I have become one of those people I used to hate.
You know the ones. The ones who take their children on rush hour trains. And let them have an entire seat to themselves while full-fare paying customers are forced to stand.
I used to wonder who these morons were. I mean, who would choose to travel in rush hour with a small person when they can clearly get one of those lovely off-peak after 9.30 AM jobbies.
Well, now I know. They are working mums of school children. And I am one of them.
Yes, that is how I found myself this morning, sitting on the oh so quiet 8.17 with Beaver swinging her legs on the seat next to me. In a bid to solve today’s half-term childcare dilemma.
In my defence, I wasn’t going to let her have her own seat. But she made a beeline for the last two by the window and when I suggested she sit on my lap, she gave me ‘the look.’ It came down to this. Risk the wrath of Beaver or risk the judgement of fellow commuters. Commuters I can handle. Beaver? Well…
You don’t appreciate how quiet a rush hour train is until you take a 4 year old on one with you. Or how miserable everyone seems. Myself included.
But today I couldn’t be my usual, socially acceptable train ‘self.’ I had to engage with Beaver and defy all that commuter etiquette we unwittingly fall into. The etiquette that means we barely acknowledge each other’s existence.
So I watched Beaver put on lip gloss. And count her money including a random Norwegian Krone. We played ‘I Spy’ several times. Only when Beaver started spying people’s clothes, worried about what she might spy next, did I suggest we play Doodlebuddy on my phone. Several times Beaver tried, unsuccessfully, to engage people around her. You’ve got to admire a commuter’s composure. Beaver is not easy to ignore.
I get it, I really do. Who feels particularly cheery on their way to work? But actually my journey today was a million times more fun than it usually is. For having cheerful Beaver with me and her natural lack of social awareness that meant I had to be cheerful too.
And it made me think what a shame it is that as we grow older our sociability gets knocked out of us. We forget simple things that come so naturally to a child, like smiling at a stranger or talking to someone we don’t know. If you’ve ever got in a lift and stared awkwardly at the ceiling or played nervously with your phone, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
The thing is, those things can really make a difference to our days. Especially if we’re having a bad one. It’s the kindness of strangers we sometimes need most.
And I want Beaver to keep that kindness, that she already has in spades. So next time I insist she ‘behaves’ or speaks more quietly, I’m going to think this. Is this a situation where she really needs to behave or am I just falling into the social conditioning trap?
After all kids are kids. And we could learn a lot from them. If we let ourselves.
Plus, I can’t think of a better reason for excusing ‘bad’ behaviour.
Footnote: to the people who thought I was taking Beaver to work with me, you really made me laugh. I was in fact doing a drop off at Waterloo so Beaver could meet her grandparents. The new me is a cheerful commuter not a sadist.
Surviving Motherhood Tip#14 – how to ‘do’ train etiquette
- Align yourself perfectly with the train doors every time.
- Shove your way on. Pregnant women are fair game. So are children. None of that ‘women and children first’ rubbish here.
- If male, sit with your legs as wide as possible. If female apply make-up, preferably bronzer.
- Avoid ALL eye contact.