My wife noticed it first. She was walking near the beach with my son. The sand was beckoning, children were playing nearby but our two year old kept stopping to look at the blue council wheelie bins. Every. Single. One. This was just the beginning.
A few weeks later, our little fellow had a playdate with his best friend. He'd known this girl since they were babies. He sat on a bench, and carefully put down his little container of strawberries and watermelon pieces. Then he told Little Miss all about the rubbish bins he'd seen recently and the weekly bin truck visits. He grew more and more animated until finally - he paused to eat his fruit. At first he was confused, then saddened as he realised she'd eaten the lot. I'm not sure what was worse, the missing food or the missing enthusiasm.
Sunday night soon became a ritual of 'helping dad put out the bins'. My son would wheel out his own set of half-size wheelie bins, then await the most exciting day of the week. Each Monday morning he'd eagerly await the garbage man's arrival. This became a big problem while toilet training. The distant sound of Garbagus Truckerus would inspire him to jump up and sprint - regardless of his bathroom status. Ewww. A technological solution was needed.
Yes, we let him use the iPad on the loo. And we all discovered how many Youtube videos feature bin trucks doing their duties. Our boy could watch them for hours, but thankfully there was a therapeutic benefit. He needed many medical tests and procedures over the years, and a few bin truck videos on my phone would calm him for another blood test or day surgery.
That said, my son isn't much of a screen time kid. He'd much rather play with real-life bin toys. The first one was a Lego truck complete with rubbish bins filled with tiny Lego bananas and fish skeletons. And the fleet has just kept growing. Matchbox-sized rubbish trucks, ones that play noises, up to giant German models a toddler could sit on. Plus dozens of toy rubbish bins to fill, empty and fill up again.
News of his collection soon spread. When Lego brought out a 'skip bin' truck no less than four families bought my son the same birthday present. And he wouldn't exchange any of them for another model.
Speaking of birthdays, we resisted for two years then caved in - and organised a bin truck-themed birthday.. His guests were greeted with red, yellow and green balloons, truck-shaped biscuits and of course, the specially themed birthday cake. But best of all was a special appearance by the local garbos. My son jumped out of his skin as they arrived. He was presented with his own "garbo cap" and even got to sit in the cabin and pull the lever to empty our bin. In years to come, my greatest fear is he'll mention this 'best day ever' - on his own wedding day.
When it was time to start school, I thought our son would need some other topic to discuss in the playground. So I installed Minecraft then spent many hours building a scale model of his favourite toy truck. He liked it, and would put little bits of rubbish in the virtual bins, but soon my "BinCraft" model was forgotten. At least the teacher was pleased when he aced his speech on recycling and the environment.
Mind you, just getting my son to school was tough for a while. Each Monday, he'd eat his breakfast on the front verandah. He'd even get dressed on the front verandah. But if the truck hadn't arrived on time, he'd refuse to get in the car. Thankfully mum had an idea. Father and son would go for an early bike ride, and find bin trucks in the neighbouring suburb. No more shouting matches - plus bonus exercise.
After six long years, you might wonder if my son is over his obsession. Let me answer with a riddle. When we visit the US in a few months, what's he hanging out to see? Disneyland or a white Christmas? Answer: Neither. Don't you realise America has bin trucks with the arm on the OTHER side!