I’d been riding on the subway for just a few minutes when I spotted them a couple rows ahead of me: three children – a tableau of what could have been my kids twenty-five years earlier. My focus landed first on the youngest, an alert, sandy-haired boy of about two, lounging in a stroller. Not the rickety kind of stroller we put up with when our three were little. This one had all the bells and whistles -- cup and snack-holders, padded dash, shock absorbers. The works.
The tot’s “big” brother fidgeted in one of the aisle-facing side seats next to the train door, scissoring his yellow boots that didn’t even come close to touching the floor. He coughed and I noticed he covered his mouth – with his sleeve. Pretty grown up, I thought, for what looked to me to be only a six year old.
Across the aisle, a dark-haired little girl of about ten kept leaning her face close to the tyke in the stroller, repeatedly planting kisses on his cheek. The little guy didn’t seem to mind – he just took it all in, his dark eyes roving back and forth between his two older sibs as our train careened through the dark tunnel, pitching, yawing, groaning, screeching.
A young pony-tailed woman stood behind the stroller – one hand gripping its push-bar, the other clutching a metal pole. In spite of being in charge of three youngsters on a speeding and crowded Metro train at the end of the morning rush, she seemed serene as she attended to each child while also fielding compliments from some of her fellow riders.
As I watched the big sister and her two little brothers, I remembered back to the days when mine were that young and wondered what would become of those three little ones. Would they be able to overcome life’s obstacles? My oldest, a daughter, is thirty now, a vivacious struggling writer; my middle boy, 28, is a musician, doing what he loves – when he can get a gig; my youngest – once a little boy in a stroller – dead, now, five months.
The train pulled into Union Station. My stop. I stood, forcing myself to put a lid on my emotional incontinence. The two older children were now sitting next to each other, quietly reading books – just like mine used to do. The boy in the stroller happily munched on a cookie, strategically slipped to him by the woman, just as he was growing bored.
“Very cute kids,” I said to the woman as I got to the door.
“Thank you,” she smiled, “but I’m just the nanny.”
“Well, you’re doing a great job.”
The doors slid open and I walked off the train and toward the escalator. The doors closed and the train began to move. I paused on the platform, hoping for one last glimpse. But I was too late. The train quickly picked up speed and, in seconds, my Metro tableau became a blur of metal and light rocketing into a tunnel – and into their future.