Baby’s the key to New Yorkers’ hearts


After a long day of work, I used to reach the crowded subway unrealistically hoping that today, maybe, if I was lucky, I would get a seat. Of course, as is the fate of anyone waiting for a train during rush hour in New York, I would enter a sweaty, smelly car filled with exhausted strangers either stuck to their seat or standing close enough to one, ready to slip in, should it become available.

It wouldn’t matter if my hands were filled with packages, my feet ached, and my head spun. I was anonymous, blending into the swarm of people minding their own business. Even the homeless guy, missing teeth and a few fingers, would limp down the aisle telling a soppy story no one hears. So, why would anyone notice a young woman reading a book on her way home? They wouldn’t.

But all that has changed. Now people notice me. They offer me their seats. Many smile in my direction. Living in New York has become a different experience.

In the past, people in the city did not hold doors open if I was carrying a load. They didn’t initiate conversations while in line at the grocery or in the doctor’s waiting room. They wouldn’t smile if they didn’t know me. Going to the bank or the post office was not a social occurrence. And New Yorkers certainly did not go out of their busy way to notice me.

Now, however, everywhere I go it feels as though I am the focus of everyone’s attention. Suddenly, I am of interest. People are even compelled to give up their precious seat on the bus or train. Strangers seem to have much in common with me. And I’ve begun to feel that I am sharing the city with people not so very different from me.

So I return their smiles. I indulge in conversations with all sorts of people. And I accept assistance from others.

I often wonder what it is exactly that turns the previously oblivious passersby into curious and animated friends. Perhaps it’s the pretty face with the round blue eyes or the irresistible smile that cause people to stop what they’re doing and talk.

Whatever it is, though, it’s nice to no longer blend in among the crowd, withdrawn into my own world. I’m getting used to talking to people of all ages. I enjoy smiling at strangers as I explore this city that ever since all the attention has become so much more colorful and exciting. And, at the end of a long day, when I enter the crowded bus or subway with my hands full, it’s great to know I’ll have a seat to rest my tired feet as my baby girl flirts with the now friendly passengers.

In the past, I’ve tried to keep to myself on the bus. But my four-month-old has different ideas. The other day she persisted on having a long conversation with an older woman who did not talk a word of English. As my little girl leaned out of the baby carrier toward the Chinese woman next to us, my baby babbled sweet sounds and bubbled at the mouth talking a language we all understood. The dark wrinkles on the woman’s face lifted in a smile. What was so endearing about this was that my baby could communicate better with this foreign person than I ever could.

Sometimes being in the spotlight can get annoying – like all the unwanted advice from people (especially elderly) on how I should care for my baby.

“Why don’t you sit across the aisle, where there’s less sun?” people have told me. Or, “Is she comfortable on you like that? It looks like her mouth is covered.”

Other times, though, the attention works to my advantage.

For instance, the female bus driver covering the Downtown route home became my pal. In the past I’ve found that New York bus drivers are too preoccupied with the traffic they cause to warmly converse with the riders. But one day, as I sat up front, my baby did her usual “red light routine,” which caught everyone’s interest. Whenever in the car, stroller, bus or train she begins to vocally complain as movement slows for a red light. If she’s in a good mood, she continues her baby talk, but with a sad tone. If she’s more upset, she simply cries. And during those unfortunate times when she just cannot put up with traffic, she screams.

Luckily, this time my baby was somewhat upset, but not hysterical. So, every time the driver stopped the bus, my baby began complaining. To my surprise, the driver turned to me and asked what was wrong. When I explained, she laughed and seemed to make more of an effort to catch the red lights.

Now I know living in New York City has changed for the better when my baby can cause a bus I’m riding on to go through the yellow light before it turns red.

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