To make a long story very short, as of a week ago we are living in Boston for a year. Nick is doing a fellowship and we are having a big-city break from our Montana life. We drove away with the bear spray still in the garage and all the fancy shoes I haven’t worn in years packed in the car. Basically the complete inverse of every summer until now.
July 1 was Nick’s first day of work and mine as well. He went to the hospital and I donned my battle armor to take three children to the aquarium solo. We’re renting a place in the heart of the city, but we can’t get in until mid-month, so for the moment we’re in a vacation rental in a near suburb. When we first drove into Brookline I thought maybe we’d made a mistake in our determination to live IN Boston—Brookline isn’t a suburb in the McMansion/Target/Starbucks sense of the word; it’s city living 15 subway stops away from the city. It has plenty of old-city charm. And we could get a whole lot more square footage for our dollars.
I really started to second-guess myself when we discoverd that an incredible playground and fountain splash pad is four blocks from our current place. The first morning after our arrival, the kids were crawling on every square foot of it and I found myself in a conversation with a born-and-bred Boston suburban mom after Riley had chatted her up and given her our entire backstory. (If someone were trying to follow our trail from Montana, they’d pretty much be able to find us based on the hundreds of people who have been told every detail about moving to BOSTON for ONE YEAR and leaving ALL OUR FRIENDS behind so Dad could have a NEW JOB.)
“Wow, you moved from MONTANA?” she asked. We’ve noticed, since we hit the eastern states, that people talk about Montana with a mix of awe and wonder, like it’s somewhere between a John Wayne movie and Atlantis. Tough, rugged, and probably a myth.
“Yep, my husband has a fellowship so we’re here for a year.”
“So are your kids going to Brookline schools?”
“No, we’re actually just here for a little while until we can get into our apartment—we’re renting a place in the North End. We figured that if we were going to be in the big city, we wanted to live in the heart of it,” I explained.
“Wow, that’s awesome,” she said, sounding a little envious. “Me, I’m stuck out here in Brookline. This is my life.”
And I knew right then that we had chosen wisely. We might be cramming ourselves in an expensive, charmless, two-bedroom apartment, but I refuse to spend my one city year feeling “stuck in Brookline.”
Because taking three kids into the city alone today confirmed that I would never look forward to leaving Brookline without a more balanced adult-to-child ratio. We got up at 7 and didn’t make it out the door until 10, even though I was the only one who showered. Or brushed my teeth. When it takes three hours to get three people to dress, eat, fill water bottles and put shoes on, I really can’t face those extra layers of personal hygiene.
Even though everyone had just gone to the bathroom, everyone had to go to the bathroom again when we stopped at the grocery for lunch food and a T pass. (The Boston subway system is called the T.) Three kids in a grocery store bathroom. Super fun. And then:
“Hey guys, why is there water all over the floor?” I asked, looking down at a pool that seemed to be spreading from our backpack. Just as the words left my mouth, I remembered Charlotte saying she’d taken a drink from my screw-top water bottle, instead of her leakproof one, as we were walking down the sidewalk. Sure enough, the top was about halfway secured and draining from the sideways backpack she’d dumped on the bathroom floor.
So we mopped the floor with paper towels, got our lunch, and headed for the T. We are literally 16 T stops from the Aquarium. It’s at least a 30-minute ride. And would easily qualify for a circle of hell with these three in tow.
“Please put your bottom on your seat. No, you can’t stand up. Because if you stand up, everyone will want to stand up, and then you’ll be rolling around the car. Because I’ve seen how everything escalates, that’s how I know what will happen. Please don’t put your hands in your mouth. Because half of Boston has touched everything you just touched. Because you just had explosive diarrhea in Michigan and this is probably how you got it, that’s why. Please don’t hit your sister with Monkey. Please don’t hit me with Monkey. Please don’t play growling games. Because they always end badly, that’s why. Sam, it hurts when you grab my face. Girls, can you please put your feet in your own space? Sam, it hurts when you kick me. Girls, can you please keep your hands in your own space? If we can’t sit quietly, we’re going to get on a train going the other way and go home.” (This is a flat bluff—the LAST thing I am going to do is extend this journey one minute longer.)
We finally, FINALLY, get off and everyone immediately dies a thousand deaths from the heat. It’s probably 80 degrees with 70 percent humidity. I resist the urge to tell them it’s going to get much, much worse. We walk the green space toward the museum. The kids refuse to walk on any sidewalk if there’s ever a curb, landscaping border, or wide railing option, so they’re traipsing along a foot-wide granite border that’s about two feet off the ground. Then Charlotte walks right off the end of it, looking off into the distance at something. Dandelions, butterflies, I don’t know. She is miraculously uninjured, so a few minutes later she walks right off the curb into a busy street while dreaming about unicorns. We joked about leaving one of the kids with my parents so we’d fit better into an apartment, but now I’m starting to wonder if all three of them really will survive the year. One thing is for sure: if that kid ever plays T-ball, right field has her name all over it.
We do the Aquarium, which is wonderful except that children A, B, and C constantly want to see things X, Y, and Z, shooting off into the dimly-lit exhibit nooks while I try to decide who needs most watching, or if I should just get my book out and sit in front of the exit until they materialize or security pages me. When we’ve had all the fun we’re going to have, it takes me a half hour to corral everyone and convince them that it really is time to go and that they’re exhausted. Or I am exhausted. Whatever. For four hours, I’ve had a child swinging from one limb while another one digs around in my purse or drifts away on a tangent and a third tattles on the unseen (or let’s be honest, ignored) actions of the first and second.
And because going home means a long subway ride, I’m faced with the terrible proposition of should we stay (until Nick is able to join us after his short-day orientation) or should we go (to the suburbs and never return, telling the kids that downtown was just a mass hallucination and hey, let’s go get ice cream). After confirmation that he’s leaving soon-ish, I try to perk us all up with coffee and treats. Cannolis make the children cry—sweetened, creamy ricotta filling is apparently an acquired texture—but donuts (and a double espresso) give everyone the energy for Boston Common, soaking themselves in a playground/splash pad, and being subjects in a Harvard Developmental Studies experiment. Like you do when you’re six years old in Boston. (The study was apparently on children’s decision making, where they had to decide between playing with cute erasers or candy, then explain how they chose. Charlotte explained her eraser choice with some esoteric information about our family’s new limited-dessert experiment that I guarantee made no sense to the 19-year-old on the other side of the table.)
If I had gone down to the T without Nick by my side and seen the mass of humanity getting on every green line train, I probably would have tied the children to each other and started downloading Uber. Instead, we summoned our inner urbanites and smashed our party of five onto a car, bullet train-style. Looking around at the sea of blue and red and spotting a baseball glove, I realized we’d unwittingly tried to ride west at the same time as a city full of Red Sox fans. A fitting end to the day, but at least the stadium was only 5 stops into the 16-stop ride home.
Our North End lease can’t start quickly enough for me. Or this guy.