What’s it like to raise kids in the city?
Just 20 more years, then I can move back into the city.
It’s a good thing my kids are too young to read because they might think I am trying to kick them out of the house already. I love them dearly, but I miss my life in Boston.
Four years ago, my husband and I followed a familiar pattern: with Baby Number One on the way, we high-tailed it out of our South End condo and headed for the suburbs. I had hemmed and hawed for months, thinking we could make it through the first year in the city. I envisioned baby, me, and his Bugaboo stroller everywhere — grabbing coffee at Flour bakery, catching brunch at Stella , or taking in spring’s blossoming cherry trees.
It wasn’t meant to be. During my first trimester, I could barely make it up the stairs to our third-floor walk-up without being overcome by morning sickness, which can happen at any time of the day, by the way.
The compromise: We kept our condo as our little piece of the city and rented it out. Recently, we were in between tenants, and I decided to spend a weekend in Boston with our kids, who are now 3½ and 1½. Could we have survived living in the city?
* * *
Funny how our brains replay all the good memories, but not the bad ones. But when confronted with the idea of moving back into the city, the bad ones rushed to mind as if to say, “Wait!”
Our place on Massachusetts Avenue did not come with parking. There were many nights when I circled for 20 minutes or more looking for a space. Then there were many mornings when I woke up and forgot where I had parked. Our cars have been towed, dented, broken into — and totaled.
Of course, I was not about to park on the street. I had to find a garage. After all, this car has been pampered with its own private driveway and sheltered from the elements.
Finding a garage meant we had to carry our gear five very long blocks to the condo. And when we got there, we were greeted with those dreaded stairs. Three sets to be precise. Fifty-four steps. Luckily, the 3½-year-old can navigate stairs by himself. The 1½-year-old? Well, he gave mommy a workout.
Those stairs made me think: How would we have made it through our weekly trips to BJ’s, where my husband carts out boxes of diapers, flats of water, gallons of milk? We would never step foot in a grocery store again, obviously. We would just order everything online and have Peapod deliver it. Actually, that sounds like the way life should be.
What I missed most about city living was eating out. We could walk to some of the most buzz-worthy restaurants – B&G Oysters , Toro , Coppa . The neighborhood joints were hardly homely: Orinoco , Gaslight , Petit Robert Bistro .
So the first thing was to snag a dinner reservation with friends at Stella, a pleasant walk down Washington Street. How I longed to sip a vodka martini in a grown-up dining room, recalling a life before diapers and enjoying a three-course meal.
About 20 minutes in, I remembered why we never eat out anymore, except for the sushi place in a Quincy strip mall. The baby was doing his best impression of a Red Sox pitcher, hurling everything from silverware to pasta. The toddler was racing around blowing out candles at every table. This after refusing to eat his dinner. Doesn’t he realize the delicate flatbread is much better than frozen DiGiorno?
We made it through two courses — watermelon salad and chicken Milanese — but dessert would have to be elsewhere.
As faux city folk, we got to stay out past our usual bedtime. Next door to Stella is Blackstone Square, where we hung out until about 8 so the kids could burn off energy running through the fountain and chasing dogs. Then we went to our friends’ place down the street for ice cream sandwiches.
They’re the brave ones: They decided to stay in the city with kids.
“It was never a decision,” our friend Ethel clarified. “It was one little puzzle piece that fell into place.”
Ethel and Colin were our upstairs neighbors on Mass. Ave. When their daughter was 2, they moved out. They found a spacious three-bedroom condo they could afford (foreclosure), and their daughter (and later son) got into their first-choice public school.
Like my husband and me, Ethel and Colin grew up in the suburbs. Like us, they also spent a good chunk of their adulthood as urbanites. They thought they would end up in the ’burbs when they started a family, but, so far, city + kids works. Their kids are great.
What’s to love? The diversity — socioeconomic and ethnic. The density — the feeling of being close to people. The culture — museums and free outdoor concerts.
But when they’re in the suburbs visiting family, there are pangs of guilt. The kids marvel over how everyone gets to live in what seems like a mansion and everyone has a backyard.
But then Ethel shrugs it off. “They get used to it,” she said of life in the city, just like they’re accustomed to the sound of beer bottles being tossed into the dumpster each night at the tapas bar a couple of doors down.
As we settled in for the night in our own condo, my oldest, Eli, turned to me wide-eyed and asked: “What’s that sound?”
It wasn’t sirens, but the footfalls of the neighbors upstairs.That’s right, when you’re living in an 1890 brownstone, you are never truly alone.
Which made me think. If we can hear our neighbors, they can hear us. At this age, my two boys are uncontrollably loud. At any given hour, someone can be crying or stomping, often it’s both. If you think Michael Flatley is annoying, my youngest, Evan, will test your patience, too. No doubt the kids seemed noisier running around on hardwood floors in an unfurnished unit. I think this is the real reason my husband wanted us to decamp to our own home, where only we had to deal with offspring who (as he predicted) turned out to be very loud.
The next morning we strapped the kids into the double stroller and headed off to the Frog Pond on Boston Common. If we lived in the city, we would almost certainly be out much of the time; otherwise, we would feel on top of one another in our two-bedroom condo.
The other thing I like about city life? It doesn’t revolve around the car. Walk 10 minutes in any direction and we could eat, shop, and play. The downsides? The weather and taking the stroller up and down the stairs. It was a sweltering 85 degrees that weekend. Air you could wear. Just imagine making these maneuvers when the sidewalks are coated with snow.
The late morning walk over to Frog Pond, which becomes a giant kiddie pool in the summer, was doable, but when we were ready to leave, I knew I would be the one having a meltdown, pushing nearly 80 pounds of flesh and stroller with the midafternoon sun beating down on me.
We decided to take the T. Rookie mistake. What normally would have been a 15-minute ride turned into an hourlong ordeal. I will spare you all the details, but let’s just say finding an elevator entrance in Downtown Crossing spun us around, requiring a switch of trains and lugging the double stroller up and down stairs.