When Hugo was about 6 months old, my greatest NYC subway nightmare came true. It was rush hour, the train was packed, and out of nowhere he started screaming. I don’t mean whimpering or simply crying, but full out, arched back, real tears, shrill screaming. I was mortified. I was standing with him near the exit, trying to smush into a corner to bother the least amount of people as possible, but it was in vain. Everyone was staring. Their looks ranged from “Oh that poor woman,” to “Why won’t that damn baby stop crying” to “Why can’t that horrible mother calm her child?”
I had been a mother for 6 months so I thought I knew my baby enough to predict how he’d act but this threw me for a loop. There were at least 3o minutes left on the train until I got home and I didn’t know how in the world we’d make it through. Suddenly I felt it- tears welling up in my own eyes, the burn creeping across my face until fat drops streamed down. I was so overwhelmed, so embarrassed, so frustrated. And I felt bad for my poor baby who was clearly miserable. He wouldn’t let me sit down with him and even if he would- I wasn’t at all prepared to nurse him on the crowded subway. We just needed to get.home.now.
Out of nowhere, something wonderful happened. What seemed like every woman in my area of the train, most likely mothers themselves, came up to me, surrounding me with support and help. One woman dangled her keys in front of his face to distract him. Someone else offered an apple from her bag that she promised was clean, for him to gnaw on in case it was teething, another lady gave me a brand new water bottle she had just bought in case that would help. Suddenly my tears seemed to take on a whole new meaning. I was so touched, so moved by the love and support I was getting from complete strangers. In a big city like this it’s so easy to just ignore everyone around you. To put in headphones and tune out the rest of the world, but these angels saw me in distress and came to my aid. It’s been almost a year and thinking about that day still makes me well up.
We made it to our stop, and of course the instant we exited the train Hugo stopped crying. Babies huh? I may or may not have poured myself a glass of wine upon entering the apartment, but the experience ended up being a positive one. For the first time I really saw the power of parenting in NYC. I saw the potential for a community even in the moments when I was truly alone.
Since then these moments have been plentiful. A parent at the playground offering to share their snack when we forgot ours. The countless good Samaritans who give us their seat on the subway or offer to help carry the stroller up the stairs. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat on the subway with Hugo in the sling and a sweet stranger engaged him a game of peek-a-boo from across the way, keeping him smiling for several minutes so I could set my head back and relax- even if just for a moment.
Andy and I are so lucky to have an actual community of family and friends here in New York to help us raise Hugo. Having 3 of my sisters live within walking distance has truly been a game changer. Just knowing that there is someone nearby who loves our baby as much as we do and actually wants to spend time with him means so very much. I’m not sure Andy and I would ever leave the apartment alone together if we didn’t have such loving babysitters to watch our most prized possession.
Even with the luxury of family and a handful of close Mom friends though, I spend the majority of my days alone with Hugo. Andy leaves for work and I’m sometimes overwhelmed with the knowledge that I’ll likely not speak to another adult for 10 hours. It’s these days that I’m most grateful for my city. It’s days like this that I know that if I simply can get us out of the door and into the playground, I won’t be alone. I’ll quickly smile at another Mama as our toddlers babble at each other while climbing the jungle gym, or chase a ball across the pavement. I help someone’s daughter down the slide while her mama gives Hugo a little nudge to follow suit, all with the understanding that we’re all in it together. A group of little ones will gather around the water fountain, splashing in the small puddle of water with glee the parents will all smile at each other. We’re all in this together- getting through the day- enjoying these moments when our babies are just so happy. New York- I love you. Thank you for giving me an unexpected community of the most wonderful strangers.
Photos for this post taken at the Long Island City waterfront by Nadia Quinn.