Valuable Lessons In Parenting I’ve Learned On The Subway

Dec. 20, 2012
Brian Donovan has written for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, NPR, Chappelle's Show, CNN, Fox News, Comedy Central, and ...

The subway at rush hour is an unpleasant place. The car is packed, people are shoved up against each other, and it takes great effort to ignore the fact that you’re constantly rubbing butts with complete strangers. “Sorry, 60-year-old librarian lady, but my forearm is kinda touching your boob. Believe me, I’m just as displeased about it as you
are.” The only thing that can make that sickening little cocktail any worse? A screaming child.

Several years ago in New York, I was on your standard Monday morning Q train. People folding newspapers in each other’s faces, a guy spilling coffee every time the train slowed down, and a despicable human, somewhere in the crowd, farting. You know, the classics. But we accept those things. They’re part of the deal. What we could not accept on that morning, however, was the addition of a screaming 8-year-old girl. And when I say screaming, I mean SCREAMING. Like, the most noise a human can possibly produce. Imagine the sound a teenager would make if she stuck her hand in a light socket at the exact second she both met Justin Bieber and was given keys to her own Forever 21 franchise.

It was like that, non-stop. Scream, breath, scream, breath. And cry. Did I not mention the whole time she was also crying? Well, she was. And sitting next to her, not doing a thing about it, was her father. She’d look to him, screech, and then he’d look at the floor. It was a creative parenting technique, the “I’m just going to pretend this
isn’t happening,” and for a while, we passengers took it in stride. It’s not like this was the first unruly kid we’d seen on the subway. But she was so loud. And so upset. And it was so Monday. After ten minutes, our patience waned. Everyone looked around, desperate for action. Expressions ranged from “Why isn’t he saying anything?” to “I think my brain is on fire.” Finally, heroically, a middle-aged women next to me, dressed entirely in denim, had had enough. “Jesus Christ, Motherfucker!” she yelled. “Would you do something?! She’s been been crying since Dekalb! You’re killing us with this shit!” We were all stunned, and delighted. The man turned to his daughter, now somewhat terrified, and offered a few stern words. The girl stopped crying, the train became peaceful, and I’d never wanted to kiss a woman covered in blue jean so much in my life.

The subway system is a great source of instructions in parenting. So many crazy people, all of them so eager to reproduce. A few weeks ago, I shared some of the child-rearing lessons I’d learned through my
apartment walls
, but nothing compares to what I’ve discovered on the metro. Here’s a
brief list.

Children Can Be Awake Always: I don’t know what doctor said young kids should sleep at least 10 hours a day, because according to the subway, they can always be up, and always be partying. I’m not sure there’s any time of day that I would be surprised to see an infant on the train. 3 a.m. on a Saturday, surrounded by drunks? Absolutely. Middle of morning rush hour? Toddlers have jobs too! 11:15 on New Year’s Eve? Just because they’re six, that doesn’t mean they can’t celebrate! If Paul Thomas Anderson made a movie about the New York subway system, it
would be called There Will Be Babies. Because there always are.

It’s Never Too Early for Candy: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so if it needs to be a king-sized Mounds bar, then so be it. If I ate candy before 12 p.m., my body would melt into goo, but
that’s because I was not properly trained as a child. You’ve got to eat to grow, and what make a person grow faster than nougat? I mean, how different is a pack of Starburst from a bowl of Raisin Bran anyway? They both… have sugar. And contain fruit (flavoring). Wash it down with a little Pepsi and you’re good to go.

Don’t Know What It Is? Lick it!: Hey, there’s something weird stuck to the window. Is it gum…or maybe a wet napkin… or perhaps a dirty little spot of pure disease? There’s only one way to find out: let your child lick it. Children need to build up a healthy immune system, and there is no faster way than to put your mouth on anything in the subway. Railings, seats, toys that have dropped on the floor: all great for licking! Don’t worry, a homeless person probably hasn’t peed there. At least in the last hour!

Of Course The Seats Are Changing Tables!: You don’t mind if I release a huge amount of poo right where you’re sitting, do you? Oops, some spilled!

Nothing Shuts Up a Crappy Musician Faster Than a Child’s Tears: While an upset child can be trying, it is also sometimes humanity’s greatest weapon. Like when a Russian jazz musician steps onto the train with a trumpet, knee cymbals, and pre-recorded background vocals to perform a particularly spirited version of “New York, New York.” That can be your proudest moment as a parent, watching your baby instantly squeal in terror, and shame the musician into silence. “My boy just made that horrible man go away,” you will say, and the passengers will turn to you and smile. Some will even shake your hand.

What about you? What has the great subway taught you? TC mark

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