Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mommy gets her groove back, or The Conductor

Mommy laced up her writer/performer shoes recently. After a few, baby filled years off the "scene," mommy was anxious about performing/reading a new piece in a cool show called Salonathon. Mommy read the line up days before and noticed she was on the same bill as a Pushcart prize nominee, a Neo Futurist, and a critically acclaimed stand up comic. Shit. 

Mommy, Daddy said, You are going. That's the end of it.

It turned out to be awesome. The entire show was incredible and Mommy was not bad either. Daddy sat at the bar, looking handsome in his best black cowboy shirt and drinking local draft beers. 

Here is what Mommy read:

If you’ve been on the CTA recently, you’ve probably seen my son. Small, blond, suspect look on his face. He’s either clinging to me or staring at you because you are smoking, eating or soliciting. But, He might be kneeling at a window seat, twitching from head to toe with happiness at being on the train and being able to recognize the letters of his favorite signs:

A, “a—a—Addison”, mommy! “Puh, puh--Paulina!  Ssssss-Southport!

The team of specialists at his school  who diagnosed his autism call this twitching behavior “flapping.” And yeah, that’s what it looks like. But my husband and I call it sparkling.  His fingers dance up next to his ears and he jumps up and down. If he’s excited and happy about something, then he sparkles!

Also, it sounds better than flapping.

But if you see him and he’s not sparkling, chances are that you have called attention to yourself because you are leaning against the doors and that is not okay on the CTA. Or perhaps you are hogging a seat with your gigantic bag. Or maybe, and worst of all, you are eating a cupcake in plain sight of everyone, including a tired hungry rule abiding 5 year old.

“Mommy! My lil buddy might say, “Why does she have a cupcake? Why mommy? The man said no eating! You cannot eat cupcakes on the cta. Right, mommy? Right?”

Though he doesn’t like to talk to everyone, he has no problem talking to me, in front of everyone.

“I don’t know, Lil Buddy.”

“But the man says no eating, smoking or soliciting. “

“I know, honey.”

“ And she is eating. She is eating a cupcake”

“And that is not nice!

My strategy at these moments is to come up with something wonderful that will make him sparkle. I might say, “Look there’s an airplane!  Or “Look, it’s Ellies’ building,” because Lil Buddy’s friend Ellie lives in the Hancock building and it’s hard to miss it or I might say “Hey, there’s the river!” because the river is just plain cool and on a sunny day, guess what, it sparkles!

            We live near the Kedzie stop on the Brown Line, and ever since he could sit forward facing in a car seat, Lil Buddy has been mesmerized by the CTA. He knows that it ends at Kimball and travels as far as the Loop.  But  The Brown Line is especially great because it passes right across the street, in front of your very eyes. And there is nothing more magical to Lil Buddy than a good old fashioned rail road crossing, complete with looming striped gate and giant clanking bell sound.

            When were at home and he’s in his room playing with his Thomas trains, I’ll hear him say things like, “Kedzie is next. Doors open on the left at Kedzie. Smoking, Eating, and Delivering are prohibbed on CTA beehickles. Priority Seating is sirtended for the elderly and passengers with disavilities.” He doesn’t get the words exactly right, but there is no doubt that this kid loves mass transit.

One day Last summer we were sitting in a coffee shop in Edgewater while the car was getting oiled and cleaned at the Toyota dealership.

“Mommy!” said Lil Buddy, looking up from a cookie, “Look that’s the CTA!”

“It sure is honey!”  I said. “that’s the Red Line.”

“oooh, the red line,.”

We watched the red line come and go. Lil Buddy sparkled.

“Mommy,” he said, “Does the red line go to Kimball or the loop?”

“It goes to Ninety fifth St.”

“Ninety-fifth. Ninety fifth. Ninety fifth. How do you spell Ninety Fifth?”

“Hey kiddo, “ I said, “do you want to ride the red line? We can go to Argyle.”

“Um, okay, yes!” said Lil Buddy.

So we walked to the Bryn Mawr platform, rode the escalator and waited.

Lil Buddy hopped up and down.

“We will see gates and flashing lights, Mommy?”

“Um, No honey. Not on the red line.”

“yes flashing lights! Yes”

“Well, Lil Buddy, the red line only goes up high or underground. It doesn’t go on the street like at Kedzie.”

“It does have flashing lights mommy! It does, it does.”

“Lil buddy. It doesn’t. It only does up high or underground, not on the street.”

“Yes flashing lights mommy! Okay? Okay? Okay mommy?”

“okay,” I said, lying through my teeth.

Lil Buddy sparkled as he looked out the window across the east side of the tracks. There were rooftops and parking lots and alleys but no flashing lights.

“where are they, mommy? Where are the lights?”

When we got out at Argyle, Lil buddy looked around.

“I don’t see them,” he said. “let’s take the escalator!.

Out on the street we saw barbecue chickens, noodle shops, and gift stores with waving cats  but no flashing lights.

“Hey,” I said, “Lets get a lucky cat!”


“Okay”, I said. And I silently reminded myself to stay calm. “let’s walk around the block ,” I offered.

“no, Mommy! No, no, no!”

“Well, what would you like to do?” I said.

“I-WANT --TO –SEE—FLASH-- ING --LIGHTS!” He said, his tiny voice seething with anger.  “SEE Lights NOW!”

 I closed my eyes for 10 seconds and wished really hard. Oh God, please! Please please please let there be a giant railroad crossing with a big Yellow and black sign and a gleaming red  and white striped gate and giant fucking clanging bells and flashing lights when I open my eyes. Oh my god, please.

But I opened my eyes to see only my small, angry child foaming at the mouth with disappointment. Lil Buddy’s face was red and streaked with tears.

“mama!!!!” he cried.

“Baby,” I said, bending down to stroke his arms and try and calm him down. “It’s okay.”

“Noooooo!” he cried out, miserable, sounding as if someone, maybe me, had just hit him. Passersby on the street looked around. They stared. They thought about calling DCFS.

“Sweet pea,” I said, “let’s take a balloon breath. Come on! In…and out…and in….”

“No……….Maaa…..maaa “(with heaving breath sounds)

“Okay, I’m going to count to five and then..”


“Okay, honey, tell me…do you feel annoyed right now? Or is it more like a number 5 frustrated? Or are you all the way up to a ten and filled with rage?”

“(hyperventilating) Rage!!!!”

He flailed his arms enough to bat my hands away. He stomped up and down and began to swat at me! “Flashing lights! Flashing lights!”

Out of nowhere, a very fit mommy or nanny came around the corner pushing a fancy double stroller. Her angelic twins eyed my flailing, crying son as he hit and scratched me.

“Not nice,” said one of the little angels. Fit mommy just stared with judgement in her eyes.

“Lil Buddy, Please, “ I said, “You have got to calm down. They just don’t have flashing lights here. Okay?”

He sobbed and sobbed and collapsed in a heap. I carefully wrapped my arms around him.

“Why there’s no lights, mama?”

“Because honey, look, all the train platforms are up high.” He looked up and cried harder.

I rubbed his back, he put his wet face on my knee. We sat  in front of a windown filled with lanterns and lucky cats.

“Hey kiddo, should we go get the car and go home?”

“Yeah.” He said, and then he perked up and said “What’s that?”

“Whats what? I asked

“That!!! That that that that!” He pointed violently in front of our faces.

“That’s the Broadway bus, honey. Number 36.”

He looked dreamily at the giant, hulking city bus, watching those magnificent doors open and shut.

“Do you want to take the bus back?” I said.

“Yeah!” said Lil Buddy.

So we waited for the Broadway bus, and luckily, another one came quickly.

Lil Buddy snuggled up next to me on a seat and looked out the window. He got his sparkles back, watching everyone come and go.

“Mommy! What comes after Argyle?”


“after that?”


“after that ?”


And on and on we went, to the delight or dismay of our fellow passengers. We stopped naming stops at 35St. cause Mommy couldn’t remember anymore.

On the way home, in the car, Lil Buddy talked non stop about the trains. How some have crossing gates and lights and some do not. Some are down low, and some are up high. Some go underground. We passed as many red line stops as we could, taking a close look at their features.

“nope!’ he would say happily, “No flashing lights!”

At home as I fed Lil Buddy’s baby sister and unloaded the dishwasher, I listened to him playing with his trains in his room. I wondered what red line announcement he would zero in on. Or which station names he would make up. But this is what I heard:

“Next stop Argyle! Route 36 to Broadway/Halsted. “    pshhhhhhhhh (he made the sound of the doors opening)

“please move to the back”

Your safety is important.

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