To Innocence

Years ago I was on the subway when a mom and her son got on my car. She quickly ushered him to an empty seat and told him to sit down. He was maybe three or four years old with curly black hair and the most pinchable cheeks. He wore a puffy jacket that was swallowing him. The train started to move and he was having a blast trying to balance himself as he waddled towards the seat.

“Sit down,” the mom repeated. Her voice wasn’t strict or demanding. It was an option with a strong opinion.

He continued to stand. His small hands grasped the vertical poll in a death grip as the train rocked his tiny body in all directions. He looked like he had just learned how to walk yesterday, so the sensation of movement must have been invigorating.

I understood the thrill: Standing on the train is the closest to surfing most of us New Yorkers ever got. You’re not a real straphanger until you’re able to balance on the train with a coffee in one hand and a book in the other without actually touching the “straps.” You learn to use a wider stance in a slight plié position for stability. You learn how to sway ever-slightly back and forth as the train’s momentum shifts. Short folks like me pick up this skill quickly. The grab bars were always slightly out of reach and the stanchions were hot real estate especially during rush hour. Plus, do you know how many germs are on those things? Ew.

Turn, bump, brake, rumble, screech. Who needs the ocean when you have metal on tracks? Standing was more fun than necessity at this point for the toddler. Each time the train threatened to overpower him, his mom reached out to protect him from falling. He had a seat available to him, but the little man was determined.

“Enjoy your childhood while you can. You won’t always have a seat,” his mother said to him after a couple more stops. She sat down, holding out one arm to catch him, the other clutching his folded up stroller. “You’ll have a lifetime ahead to stand.”

A new wave of passengers boarded and formed a semi-circle around where he stood. He looked at them, then his mom with his big, innocent eyes.

“I don’t understand why kids want to grow up so quickly these days.”

Smiles of recognition formed on the faces of strangers who heard this. We all looked at the little guy. He took his hands off the pole and put them on her lap. She lifted him up and placed him in the seat next to her. He buried his face into the side of her coat, then quickly sat back up. He stared out the window at the blurry images as the train sped ahead.

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