Living in NYC always strikes me as a wacky juxtaposition of absolute freedom and constantly being in the public eye. It's something I'm still getting used to...Being surrounded by thousands of strangers at any given moment simultaneously makes me feel anonymous and connected.
I often wonder what it would be like to raise children here, and ponder it most on the train. Heavy strollers, pushy strangers, and probably quite a bit of fear must go into parenting in a city of 8 million, and I am both proud and in awe of my clients who discuss their parenting role here in NYC. But more specifically, I wonder how and when parents choose to "shush" their children at the expense of social norms, quiet rides, and fear of exacerbating what may already be an aggravating part of the day for so many.
Last night, I was pondering this as two kids practiced flipping a bottle with a bit of liquid in it on the moving train, trying to "land it" right-side up instead of on its side. I mused to myself that I've seen adults play this game as well, but marveled (as I often do) that kids can do the same thing over and over and still find entertainment and thrill in the challenge of something that is, in effect, a bit pointless.
I started to think about the repetitive noise of the bottle toppling over, and wonder if it was rolling into other passengers' feet. Although it truly was not bothering me (I was well-rested and this was not during rush hour...so don't worry guys, I assure you that my own commuter-irritability was totally in check), I was wondering what others thought of this very minor disturbance. I was wondering whether I'd keep my kids from playing such a game for the purpose of making others more comfortable.
I also couldn't help but notice the moms who were with the kids, and their reaction to the commotion of the game. They were playful; pointing out to myself and my companion that they must drive their teachers crazy with this game, but also cheering them on and chuckling at some of the sloppier attempts to land the bottle. When they got off the train, I saw one of the mothers and her son walking away arm-in-arm, on to a new topic of discussion and engrossed in what the other had to say, despite their obvious 30 year age difference. They were clearly no longer thinking about the bottle game, or the train ride at all.
To me, this signified a larger phenomenon that I often struggle with in a city like NYC that runs deeper than just within parenting styles: Do we censor ourselves to make strangers a bit more comfortable? And if so, to what expense?
In a different scenario, the mothers may have quieted the kids, reminding them that the bottle game is disruptive and that other people on the train are reading, or napping, or playing CandyCrush with the same wild fervor as the bottle game created...an even more mindless game, but one that is quiet, so it gets a pass. And this could imply to the children, or to adults who also censor their own behavior, that the satisfaction of others is more important than their own.
When the strangers get off the train and continue on with their day, they would likely not consider or mention or ruminate on the bottle game at all. Whereas the kids may feel unsure of what is okay to be displayed in public, or whether they are too loud, or that perhaps people are inherently judgmental and that most actions in public should be monitored.
Censoring ourselves is a choice, and it's one that comes up countless times every single day. Sometimes it's polite, or even necessary in a city like this one. But most times, I would argue that it isn't. By letting the silly, "pointless" and organic moments of our day take shape rather than wondering if they will impact others, we create a more authentic space to live in, and show others that it is absolutely okay to do the same. People will take it or leave it, and those who "leave it" have already forgotten and are on their next train.
Those who choose to "take it" are choosing a tiny act of freedom, and creating a breath of fresh air on what would otherwise be a very long ride for the rest of us.