Subway Follies: Dads vs. Pregnant Women

August 21st, 2012  |  by  |  Published in Health and (Un) Safety, Polls  |  5 Comments

A couple of weeks ago, Jean, Sasha, and I were riding the F train. We do this a lot. It goes where we want to go, generally, and takes us back to where we live. I don’t know where we were going at the time, but what I do remember is that the train was moderately, but not insanely, crowded. All the seats were taken, but there was still room to stand.

And stand was what we did, in front of a row of seats. Eh, so what? Well, Jean is eight months’ pregnant, and seems to have been so all summer long. And there was this guy sitting right in front of us, maybe in his mid-20s, with headphones and eyeglasses on and a backpack in his lap; his face was maybe 18 inches from the watermelon-like protuberance of Jean’s belly. And he didn’t get up and give Jean his seat. He sat there, not looking at anything in particular, for station stop after station stop. Eventually, he debarked, and Jean was granted a one-stop reprieve before we too had to leave. What a dick.

This isn’t totally typical, Jean tells me. Often, people give her a seat. But not that often—and certainly not as often as people offer me their seats when I’m riding alone with Sasha. Then, my god! Look, I’m a healthy 38-year-old guy who has no trouble standing in a subway car, and Sasha, though only 3 and two-thirds years old, is certainly capable of doing the same, no matter how ear-splittingly she may whine. But still, we walk onto the F train and everyone offers us their seat: middle-aged women, gorgeous young creatures, gym-built behemoths, old Chinese dudes in sweat-stained undershirts, businessmen in somber suits and Happy Socks. It’s incredible how polite everyone is, and although I’m thankful for their collective kindness, I’m also a little put off. Do I look that harried and wiped out? Am I cloaked in an aura that declares, “Danger! This father incapable of guarding his kid for three stops!”? Or is it just some bending-over-backward to be nice to an incredibly rare father-who’s-actually-there?

Whatever the reasoning, I wish it was as automatically there for Jean (and other pregnant ladies) as it is for me. But only because that would make me feel less guilty and lazy about so speedily and wholeheartedly accepting the offers.


  1. Michael Dietsch says:

    August 21st, 2012at 3:45 pm(#)

    I wish that were my experience. We just moved back to Brooklyn with our 11-month-old son. When we take subways and buses, we never put him in a stroller; we just strap him to the front of us and carry him everywhere.

    Sometimes people will offer to let me sit. Sometimes I don’t even care. I don’t mind standing with him on me, or walking around, or any of that, so for short distances it’s often okay for us to stand.

    And he loves to grab at random people, which on a subway is … awkward. Standing up allows me to keep him a safe distance from strangers. At least more so than if we’re sitting right next to one.

    It’s just that if I lose my handhold and fall for some reason, I risk seriously hurting him. So sometimes I’d love to be able to sit, especially if I’m tired, but I don’t always have that option.

  2. Todd Pruzan says:

    August 22nd, 2012at 10:24 am(#)

    Matt, I’m asking you this as your friend, but also out of curiosity:

    Why didn’t you or Jean ask this mid-20s, eyeglassed, headphoned, backpack-lapped dick for his seat?

    Maybe the guy was a tool and genuinely didn’t notice. Maybe he did and was being stubborn. But I would bet you a pint that, once asked for his seat, and with all the eyes of his fellow passengers upon him, he would have been utterly powerless to do anything but obey.

    For the next few weeks, Jean needs to sit down. And if your fellow straphangers don’t have the compassion or the world experience to know that she needs to sit, then you need to ask for it. Nobody’s going to scream at you—in fact, they’ll most likely be cowed into giving it up, based on everything they ever learned about giving up your seat on public transportation from school, church, their mothers, and Saturday morning cartoons.

    Social pressure is on them, not you. But this is New York, where nobody looks at anyone else. So you may need to ask for the seat, but you’ll get it if you do—and I speak from experience. Shame has to be your tool. Use it.

  3. Matt says:

    August 22nd, 2012at 10:37 am(#)

    Good question, Todd! I guess there were two things at play: 1) While Jean would’ve liked to sit down, she’s actually (I think) not that miserable standing. That is, for a pregnant lady she’s pretty functionally ambulatory. So it wasn’t as if she was dying for a seat and no one offered. 2) I think we were both just curious to observe how this guy—and people in general—behave. Maybe he really didn’t pick up on Jean’s condition, or maybe he didn’t care, or maybe something else was at play. Sometimes the reportorial/observational mode just takes us over!

    Also worth noting: Nobody else on the train gave Jean their seat, either. So maybe she just didn’t look pregnant that day?

  4. Todd Pruzan says:

    August 22nd, 2012at 11:13 am(#)

    Matt—you’re a very reliable narrator, and I’m sure all that was true. I guess the point is that if she needs a seat, she’ll probably need to ask for one, and if she asks, she’ll definitely get one. Only the most antisocial person would refuse, and that person would get hooted right off the train.

    A cautionary appendix: Like any surefire plan, this one can backfire. I remember once asking a young woman to stand up for my pregnant wife. She did, but not without glaring at me. And after a few minutes of listening to her muttering to her husband—”High comedy, isn’t it”—it began to dawn on me that I’d demanded that a pregnant stranger give up her seat for my pregnant wife. Clearly she wasn’t as far along. But why she didn’t explain herself and turn the tables on me, I’m not clear. Maybe she was shocked and didn’t have time to recover and decline to stand up.

    Of course, they got off at our stop and walked up the stairs with us. Fortunately, my Larry David moment did not continue to escalate. But pregnant stranger in spring 2006, if you’re reading this: I’m really, really sorry.

  5. Sam at Let's Dad! says:

    September 2nd, 2012at 11:21 am(#)

    It might seem extreme, but when my gf got pregnant, we tattooed ‘Give it up, F*ckface!’ on her belly. One flash and up they get.

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