This summer we decided to get going on our list of places our family wants to vacation before the kids are grown and gone. Because we have a puppy this year, we knew we couldn’t tackle any of the bigger, longer trips on the list, which left some of the cities that felt manageable in 5 days. Because neither of us had ever been, and it was starting to feel stupid that it was so easy to get to and we hadn’t gone yet, we decided to tackle Boston.

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Anticipation and planning are my favorite parts of travel. When I was younger, I assumed vacations would be an easy and available part of life. Now that we experienced a several-year dry spell, I understand that travel is rare and luxurious. Every moment matters on every trip, so we like to do a city right. Once the flights were booked, I did a deep dive, listening to podcasts, consulting Trip Advisor, exploring maps, reading fiction and nonfiction that might have a setting in Boston, consulting Boston’s local foodie online magazines and creating a must-do list. I planned the chords of the trip, which is my job. Husband Wally’s is to take over once the trip begins and decide the notes. I plan chords to have some control and goals, but leave space for notes because I understand unforeseen factors like rain, tiredness, strange family photo opportunities, and a general uncertainty about a new city can lead to last minute changes.

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I find Chicago and New York City to be overwhelming and intense, with everyone in a hurry. Over the course of our trip, we all felt Boston had a much more laid back vibe. I’m not sure if it was a the beautiful old buildings, the accessibility, or the warmth of the stone streets. I highly suspect the higher education in and around also contributes, as well as the smaller size. Either way, I’ve never travelled anywhere in the U.S. that made me start looking up real estate, but I was on Redfin by the end of this trip.


We required a lot of the kids. We woke up at 3 to catch our early flight—something I won’t do to the family again, but that they handled like champs. We walked more than 18,000 steps every day. We endured 100 degree heat one afternoon. We took in things each other might find ultra boring—the thing Husband Wally loved the most (the Red Sox game and a Fenway tour) was one of Vivvi’s least favorite. )The aquarium, where a 150 pound tiger stingray bee-lined toward her at the hands-on exhibit topped her list.) I know this for a fact, as I made my family rank all of the activities we did in order, and I created a chart to give all activities an overall family rating.


BostonWe took a walking tour of the Freedom Trail. To prepare, the kids and I read “Who Was Paul Revere?” and “What Was the Boston Tea Party.” One of Wally Ben’s favorite activities was the Paul Revere House, which is set in the middle of the North End. I preferred the cannolis and the $1.50/slice pizza place we found that was packed with Italian Americans. I am in love with his love of the house, which he said is just because, “I don’t know, it was old.”

BostonI don’t pride myself on my knowledge of history. My history teachers in school were mostly boring, and now that I am an adult, I realize that this was because they found history to be boring. (Which makes me think they should have done us all a service and pursued their dreams of being a backup guitar player in a garage band or tending bar somewhere.) I realize now, though, that they missed something essential that leaped from their mouths every time they said what they did—“story.” History isn’t a list of facts worth knowing that doesn’t have anything to do with right now. It is exciting, with plot and action. It tells us the story of what it is like to be human, and why it is like this to be a human today.

BostonI decided, though, that I didn’t miss my chance because my teachers made ancient history feel ancient. I am going to give myself an education now. I did this a little by preparing for Boston with Who Is books with the kids. (You can’t laugh, because I found out that trivia winners use these to get an understanding of the basics. There you have it—Jeopardy champions and me!) With Who Is books, though, I was able to answer most of the questions our Freedom Trail tour guide threw at us. Our tour guide gave high fives for correct answers, and my hand hurt a little by the end. She was dressed as John Hancock’s wife, and cracked us up with stories of how she threw parties for the Sons of Liberty and the old tradition of punishing people with gallows. She clearly understood story. But I don’t see how she could help it. Boston is a place that brings story to life.

BostonWe accomplished a life goal of mine, which was to see whales. As we were on the boat, pulling out of the harbor, a huge old ship went by. “Look,” I told my family. “It’s the U.S.S. Constitution.” This is the oldest working warship in the navy, from the War of 1812. I knew about it from my research of Boston, although we didn’t intend to see it. I was happy at this sighting, but more happy when the captain came on to make an announcement. “Everyone take a look. In order to call this the oldest working warship, they have to take it out once a year. This is only its second trip in 6 years, though, since it was under renovation for the past 5 years.” For my later-life history education, I am stretching myself currently by reading McCullough’s Adams biography now. At one point, it mentions that he spent an afternoon during his presidency watching the Constitution sail out of Boston Harbor. So this is an experience we share with the 2nd president of the United States.


Our luck didn’t end there. We traveled an hour out to where the whales hang out, and came upon four humpbacks working as team to churn up fish and then rise to the surface eating them. Our captain announced that he had only seen this feeding behavior on one other trip so far this year. Needless to say, in the rankings, this Boston experience topped them all.


One adventure that didn’t have the same level of universal appeal was the most classic Boston tourism thing we did—the Swan Boat rides. The kids loved this, maybe because of reading Make Way for Ducklings to prepare for the trip, and maybe because it involved sitting, a huge luxury on this walk-heavy trip. I loved it for its wonderful slow strangeness. Since returning from the trip, I like to think, occasionally, that in our tech-heavy world, on a little pond in Boston, a crowd of strangers is enjoying the novelty of being pushed in a figure 8 loop by a kid bicycle-paddling in a swan shaped seat. Husband Wally finds us all strange.

IMG_2347We are now all in love. A few times since the trip, Boston has come up in a book we are reading. Vivvi looks at me every time and says, “Mommy, Boston!” Like it is a magical place that only we should know about. Like she is so amazed that the author knows about this place that now exists because we’ve been there. And I have to agree with her—now that we have memories there, it does feel like magic.