Let me start off by saying that I totally get it. Before my daughter was born, I admit that I thought people with their gigantic strollers on the train/bus were clueless and entitled. I mean, they’re the ones who chose to have the kids right? So why is my shin sporting a bruise for the cause?! Don’t these people understand there just isn’t room for these baby tanks? It’s like they expect the whole world to just bend over backward to accommodate the presence of their kids!
Obviously, I was the worst – a shiny, well-rested turd. Let’s pause for a moment and wonder what must have been going on in my brain to connect someone schlepping a small child on a city bus during rush hour with any sort of entitlement. Readers who’ve never had the pleasure, allow me. I enjoy smashing my sweaty/screaming/exhausted kid’s face into your be-denimed thighs even less than you. I know it seems impossible, but it’s true. We moms are deeply confused by the ubiquitous bike racks affixed to the front of busses while no consideration has been spared for the strollers – for the almost-impossible gauntlet we have to walk while carrying said contraption (folded up, of course – because that’s super-easy with the two available left-handed fingers we’ve got free), a couple bags of groceries and a sleeping 30-pound human. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for bikes, but I can’t help but wonder how nobody foresaw this clusterfuck. In my darkest moments I wonder if perhaps they did, and just didn’t care.
All this to say, baby-wrangling riders of the red line, I am truly sorry. I get it now.
In fact, every once in a while I get it pretty hard. A couple months ago, Ida and I boarded a red line train downtown around 1 p.m. after seeing a friend’s dance performance. Sometimes the train is just inexplicably packed in the middle of the day, and this was one of those times. Perhaps everyone else was also taking the opportunity to enjoy a midday cultural event and needed to get home pronto for naptime. When Ida and I embarked, it was the usual mix of people graciously trying to make non-existent room, and a few obnoxious riders (see “well-rested, shiny turd” above) sighing, eye-rolling and stage whispering about “some people.”
The train lurched forward just as I snaked my foot through the tangle of ankles to put the brake on the stroller. That’s when I noticed a well-dressed sixtysomething woman with a great haircut and a bad news scowl perched right next to us. She cleared her throat, and we made eye contact. I can’t remember exactly what the woman said, but she articulated her displeasure with Ida’s stroller and its her-adjacentness. She demanded to know how old Ida was, asserting that tiny babies should be carried to avoid this sort of unpleasantness, and children who have taken their first steps should begin immediately walking everywhere. She was a genuine treat and made it clear that she believed taking toddlers out in public to be a largely pointless adventure. I said I felt the same way about street festivals, and we left it at that. There were several huffy mutterings that I chose to ignore in favor of a recitation of what Ida calls “jazzy ABCs.” Truth be told, I rock that jam pretty hard (but in this instance, at a very respectable public volume).
A few days later I happened to be performing at a fundraiser for a well-established independent dance organization in Chicago. They were soliciting donations from some of their more generous patrons at this event, so it was a fancy crowd. About 40 minutes into my piece, with a decent audience gathered around me, I caught a glimpse of my new friend. I immediately recognized her, and watched for the next several minutes as she tried to remember if she knew me from somewhere. I saw and relished the delicious moment when it came to her. As I watched, a huge smile stretched across my face.
I’m sure it was a lot of things, but in that moment, I saw her deep embarrassment, and I’m not ashamed to admit that it was thoroughly satisfying. I was at work, and I felt powerful in knowing that she was mortified to be caught – busted for her crappy behavior. I’m not sure there previously existed a circumstance where being discovered as a performance artist gave one the upper hand in a battle for the moral high ground, but there I was. And I was loving it.
We were introduced after the show, and she was obviously uncomfortable. She didn’t mention anything about the stroller incident. She pretended that she’d never seen me before, and because I was performing to support one of my favorite dance venues in Chicago, I didn’t call her out. I think it was clear from the huge smile I continued to sport that I was very excited about the circumstances, of holding the power to tell of our shared afternoon to her fancy counterparts at any moment.
I have no idea if this experience will have any bearing on the way she talks to the stroller people henceforth. I know that for me, learning what parents and caregivers actually do to care for young children, learning that they often pour themselves out all day in the pursuit of raising kind, productive members of society, has definitely helped me to become less turdish. Pushing my own stroller all over this wonderful city has made me downright kind. So if this is you – if you happen to be kind of a douche to people with strollers on the train – just remember, it is possible that you might run into that stroller-pusher out in the larger world, and if God/karma/anyformofjustice is real, it’s going to be kind of a nightmare for you. Isn’t it easier just to play it on the safe side and be cool? Isn’t this just a good rule of thumb for any situation in which your find yourself inconvenienced by the presence of others? You never know when one of those mothers is going to turn out to be a performance artist. With access to a blog …