Question: What on earth can a grandparent do who has moved into the city from her big suburban home with huge backyard and beach nearby, when her little grandchildren come to visit her?
If that grandparent happens to live in downtown Boston, what can't she do? We know a grandmother who invited her three darling granddaughters aged 1, 3 and 5, right into the center of the city in the middle of summer (when kids are supposed to be playing in all that space in the suburbs, correct? After four days in downtown Boston, at least, she now has a new problem: they don't want to go home!
What a joy it was for this grandmother to show her dear little granddaughters what a delight the city -- o.k., more specifically, the waterfront of the city -- can be for every age, in summer, fall, or spring. The granddaughters (and their parents, who came along for the ride) didn't stop from the time they arrived at Logan Airport and took the water taxi ( "a boat taxi???") straight to Rowes Wharf and their big room at the Boston Harbor Hotel, next door to Grandma's house, where they found their first surprise: three little terrycloth robes from the hotel's gift shop, each one in their own size and with their own name embroidered on the front.
They awoke next morning to rain and lots of it. So, no problem, they could walk to the New England Aquarium a few steps from the hotel (the only taxi needed the whole time was the water taxi, and that was pure fun) to the New England Aquarium with its brand new enormous central tank with everything from sharks to giant turtles to jellyfish, penguins, dolphins and things their parents had never even seen, with several areas devoted to interactive displays where they could run their hands along the top of swimming rays and feel the cold bumpiness of mussel shells containing the little creatures.
In the afternoon they made a play date with the five-year-old granddaughter of Grandma's neighbor -- there are many more neighbors in the city, and lots of them have grandchildren nearby and thus, keep a stash of toys in their apartments at the ready.
The next day, bright and sunny, was devoted to the Childrens' Museum and here again, it was close enough that with a stroller, everyone who was able could walk the Harborwalk to get there. No cars with car seats and scrambling in and out to be strapped in were needed during the entire weekend, which is yet another plus to having little ones visit in the center of the city.
The walk to the Childrens' Museum is filled with wonderful activities even before you get to the front door. Hopscotch sites and a giant figure of Arthur sitting atop the roof of the museum were two favorites of the five-year-old even before she entered the museum. She and her sister spent a long time climbing the massive, intricate, and safe, climbing tower at the entrance to the museum, while the one-yoear-old went with Grandma straight to the baby area, where she could bounce on the water mattress, climb soft stairs, and especially stand mesmerized at the fish tank with her hands leaning on the unbreakable tank while she admired the bubbles on top as much as the fish swimming inside. Nothing can hurt an inquisitive baby in this area, and their eyes grow large and sparkling when they realize no one is going to stop them from climbing or touching.
Their Dad brought a picnic from Formaggio's Kitchen in Cambridge (he had taken the city bicycles there for exercise and to visit old friends) which everyone ate outside on the picnic tables permanently set up outside the museum, before walking along the Harborwalk later in the afternoon.
Dinner was at Legal Seafoods across from the Aquarium, where it was discovered that the five-year-old not only enjoyed touching the mussels in the Aquarium, but she actually loved the taste of these strange shelled creatures when cooked in the butter/garlic sauce that Legal's does so well.
The next day everyone took advantage of one of the Fort Point Arts Community's many ongoing activities for the public throughout the year. It happened that on this weekend, Made in Fort Point, the gallery/shop that sells many of the Fort Point artists' works, was having a special "Modern Mani" session whereby anyone could come into the gallery for a free, artistic manicure of their choice. For two little girls and their mother, who doesn't get to the nail salon much these days, what could be more fun? Grandma kept the one-year-old busy while the three-year-old had bright red polish put on her tiny fingernails by Victoria Shen, a Cambridge audio-visual technician who is an artist in her off hours, and a very creative (and patient with little children) fingernail artisan.
The five-year-old asked for stripes on her nails, so Shen painted each of the ten nails a different color. And for Mom, she offered a choice of manicures that would copy a painting from the book she had with her of paintings by famous artists. Mom chose Mark Rothko's "Red and Black," and got her nails painted like miniature Rothko paintings, with a tiny black edge surrounding each deep red nail. All three manicures, by the way, were free, courtesy of this gallery, one of the bright spots of the ongoing restoration project that is the Fort Point area of South Boston.
Grandma used to have a beach near her suburban home, but now she has a downtown swimming pool, and as the temperature was in the 80's, the whole family opted for her pool, although in cooler weather they could have jumped into the Harbor Hotel indoor pool, for an afternoon swim.
Even more fun than the pool were the two new city fountains nearby designed so that children can frolic among the spouting sprays which rise up at different times in different places and at varying levels of intensity, keeping everyone guessing as to when they'll be splashed, which brings screams of delight from those daring to stand in the path of the water jets. One of these fountains is set in the center of the Rose Kennedy Greenway, and a second one is just a block away at the Christopher Columbus park, and the girls tried them both.
One block further they discovered the new permanent carousel on the Greenway, a delightful facility designed with specially sculpted sea creatures and animals important to the city of Boston, such as the grasshopper copying the one that sits atop Faneuil Hall just across the street from the carousel.
A favorite aunt came over for dinner outside the hotel, at its Pasta Beach Restaurant, and the little girls could walk the few steps from there to fall asleep in their cozy hotel room, where very understanding hotel staff understood that they had turned their suite into a pretend city apartment by means of tables and bedspreads.
Now Grandma just has to figure out how to get the little girls out for the North End Christmas parade when Santa Claus flied in on a helicopter, or the Faneuil Hall Christmas tree lighting of the largest Christmas tree in New England with music piped in nearby, or the Whale Watch and Harbor Islands boat trips, and the fast ferry to Provincetown....and the St. Anthony Festival with the fireworks over the harbor, and the Fourth of July and New Year's Eve fireworks shows over the water, and....hope she can fit it all in before they grow up!