I rarely see children on my morning commute. Typically, I am surrounded by adults in business attire tapping their fingertips on laptop keys, directing colleagues from their mobile phones, or simply reading the latest dismal report out of Wall Street. So I immediately took notice when the train pulled into the station at Menlo Park and five little ones were standing on the platform.
The children appeared to be about four to five years old and going on their first field trip. They were lined up like little chicks beside their teacher and if one or two wandered a few inches from the group, she simply waved her hand and the five reordered themselves in a tight line by her side. They did not even try to hide their emotions.
One little boy kept bouncing from side to side, peering down the tracks and somehow smiling while sucking his lips together at the same time. A girl standing next to him looked nervous. She huddled next to the teacher with her feet standing on top of each other while sucking on a finger. The smallest child, a blond boy, kept grabbing a girl’s hand and dancing in circles with her as she spoke to the others. From the way he kept clasping her hand, I couldn’t tell if the two were siblings or just friends. Either way, she didn’t seem to mind his company (or efforts at strong arming her attention.) When my train began pulling away from the station the five began waving frantically to the passengers inside. I kind of felt like a celebrity for a second.
The whole scene was adorable, and yet, sad at the same time. I began to wonder at what point do we start wearing a poker face in public and stop smiling? At what age does a train ride become routine? When do we stop grabbing someone’s hand just because we want to, and instead, worry about whether that someone wants to hold our hand? When do we stop getting excited about the little things?
Case in point: Saturday, when I took an old friend on a tour of my neighborhood. Though my friend has lived in the city for almost a year, he had never ventured to the areas of San Francisco I call home. So I dragged him up and down the streets of Russian Hill, North Beach and Nob Hill from one scenic overlook to another, one historic landmark to the next. Leading the tour stressed me out. There were so many places I had in mind that I felt the urge to hurry him along at each stop. See the view? Isn’t it breathtaking? Great, now let’s go on the next. See this park? Isn’t it lovely? Wonderful, now move on.
Looking back, I realize I took a very business approach to organizing the tour. I was ticking off the stops like a to-do list, rather than enjoying the way the lights of Berkeley pulsed across the Bay from the overlook at Coit Tower, or the way the rain exploded like fireworks off the steps of Grace Cathedral. Instead, I was entrenched in the role of teacher – keeping my student on schedule and in check. Sort of. (There is a tree climbing incident in Russian Hill I will not mention.) The tour lasted into the first hour of my 28th birthday, an age, I could never imagine turning as a child. And while I can already tell I am going to like 28, there is a small part of me that wants to be five again.