Loud kids on a quiet train had a lot to say
You can’t scream at other people’s children. But you can reproach an inconsiderate parent.
Keeping in mind that I was tired, a little hung-over and recovering from a weekend of hanging with my crazy family, I cautioned myself to think before I spoke.
It was a beautiful, Boston Sunday morning. I had spent the night before at my niece’s wedding.
Like any Irish reception, there was a fair amount of drinking and dancing. Being blessed with a strong liver and weak rhythm, I spent more time at the bar than on the dance floor.
Had I thought more clearly when I booked my flight, I would have made it later in the day. But as it were, I was on a near empty subway train cruising though sleepy South Boston neighborhoods toward the airport while three spawns of Satan caromed around the train screaming like wounded animals.
I got on a Park Street, and headed toward the Blue Line and Logan Airport. I was reading the Sunday paper, enjoying the quiet, when a young man boarded with three children. No sooner had he sat down, stuck his nose in his own paper, did his kids begin to get out of control.
They chased each other from one end of the car to the other, jumping over luggage and climbing on the seats, all the while screaming.
The other passengers and I looked toward the parent expecting him to quiet his children. He kept his face hidden in the newspaper.
If looks could kill, that guy would have been deader than disco. He had allowed his three boys to ruin what was, only minutes ago, a peaceful ride; I was angry.
I sized up the guy; he did not look dangerous or threatening. I knew it would probably do no good, but I only had two more stops before I was to get off, so I sidled over to him and sat down.
“Hey Bud,” I said, “I don’t mean to ruin your day, but your kids have disturbed everyone on this train. In the future I’d suggest you be more aware of how your children’s behavior affects others.”
I braced myself for his response. I did not want any trouble, but as I said I was angry.
The man slowly put his paper down and looked up at me. For the first time I saw that he was young, almost too young to have three kids, and he was crying.
He spoke with a southern accent, seldom heard in Massachusetts.
First he apologized and called his children over. Then in a low voice he said that the night before his wife had gotten in a serious car accident and was still unconscious.
Since they had just moved to the city, he had no place to leave the kids so he took them to the hospital. He looked at his three sons and whispered that he hoped they weren’t too traumatized by what they saw today.
His wife would be out of surgery in a few hours, and he then would know more. He said he planned to ask a neighbor he hardly knew to watch his kids so he could take the train back to the hospital.
The grieving husband apologized again and said he had been distracted and didn’t want his children to see him cry.
In that three-minute explanation, my feeling went from anger to pity.
Behavior that only minutes before I considered rude was now completely understandable.
I could only imagine the stress and fear felt by the husband, alone and scared in a strange city ” all things considered, the children’s conduct was completely understandable.
The guy kept his kids quiet for the rest of the ride. I wished he would let them go wild again to burn off their fear, but I said nothing.
I have a confession to make. That story did not happen to me. I heard it told late at night on a short-wave radio show, but the signal faded before I could learn anything about the story or the teller.
Since I heard the story told in the first person, I thought that you should hear it that way as well.
How often if we had understood the reason for the behavior of others, would we be more tolerant of that behavior?
If we knew that the person who just cut us off in traffic was sick with worry about a sick child.
Or if we could feel the stress of an overworked and under-slept waitress, bus driver or clerk, might we be more forgiving of their perceived impatience?
“Don’t take it personally.” You hear that often said. It is stories like the one above that reminds me that for better or worse, most everyone with whom we share this planet are simply doing the best they can.
True, sometimes the best they can do isn’t very good. But if we made the effort to place ourselves in their shoes and situations, even bad behavior might be more easily forgiven …
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