F. Scott Fitzgerald was mistaken: There are indeed second acts in American lives. I, for instance, am confident I have a future as a tour guide for the under-8 crowd. I speak from experience, having recently returned from a five-day visit to Boston with a 6-year-old. My modus operandi is constant physical activity combined with Q & A sessions. My husband, her grandfather, who was with us for half the trip, got all the American history answers right. When he said we should walk up the narrow stairway of Old North Church, whose construction began in 1723, to learn more about the night in April 1775 when the sexton placed two lanterns in the steeple so that the Colonists would know the British were coming, we followed. And he earned extra credit for making us trek to the Museum of Fine Arts to see Copley’s portrait of Paul Revere after we toured the silversmith’s house.
But how much does any child need to know about the origins of the Tea Party movement? Clara was content just to watch silly tourists throw cartons of tea from ships into the Charles and learn that sometimes one can’t protest too much.
The first day, when it was just us two girls, we went to the Children’s Museum, which is a perfect rainy-day destination. Fortunately, I don’t mind having bubbles blown at me, or sitting in pint-sized chairs and creating whimsical art, or pretending that I am a substitute teacher and in need of a lesson plan. We covered every inch: she investigated, climbed a three-story sculpture, pedaled, and tested her strength. The highlight? Watching Clara confidently walk up to a stage set and start dancing. All she needed was a partner like Dick Powell. Think “Gold Diggers of 1933” fast-forwarded to 2023.
We hoofed it back to our hotel, where the French fries were redolent with the smell of insecticide, but there was a golf practice green, and the staff liked small children.
The New England Aquarium is filled with wonders, and we dove in. We went around and around the exhibits, following sea creatures of every sort. Decades ago, when I was a young mother, I did a fair amount of research on penguins and had a private penguin “encounter” at Sea World, feeding penguin chicks. I told Clara that story as we ambled, tossing in a few facts about some of the 18 species and why penguins are one of the most endangered seabirds. That led to the story of my trip to the Galapagos and how fascinating, noisy, and smelly a penguin rookery can be.
I’ve never come face to face with a manta ray, but in our search for green sea turtles, one manta ray swam back and forth in front of the glass, as if vying for attention. Clara wanted a photo of a turtle and, after thirty minutes of bobbing and weaving through the line, all I had to show her was one photo of a turtle without the ray eclipsing it.
Having recently watched “My Octopus Teacher”, a quiet, beautiful documentary about friendship, I asked if she’d mind heading back upstairs to see the octopus that lived at the aquarium. We raced and were mesmerized by its every small movement.
I had promised to take my granddaughter to a movie that weekend, but after many contented hours at the New England Aquarium, the last thing a person, even a Disney+ subscriber, wants to do is see a remake of “The Little Mermaid”. Luckily, I saw a big poster for “Blue Whales: Return of the Giants”. Clara and I both wear glasses, and the movie was in 3D, but ticket proceeds “protect green sea turtles”!
The Museum of Science is a mélange — planetarium, indoor zoo, exhibits on dinosaurs as well as AI. We didn’t pay that much attention to the robotic cheetah until parts of it started moving and they worked well enough that it walked down a plank. Clara was so fascinated by the audio kinetic sculpture, Archmedean Excogitation, that she watched it from every angle. It moves a lot, like her.
No visit to Boston is complete without a walk in Boston Common. After a carousel ride, we headed to the Frog Pond before venturing into the Public Garden, where we tipped our hat to E. B. White for giving us “The Trumpet of the Swan”. I told Clara about the time we pulled into our driveway, after a long family vacation, and her dad, uncle, grandfather, and I sat in the car for another twenty minutes to listen to the end of the audiobook version, which was read by none other than the author. Clara and I took the leisurely Swan Boat, while my husband sat under the shade of a tree and waved to us.
On our last day, and by ourselves again, we walked to the Boston Public Library — I to admire Charles McKim’s masterpiece once again, and she to discover if they had any new books on princesses. The best was about a princess who wears glasses and believes she’ll never find her prince as a result. But then she meets a prince who wears glasses, too.
On the train back to New York, I told her the story about the time my sister and I rescued a turtle in Long Island Sound (actually, my sister was the heroine, but we both got our picture in the local paper). Out of more family lore, I read aloud “Charlotte’s Web” until Clara fell asleep. As a children’s tour guide, you can never go wrong with E. B. White.