"You wan' a pluck?" He said priming his meaty fingers to go upside her little forehead. I immediately jumped into the girls' line of vision blocking the scene. No child should be hit like that for no reason, and other children shouldn't witness it.
We were riding the A train from High St in Brooklyn to 145th St. We had a morning in Brooklyn Bridge Park seeing a marionette puppet show; a 2010 version of Sleeping Beauty. My little ladies just finished grilled cheese sandwiches and orange juice for lunch. We were deciding whether we should sing Old MacDonald or Molly Malone to occupy our time, when they all got on the train.
An older black man stepped on with twin baby girls. Their hair was cornrowed and beaded, and as the train doors closed one stumbled in front, and the other stumbled behind him with their beads thrashing around their heads. "Find a seat," he commanded. One little girl stumbled right between us as we started singing Molly Malone.
"You wanna sit with us?" I cooed. She nodded. No doubt she had spotted Blondie, my girls' leopard kitten beanie baby. I gave her my seat.
The little girl reached for Blondie. My eldest, Rose, hid her. She reached for my youngest; grabbed for her hand, her shirt, her hair. Lily recoiled. I grabbed the little girl's hand. "I like your hair," she whispered to Lily.
"Well you can like it without touching," I responded, protective of my girls. "Yeah, no touching," their Pop Pop (I'm guessing) chimed in, almost as an after thought even though he witnessed the whole scene. It felt odd in that moment to defend my little white girls from the unwanted and improper aggression of little black girls. The black girl seemed in awe of Lily's blonde hair. It was different. She wanted to touch it. Rose and Lily are the picture of white beauty; blonde hair, crystal blue eyes, fair skin, rosy red cheeks - they look like porcelain dolls. The black girls were beautiful too. I told them so. I had to even the playing field.
Pop Pop snatched the girls up. "Come here." He sat them down on a large suitcase he'd been toting. They got fussy. That's when he threatened to pluck them.
I couldn't figure out why. What had these babies done to be spoken to and handled that way? Their treatment was harshly different from my treatment of Rose and Lily - carefully brushing lunch crumbs away from their faces, and firmly but lovingly making sure their bottoms stayed in the train seats.
Pop Pop's crassness only continued. He eventually struck up small talk with me as all care takers do when their children make friends. "My girls are 2... They're twins... Their names are Taliah and Aliya. If you can't remember their names you can just call them T n A."
I was done. Is that really what you call your babies? Maybe he meant the acronym innocently, but I doubted it.
There were so many issues at play in this scene that I really didn't even know where to begin unpacking them in my mind. Why are care takers so unnecessarily mean to small, helpless children when in their very title is the word 'care'? Did their Pop Pop's quickness to hit them have anything to do with the one baby's aggressiveness toward Lily, or does he just fail to teach boundaries? The situation made me think about how small children deal with difference. Before they can even name it they aggressively try to understand it, in this case through touch.
Most of all, I realized how blessed I was to not only grow up with loving care takers, but with the kind of care takers who showed me how to appropriately care for others.