Subway Observation #5

I was riding home on the “F” the other day after work. The train wasn’t very full. A young lady and precocious and very cute small boy in a simple stroller came in. They got on talking. She sat on the seat next to mine at the angle. The little boy came out of the stroller and plopped down on the seat next to her, on the side of me. Later, I found out he was age 3, and she was a student going to be late for class – his babysitter or au pair or some such thing. She was quick witted and funny and very good with the kid.
There was a black woman sitting opposite me. She was put together, but not in the rich-b**** kind of way – down to earth. The little boy wondered over to the seat next to her to look out the window when we pulled into a subway station. The black woman watched the little guy with a smile on her face and she watched the babysitter. I watched them all.
At one point the boy was pushing the boundaries and the babysitter, who was good with the kid, was negotiating with him, “You have two options – stand still and hold the pole or sit your butt down flat on the seat!” He wanted nothing to do with either one. So, the babysitter said, “That’s it; you’re going back in the stroller, now!” She proceeded to grab the kid and put him into the seat of the stroller, all the while the kid was fighting her, stiffed backed and verbally protesting.
I just happened to look at the black woman at the point the babysitter said, “that’s it; you’re going in the stroller…” and there was a quick nod of approval by the black woman – like, “Yup, that’s what’s needed. This kid needs to do what you say and you need to make him.”
That split second nod of affirmation by the black woman said volumes. I remember listening a while back to a Youth Radio reporter on NPR. The reporter was young, a boy, and black. He talked about observing the difference between the way white parents handle their kids and the way black parents do so in a mall. He said that he watches white parents try to negotiate with their kids to make them do right or to stop acting up. He said it never seems to work very well.
Now black parents, he said he knew this from experience, black parents take their kids to that long hallway in the mall that doesn’t have any stores and gives the misbehaving kid a “woopin’!” No negotiation. From his observations, black kids mind their mothers a lot better than white kids! I think I have to agree. The whole notion of treating one’s little darlings as equals that need to be negotiated with hasn’t really crossed the color-line.
So, here was this black woman quickly nodding her head in approval when the babysitter told the kid his options were up – he didn’t mind and now this is what’s goin’ down. No questions, no more negotiation. Of course, it didn’t last. The kid was up in the seat again, but this time he sat down on his butt flat and stayed there.
“How old is he,” I asked. She said, “Three, going on twenty-one.” We got off at the same stop and I could hear him say, “Hey, he’s getting off here, too.” Nothing much passes by a precocious 3-year old without notice.