I am a city dweller. I am a mama. I live in a row house. I have four wee ones. I have a minivan. I have no backyard. I have a double stroller. My brood (Milo, 6, Willa, 4, twins Zeke and Gideon, 2) has spent all their years, thus far, as city kids, under the glow of a winking Natty Boh. It’s not perfect, but neither is suburbia. Here’s how we’ve (happily) lived almost a decade in the city, while growing into a family of six.
Find a listserv/playgroup/website.
Being a first-time parent can seem extra isolating in the city when your next-door neighbors are still doing the single thing, and you feel like the only one in your entire ZIP code who has reproduced. The best thing I ever did was drag my 3-week-old to his first playgroup. I met mommy friends who also knew what it was like to park three blocks from home with a baby and groceries; who understood that I couldn’t have a swing and bouncy seat because there just wasn’t enough space; and who introduced me to the neighborhood listserv——a local e-mail list for parents to talk about everything: best ballet classes, sleeping advice, items for sale, pediatrician recommendations, and on and on. My other lifesavers: the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance and websites like (cool) progeny that made being a parent feel creative and, well, fun.
Get a membership. Everywhere.
We belong to the National Aquarium, Port Discovery, Maryland Science Center, The Maryland Zoo, B&O Railroad Museum . . . and is there anything left? The best thing about a cramped house is it forces you out. The only decision is: giraffes or planetarium? Dolphin show or choo-choo trains? We’re spoiled by how many great kid-friendly spots there are within the city limits. We visit places frequently enough that the membership pays for itself quickly. And with memberships, there is no pressure to stay somewhere for hours——we can pop in, play, eat lunch, and be home for a 1 p.m. naptime.
Every day is an adventure.
We walk a lot. (If only we had a pedometer on our strollers and Ergos to see how many miles we’ve logged.) Often the trip to get somewhere is just as fun as the destination. There’s the Charm City Circulator and Water Taxi, scooters, and double-stroller maneuvering. We always, always run into friends we know. There are hard discussions (homelessness and water pollution) and funny ones like, “Can you have a pickle for breakfast?” Answer: Yes, when you’re at the Baltimore Farmers’ Market, and it’s washed down with sprinkle donuts.
The city is your backyard.
You can’t be a homebody in the city. There is always a story time to attend, a playground to discover, a food-truck rally to find, a water fountain to jump into (and emergency dry clothes to buy at H&M.) Here my kids can go to the library and school and on a pirate ship, plus feed ducks and go to a concert, all without climbing into the car. There’s diversity and beauty, crime and exploration, and it all feels like home.