Monthly Archives: September 2013

Why bring a family to a city?


Magazines like to rank things.  50 Most Beautiful People.  20 Worst Dressed Housecats.  Top 7 Private, 4-Year, Liberal Arts Institutions with Enrollment Between 1500 and 3750 in States with Beach Access and Grade-Inflating Professors.  Best Places to Raise a Family.  The  major thing these lists tend to have in common is the fact that they’re subjective assessments masquerading as quantitative information.  Maybe I like cats who wear bedazzled jeans jackets!

So, when it comes to deciding what sorts of places are good for raising families, I think it’s valuable to take a step back from the top 10 lists.  Instead, give some serious thought about the things that are most important to you and your family and then find the place that’ll support those things.

What does city life offer that suburban and rural life don’t?  Here are some of the aspects of urban family life that we appreciate:

  • Educational Opportunities:
New England Aquarium (photo by Robert Stern)
New England Aquarium (photo by Robert Stern)

Whether it’s the New England Aquarium, the Museum of Fine Arts, the various lecture series available through the colleges and universities in the Boston area, or access to drawing classes, urban areas have a critical mass of people available to make it feasible for more educational opportunities to exist.

My daughter loves fish.  Her favorite place is the New England Aquarium.  My son loves making things.  He loves the kinetic sculptures at the MIT Museum over in Cambridge.  Their tastes may change – before she liked fish so much my daughter was obsessed with dinosaurs and there were several places for that (e.g., the Museum of Science and the Harvard Museum of Natural History).  Regardless of what they’re into, big cities generally, and Boston in particular, provide opportunities to delve deep into it.

  • Cultural Opportunities:

Part of this is access to pieces of American history.  Every large urban area has some of this, whether in the form of historic landmarks, cultural institutions, like art museums, or cultural events, like concerts.

For us, it also means exposure to a wide variety of different cultures.  Until kids see how other families and groups approach life, they won’t really understand, or even notice, how their own family does it.  Seeing differences casts a bright light on practices and aspects of our own culture we otherwise tend to ignore.  It also helps kids understand the similarities that cut across cultures.  We went to the Franklin Park Zoo recently and heard other families speaking 7 different languages over the course of the day.  I’m happy that my kids will grow up understanding that people who speak Korean enjoy watching baby gorillas as much as people who speak English do.  

  • Exposure to Novelty:

Speaking of cultural diversity, did you know that there are groups who get together every week to talk about computer programming languages?  And there are people whose personal fashion choices involve brightly colored kilts?  And there are over 100 varieties of nerds?  And some people go to the park and have stick juggling competitions?  I think there’s a tendency to think of cultural diversity as being based completely on ethnicity, but really culture encompasses much more than that.  Cities are melting pots where new ideas and practices and cultures bounce into one another and give birth to litters of other new ideas and practices and cultures.  I love the way life in the city exposes my family to a seemingly endless stream of newness: new foods, new games, new fashions, new music, and on and on and on.  Each new thing is a potential jumping off point for a new interest or outlook on life.

  • A Niche for Everyone:

All that newness means that there is a niche for everyone.  When you get enough different people together in one place you eventually start to find that no one is alone in their interests.  In a small town in a rural area there isn’t likely to be another computer programming enthusiast for my son to fold with, but when you get a few million people together, there’ll be at least one computer club.  And a Saturday flag football league.  And any number of other things.

What am I forgetting?  What does city life offer you and your family?

 


Pay It Forward: The Story of the Sad Bicycle

Once upon a time, there was a very sad bicycle.  Mostly, it was sad because it had no remaining parts. :-(

This bike is clearly distressed.  And perhaps a bit tearful.
This bike is clearly distressed. And perhaps a bit tearful.

Fortunately, a kindly soul, who, coincidentally, wanted room to lock up her own bike, put a very upbeat note on its tired, dilapidated frame to let the owner know the impact their neglectful ways were having on the sad bicycle.  (FYI, I’m going to go ahead and name this bicycle “Horace”.)

This note encapsulates the situation perfectly.
This note encapsulates the situation perfectly.

The passersby were amused by the note she left on Horace and their days were brightened.  People stopped to reflect and take pictures.  Horace began to feel *almost* important.  A 5th grader briefly considered how to apply the funny note technique to a certain “cafeteria situation” at school.  A 28 year old research assistant realized that, with a humorous note, she might be able to get her neighbor to stop his obnoxious habit of leaving wet umbrellas open and blocking up space in the hallway of her building – without needing to fear his reaction.  A 53 year old man immediately decided to save his marriage by leaving a quirky note on the toothpaste he shared with his wife in which the tube proclaimed its own sadness at being squeezed from the middle.  A socially awkward teen felt suddenly free when he made the decision to express all of his sadness through humorous notes.  Plus, the note-writer was finally able to find a place to lock up her own, well-loved bike.  It was a happy ending!

…until the next Monday when the city came out and cut the bike lock and took Horace to be recycled…

:-(

Time for a Quick Rant! Today’s Rant: Women’s Success and Men’s Self-Esteem

Welcome to a Quick Rant.  It’s like a rant, but quicker.

This article, in the University Herald, is headlined, “Young Men’s Self-Esteem Hurt by Female Companion’s Success” (sic, unless they intend to suggest that inadequate feeling young men all share a single companion).  The article reports on a study (link is to a .pdf) published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Kate Ratliff and Shigehiro Oishi that describes how men and women respond differently to a romantic partner’s success.  Super-brief overview: they found that men were more likely than women to exhibit lower self-esteem when their partner experienced more success than they did. Continue reading Time for a Quick Rant! Today’s Rant: Women’s Success and Men’s Self-Esteem

Touring the Boston Custom House

The clock on the Boston Custom House says it's time to look out over our fair city.  Apparently, 7:26 is good that way.
The clock on the Boston Custom House says it’s time to look out over our fair city. Apparently, 6:26 is good that way.

When you’ve got a bunch of tall buildings around, you may as well see what the world looks like from the top of them, right?  That was my thinking anyway.  So, today I packed up the kids and my handy dandy knapsack and set out for the Boston Custom House.  There’s a 360 degree observation deck wrapped around the 26th floor – above the clock.  Sure, the Prudential is taller, but the Custom House has a few things going for it.

Open Air Observation Deck:

The observation deck facilitates observing.
The observation deck facilitates observing.

First, it’s open air.  In fact, it’s the highest open air observation deck in Boston.  That’s got to count for something.  Specifically, it counts for some entertaining butterflies in your stomach when you press your face up against the bars and feel the wind swirling around you.

View of the Harbor:

View of Boston Harbor from the Custom House
View of Boston Harbor from the Custom House

Second, you get to look out over the Boston Harbor.  My daughter swears she saw a whale surface and spout through the binoculars.  We watched Codzilla and the New England Aquarium whale watch boat pulling out of the harbor and got to see the airplanes landing and taking off at Logan.

Peregrine Falcons:

Here is EVERYTHING you've ever needed to know about peregrine falcons.
Here is EVERYTHING you’ve ever needed to know about peregrine falcons.

Third, there’s a Peregrine Falcon Cam set up so that you can watch the most successful nesting pair of peregrine falcons in Massachusetts going about their pigeon-eating, chick hatching business in their nest at the very top of the tower.  I haven’t found the cam available on the internet, but you can watch them on a screen from the observation deck.  Apparently, the pair have been nesting in the tower since 1987 and have successfully reared over 70 chicks that have, in turn, settled themselves all over Massachusetts and as far away as New York state (traitors!).

History:

How is this historic?  The dome upon which the Great Seal of the United States is painted was the original roof.  Then they added a tower.  History!
How is this picture emblematic of history? The dome upon which the Great Seal of the United States is painted was the original roof. Then they added a tower. History!

Fourth, history!  What’s Boston without it’s history?  Well, it’s the greatest city in the world.  But the history is still cool.  For example, the Great Seal of the United States was painted on the dome in 1960, which was (may have been?) the year when America went apeshit for paintings of the Great Seal of the United States.

What’s that?  You say you want even more history?  Okay.  The building (minus tower) actually began the slow, lumbering stumble into existence in 1837 and was completed in 1849.  The architect was Ammi Burnham Young, of Lebanon, New Hampshire.  He won a contest to design it.  The tower wasn’t added until 1915 (and it was designed by Peabody & Stearns).  Upon completion, it was the tallest building in Boston, at 496 feet.  The clock has a diameter of 22 feet, which makes me want to recreate portions of at least 8 movies.  Apparently, the clock spent most of the last century out of order due to an embarrassingly undersized motor.  Glad they got that fixed.

Ahem.  Undersized.
Ahem. Undersized.

Cheap:

Fifth, it’s only $4/person.  Which sort of speaks for itself.  You’re not reading this to have me walk you through basic arithmetic problems.  $4 is less than $50.  I don’t have a picture of $4 being less than $50, so I’m just putting in these pictures of the view instead.  You’ll notice that there are 4 pictures.  Which is less than 50.

$4 for me, FREE for you!
$4 for me, FREE for you! You’re welcome!
75 State Street in the foreground, Exchange Place behind it, One Boston Place back to the right, and the John Hancock Tower and Prudential Building in the distance.
75 State Street in the foreground, Exchange Place behind it, One Boston Place back to the right, and the John Hancock Tower and Prudential Building in the distance.
One International Place:  A measly 104 feet taller than the Custom House.
One International Place: A measly 104 feet taller than the Custom House.
Looking out toward Cambridge and Somerville.
Looking out toward Somerville and Cambridge.  There!  In the distance!  It’s the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge!  Sure, it’s not the longest bridge on earth, but it is the widest cable-stayed bridge in the world.  And maybe it has the longest name of any bridge?

Easter Egg:

Perhaps the most important benefit of ascending the Custom House is it’s easter egg!  For those who don’t know, an easter egg is a thing that programmers hide in video games for the sole purpose of amusing themselves and the few people who happen across them.  So, the easter egg of the Boston Custom House is [drum roll……..]

Can't see it?  Well, you should go to the top of the Custom House and find it.
Can’t see it? Well, you should go to the top of the Custom House and find it.

 

Kid Powered Adventures

 

Kid powered adventures can help kids get to know new places and feel more involved in family choices.  They can also find fun that parents wouldn't necessarily find themselves.
Kid powered adventures can help kids get to know new places and feel more involved in family choices. They can also find fun that parents wouldn’t necessarily find themselves.

How do you get kids to learn more about the things to see and do in a new place?  How do you familiarize them with public transportation?  How do you get them oriented? Continue reading Kid Powered Adventures