Most 21st century parents are big on “consequences.” We talk about the consequences of actions, we try and outdo each other to make sure we are allowing are children to suffer the natural consequences of their actions (don’t ever, ever bring a middle school child or older a forgotten lunch or be prepared to forever walk a walk of shame). Sometimes we just throw the word out there as a stand in for “vague and horrible punishment,” as in, “If you don’t put down the phone and put on your shoes now there will be consequences.”
Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about how hard it is to truly know the consequences of an action.
I’ve taken a temporary job that requires me to be in an office every day. It’s the first time in over a decade that I’ve gone in to an office every day, as opposed to on occasion. What are the consequences of that? Will my house fall apart in a month, or will my kids suddenly become more independent and confident? Will the extra money reduce some stress, or will I spend it all on paying for a sitter and buying meals? Will the consequence of taking this job be a recommitment to working from home, or the desire to get another in-office job?
The other day I was on an EL that switched to run express. Apparently, one man on the train didn’t hear the announcement and decided to force open the doors and jump out at a station. The consequence of his action was further delays. Who knows who was late to work or missed a phone call because of his decision. But, who knows what this man made it to by jumping off the train.
Yesterday, on Valentine’s Day, on the commute home, a man yelled for someone to hold the doors for him. There’s an argument to be made that during rush hour especially you should never do this. Trains come regularly, and if every train was held for one minute the whole system would get horribly off schedule. But a young man held the door for him.
From the second the man entered the car, we all knew holding the door was either a colossal error or the beginnings of a great story. “WHEW!” He yelled, “I am 50 years old, I can not be running for trains like this anymore. That is too much.”
The rest of the car was quiet, still waiting to learn the consequence of the man holding the door. Would we be entertained? Asked for money? Verbally assaulted? Was there going to be a fight? It was all still unclear.
“Alright, then, it’s Valentine’s Day, so I’m gonna do you all a favor. I’m gonna sing a song and you can take it home tonight and sing it to your honey and they’re gonna love it.” At this point, less-experienced commuters might have written off the potential for violence, but the rest of us knew it was still anyone’s guess.
“Everyone wants a hero. My name ain’t Superman, but I’m going to be your hero, I want to be your hero,” he sang. “There, now isn’t that beautiful, take it home, your girl is gonna love it.” Suddenly, the young man who had held the door for him started rapping the lyrics back to him while his friends laughed. “Hmm, now, that’s interesting Young Turk, but I don’t know about the rap. I don’t think that’s the way to get a girl. They want romance, they want the song.”
“Whatever,” said the young man and he and his friends got off the train.
“You, know it’s Valentine’s Day,” the singer continued. I just want to remind everyone on here to call your mama and tell her happy Valentine’s Day. I’m gonna do it now, ok. I’ll put her on speaker phone.” He then proceeded to take out his cell phone.
“Mama, happy Valentine’s Day. I’m on the train and you’re on speaker phone and I just wanted to tell you happy Valentine’s Day and remind everyone else to call their mothers.”
“Well, that’s sweet honey, yes, every0ne surely should call their mamas and say happy Valentine’s Day.”
“OK, Mama, I gotta get off the train now, love you.”
We were all quiet. I didn’t know the woman sitting across from me, but she looked like someone I should know. We were about the same age, same hair, she was reading a book from the Oak Park library and wearing red tights with hearts. She had been reading her book for most of the trip, occasionally looking up at the singer, and then at me to share a conspiratorial “This is kind of fun,” smile. I looked down at my own book and then heard her, “Hi Mom, Happy Valentine’s Day.” I looked up and we both cracked up. “So, I’m on the train and there was this guy and he said everyone should call their moms and now the girl across from me is laughing hysterically at me.”
“He got you,” I said.
“He really did,” she answered.
She got off the phone with her mom and went back to her book. When she got off the train at the stop before me we exchanged Happy Valentine’s Days.
My son and I generally share a long snuggle before bedtime. We talk about the day and decompress. Sometimes he gets a little sad as all the energy of the day leaves his body. “I want to laugh more,” he told me.
So I told him the story of my train ride home.
He laughed so loud his rarely-seen-at-bedtime-13-year-old-sister came in to find out what was up. He made me repeat the story. She laughed, and then they both went to bed.
I don’t care what the physicists say, it is not true that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Sometimes the consequence is better than you could expect.