Is there anyone out there who likes taking public transportation? I am not talking about hopping on the bus once in a while for a quick jaunt downtown, or taking the subway for a special event. I mean the everyday, rain or shine, squeezed in between the guy with the briefcase jamming into your back and the guy whose iPhone you are trying hard – but maybe not too hard – not to read. When you have toddlers to corral — the fun never stops.
I feel for people who regularly have to take their young ones on crowded public transportation, I really do. I have been there and done that. You just know someone is judging the size of your stroller, the way you dress your child, the way you talk to your child and on, and on. Then, if your little one starts crying inconsolably — probably because you’re holding them in a vice-grip as you will them to please, please stay calm — you feel like the whole crowd is going to turn Survivor on you, and cast you out at the very next stop. Like I said, I’ve been there.
It is probably not surprising then that I have no issue with kids and public transportation. No, the problem I have is with parents and public transportation. After all, we parents are supposed to be the brains of the operation, at least for the first couple of years. So if we accept that premise as generally true (and believe me, there have been days when I have been cunningly outsmarted by my two-year old), how can parents expect kids to behave on public transportation if no one tells them how? Kids are not born knowing how to do much more than eat, sleep, and dirty their diapers — at least in my experience. As for the rest? Well, that’s where parents come in.
We have all seen the parents who beg, plead and appease. Well, I am not going to judge you. You may think my parenting style is similarly ineffectual, so we’ll just agree to disagree. The same goes for those parents who grump, snarl, and threaten. So long as those threats are not the physical kind, and are more the “someone is not getting any ice cream!” kind, I am going to keep on minding my business as best I can. As long as you are trying to do something, no matter if it is actually working at that particular moment or not, to you I say endure with strength. Nobody’s children will behave all the time (and if yours does then you are either lying or you need to email me your secret right now), but at least you are giving it a go.
But what really gets me going are the serial-ignorers. Yes, we all need time to zone out for a few minutes here and there, and what better time than when you are on public transportation trying to avoid all eye-contact anyway? Still, when zoning out turns into obliviousness – like that mom who, for 10 full minutes, ignored the fact that her three year old daughter was teaching her baby brother how to spit at people – I cannot help but get a little cranky.
Now, I think we can all agree that spitting mommy should have nixed that from the get-go. However, even in more benign situations serial obliviousness still has the same result of not giving children the structure they need in order to learn what is acceptable and what is not. For instance, on a recent bus ride I took, a father got on with his approximately one-year-old son, who was sitting quietly in his stroller. The father parked the stroller facing away from himself, stood behind and out of sight of his son, and proceeded to read his phone for the next 15 minutes.
I don’t know about you, but my experience is that babies around the one year mark are often not very entertained by sitting in a stroller and staring at nothing, with no toys or objects to entertain them. Understandably then, this little boy started playing with the one “toy” that was readily available to him: his voice. He experimented for a while with various frequencies and volumes until he found one particularly loud pitch that he really enjoyed. You could tell he liked it, because he started shouting it repeatedly with a happy little grin on his face. I could see his point, since it certainly did get your attention.
This went on for a while, until his father had apparently had enough. At that point his dad leaned over the back of the stroller, snarled “stop that now!”, and then returned to his post behind the stroller.
Yes, his son’s repetitive yelling was grating, and yes his dad should ask him to stop. But what do you expect of a bored one year old with nothing to do, and no one to interact with? The little guy was not being “bad”. He was doing exactly what he was supposed to do; he was amusing himself the only way he knew how. The fact that it was not appropriate behaviour for the bus was something that he could not possibly be expected to know. But his father should, and he should also know that it is his job, as a parent, to teach his son that. Simply yelling at him after the fact does not teach him anything.
In the end, the little boy stopped yelling, so why am I still complaining? Because I truly believe that we, as parents, should recognize the situations we are putting our children in, and try our best to make sense of it from a child’s point of view. Is it overwhelming? Boring? Terrifying? Help them through it, and start teaching them what a good way to cope is, and steer them away from the bad ways. They will not figure it out right away, and sometimes they will drive you and everyone around them crazy, but at least they will have a guide along the way to try and steer them right. Because if you don’t teach your child, you might not like what they learn.
I am looking at you spitting mommy.