My kids have been taking the subway since they were in utero. As a Queens girl who commutes into midtown Manhattan every weekday, I have been navigating all the joys and pitfalls NYC’s transit system has to offer and I intend to pass down my knowledge to the next generation of New Yorkers. At $2.75, a one-way ride is no longer a bargain, but it’s still cheaper (and often faster) than an Uber, and less panic-inducing than getting around via Citibike. And for the first couple of times, a subway ride can be exciting and magical for little kids, speeding underground without seat belts! The journey, for parents, is less "unbridled excitement" and more "OK, let's just get through this together and please don't put that in your mouth."
We don’t have a car, so we go pretty much everywhere via train. Usually the way to our destination is a breeze; The kids are stoked about hitting a big park or zoo. But the way back is typically a whine-fest on a packed express that is inexplicably running local because life. They will spill their water, scream for snacks and make every passenger on the car believe you are the world’s worst parent. You will then have to drag them up three flights of stairs to street level and you will all be either sweating or freezing or maybe both. But you'll take this over raising your kids in the suburbs (eh, maybe).
So besides the usual mass transportation shenanigans involving sick passengers, signal problems, and train traffic up ahead, you can guarantee that every New York mom will experience these things with her kid on the subway:
A Top-Volume, Body-Convulsing, Full-On Meltdown
During rush hour. Because if the kid is going to make a scene, he will want to embarrass you in front of as many people as possible.
If you’re lucky enough to be riding on a mostly empty car, no child can resist swinging around the pole like it’s a carnival ride. You can tell yourself hand sanitizer will keep him safe, but then...
Because it’s there. The struggle to not think about what else has been there is so real, and so essential to not melting into a puddle of germaphobic neurosis.
You have two choices:
- Put it away to be washed properly later and risk the aforementioned meltdown.
- Employ whatever disinfecting techniques you have at your disposable (filtered water, shirt hem, your own saliva) and pop it back in the wailing child’s mouth, trying not to think about what lives on the surface of the subway floor.
Loud Inquiries About Panhandlers
Because we do not give anyone money to anyone on the subway, our kids think we are terrible people, and they feel the need to call us out for it — loudly. On the train. I know what you're thinking: Why wouldn't we give someone a dollar who says he really needs it? Our personal choice, when it comes to charity, is to contribute money to organizations who work to serve children in need in our hometown. But writing a check is not an easy get for a kid. So in addition to that, we have the children set aside clothes and toys that are still in good condition, but that other kids would make better use of, and donate them. As they get older, I think they will understand why we make those choices, instead of opening up our wallets on the subway. Also, who carries cash anymore?
Misguided Appreciation Of Subway Car Performers
Look, #showtime happens to every subway commuter at one point (looking at you, long stretch under the East River between First Avenue and Bedford on the L) or another, and your kids will not know that the standard protocol is to pretend you don't see it, and begrudgingly try not to get kicked in the head. Your kid will watch and cheer and will want them to give them money for the show. They will express this emphatically and you will be overcome with that unique combination of embarrassment and anger that five-year-olds are masters at eliciting from their mothers. It's a thing. What can you do?
No Place To Sit
You know who’s most likely to give their seats up to moms? Other moms. Because we know it will be much more comfortable to forfeit a seat to a tired toddler and stand in heels, than it would be to rest our own feet and endure their whining. Plus, give a parent a break: Do you really think we are stuffing ourselves into crowded trains with our kids by choice?
Dealing With Elevators
For the non-ambulatory or those for whom stairs present a hardship (like those of us shlepping strollers), even a slow, stinky elevator is better than no lift at all. My home subway stop requires riders to employ three separate elevators to transfer between two trains. Yes, that means needing to wait for, board, and exit these crowded, dingy lifts multiple times. At rush hour, that could take up to an additional 15 minutes, not counting waiting for the next train. And of course, the one thing you always have plenty of when traveling with little kids is time, right? Nope.
Losing Something Precious
Your sanity, usually. A mitten, occasionally. When it’s raining? Your umbrella and one of the kid's shoes, definitely.
You’ll Get Thrown Plenty Of Shade
How dare you bring a child to shatter the adult sanctity of the F train! Your child could be sitting serenely in a seat, looking at a board book, but it will be the slight brush of his shoe as he tries to stop swinging his little legs that will ignite the stink-eye of the woman next to him.
They Will Want To Know About The Breast Enlargement Ads
I just calmly say we don't buy everything we see an ad for. That goes for soda, video games, and plastic surgery. As for how you explain why the girl looks sad when she's holding lemons in front of her chest but happy when she's holding grapefruits... that's a whole other struggle.
A Heart-Attack Inducing Close Call At The Platform’s Edge
Even if you keep a death grip on your kid waiting for the train so they don’t go over the edge, something will cause him to get a good view of that third rail before you’re able to yank him back to the safety of the overflowing trash can in the middle of the platform.
You can never have too many plastic bags or baby wipes, even if your “baby” is in third grade… especially if your baby is in in third grade and you’re escorting her home after she stuffed her face with birthday party sweets and zoomed around an ice rink for two hours.
Images: Joren Frielink/Unsplash; Giphy(13)