Mom takes the train

Passing thoughts as I ride the rails

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By Susan Konig


The book Howard’s End by E.M. Forster begins with this epigraph: “Only connect.” In the book, people interact, share, clash, connect, and fail to connect. But the important concept is to try to bond with others — family, friends, even strangers. I was on a train to New York City when a big red, white, and blue train passed going north. Choo-choo, I thought, and almost said it out loud. I’m so used to being with our toddler that the sight of a big, bright train makes me want to share it with him. I’d only been away from the kids for a half-hour when this happened, and I’d barely gotten out of the house by the skin of my teeth. And although a little time to breathe and think is good, I already missed the kids.

All the way to my meeting I saw big red trucks and little white boats! I smiled to myself, knowing I’d tell the kids all about them when I got home. It made me glad that I have people with whom I can share things, and I realized that I have always done so, and need to do so.

I can remember, when I first traveled on my own as a young woman, before I was married and a mom, I arrived in England at dawn and was instantly amazed by the endless green fields, wild ponies, and all those sheep as I rode through the countryside. I wrote down the details as quickly as I could in a letter to my parents, wanting to share the exciting experience.

The same was true for sharing bad news. When I got fired from a job in my 20s, I called my sister and had her meet me in the lobby for my final exit. She took me to my mom’s, where I got into bed and stayed for three days. Now, when I write a column or talk on the radio, people call or e-mail to tell their own stories:

“I work two jobs.”

“We have 10 kids.”

“My husband also is a big baby when he has a cold.”

I marvel at their lives, their courage, the challenges they’ve overcome, the things they face that I’ve never even dreamed of.

On the same train ride, I sat across from a woman who was on her cell phone the whole time. She wasn’t loud or disruptive but, frankly, I couldn’t help but overhear her calls. She had a planner on her lap and was calling people to invite them to a party for her mom. It was to be held in a conference room. Some party, I thought. But subsequent calls mentioned a hospital, a health-care aide for her mom, a request for music — one of her mom’s only pleasures. It sounded as though her mother were quite ill. The daughter kept inviting people to stop in for a piece of cake, trying to share her mom’s day, bring in some friendly faces. Her son would play guitar for his grandmother.

By the time we reached the city, the woman had packed up her tote bag and was thinking her thoughts. I wanted to say, “I heard your calls. You seem like a really nice daughter and mother. I hope your mom has a happy day.” But you don’t want to make people nervous — after all, this was New York City. I decided to smile when she looked my way and let that gesture speak for itself. I did. She smiled back. We connected. Then she got off the train and walked one way, and I went the other. CD

Susan Konig

Susan Konig is the author of I Wear the Maternity Pants in This Family (2007) and Why Animals Sleep So Close to the Road and Other Lies I Tell My Children (2006). Visit Konig's Web site at susankonig.com, and on Facebook at facebook.com/susankonig