The children know nothing. We thought we were teaching them something. We thought they were learning. But it turns out that they know almost nothing. Oh sure, they can tell you that if you see a mountain lion, you stop, make yourself as big and loud as you can, and get behind your mom. But—big surprise—there is almost zero overlap in social intelligence between Montana life and urban life. Especially in the following areas:
Sidewalks. We’re used to sidewalks that are four feet wide and nearly devoid of oncoming pedestrians. It never mattered if we walked four abreast; we weren’t sharing the space with anyone. Then we plopped out of the sky into the height of the tourist season and an apartment a stone’s throw from both Paul Revere’s house and the aquarium. Our part of Boston is so old that some of the sidewalks are maybe two feet wide from building to street and are packed with tourists walking with their noses glued to the Freedom Trail bricks. “Heads up, guys,” is my new mantra. And, inexplicably, all three children now want to hold my hand all the time. Anxiety over processing the move? I have no idea. I only have two hands. And three kids. We walk down sidewalks like we’re trying to play an incredibly annoying version of Red Rover with all the oncoming pedestrians. Even though we have neither fanny packs, guide books, nor sensible walking sneakers, we are going to spend the whole year looking like tourists because WE DON’T KNOW HOW TO USE A SIDEWALK CORRECTLY.
Buttons. The city has crossing buttons at every intersection, buttons in our elevator, buttons everywhere. We need what is essentially a magnetic button to get into our building. Despite the overwhelming presence of buttons in our lives, the kids react to the sight of each one like cocaine-conditioned lab rats. Every single button must be hit 482 times by each child to ensure it works. Especially crossing buttons that say “wait” each time they’re pushed. Those must be worked to the beat of a 1980s synthesizer (“Wait, wait, wa- wa- wa- wait”) until the walk light changes or the fellow pedestrians beat the children with their umbrellas. Races to the elevator button start three blocks away. There is no wrath like that of a child who was told he could push a button but was edged out by a faster sibling. Telling them they will push approximately 2 million buttons in their lives doesn’t seem to help. Telling them that I hope they have lots of children and that they all constantly fight to the death over who pushed which button first and how many times at least makes me feel a little better.
Subway stations and train cars. Two words: don’t touch. What my kids hear: Touch it all! THEN touch your eyes, nose and mouth. There’s no guarantee you’ll for sure find some illness as terrible as the pneumonia-inducing virus we started Boston with, but if you touch every part of the subway station and all possible mucous membranes on your face, you’ll definitely increase your odds. Yes, I know the woman we rented our short-term vacation rental from chalked up our horrible virus to the change in the weather, but I have two words for you: Germ Theory. It’s a thing. Have some hand sanitizer. Maybe gargle just a little of it.
Strangers. When a random old dude approaches our family at the subway stop and starts talking about how wonderful you children are, the appropriate response is to smile politely and offer content-free responses, not give him our entire back story including city of origin, ages, and general location of our apartment. Yes, it is confusing. And yes, I’m sort of glad you have innocence instead of a creepo radar. But for the love, follow my lead. You were not put on this earth to fill in the information I choose not to share with people.
Streets. You know what makes your parents and oncoming cars really, really nervous? Standing with your toes on the edge of the curb while we wait for the light to change. Oh, you’re not going to fall into the road? Well, that’s reassuring. I’ve never seen any of you do anything by accident, ever. How about we all take three big steps back.
Puddles. Yes, I am sure it is confusing that you may jump in any puddle you want in the forest but I react like you dipped your feet in radioactive waste when you jump off the curb into a puddle outside our apartment. That’s because there’s a good chance that the opaque, oily curbside blackness you call a “puddle” may actually be radioactive, or concealing rotting fruit, rat droppings, vomit, or all of the above. You might roll your eyes at me now, but who’s going to be laughing when your flip-flop dissolves? Fountains are for splashing in; puddles are for avoiding.
I was reminded that the kids do have some survival skills, even if they’re not super applicable here, when we walked past the information building for the Boston Harbor Islands National Park. The building is on the Greenway, a small park median between downtown and the North End, strategically placed to advertise that there is actually a national park just a short ferry ride from downtown. Charlotte studied the park ranger, who was decked out in the same green-and-brown uniform and flat-brimmed hat as all park rangers everywhere, and said, “I bet he doesn’t have to take bear spray to work.”
No, sweetie, here they call it pepper spray and they use it on people.