June 2, 2006

Hush, Little Children

Urban life offers so many opportunities to catch little glimpses into the lives of unknown people. This is one of the reasons I enjoy the experience of public transportation. It's a rolling theater of human drama and comedy.

There are lots of moments between parents and children on the El that you'd rather not witness. Crummy instances of mean words, and insufficient patience, and obvious unhappiness. Those things stick with us for much longer than we'd like for them to. But that makes the nice, poignant moments all the more memorable.

Recently I saw a really touching, sweet interaction involving a young couple and their little girl. I was heading downtown for class at Second City on a Sunday and was seated across from a young mom, petite with very dark hair. Her daughter was probably about six, and blonde and fair. The dad, also blonde, stood a little ways away from them, by the door, checking a text message and looking at his wife and daughter with a warm expression on his face.

The mother was looking around the El car, pointing things out, and
quietly explaining that years ago, when she worked downtown and took the El to
work every day, it was much more crowded than it was on a weekend, like
this day. She described to her daughter a scene of people standing shoulder to shoulder,
and having to squeeze through the crowd to get to the door when they
finally arrived at their stop.

It wasn't like the labored, lesson-like style that some parents make
use of when trying to impart information to their kids. The mother
wasn't pushing anything on the little girl, and the daughter didn't feel
compelled to respond with head shakes and perfunctory questions.

The little girl just sat there, listening, and thinking, and letting
the story sink in. She was slumped down in her seat a bit, like she was a
little sleepy, and she had a bit of pink sunburn across her nose and
cheeks. I could see her looking around the train car and picturing it
crowded with commuters, and imagining how different that would be from
the way she was experiencing it. She didn't say anything, nor did she
turn away uninterested.

The mother finished her story. She looked out the windows as we zipped
past the Steppenwolf posters all over the tall black light poles in Old
Town. The father sighed like someone who had been out to dinner with
his wife the night before, but still gotten up early Sunday morning to
take his family into the city for an enjoyable excursion.

The little girl then came out of her reverie and squeezed her mom's
hand. "I love you, Mom," she said.

A minute later we pulled into the
Armitage stop, and the family left the train.

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