When my two girls were younger, I made it a point to take their impressionable elementary school-age selves to Boston as often as I could.
Sometimes, I pulled them out of school if I was working the weekend, which was the norm more often than not. Other trips were tied to a holiday, birthday, or an invented occasion.
Timing aside, the journey always had a mission. We’d visit the public library, walk parts of the Freedom Trail, ride the Swan Boats, scope the scene from the top of the Prudential building, eat something they never heard of at Faneuil Hall, and ultimately, catch the bus home, completely exhausted.
Along with my parental philosophy that doing is better than having, there was always a more urgent ulterior motive tied to our trips to Boston. Sure, creating memories beyond the girls sitting at the bar doing homework while I worked was a win. But my true motive behind the Boston day trips was one I never spoke of until years later.
Frankly, I wanted my daughters to see more people of color. I wanted them to see foreign national and cultural garb, and hear different languages floating overhead. I wanted them to ask questions and make observations, and we’d often ride a few T-stops too far while we’d talk.
It’s no secret that along with all the wonderful things the state of Maine offers, it’s also old and Yankee-white and not exactly a satellite city of the United Nations. The Jewish community of 25 years ago was solid, but comparatively tiny, and most of my kid’s friends had daddies at home, which they didn’t. It was becoming a struggle.
Everyone is different and it’s OK, I’d explain, but we were cut way outside the mold and it took some work for the three of us to feel like we fit in well enough to get by, and then thrive. Slowly, we each made a few friends and I realized my daughters were assimilating.
The trips to Boston showed them that there’s no shame, only pride, in being who you really are. They exposed my girls to different cultures; fear of the unknown melted away, replaced by curiosity.
On one trip, we were in the bowels of Government Center switching trains where an older black guy was busking and singing “Seasons of Love” from “Rent.” At 10 years old, Number One pushed her way to the front and started clapping and singing. Having three of her own dollars, she took one and gave it to the man.
“Why aren’t people paying him?” she asked. ”He’s working really hard and doing a great job.”
Between trips, social equality remained a theme in our day-to-day lives. When my youngest was around 6, I took her to a rally in Monument Square where a woman whose son had been shot was speaking out against unregistered guns. She held up the vest her son had been wearing, full of holes. My daughter, overwhelmed by the reality, burst into tears.
When I reached down to pick her up, she put her little arms around my neck and saw I had been crying, too. “It’s OK,” she said. “I know I’m safe, but what about other people like that guy? Why do people need guns?”
The rally was made special for me when then-Police Chief Mike Chitwood took my daughter from me and said, “Your mom works really hard and I see her a lot when I have breakfast. Want to wear my hat?” I took a picture of them I have to this day, and never forgot to bring the chief extra raisins for his steel-cut oatmeal when he frequented Bintliff’s American Cafe, way back in the day.
When they were still very small, the girls and I attended an interfaith, same-sex marriage rally at the Universal Unitarian Church on Congress Street. After explaining what was going on and why I thought it was important we showed our support, my little one looked up at me with confusion and said, “Mom, why is this even a thing?”
Trips to Boston these days are very different. For Number One, it’s only for travel from California as a means to get over the Piscataqua River bridge as quickly as possible. For my little one, it’s an occasional meet-up at Fenway Park or dinner at our favorite spot in the North End.
I’ve avoided using the word privilege over the years, but I know my daughters and I are drenched in it. Simple awareness isn’t enough, but the girls are adults now and I know they have values that will not let them be still in the face of injustice.
Maybe a three-way Zoom meeting with a Tobin Bridge backdrop is in order.
Natalie Ladd is a Portland restaurant veteran, freelance writer, and connoisseur of all things Bruce Springsteen. She loves Boston sports, chewy red wine and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. She can be reached at [email protected]ortlandphoenix.me.