Shut It Down: Conflict Resolution Lessons from a 5-Year-Old

A little girl, dressed in purple from head (lavender-coloured toque) to toe (bright purple sparkly Uggs-type boots), stands at the bottom of a set of subway stairs, clutching her father’s hand. She looks around at the other people waiting for the next train. It’s a busy morning commute.

Dad: Sweetie, can we talk about what happened this morning?

My interest was piqued. What did this child do?

Girl: Daddy, I want to give you a hug.

She throws her arms around his leg and buries her face in his pant leg.

Dad: Thank you, that was very nice. But I want to talk about what happened. I think you should apologize.

He kneels down to look her in the eye. She looks back at him and plants a big wet kiss on his cheek.

Dad: Thank you, sweetie. But I want you to apologize for —

The station announcement crackles. Though she probably can’t understand the gargled message that an uptown local is entering the station, this little girl seizes the moment to deflect attention.

Girl: Daddy! The train is coming!

He stands up. She tugs him backwards.

Girl: Don’t step over the yellow line!!!

Dad: Ok, sweetie.

The train arrives but, too crowded, the father and daughter wait for the next train. The father crouches down to look his daughter eye-to-eye.

Daddy: Sweetie, do you want to apologize for what happened this morning?

Girl: Daddy, I was going to tell you at school.

::drops mic::

This baby is about to drop that mic

Probable Epilogue: The daughter never apologized for throwing her Cheerios on the floor, and the father was too embarrassed to bring it up again.

Argument status: SHUT DOWN.

Subway Education

Once on the subway a nine-year-old girl tried to shame-stare me into giving up my seat. Her hair was in braided pigtails, at least one item of her clothing had sparkles, and she was wearing a backpack. Luckily I am an accomplished starer, so I was unmoved. Also, I believe in Subway Education.

Where I grew up, there was no subway system. In fact, my first two months in NYC I was so scared of the complicated colourful subway map that I used the subway exactly five times (I had to build in a lot of walking time). So I fully admit that I may not have had what it takes to survive as a subway youth. But these kids growing up on the subway, they’ve got to learn the rules and regulations of subway travel.

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#1 If you can snag a seat, never give it up.

Exceptions to this include pregnant woman, little kids, old people, and people with handicaps. Or, if you’re an asshole, none of the above.

Why then, you wonder, did I refuse to give my seat to the little girl. This really applies more to children who are six and under, are adorable, and say the darnedest thing. Plus, this girl hit me with an accusatory look before I even had a chance to react, so I had to teach her a lesson.

#2 Do not make eye contact.

You are on a subway full of strangers. Most of them are weird. Some are crazy. Many are carrying illness and disease. These are not your friends.

Kids don’t understand this. To them, the subway is one big carpool, except they don’t even know what carpool is. They say adorable things that would sound crazy coming out of an adult’s mouth. And they stare with their moppet-sized eyes. As a human being with emotions, you can’t help but eavesdrop on their babblings and trade smiles. Which is cool and all, until you get the stink-eye from their parent.

Eye contact is dangerous. On the subway, pretend that you are a robot.

#3 There is a fine line between a little cough and becoming a subway leper.

As much as you don’t trust anyone on the subway, they don’t trust you. The slightest hint of illness — a little cough, a tiny sniffle — is proof of your probable status as Patient Zero. If that behaviour is continued, you will incur looks of disgust, the likes of which you have never known. Make sure to give as good as you get. Practice in the mirror.

#4 If the subway car smells, switch to a new one at the first possible opportunity.

#5 Someone invented earbuds/headphones because the music you are listening to is supposed to be just for you.

If anyone else can hear it, your music is too loud. If anyone else can discern the lyrics, it’s really too loud. Also, you’ve killed your eardrums, so enjoy your rapidly onsetting deafness.

#6 if you are reading or watching something on the subway, you shouldn’t act all pissy if someone is trying to figure out what it is.

A lady reading her People magazine did not appreciate me looking at it over her shoulder. And a man once offered me an earbud because I was trying to guess the movie he was watching (Meet Joe Black). I was not wounded by either encounter.

#7 You are not going to live happily ever after with the guy you made eyes at on the subway.

Unless you do.

It happens.

But probably not.

– – – – – – – – – –

On that same subway ride as the shame-staring little girl, a baby saw me drinking my smoothie and threw a major fit.

Mmm, that was a really good smoothie.

The Subway Goodbye

Anyone who lives in NYC or another city where public transportation is the primary form of travel will know what I’m talking about: the subway goodbye is the most awkward of all goodbyes.

There are pretty much two kinds of subway goodbyes: the friend goodbye and the date goodbye. And maybe this isn’t true for everyone, but for me, I’m the worst at both of them.

When riding the subway with friends, there’s that moment when you become aware of the impending parting of ways and you’re in conversation and you either continue that conversation or you sit by side in silence, and that would be weird, right? So you talk and talk and then suddenly it’s “um ok bye, see you soon” even though you haven’t scheduled anything upcoming so maybe it will be weeks and weeks…

It’s worse with a date.

With a date, you usually aren’t even riding the same subway home. Sometimes the awkward goodbye happens at the subway entrance. Do you kiss goodbye at the top of the stairs? Do you go through the turnstiles and then deal with the fact that you are going on different trains? And what if, in the best-case scenario, you are taking the same line but in different directions AND the uptown and downtown trains are on the same platform? You get a reprieve in being able to talk/flirt a little while longer. Until, of course, the train comes barreling into the station and you are torn apart!

Man, I am totally having stress flashbacks. Makes me yearn for the simplicity of being dropped off at your door and making out in the car. Or making out in the parking lot and driving away in your own car.

Public transportation doesn’t care about your love life, plain and simple.

Subway Leper (We’ve all been there)

We are taught by our parents not to talk to strangers, not to go anywhere with strangers, and most disappointing and taunting of all, not to take candy from strangers. Basically, we are indoctrinated at a young age to be disciples of xenophobia, to view those we don’t know as suspicious.

This is quite problematic when it comes to using public transportation. When you are called upon to ride at least twice a day with a subway filled with these suspect, disgusting and possibly dangerous others whose only link to you is the fact that they are also humans (allegedly).

But it is at its absolute worst during cold and flu season because these gross, dangerous weirdos are going to infect you with your germs and you are out of luck because, locked inside the car, you are a sitting duck. Or more likely a standing duck.

The slightest hint of illness is regarded as The Plague: a sniffle, clearing of the throat. Someone with Kleenex is no longer just a prepared individual. They are clearly sick. And it’s even worse when you’re the sick one because there’s nothing like being made to feel like a leper before 9am.

A woman sitting beside me gave up her seat to an older-looking woman, but I’m convinced it was in part to get away from me. Kind of rude to do that to an old lady though; their immune systems are much weaker.

The most important thing I learned is this: When blowing your nose, do not look around. Keep your head bowed and stare down at your feet. You don’t want to see the looks of disgust. They will wound.