When I was a little girl, my parents were always worried about me leaving the house with adults who were not them. With the exception of most family members, my parents always were wary of me being transported by other grownups. Parents of friends or older siblings of playmates were always questioned with skepticism. Whether it was driving me to a friend’s house or taking me on a bus to school, my parents never liked the potential situations that traveling with children could present — specifically with regards to safety.
And once I started babysitting, I could see why.
Public transportation presents so many hypothetical scenarios in which the horrendous can happen. Crowded buses packed with strangers — with who knows what intentions — soon became the one part of my job that I hated. Holding children close as the large vehicle lurched at busy streets, I began to eye the other passengers as potential ill-doers. Even when I lived in Paris, the rules I always set with my French children were that they were not allowed to talk to anyone on the bus — no mater how friendly they seemed.
But nothing frazzles my governess confidence like the New York City subway system. It’s not the platform that frightens me when I’m shuttling children or the open tracks; it’s sharing close quarters with people I don’t know or trust.
I’ve transported children regularly from as far as Brooklyn to as high up as the Upper West Side, and the long ride during rush hour (which it always seems to be) is so nerve wracking. Each time the train stops and the doors slide open, I see the lingering 60 second window as a opportunity for someone to snatch the child I’ve been entrusted with and run off with them.
What would I do if the child at my side was wrenched from me in one swift move and carted off the train? How would I stop the train? What would I do?
I admit, one of the reasons I harbor so much anxiety about riding the train with kids is that it makes me feel so powerless. When I’m watching kids, I take on the responsibility knowing that anything can happen but with solid preparation. I like to know where the nearest hospital is, memorize the names of neighbors, always bring my phone charger, and get the full run down of allergies prior to helping the parents out the door. The unthinkable may occur, but my being prepared could ultimately keep the little ones safe.
But riding the train with kids forces me to acknowledge that so much of that ride is out of my control. There is no way for me to know the history of the individuals getting on or off, nor do I know if they’re merely pressing up against us because it’s crowded. And as a young woman transporting children on my own, these are factors that induce nothing but worry.