I picked up Joss from my wife’s work today. It was a late day for both of them, so I made it as soon as I could. But I’d yet to vote and didn’t expect that I would have needed to pick up the baby. But that’s cool. I love being with her and I love watching these otherwise cool and detached passengers react to seeing this big, gruff, stay-puft marshmallow of a man play tender with a pink-encased six month old in a sling.
But this one ten year old gets on board with his father about half-way through the subway ride. The child is pesky, talkative and generally grating on my nerves. I take care of baby – who’s a bit tired and sad-looking. She’s not making any noise, but it’s the hour that we put her down for bed and she is a bit hungry. And to top it off, there are a lot of people on the train. Just previously, she was reaching out to touch the fabric on some men’s jackets. After getting a kind of stern look from an older gentleman, I had to remind her that that type of action is inappropriate.
The kid is complaining about some dinner arrangements. He only likes oatmeal, he tells and reminds his father and anyone else with ears to listen, over and over again. And the train – which is moving at a remarkable rate for rush hour, I think – is moving too slow for his taste. Which he also informs us about, to our passenger pleasure. But his father is patient and, probably much like I’ll be, conciliatory toward the child. He’s reassuring him, but only half paying attention. As any good parent would be at this stage.
I’m stroking her cheeks and chin every once in a while. Lifting her up and down. She’s not smiling even when I blow on her. Neither is she so impressed when I – as we ascend from the subterranean pits to the sky like a freight train to Valhalla – show her the great, wet outdoors.
She looks around at the train* and the passengers. Setting her sights on a few faces or shapes, but never committing. That may be a major relational problem at a later stage in life. But, for now, she’s just tired and hungry, but not tired and hungry enough to make a show of it. In fact, it’s more of an anti-show.
The son and the father are making their way to the doors on the right side of the train, the ones to exit when the train is elevated. As the train pulls into the station, I notice that the son is walking out while the father, in a last fleeting moment, grasps some perspective on the train and notices what – or who – is in my sling.
Like really notices her.
“Oh my goodness. What a be-yootee-full baby. Mijo, she is so pretty! Those are the most beautiful blue eyes I have ever seen. O, son, you have to come look. Look at the beautiful little girl with the beautiful blue eyes…”
At this point, I begin to worry that the man may be disconnected from his own son, who doesn’t give a flip, when the doors shut on him as he reluctantly makes his way to the exit.
“You have a very bee-yutiful girl!” he informs me as he steps onto the platform. There is always a mix of a sense of pride and a sense of embarrassment when people throw superlatives at her, or about my wife. I’ve personally never been very good at handling compliments. I had learned that pride is a sin and accepting compliments (even if they’re not directly addressed to me) is an endorsement of my own pride (which, for whatever reason, is pretty big) and has therefore always been a tricky thing.
So I sheepishly say, “Thank you” and blush out my cheeks. The doors close, the car erupts in laughter.
Everyone shares a laugh in this except for Joss. Who just wants to go home.
* The train, it should be noted, is her friend. She sleeps by the train. Literally, she probably hears that same train we are riding in pass by her windows five times a day. It soothes her, it excites her, it sometimes forgets to call. The train is her bff. But I think that relationship is mostly with the exterior of the train. The inside is a different beast altogether.