Boston (un)Commons – 24 Hours in Beantown 

The second week of summer vacation we headed up to Mystic, Connecticut to see my family. It’s a tradition for the kids and I to spend a week up there, and we do mostly the same stuff each trip (lobster rolls are a must), but this year we changed things up a bit and took a day trip up to Boston to see my sister, and check out the city. The night before we left for our trip, Ken and I were talking about our garden, and how we wanted to create a “hidden garden” like you see in Charleston. I laughed at the fact that we were Googling different types of weeping trees late at night. I joked that nothing says middle age quite like that. I guess I am on version 1,111 of myself. A much younger me always wanted to live in Boston. I spent the latter part of my childhood in Acton, MA and I was convinced I would live in Boston after college, then after college I thought I’d move up there before having kids, and then the dream kept fading away so much so that neither of my children had ever been to Boston. I thought it would be a great opportunity to take them there to see my sister’s company’s work, and do some of the traditional touristy things too. When Charlie saw a sculpture of a man riding on horseback, and we asked him who it was, he responded with “George W. Bush” so I am glad that there were some history lessons involved on this trip!

Charlie at 5 Marble Leaves

Like many adventures with kids, there were hiccups. The plan was for us all to drive up to Providence together, have breakfast, and then the kids and I were going to take a train up to Boston while Ken had business meetings and he would drive up and meet us later in the afternoon. We stopped at All Favorites Cafe in Cranston, Rhode Island and while Ken stayed in the car on a Zoom call, the boys and I feasted. I had the Herbed Goat Cheese Omelette and the kids had pancakes. The omelette was ah-mazing. It was the right amount of cheese to please the palate, while still being kind to the stomach. I wish I had taken some pictures, because I loved the posters, which were fake magazine covers of classic bands and the headlines were lyrics to their songs. Since we had time to kill waiting for Ken, we took turns quizzing each other from decks of Brain Quest cards. The bottom of the box claims they’re “the #1 Q & A learning game!” which I believe since I used them as a kid too. Weaning my kids from their phones, and YouTube has been a challenging thing, but it is so worth it. I notice more and more when we go out to eat, how many people are sitting at a table together, while each person is staring at their phone. When it was time to go, the couple seated behind us complimented the kids. They said that they learned a lot from our Brain Quest game, but also how nice it was to see young people off their devices. Luckily for us, the cafe was a hit and an hour passed by very quickly. Unfortunately for us, it was only supposed to be 45 minutes and we missed our train.

Getting outside and appreciating nature, even in a city

So off the kids and I went to Boston in an Uber for about the same cost as 3 train tickets would have been. Our Uber driver was a nice man from Azerbaijan who was impressed that we all not only know where Azerbaijan is, but James was able to accurately describe the flag to him thanks to over a year playing Worldle. He and I spent most of the hour ride talking about Europe, the Ukraine-Russian war and language acquisition. When we got to our destination in Boston, I had to get the kids to quickly gather all the contents of my backpack that they had taken out as cars started honking at us. I thanked our guy, hurried the kids out of the car, and remembering my Masshole roots threw my hands up at the cars honking behind us. James, Charlie and I went into my sister’s office at Now + There. My sister, Kate, has been the executive director since 2014 and the name is explained on the website: “For Boston, and all who are curious and engaged, Now + There is a public art curator that challenges our city’s cultural identity by taking artistic risks and consistently producing compelling projects. Our projects are temporary and site specific, hence our name.” I had been reading Michael Myer’s book Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet about Benjamin Franklin’s will which left money to Boston and Philadelphia to invest in tradesmen who would then pay the loan back with interest. This is the culture of Boston I know best, having lived 30 minutes from the city, we learned about the Revolutionary War and founding fathers in detail. 

Lunch time in Dewey Square

One of things I am most thankful for today is the education I received. While most of the history I learned was white-centric, I did attend an elementary school nicknamed “The People’s Republic of McCarthy-Towne.” I vividly remember learning about the industrial revolution by reading a fictionalized story of a young immigrant who came to the United States full of hope, and suffered greatly in the mills, which we took a field trip to later. Later in Acton Boxboro High School we read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. This was back in the good old days when no one talked about teachers indoctrinating students and we read controversial books that allowed us to see that there is so much history that is not included in most standard textbooks. The first place we stopped was Dewey Square on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, something that was years to come when I was young and Boston was still working to finalize “the big dig.” Rob “ProBlak” Gibbs mural of his daughter, Bobbi, in front of a boombox was one of the pieces curated by Now + There. My sister explained to us that the artist grew up not seeing young black kids represented around the city, and so he painted this mural so that his daughter and other young people of color could see themselves represented. We ate lunch from a food truck under her Bobbi’s disconcerted gaze. 

Kate took us further along the Greenway up towards the wharf. We paused at a few other public art exhibits on the way. I had been to Boston since the termination of the big dig, but I still remember driving along 93 through the center of a building that I thought was where Houghton Mifflin was located when I was young. Even as a freshly minted driver I had nostalgia about that building, dreaming as I did when I was in elementary school about working for a publisher, in a building that looked out over Boston Harbor, just like my friend’s mom. I would play “business woman” and carry around a fake briefcase and calculator and pretend that I was super busy with super important things. Not far from what now houses a bunch of parking garages and business is “Five Marble Leaves,” another N+T exhibit in Central Wharf Park, which was both kids’ favorite one (we did not get to all of them). I remember talking to Kate about the process it took to get these giant marble statues from Carerra, Italy to Boston. I wondered what Benjamin Franklin would have thought if he could see the city today. In his will, he made it so that only married white men could receive the loan, and that at the 100th and 200th anniversary of his death the cities should use his money on projects that would beautify the cities, but also make them more inhabitable. Is today’s Boston more inhabitable for people of color? Are we moving in the right direction? Do we take down the statues of our founding fathers, or do they stay because the good they provided outweigh the bad? I’m not educated enough on this matter to really weigh my two cents. In my ignorant mind I wonder if we can leave what is already there, and then add in what was for too long ignored, like the way my history teacher did in high school. But then I stopped to think about the extreme examples. There is no way anyone could justify a statue to Hitler, even though he greatly impacted history, but Andrew Jackson is on the $20 despite his “Indian Removal Act.” This is what good art does, right? It is supposed to make you uncomfortable. It is supposed to make you think.

Kate, James & Charlie at Lot Lab

Kate had to meet someone at N+T’s newest project, “Lot Lab” so we planned to take the Old Town Trolley over to Charlestown. This is when I discovered that my wallet was not in my backpack, but in the backseat of the Uber driver’s car. The one who had driven us up from Providence. We got on the trolley and I desperately texted Ken to contact the guy as we heard from our driver about the facts of Paul Revere, his famous ride, and why he is one who got credit for it even though others were involved because his last name was the one that rhymes with year.  Stop 3 on the trolley is a place to get off to be able to go onto the USS Constitution, but just next door is a former vacant lot transformed into an artistic canvas. “Lot Lab” has a ground mural that creates an interactive path to follow, giant planters that spell out words my kids pieced together one letter at a time. The artist “[Ghada] Amer gathered from a poll asking people what words come to mind when they think of women. Words like “loving” and “beautiful” were suggested alongside “resilient” and “strong.” These words, alongside “determined,” “caring,” and “nurturing,” are here as planters housing an array of flora and fauna indigenous to the Northeast.”( source). While Kate spoke with a photographer, the kids looked around Lot Lab, and over at the USS Constitution, I was still more focused on making sure I would be reunited with my wallet. Luckily for us, our Uber driver had not headed straight back to Providence, but was still in Boston. He agreed to wait until Ken could meet him. I was so thankful that I had talked to him for the entire car ride, even when he talked about being pro-Russia in the Ukraine/Russian War. He had lived in Ukraine and while politically I am not pro-Russia, we agreed that there is not enough news coverage these days to form educated opinions. We are presented information in a way that also tells us how to feel about it. 

The boys and I got back on the trolley to make our way back over to Boston and Kate returned to work. The Commons has an easily accessible parking garage, so we planned on meeting up with Ken there. I had a few options. We could stay on the trolley, listening to the history of the city and see many more sights, or we could get off and spend time in Boston Commons waiting for Ken. Having zero money, and worried that we would be stuck across the city from Ken when he did get it, we got off the trolley at stop 5 next to the Old State House where the constitution was read from the balcony for the first time. Along the sidewalk we saw the red line, the Freedom Trail that snakes its way through the city. I had many field trips to Boston, walking Freedom Trail, touring the USS Constitution that I didn’t even think to explain it to my kids. I am glad that our tour of Boston bridged the gap between art and history, and we got to witness how contemporary artists weave their narratives into the fabric of Boston’s rich tapestry. We meandered our way through Downtown Crossing because my memory did not include how to get around Boston that well, and as I walked by the subway entrances, I got a whiff of the stale, warm, cat pee smelling air that still comes up from down below, just as it had 20 years ago. We saw more sculptures in Boston Common and finally met up with Ken (and my wallet!), who had learned that if you make a wrong turn in Boston, it will take you about 20 minutes to get back to where you were going. I was always told that the roads are so ridiculous because the city is very old, and they remain as they were made hundreds of years ago when they would have to navigate around trees. I doubt that validity, but it makes a cute story.

A traditional piece of art, aka “George W. Bush” according to Charlie

We continued our walking tour of the city, as none of us wanted to get back into any form of transportation, so we walked around Copley Plaza, up and down Commonwealth Ave and did a little shopping on Newbury Street and got yelled at by a homeless man who was screaming at everyone about incest. Ahh, Boston. Kate met back up with us for dinner at Piattini and all the food was delicious. Charlie ordered the best meal, the black truffle oil ravioli. In a day that was slightly chaotic, we were each happy to be able to spend quality time together. Kate had found out a good friend had succumbed to cancer, I had been told that I was not hired for a position I wanted, and Ken battled traffic after being in meetings all day. The perspective given to me about my privilege, not only as a citizen but also as a human being in good health with a loving family was just as important as sneaking bites of Charlie’s dinner when he wasn’t looking. 

The next morning we walked over to Cafe Bonjour in Downtown Crossing for breakfast. The service was commendable. A very affable man brought hot chocolate outside for the boys to drink while we waited for a table. We stuffed ourselves with French toast, Mediterranean Hummus and a Bonjour Omelette. We were nearing the end of not only our stay in Boston, but our trip to New England. It is not easy to travel with kids, but I really should point out that my kids (who have their moments, trust me) were so well behaved. An employee of the cafe complimented us on how polite and well behaved they were. It happened a lot in the two weeks that we all traveled between Missouri and New England. I am very proud of them, they do act differently when it’s just us. It’s like my dad said, you get 2 different sets of kids. One knows how to act in public, the other you love no matter what. As we left Boston, the memories of childhood, our trip there together, and the sites we saw remained etched in my mind, a testament to the power of art to ignite introspection, spark conversations, and deepen our understanding of the world around us.


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