There’s something uniquely stressful about New York City’s subways. In large part, it’s the basic environment down there, which ranges from filthy and damp to filthy and hot and damp, and the screech of the trains on the tracks often serves only to remind you that the system is so ancient and antiquated that it will never be brought up even to late-20th-century standards.
The current fiscal crisis doesn’t help, either. We’re now paying more for less-frequent service, which means subway cars are more packed than ever, because what choice do we have?
For parents—especially considerate ones like me—riding the subway with a child in tow is maddening. I do everything I possibly can to keep Sasha calm and to minimize our impact on our fellow passengers when I bring her home from daycare every day. For instance, I seek out the middle cars of the F train, which are more likely to be less crowded. I park her stroller in a far-off corner, and keep her occupied with crackers and bottles of water so she won’t scream and struggle. If our fellow passengers want to talk to/about her, fine, but for the most part I try to keep Sasha out of their faces.
More than anything, however, I wait. If a train has recently disgorged its passengers and they’re all huffing up the stairs of the East Broadway station, we will wait on the sidewalk until they’re gone. If the F train is unreasonably crowded, we’ll wait for the next one. And when we finally get off in Brooklyn, we’ll wait for everyone else to ascend the stairs before I lug Sasha (often in her stroller) up into the daylight.
But sometimes it doesn’t happen that way. Like last Friday. The subway ride itself started off well—I got a seat!—but stroller-less Sasha soon decided that sitting on my lap was not what she wanted, and she began to squirm and kick. We only had to go three stops, but it felt like it took forever, and each time her right foot went waving in the air, it always seemed about to come down on my neighbor’s knee.
It never did, however, and soon we got off. At the stairs to the surface, I held her, waiting, as I always do, but she would have none of it. She didn’t want to be carried, didn’t want to wait, and so I looked at the situation: the crowd was relatively thin, and no one was coming down the stairs. So, she and I climbed the stairs, me holding Sasha’s hand and using my body to keep us as close to the wall as possible, so everyone else could go around. It wasn’t ideal, but it also wasn’t a frantic, bustling Monday morning.
At the first landing, a guy about my age, with close-cropped hair, rushed by us and crabbed, “Now’s the time to pick her up and carry her.” I think I said something like, “She’ll freak out if I do.” But maybe I didn’t say anything—I was too consumed with fury and self-doubt. What was the correct thing to have done? Stand aside at the bottom of the stairs while Sasha screamed and squirmed at every passing passenger? Or keep the kid calm (and myself sane) by slowing things down just slightly?
At the top of the stairs, we emerged into Brooklyn, and I turned to the man behind me, an older black man who’d patiently followed us up, and apologized to him for the delay.
“She’s doing very well,” he said. “It was worth the wait.”