It’s the last morning before when Mr. Crump returns from his 3 ½ week European Tour, and I finally lost it. The spark to my angry ranting conflagration was young Van’s whiney rejection of breakfast – first ½ a bagel with cream cheese and a grape-mango smoothie, then a bowl of honey nut O’s. Well, by that time he was crying too hard to eat.. (I ended up eating both.)
My rant went on and on and was almost cathartic. Certainly it was deliberate. I even repeatedly uttered the kid version of a four-letter word (though diffused in this house by playful overuse between the boys) of STUPID, in reference to his practice of making every meal time a depressing ordeal of compromise and resignation.
Big brother Maceo, who ate as usual without complaint and even complimented the tastiness of the smoothie, was discrete and kind — even helpfully noting that Van will eat an apple at that point when my rant took the form of a list of other typically un-controversial foods that Van won’t eat. “And now you wont even have chicken strips! You won’t eat spaghetti! No cheese!..” (let alone green smoothies which he has enjoyed, or carrots which he once double-fisted.. or green beans which he used to pick apart but still nibble on.)
(I realize that my rants at a 3 ½ year old mean very little to him, but my parenting habits lean toward the older one, whose ever-readiness for self-recrimination and eagerness to please would make this tough talk productive, if still morally questionable.)
I shouldn’t complain too much, as we can assume that Van’s eating habits have contributed to his small and nimble size, thereby making him easy to manage in a back-pack carrier until very recently. But now that my back has started complaining I am forced to use a stroller for our many long city walks to get here and there. For me this marks an identity change akin to when a sports-car driving new parent must trade in for a mini-van, though we’ve had a mini-van since long before kids for the upright bass and other gear, and for us the car signifies rock n’ roll more than suburban conformity. But to sacrifice both my hands, and my agility on the subway stairs to an ugly plastic vehicle (and ours is especially ugly) is a personal indignity. I feel much hipper and more myself with the kid on my back.
This added to the irony, when, after my rant and Van’s crying had subsided and we made our way to school drop offs, I was the target of a different muttered rant on the subway steps. I was holding Van’s hand while the clunky folded stroller and his backpack were slung over the other shoulder, and we took up most of the stair-width as we slowly descended down to the platform of the 2/3 train. “Mutter mutter..,” I barely heard above the train noise, “..carry the baby.. mutter.. rush hour.. mutter.” Even I, who was probably a mule in my last life for all my willingness to carry unreasonable amounts of stuff, thought this was really unreasonable. If I had picked up Van too I’d be just as slow and prone to falling down the steps to boot, which would really hold up the rush. And say I were handicapped, or late-term pregnant, or just a few years older than this crabby dude? I heard the man mutter similar complaints again as he passed me at the bottom.
I am really an admirer of the subway as a most eloquent embodiment of a THING WE SHARE. (A theme I intend to expand upon in future posts) I love how it works so well in serving so many, and how it forces such a diverse variety of people to deal with and tolerate each other. But I was humbled to realize recently that my love is largely derived from the fact that I am hardly ever on the train at rush hour. Even when I commuted daily to my teaching job, it was a reverse flow from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and I often used the time and space to prepare my lessons. These days, I’ll mostly take an un-crowded train with my two blond and relatively calm kids, and be smiled at by strangers; or go alone in the evening to hear a set of music, in a car shared with 3 or 4 others where the camaraderie might be tacit but still present. But at rush hour the subway is more a matter of survival. And muttering rants.