I am about ready to just quit taking my kids on the metro.
I thought after 6+months in China they would figure out the proper metro etiquette, that they would look around and realize on their own that it’s not a damn party. But no. That would be too simple.
For me, the metro without kids is an experience in and of itself. I have to take a cab to the closest metro station, then it is a good walk to the actual subway platform, then everyone crowds really close together to try to rush in and get a seat, because we are on the very end of one of the lines so most of us have a ways to go. Once on, people settle and do their own thing. It is quiet, a few might be talking to each other, some are eating snacks, some are resting their eyes, and there isn’t a lot of interaction with strangers. Most people quietly keep to themselves. Riding by myself or with other adults might almost be called pleasant.
But my kids have a lot of energy. I imagine the Chinese kids do, too. The must, right? So why aren’t they treating the ride like a bouncy house at a toddler birthday party like mine are?
It is awful.
My kids get on, usually people sort of leave room for us, because kids are special here, remember? So we sit down and settle in.
Recently, I had to pick up some things I had had made for Nora and myself at the fabric market. Once we are on the metro we ride for about 25 minutes, then have to switch lines and ride for another 25 or so. It’s a ways, but we live on the outskirts of Shanghai, so going anywhere in the city is a ways.
That day it was the “whole famn damily” as they say and things were going well. The cab, the walk, the boarding…and the first leg were fine. I had a few library books for the kids in my backpack, so we read a bit on our first line. We got off and transferred to the next.
I was certain we needed to take the number 4 in a certain direction. The number 4 is a loop, so you get to the fabric market stop either way, but one way is a lot shorter than the other. But I knew the way, I had no doubt. I’ve been to the fabric market a handful of times now. We got on the number 4, found ourselves some seats and settled in. We read the last of the library books we hadn’t yet read and we snuggled a bit. But then Magnus started to get restless. Nora was fidgety, too, but she can control her body a bit better than her younger brother.
Magnus wanted to stand up. There were not a lot of people on the train with us, so there was a lot of space. He started testing the limits a little bit by seeing how long he could stand up without holding on. Meanwhile, the Chinese people were beginning to watch him. I mean he is adorable, how can you not? Chinese people usually watch him.
I was staying calm, letting him know that we were going to stop again soon, the subway does a little lurching as it slows so he better hang on. He was pushing it. Almost falling and making me and the people around us suck in our breaths as we watched him almost fall. He smiles. He likes the little thrill.
I make him sit down. He can not sit still in the seat. I look around and there are other Chinese kids on the train. Sitting still, super mellow, leaning on their parents. Watching my son.
He starts trying to put his dusty, dirty, covered-in-city-filth-shoes on the seat so they accidentally brush against the woman wearing black pants sitting next to us. I say sorry (in Chinese) as she brushes the dust off her pants. I tell Mag that he better sit his bottom on the seat.
Then he wants to move and go sit with dad. Sure, please, by all means, go sit with dad.
Suddenly I realize we had been on the train for a while. Our stop is probably coming up, so I take a look a the map and listen in for the announcement of the next stop.
“Dalian Road,” the announcement says.
Dalian Road? That can’t be right?
We got on the line going the wrong way. I got us on the line going the wrong way. And it is too late to get off and turn around. We just have to ride the loop. I signal to Aaron who is sitting a few benches down with his earbuds in. Why don’t I bring earbuds on the metro? That’s brilliant. Oh yeah, because I have a Chinese phone that I can’t figure out how to use BECAUSE IT IS ALL IN CHINESE!
Meanwhile, Magnus is getting crazier. He is starting to sweat.
I start getting grumpier.
“Sit Down,” I say through my teeth.
“You sit down!” says my ornery 4 year old. Keep it together, Keep it together, Keep it together.
He proceeds to swing around one of the polls in the middle of the train. At one point sitting down on the horribly filthy train floor. I grab him and pull him over to sit next to me. I try to distract him.
“Look Mag, there is a cooking show on the little screen over there, what are they making?…Oh, look out the window (we are above ground at this point) do you see the lights on the building over there? Want to read this book again?”
I know I could just hand him my cell phone, but I resist. I hate that. It is like a reward for acting like a little punk.
He is squirming in his seat. He says again,”I want to go sit with dad!”
He moves over to Aaron’s bench and proceeds to do whatever the hell he wants. Particularly NOT sit in a seat calmly. Aaron is annoyed, but is soothed by the back ground music, I presume.
We are on the metro ride that never ends and both the kids are failing to listen very well. Finally, I tell Nora there will be no going out to lunch if she can’t pull herself together, calm down, and stay in her seat. She hears me. She knows what is at stake. She chills out.
Finally, I am at my limit with Magnus. I go sit next to Aaron and tell Magnus he is getting a time out for not listening. At this point I look around. All the Chinese people are staring at us. The women’s eyes meet mine as I move from one face to another, they smile. I give them a little raised eye brow and a smile, communicating to them with my countenance, this is not my most amazing parenting moment, but we do what we have to do.
Basically, when Magnus needs a time out in public it is really just me holding on to him and not letting him go for 4 minutes. Sometimes it is simply holding his hand (usually when he is on a walking time out), sometimes it is me physically restraining him. I have seen other children have a time out in public and they sit quietly. That is not my child.
I sit him down next to me in an I-am-not-messing-around-anymore sort of way and hold one wrist firmly hoping that will do the trick. It doesn’t. He tries to squirm away. I reach across with my other hand and grab his other wrist. Our arms are crossed and I press some weight into his body so he can’t get up. He fights. He yells out. I calmly hold him down. “You are having a time out for not listening.” My mantra for the next 4 minutes.
I quickly glance around the train again. People are staring, but at least they aren’t taking pictures, yet. That is fine. Let them watch the show. This kid needs to know who’s boss.
One older Chinese woman points at Nora and gives her a smile and a thumbs up. That’s right. “Thanks for calming down, Nora.” I say as I continue to hold Magnus down in the seat.
Within a few minutes he is calm. We are chatting, actually. It is like he has forgotten that he was even being a little punk to begin with.
I lighten my grip. He holds my hand. Nora snuggles in against my other side. Aaron listens to his music.
And finally we get off that damn train.
After our errands are done we take a taxi home. It has seat belts. The kids and I take a little nap in the back seat until we are delivered to our doorstep.
So. Much. Better.