Meeting girls on trains

I was sitting on the 1 train, going down to Canal street, reading, when someone tapped my knee. I looked up from my book. There was a tiny girl standing in front of me. She said, “What’s your name?”

I said, “Kate.”

She said, “It’s Kate?”

I said, “That’s right. What’s yours?”

She told me. I said, “That’s pretty,” even though I hadn’t quite understood her.

She said, “How old are you?”

I said, “Twenty-four, how old are you?”


I said, “Wow, five!”

She said, “Do you like my earrings?”

They were pink flowers. I liked them. She was dressed up. A black sequined jacket and matching shoes. A poufy gray tutu skirt. Clear beads in her hair.

“Are you going somewhere special?” I asked.

“Mmhmm. Shantay’s birthday party. She’s only three.” She held up three fingers and then stretched up and pushed my hair aside, whispering into my ear, “Mommy told me Shantay is my cousin.”

“Oh, really!” I said. “Your cousin!”


This was serious.

“Mommy,” she said, turning to the woman who sat across from me. “You said Shantay is my cousin, right?”

“That’s right.” Her mother had a calm, easy look. She was not troubled by her daughter talking to strangers on the train. She was watching her, but without anxiety. She didn’t call to her daughter, “Stop that! Sit back down over here!” and then make “I’m SO sorry!” eyes at me while shaking her head. She just let the girl be.

The girl sat down next to me. We passed Penn Station. “Where are those people going?” she asked me, pointing at some people with suitcases.

“Maybe somewhere far away,” I said. “Where do you think?”

“New Jersey?”

“Could be.”

“Will they take a bus?” She jumped down and went over to her mother. “Will they take a bus?”

“They might,” said her mother. “There are different ways to get to New Jersey. They might take a train, too.”

“Or they could drive,” I said.

The girl came back over to me. “My shirt has a butterfly on it,” she informed me. She unzipped the jacket a little, to show me.

(What could be better? source)

“That’s great,” I said. “You’re very sparkly.”

“I love sparkles,” she said.

She was sorry when we got to my stop. She watched me go. I said, “Have fun at the birthday party!”

I walked out into the rain, suddenly happy. It’s strange, to have such an earnest conversation with someone you meet on a train. My exchanges on the elevator with people always go like, “Hi.”


Or, “Cold out there.”

“Yup. Freezing.”

We never know what to say to each other. A friend told me the story of a relative who came to the city because she “wanted to meet people.” After four years or so, she left, depressed. So many people, so little connection between them. I talk to people a lot. I love those conversations that only last 30 seconds. A woman once followed me out of a store and said, “I saw you trying on belts. You should go to Filene’s Basement. My niece is your size, and she got a great one there.”

There are these little moments where people collide in sweet ways. But for the most part, of course, we know better. Or it’s not worth it. Or we’re just trying to get where we’re going.

But the girl on the train in the sparkly jacket was going to the birthday party of her three-year-old cousin Shantay, she looked fancy and great, and she knew that all of that was well worth sharing. I couldn’t have agreed more.

*  *  *

Un-roast: Today I love how I can tell myself when I think I look amazing. I can’t tell the world, like the girl, but I can say to myself, “Wow, you look really beautiful!” And then I say back, “Yes, I do!” Sometimes I say this when Bear’s around, and then he says, “Yes, you do!”

P.S. My cousin Sam is on the radio a lot. He recorded a piece for his station of his girlfriend teaching him how to make Arroz Caldo (a delicious chicken and rice soup), and the cooking lesson is adorable and incredibly fun. Check it out on his blog here!

P.P.S. New post on Un-schooled, about grades, and how random they are.


Kate on December 13th 2010 in life, new york

25 Responses to “Meeting girls on trains”

  1. camelshoes responded on 13 Dec 2010 at 11:55 am #

    I had a lovely experience with an under 5 today. I was driving back from the shops, and noticed some movement out of the corner of my eye from a car in the lane next to me. A sort of slipcover sunshade was slid over the car’s rear door/window and from underneath it a little pudgy child’s arm was partly out the window. Next thing I know, a child’s face appeared out from under the slipcover, pale almost white blond hair, and twinkly blue eyes looked at me from a face of perhaps 3 years old. The sweet little girl then waved at me and was absolutely thrilled when I waved back. I was thrilled too and grinned almost all the way home. I love unexpected moments like these.

  2. Christin@purplebirdblog responded on 13 Dec 2010 at 12:12 pm #

    Children of that age are so engaging and fun to talk to. Back when my niece was around 5 (she’s 12 now), I was visiting and was asked to participate in the sacred “share time” where usually her mom would lay in bed with her for a few minutes before bed and share about the day or whatever, but she wanted Aunt Chrissy to do it. As we laid there she asked me, “Aunt Chrissy, are you going to get bigger and bigger.” I laughed and told her, “At this age, I’m hopeful to just get older and older.” To which she replied, “And then some day you die?” She had dealt with the death of her grandmother (my mom) recently at that time, and death was heavy on her sweet mind. Since they had already had the talk about death, I didn’t want to lie to the child, so I said, “Well, yes, and then some day I die.” To which she immediately piped up with, “Oh Aunt Chrissy, I don’t want you to die!” I tried to reassure her that it would be a while, god willing, until finally I was a tad uncomfortable and asked her if she would mind if we changed subjects. She thought for a minute and replied with, “Okay. How about we talk about how I was scared of Santa at the super mall?” Love that kid, and love how those brains are always going going going.

  3. poet responded on 13 Dec 2010 at 12:18 pm #

    This is altogether awesome. The kid is awesome for being so outgoing. The mother is awesome for not making a fuss. So often I see kids on trains or in buses who are just behaving naturally (talking to people around them, walking around, wiggling) and the parents think they need to admonish them and apologize to the grown-ups around them… and you’re awesome for writing about it!


  4. Krista responded on 13 Dec 2010 at 12:58 pm #

    I have two chilluns, the oldest is newly three. He loves chatting with adults. And for the most part the adults love him right back. Once we were at a university cafe and he was able to talk a medical student into teaching anatomy from the textbook. My little guy learned about his larynx that day.

    I try to be outgoing, but it seems others don’t get it or don’t appreciate it. It makes it hard to keep making conversational overtures, but I keep at it Especially when I see someone buying groceries and I know they could get the same thing around the corner for 1/3 the price. :)

  5. Kate responded on 13 Dec 2010 at 1:09 pm #

    Yeah, I always feel like life would be a lot better for everyone if we could just share information like that without offending people or freaking them out.

  6. Ellie Di responded on 13 Dec 2010 at 1:30 pm #

    When I had candy-coloured hair, I had a lot more of these kinds of conversations. Little girls and old ladies always wanted to talk to me about my hair – not just comment on it, but ask me questions and say something relevant. It really does make you silly-happy, like the novelty of a conversation with a stranger is endorphin-raising.

  7. San D responded on 13 Dec 2010 at 2:11 pm #

    IF I want to solicit conversation in the city with strangers I wear this hat:

    Works every time.

  8. adria responded on 13 Dec 2010 at 2:19 pm #

    this is precious and put a smile on my face. i adore conversations with kids, they have such a unique viewpoint and make me remember the little things that are important, too.

  9. Kate responded on 13 Dec 2010 at 2:20 pm #

    @San D
    That is an incredible hat.

  10. Cyndie responded on 13 Dec 2010 at 2:34 pm #

    sometimes I feel the greatest urge to strike up conversations with stranger. sometimes I even do it. I’ve felt alone in a crowd of people before, but I know it doesn’t have to be that way.

    I know my boyfriend gets a little embarrassed when I can’t help but blurt out, “you have really pretty hair!” to a passerby…but if I am thinking these things, why not tell them? if a stranger complimented me, it would make my day.

  11. Kate responded on 13 Dec 2010 at 2:38 pm #

    Yup. Bear and I were at the grocery store last night and I said to the cashier, “Your eye makeup is so cute!” I do that a lot. And then I’m a little embarrassed.

  12. Two Girls on a Bench responded on 13 Dec 2010 at 2:51 pm #

    Things like this always happen to us on our bench, love this story, made us smile!

  13. Patricia responded on 13 Dec 2010 at 4:53 pm #

    Hi — Pat here, at Filene’s Basement. I saw your blog via my Google News Alert for Filene’s Basement. I monitor so much chatter out there that I usually have to make a quick decision about whether or not some alert that comes my way is worth reading, sharing, or saving. Even though, as I read this, I realized it had very little to do with Filene’s Basement, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks for a light hearted moment in a busy day.

  14. Kate responded on 13 Dec 2010 at 5:30 pm #

    This is an awesome comment. Thanks for reading!!

  15. Just Josie responded on 13 Dec 2010 at 6:37 pm #

    Aww, this is too cool! I adore the innocence and the openness of children before they become jaded old teenagers like me! :) Granted I’m only 15, but I think as we get even a little older, we tend to forget just how perceptive children really are. It’s pretty awesome how their minds work, the connections they draw, their simple logic, and just how generally Arostotlean they are (“Why?” “Oh. Why? Really? How come? But why? How come, Mama?”). Another bad habit I think we tend to have (just as human beings in general), is to start to take ourselves too seriously, and with children, that’s just not an issue. I remember one time after I had my corrective back surgery, Mom and I were in Wal-Mart, waiting for my ‘scribts, and I was sitting next to this little girl. She was ridiculously adorable — like make-my-ovaries-ache special brand of adorability, with curly blonde hair and these big, fawnlike eyes. She was wearing a red dress with big white polka dots. It was wintertime. And I had to wear this brace, to support my back. It was hella uncomfortable, and it also made me pretty self-conscious. Anyway, we all know how long it can take to get prescription meds filled, so she and I had this great conversation, about pretty much everything. We talked about cookies, and she asked me if I thought her dress was pretty (I told her it was very pretty), she shared the secret that her hair wasn’t really curly, but that she had a “big to-do to ‘tend” that night so her mother curled it. We discussed her pet rabbit and her teddy bear Ralphie. She told me I looked like a turtle. Any other human being who had told me I looked like a turtle at that point in my life would [probably] have received a giant “F*** off”, but it was just really cute with her. :3

    I also love those moments when little babies catch your eye in the grocery store and wave at you while sucking on their fingers, or when they drop one of their shoes and there mom is too frazzled to notice, so you pick it up and put it pack on the little girl’s foot, you know? It’s nice.

    Also I frequently have the desire to just chat with a stranger, but it’s a little different here, because there’s no public transportation, and people in stores are just going-going-going? Sometimes you get to talk to the person you hold the door open for, though. Or the young man who asks you which soymilk you’d recommend. Or the elderly lady in front of you in the check-out lane. Otherwise you just get weird looks. Operation Beautiful makes me feel pretty good about my interactions with strangers, too! :)

    Btw, I love this part (“Sometimes I say this when Bear’s around, and then he says, “Yes, you do!””) in your un-roast. I don’t mean to sound like a creeper, but reading about your and Bear’s relationship makes me *slightly* less cynical about love.

  16. Cindy responded on 13 Dec 2010 at 7:17 pm #

    awwwww I LOVE THIS.

    little kids talk to me all the time. in restaurants, stores…everywhere.

    it’s the best.

    I never know what to talk to boring adults about, but KIDS and I can chat for hours.


  17. Tabs responded on 13 Dec 2010 at 9:06 pm #


  18. Amy responded on 13 Dec 2010 at 9:12 pm #

    I never was really comfortable talking to kids…until I had my own. Now, I love little kids and I love talking to them and their parents. I have noticed that the “kid connection” often helps me connect with strangers because now we all understand what it’s like. I loved your story, though– it sounds like the girl was pretty sweet and wasn’t a complete pest.
    It’s a balance as parents to decide how much space to give children. My son is 21 months old and I often let him walk around and look at things, touch things, and I’ll be nearby looking at something else, but not right by his side. I don’t know– some people may say it’s dangerous. I think it fosters his independence in a healthy way.

  19. Kate responded on 13 Dec 2010 at 9:17 pm #

    Sounds healthy to me!
    And usually little kids make me feel awkward. But this girl was so confident I didn’t have to do anything!

  20. Angela Jones responded on 13 Dec 2010 at 11:01 pm #

    Hi Kate!
    Those little moments in time are so precious. Recently, my friend Andrea and I organized a group of women to go out for a ladies night out. Andrea is a photographer and we all sat down and I asked them all to tell me something they love about themselves, asked them what their definition of beauty was, and what they would tell themselves at the age of 13. One woman said something so beautiful she said…”Seek the wisdom of the ages, but look at the world through the eyes of a child…see it’s Beauty.” I guess your story made me think of her quote..I found it so very true.

  21. Elena responded on 14 Dec 2010 at 6:04 pm #

    Lovely Story Kate. I think its fascinating that strangers can have brief and meaningful moments of connection and ones that can potentially last too. For example I have a friend from high school who met her boyfriend of at least four years now, on a greyhound bus.

    I also think its amazing that so many of us are longing for the same things. Connection, love, to be loved, to be understood. Whenever I’m on a subway (and I’m in a good mood), I feel how much potential there is out there. There are so many people, and in so many ways we’re so similar. It’s sort of like a visual representation of a community that we’re all a part of and that we’re longing to be a part of.

    Its also funny how in New York we get so close to each other and yet are so often distracted, tired, or in a daze while listening to music. I can’t always be on and friendly, but I am always so much happier after I have a spontaneous connection with someone. It reminds me how much possibility there is and how important the present moment is. Its crazy how easy it is to get lost in the past or future and not even realize that there is the coolest person standing in front of you. I mean, you never know.

    While we obviously have to be careful who we talk to and use our wise judgment, I just think its great when two strangers can have an authentic connection-and just really be present with each other.

    Also, if you want to meet a lot of random strangers, try working at an independent coffee shop. I’m shocked by how friendly and open people have been!

  22. independentclause responded on 17 Dec 2010 at 8:24 am #

    My favorite little-girl-on-train moment was that I once was on a train at rush hour, it was winter, and across from me was a woman with a ton of groceries, a toddler boy, and a five(ish)-year-old girl. The little girl says loudly to her mother “Why is everyone on the train looking at me?” And the mother, without even looking up from adjusting the toddler’s coat said “It’s because you’re so cute, dear.”

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