule, and perhaps for some of the reasons I've attributed to my daughter. High streets have the sort of community feel that you'll never, ever get in an expanse of big box stores on a parking lot the size of Toledo.

    Part of this is that each store has its own little sense of style, with the garish pressed up against the stylish. I love the contrast of a high street in that way.

    Thanks a lot for comments again, people!

  4. I'm thinking that you have such a great way of interpreting what's going on in the Girl's young head and heart that you really haven't lost the wonder of what it is to be a child. I rather think you will always expect stories to happen…and that's a very good thing 🙂

  5. Rob – Thanks for reading. Some pieces just kinda write themselves.

    Gwyn – For whatever reason, I remember vividly what it's like to be The Girl's age, which has come in pretty handy. I had a pretty good childhood myself, where my own imagination was encouraged, for which I have my parents to thank. 😉

  6. Isn't it a wonderful thing to be able to experience the world again through a child's eyes?

    "Though nothing can bring back the hour / Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower; / We will grieve not, rather find / Strength in what remains behind…"

  7. Leslie – When it comes to the power of memory, Wordsworth is the Daddy, and is one of my favourite poets for that very reason. Thank you.

    I often wonder what memories the Girl will remember as her earliest; those wonderful mythic memories surrounded in a sort of divine haze. She could do worse than the street full of dresses.

    Thank you, again.

  8. Rob,

    I grew up on a house with lots of books, but the one book that influenced me most was a big old Rand McNalley Atlas of the World. I loved maps as a kid, and could spend hours looking at them.

    If I was to be so bold as to offer parenting advice, buy your daughter a large-fromat atlas. The love of maps is something you should nurture. They provide a sense of wonder, they expand horizons, they wire your brain to compare the abstract to reality…

    If nothing else, they are useful references for school!

  9. Pat – are you kidding? I’m always after parenting advice!

    I talked the Atlas thing over with the Girl. The next time we’re at New West library, we’re hitting the Children’s Atlas section, for sure.

    Thanks for comments!

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