Monday, January 16, 2006

Personal Space

Riding on the free City Circle tram today, I was struck once again by the unquenchable ability of little boys to fidget.

It wasn’t my son – he was ensconced in a window seat across the aisle, staring out the window as the city and its new ersatz ‘harbourside district’, Docklands, rolled by him.

It was two little boys out with their grandmother – obviously a rare outing on a tram in Melbourne. Their unfamiliarity with trams, and the requisite etiquette of sitting as still as possible and not encroaching on your neighbour’s space – so you don’t annoy them, was quite apparent. So too was their grandmother’s discomfort at their fidgeting, standing on their seats, twisting and turning and almost tumbling to the floor.

“Little boys, they have no sense of personal space,” their grandmother said apologetically to me, as the boy beside me brushed against me with his foot – yet again.

I smiled. “Don’t worry, I have a little boy too,” I said, pointing across to him. “I know what it’s like.”

But I had forgotten. My son is an old hand at riding Melbourne’s trams and trains, having travelled on them since he was a baby. We only got a car two years ago, and so got around overwhelmingly by public transport, bicycle and on foot until then. As a non-driver myself, I tram, train, bike or walk when on my own steam, and so does my son if he’s with me.

In fact, he’s a tram and train fanatic, and loves long rides on them and wants to know their ins and outs in the smallest detail. Growing up on Melbourne’s trams and trains meant that my son has learned to be comfortable on public transport, doesn’t tend to get over-excited when he’s on it, and settles quietly enough at his preferred window seat to stare at the world going by. And usually with a minimum amount of fidgeting and hardly encroaching on his neighbour’s personal space.

Of course, I’m probably quite biased. And have a rather rosy view of my son’s public transport history. Some fellow passengers may take a dim view at my son’s behaviour on a tram or train, particularly his tendency to tuck his feet under him as he kneels – on the seat – to see out the window.

Thinking hard enough to when he was much younger, I can remember feeling the discomfort similar to that of the grandmother I met today as my son clambered excitedly on the seats, and brushed past fellow passengers as he moved around. Or fidgeted, jabbered and jigged excitedly when something interesting caught his eye. ‘Put your feet down!’ ‘Mind where you’re going,’ and ‘Sit still!’ would have punctuated our rides together when he was younger.

I think this memory is what allowed me to be gracious in the face of the grandmother’s embarrassment, and my annoyance at the boys’ behaviour. It would have done no one any good if I had huffed and puffed, stared and glared, or been condescending over the boys’ behaviour – as I had previously seen other passengers do over children’s behaviour. I didn’t want to spoil this afternoon’s tram ride for any of us.

These little boys were excited, tram neophytes, and young. Little kids fidget. It’s a fact of life. I’ve also been told that boys fidget a lot more – and for longer through their childhood – than girls. It is one reason suggested why boys find it hard to sit still for long in the classroom when they are young, and so why girls tend to adapt to school learning better and sooner.

Knowing this also helped me keep my humour over the course of this afternoon’s tram ride. After all, it wasn’t long. That, and the sense that one day, these kids would learn to ride trams and trains like old pros, and know how to ensure their rides will be comfortable for all involved.

I just wish we – adults – could all remember this simple thing: don’t glare at little kids who are excited and can’t keep still on trams.

And remember to tuck your elbows in and stick to your own side of the tram/train seat!


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