Raising Kids in the City

I received a sweet comment from a reader who is considering leaving the suburban home she and her husband moved to a few years ago to return to the city and raise their kids. The city is an amazing place to raise a family. Our museums, libraries, universities, cultural and civic offerings, diverse neighbors and community spirit keep urban families constantly learning and discovering.

Here are some of my responses to the frequently-asked-questions I get about raising kids in the city:

Q. Don't you want to live in a big house with a big yard and plentiful parking?

A: We like our cozy home and we rarely drive our car in the city so assigned parking isn't a necessity for us. And who needs a big yard when we have Harvard Yard just up the road? Also, our small shared backyard in our big, six-family building fosters a strong sense of community and collaborative play, particularly because there is now a gaggle of kids in our building. So much of our time in the city is spent outside of our house--meeting friends at nearby parks and playgrounds, visiting museums and libraries, exploring city squares, hopping on a bus or subway train--that we don't feel limited by our small city space.

Q: Isn't it hard to get around with kids in the city?

A: The city is simple when you live in it. It's easy to walk or bike or ride on public transportation for all of our errands and appointments and recreation. When we are at my family's lakehouse in the country, I find it much more challenging and stressful to pile kids in and out of the car to simply buy a carton of milk or go to the bank. In the city, our daily errands are woven into our play, with a walk to the post office followed by a playground or museum visit.

Q: What about the schools?

A: We have chosen to remain city-dwellers and home school our kids, but many urban school districts get a bad reputation even though they have a lot to offer. Urban school districts typically spend two-to-three times the per pupil expenditure of their suburban counterparts, which can lead to many innovative programs and resources for students. There are also exciting things happening with charter, magnet and exam schools in urban districts across the country. Also, while there is much truth to the lore of urban, private schools as expensive and difficult to get into, there are also a variety of more affordable, more accessible private school options in most cities.

Q: Isn't the city dangerous?

A: Just as there are some cities that are more walkable than others, there are some cities with higher crime rates than others. But of course it's important to note that whenever there are more people in one place, there will be more crime, just statistically speaking. The city amplifies both the good and the bad of society. For the most part, though, city-living fosters community and networks and close interactions with neighbors. I feel much more secure in my city condo surrounded by people than in our more remote country lake house. Similarly, with so many people in the city, there are very few parks and playgrounds and other outdoor spaces that are off-limits to us. Most are heavily populated with families at all times of the day.

Q: Isn't the city expensive?

A: Yes and no. It's true that housing costs are higher in many cities, but as a result homes are typically smaller, denser and cheaper to heat, cool, furnish, and maintain. We drive less and only need one car (or none at all), so transportation costs are significantly lower for city-dwellers. High rents at local markets and shops can raise prices, but cities are wonderfully diverse and for every high-end store there are plenty of discount ones nearby too.

Q: How long do you plan to stay in the city?

A: Hopefully forever!


A has her first tooth. J is starting to use the potty. M is going to be FIVE in the fall. Time is quickly passing.

I have to admit that while I was ecstatic when M potty-trained, I am a bit nostalgic about J. Is he really old enough for no more diapers? Have two-and-a-half-years already gone by?

And A. Just yesterday it seems she was born in my bed, and in my bed tonight I discovered her little tooth poking through.

I try my best to savor the fleeting moments of their childhood. Everywhere it seems friends and strangers remind me how evanescent this time is. How even though some days may seem so long, the years are so short. How even though these early years are so intense, they will be so fondly missed. How even though all we want to do is go, all we must do is stop.

And watch.

And remember.

Motherhood and Dental Work

(Photo courtesy of 4-year-old M)

Parenting and Public Speaking

When I began my corporate training business many years ago, my initial training workshops were mostly focused on teaching professionals how to be more effective public speakers. (In fact, my husband and I met when he was my "student" in a seminar I was leading at his firm at the time...)

I was thinking recently about those early days of my career which now seem like a lifetime ago. As I was recalling the tips and techniques I would share with the businesspeople aiming to be better presenters, I realized that they are pretty good tips for us parents too!

Here are some of these public speaking/parenting strategies:

1. Stay calm.
2. Know your audience's interests.
3. Be prepared.
4. Expect the unexpected.
5. Use humor when possible.
6. Explain ideas clearly and concisely.
7. Keep your audience engaged.
8. Use props where appropriate.
9. Smile.
10. Practice makes perfect!

City Snails and Swallow-Wort

Back in the city today, we decided to take a morning walk around the block with no particular plan for where to go or what to do. The city is like that. It invites serendipity.

And so it was that we stumbled upon some city snails lounging on a city sidewalk.

Inspired, we sought out litter of some sort to use as a temporary container, (a discarded Starbucks coffee cup worked just fine), and walked around the corner to the public library to learn more about these snails.

On our return loop, we spotted a neighbor distributing information about Black Swallow-Wort, a type of invasive plant species that harms native plants and, more significantly, tricks monarch butterflies into thinking it is nurturing milk weed upon which to lay its eggs.

The kids helped remove the Black Swallow-Wort from nearby shrubs and became official members of the city's "Pod Patrol." (Here is a link to the city's website with more information about the "pod patrol.")

I wonder what we will encounter on our afternoon walk in the city...

Why I Blog

I feel like this blog has evolved with me. It started out as a semi-private space in which to share news and images of our days with close family members and friends, and then a few months back I said, what the heck, why not invite anyone who is interested to take a peek.

I find myself increasingly grateful for the bloggers I follow who share their parenting triumphs and challenges and offer glimpses of their worlds. It's fun, isn't it, to see snapshots of other families' lives and homes and perspectives? I have gathered many new ideas and updated old ones from the blogs I refer to daily, many of which are listed over in the sidebar.

Blogging is replenishing for me. I squeeze it into quiet moments here and there, like when I am nursing A to sleep and the big kids are playing quietly... or getting into quiet mischief as the case may be. It allows me to truly capture the joy of mothering three young children among all the messes that this job entails.

I hope you like visiting. I'm very glad you're here.

Summer Mothering

Summer mothering is the most fun.

Summer is all about simplicity, and laughter, and sunshine.

It means simply donning sun hats and sandals and bounding out the door.

It means kissing wet cheeks emerging from under water.

It means catching wet bodies jumping from the dock.

It means holding hands made sticky from popsicles and ice cream.

It means digging, and running, and hair-tousling.

It means capturing childhood moments of peace and joy and discovery.

And it means remembering during those bitter January days.

Cerebral Homemaking

I envy the moms for whom homemaking comes naturally. You know, the moms who effortlessly knit and sew their family's clothing while succulent homemade feasts from their lavish gardens sizzle in their ovens. The moms who know how to make their own yogurt as if it's like tying a shoe. The moms who know how to design their homes to capture warmth and creativity. The moms who just know.

Homemaking would be much simpler if I had this inner wisdom. For me, homemaking is very cerebral. I think about mastering knitting and sewing and cooking and gardening and yogurt-making, fully realizing that it will take many years to achieve proficiency.

In his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, author Malcolm Gladwell explains the "10,000-hour rule," referring to the amount of time it takes to master a particular skill or profession.

10,000 hours, huh?

I'm plodding away. And maybe someday my grandchildren will say, wow, Nana knows so much... and her yogurt sure is yummy.

My Mothering Mantra

Calm. Caring. Curious.

This is my mothering mantra. This is the kind of environment I strive to create in my home.

There are many resources available to parents who are looking to develop a family mission statement or who want to better delineate their parenting philosophy, but I just wanted a few simple words that could help me to refocus when the bustle of the day creeps in.

I want our home to be calm. Raising three young kids in the city can at times be more chaotic than calm, but I hope to create a home environment that is calm and peaceful for my children, which includes-- most significantly I think-- my effort to remain calm and peaceful in my mothering.

I want our home to be caring. I want for the kids to realize what a gift it is to have loving siblings to play with and learn from and grow with. I want them to be deeply aware of how much they are loved.

I want our home to ignite curiosity. I love watching my children's curiosity and imagination blossom and I want our home, in addition to our daily activities outside the home, to capture and expand their intense desire to learn and discover.

Calm. Caring. Curious.

Those are the words around which I focus my mothering. Those are the words I repeat often to help me create the kind of home environment I want for my children.

What about you? What is your mothering mantra?

Summer In New England Is....




...Country hikes

...and cat-naps...

How is your family enjoying summer in your corner of the world?

10 Years

Ten years ago today, on Friday the 13th, my husband and I eloped to the beaches of Hawaii after realizing early in our planning that a traditional wedding was not for us. Thus began our pattern of questioning mainstream thinking and opting often for the non-traditional path.

As we walked barefoot along the beach after saying our "I Dos," we recall mentioning how we would probably return for our 10th anniversary. My how times change. In our newlywed, 20-something haze, we couldn't have imagined that a decade would bring us so much happiness with three beautiful children, and very different views on what is important in our life together. When I think back to our goals and perspectives 10 years ago, they were focused entirely on career and success and personal pursuits. Now they are focused entirely on our children.

The one thing that hasn't changed in 10 years, however, is our passion for urban living and our enjoyment of all that the city offers. Sure, Friday night martinis at the latest trendy bar have been replaced by Friday night ice cream cones in the nearby square, but we now appreciate the city as parents even more than we did as newlyweds.

Slowing Our Pace

In the city, we're busy. There is so much going on that sometimes our days can seem like a whirlwind. And with Daddy on vacation for a few days last week, the days get even more packed with fun.

Today we are back at the lake and the pace is much slower. I think I forget sometimes how important and refreshing it is for us to have some slower-paced days. We have been able to make time for painting, and creating, and sibling play. It's a good reminder to pay closer attention to our daily rhythms and build in more unstructured home time, rather than always dashing off to this playground or that museum.

City Sights

I love the unpredictability of the city. I love the fact that after a Saturday supper downtown with the kids we can stumble upon some city sprinklers to splash in.

And I love how on the walk back from the playground this morning, we unexpectedly encounter a parade and cultural festival that shuts down our busy street.

Cloth Diapers

The folks over at the Natural Parents Network are in the midst of their "Freedom of Cloth" blog carnival, which includes some wonderful stories and resources for cloth diapering families.

I started using cloth diapers when J was an infant and M was potty-training. Suddenly I realized how much I enjoyed just washing her little undies rather than dealing with big boxes of plastic diapers. I visited a wonderful local resource, Diaper Lab, in nearby Somerville which allowed me to do a one-week cloth diapering trial with a variety of diapers to see if I liked them. I was hooked!

Now J is still using the one-size pocket diapers I bought for him as an infant and A has used pre-folds since the day she was born. It does mean some extra laundry, but even with our basement washer and dryer that we share with our upstairs neighbors, cloth diapers have been so much more pleasurable than plastic.

The only tricky part is lugging two bags of diapers to the lakehouse and I admit to using disposables there at times, particularly for short visits. But for our next extended stay, I am bringing both sets of cloth diapers... and frankly they are easier to smoosh into our small car than a big box of disposables!

City Playground Concert

Our city hosts regular evening concerts, with potluck desserts, at nearby parks and playgrounds throughout the summer months. Tonight's concert featured a jazz duo that mesmerized the kids as they ate the whole wheat zucchini muffins we made for the potluck.

Homebirthing on the Rise

I was delighted to read this article in yesterday's Boston Globe indicating that home births rose a stunning 20 percent between 2004 and 2008, according to CDC data.

The article mentions that some doctors believe there may be a "feminist machoism" mindset leading the trend toward more home births. That seems like a silly characterization to me. While there are many reasons why women choose home births, I think being "macho" is far down on the list.

For me, choosing a home birth was all about safety. After two highly-medicalized, OB-orchestrated births with complications resulting from hospital interventions, I chose a home birth for my third baby. While I believe in home-birthing philosophically, my primary reason for choosing this option was because I honestly felt that having a natural birth at my home in the presence of experienced midwives, with hospitals nearby if necessary, was the safest place for both my baby and me. And it was utterly life-changing. You can click here to read my full home birth story if interested.

I am thrilled to see that home births are gaining in popularity and I hope that more women will consider this simple, yet extraordinary, option for birthing their babies.

Sleeping Siblings

Is anything sweeter than soundly-sleeping siblings?

I just love co-sleeping, especially with more kids and the added touch-time it creates that sometimes gets lost during busy summer days.

It's always nice to read the latest co-sleeping research from Notre Dame professor, James McKenna, and the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory. Time for me to go snuggle...

City Sidewalk Sale

Whenever we want to get rid of household items, we usually just leave them in front of our building on a busy city street and they're gone by the day's end. This helps to keep our 1300-square-foot city condo organized and clutter-free.

But today we thought it would be fun to have a "sidewalk sale," which M thought was fantastic. She loved spotting prospective customers, using stickers to price her items, and, of course, collecting coins and dollar bills for her piggy bank. We also made homemade lemonade to sell to passersby which was a big hit. I can definitely see these sidewalk sales becoming more frequent for us, as they create many learning opportunities for the kids!

My Pantry

With my blooming interest in city homemaking, my pantry has become a great source of inspiration.

I had always liked my pantry and the storage space it provided in our small city condo in a century-old Victorian building. But now I adore my pantry. I love that in place of store-bought bread are bags of bread flour; that in place of boxed cereals are jars of oatmeal; that in place of jars of pasta sauce are baskets of fresh tomatoes ready to be blanched.

Natural homemaking is probably second-nature to many moms, but for me it's been a deliberate and empowering migration from viewing my household as a consumption unit to a production unit. It may have started for me with cloth diapers when J was an infant, but it really took off after A's homebirth and an astounding realization of what is truly possible to accomplish within our homes.

Friday Night Highlights

I really can't think of any pre-parenthood Friday nights that were better than the ones we now share with our kids.

After Daddy finished work yesterday, we all took the subway to the North End to enjoy the start of a beautiful long weekend.

After some yummy Italian food, we ate gelato in the park and listened to a cellist named Nora who gave the kids a quick lesson.

Next was a trip to a nearby playground followed by a stop at the Farmer's Market for great deals on corn and blueberries.

Back home in Harvard Square, we were serenaded by a traveling musical troupe that enchanted J.

After a fun-filled afternoon, there's nothing like a snuggly sleep.

I just love summer in the city!


The poem below was written by my maternal great-grandmother, Grace Barter Monahan, and published in 1948 in a small collection of her poetry called Peaceful Pathways. I find myself thinking about this poem a lot, especially since becoming a mom and reading it from that distinct perspective.

I have moments, glimpses when I feel I can come close to being the ideal mom I aspire to be. I have occasions when I feel like I am spectacularly near to being the perfectly-patient, superlatively-creative, ever-energetic, wise, soothing, fun, funny, happy-go-lucky, water-off-my-back, spontaneous, adventurous, imaginative, ideal mom. And then the moment passes and I'm back on the bottom rung to begin the climb again.

by Grace Barter Monahan (1948)

Our lives are like glorious paintings
That in making are ugly and vague;
At times some of beauty is seen, then
A splash on the canvas is laid.

But the painter has visions of colors
Blending in various hue,
We behold when the painting is finished
A great work of art we may view.

If we, like the painter of pictures
Let ideals of beauty beguile,
Though we make ugly marks on the canvas,
We may fashion lives really worth while.