My son is 5 years old with humongous eyes and a way of processing information that is unique to him. His developing brain is a fascinating thing to watch.
He loves the subway, as do many kids like Miles, but what’s fantastic about riding the train with him is how his struggles to interpret social cues often seem to bring out the very best in people. He has given me a chance to reclaim what can be the dreary experience of 20 + years of riding the train, because he is so excited to simply be there, look at the map, to discuss which trains are local and which are express, where the F train begins and ends and where you can pick up the G.
The unspoken NYC Subway etiquette famously does not encourage smiling, eye contact or direct engagement, but to Miles it is just a giant grouping of people going places. He asks the questions many of us wonder as we make up stories in our heads about people while touching limbs and sharing air. His little voice as he asks aloud about his fellow passengers, or regurgitates something that happened to him earlier in the day is pure. I have seen countless charming and surprising interactions between Miles and even the most intimidating characters on the train.
Last week, after the first day of Kindergarden in a new school, where he had fallen in the park and opened up an old boo-boo, we were riding home. It was a hot day and he hadn’t eaten his lunch in the overwhelming swirl of new sensations of the first day. On the train he had calmed down but was working it out in full voice how I cleaned the blood from his knee on the playground and applied a band-aid. While he went over it for the second or third time, a middle-aged, kind of tough looking dude with an earring and a cycling cap across the train was smiling and nodding encouragingly at Miles.
Miles: What’s your name
Man : Victor
Miles: Which stop is yours?
Victor: Jay Street
Miles: Is that your home? Or are you going to work?
Victor: I’m going home.
Miles: Today was my first day of Kindergarden. I fell and hurt my leg.
Victor: I fall all the time Miles. You’re gonna be all right my man.
M: OK. (and with my prompting) Have a nice day Victor.
That’s nothing to most people in most normal places, but in New York we don’t do these little captive chats most of the time unless there’s a reason for it. I actually live for these moments, because to me it is evidence of some larger spirit, or kindness, or curiosity or energy that binds us all together. You can try to squelch it, put it in your giant purse, make a tough face and pretend you’re not watching or listening. But it is always there. And sometimes it can take a child who isn’t familiar with social graces, or is too inquisitive to care to wake us to the fact that we are all perfect beings who seem to be on our way somewhere, but actually, we have already arrived.
Children, with their needs and wants can tax and worry us so much that we forget to see the wonder in their eyes, the amazing in their brains, the beauty in their difference.