I’m riding home from work on the subway. I’ve got my book open to a juicy part, but today I just can’t get into it. It’s mostly due to the little girl on the other side of the subway car.

She’s about three years old, full of energy. The kind of energy I wish I could bottle and sell. Next to the girl is her mother, who is holding onto her purse, a grocery bag, an umbrella (though it isn’t raining), a duffle bag, and her daughter’s pink backpack. The mother looks tired, exhausted really. This is difficult to explain to a three-year-old. The girl wiggles in her seat, with her feet dangling just over the edge, like she’s got ants in her pants, as my grandfather use to say,

People around her, including me, smile a bit at her joie de vivre, and then return to subway survival rule number one: no eye contact. But she’s emboldened by the attention and begins to sing. It’s a tuneless melody she’d belting out full force. One man takes up her cause. He claps and shimmies in his seat, and they begin a strange dance-off where he shows off some moves and then challenges her to outdo him. She shrieks with glee.

Her mother is not gleeful. In fact, she’s barely holding it together, but the man doesn’t notice. It seems that she’s trying to be polite, though the last thing she wants to do is rile her daughter up even more. Finally after fifteen minutes, we come to the man’s stop. He waves at the girl with a big smile and exits the car as the doors open.

“He’s getting off, Momma! Bye! Bye! Bye! Bye! Bye! Bye!” she yells. “I see him! He’s walking away!”

She hops off her seat and tries to make a break for it, but her mother apparently has the reflexes of a leopard—surprising, given all that she’s carrying. Her mother grabs her arm. “Sit down,” she says through gritted teeth.

NYC Subway

The girl barely hears her, but climbs onto her seat and kneels so she can look out the window. “I see him, Momma! I see him!”  Her toes are hammering against the seat. She’s bouncing so much she knocks into the woman on the other side of her.

It’s sweet and charming, but everyone in the subway car would like for her to quiet down now. We’re tired too and we’ve had a long day at work and we just need a little time to decompress. Or maybe I’m projecting. But the girl’s mother is barely containing herself. Her jaw is so firm it could be wired shut. “I said, sit down.” She turns the girl around and puts her butt in the seat. The girl is snapped back into reality with her new playmate gone and her mother angry. The abrupt shift in tone causes her to do a double take. For a beat, she looks around, wide-eyed. Then she begins to cry.

I feel a bit sad myself. I wonder if it’s the first time she’s ever experienced this in her short life—one moment she’s blissing out, and the next someone is raining on her parade.

This will happen to her over and over again. She’s having a laugh at the office water cooler when someone dumps a report on her desk due tomorrow morning. She’s looking forward to the holidays only to find out her in-laws are coming—for the whole week. Her number is next after waiting thirty minutes at the Ikea returns counter just as the clerks take their lunch break.

These kinds of cosmic bummers intrude throughout our lives. Sometimes I find myself still upset or annoyed hours later. I try to accept the situation so I can more quickly return to an even keel, like a boat righting itself in rough waves, but it takes a lot of practice. For a moment I envy this little girl because right there in the middle of rush hour, she cries, big gloppy tears, and then it’s over.

She’s smiling and asking her mother for a juice box. She’ll go home and play with her dolls and brush her teeth, the let-down all but forgotten. I wonder how long she’ll be able to do this—rebound so quickly.  I hope it’s a long, long time.

Do you let go of minor disappointments quickly? Share your secret!

Have a great weekend, everyone!  


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