Mother’s Day Adventure in the City

Lunch in the atrium at the Harvard Museum

It’s a strange paradox that sometimes what mothers (especially introvert mothers of young kids) want most for Mother’s Day is a little time away from their kids. It’s not that we don’t love them. Oh we do. But sometimes we can love a little better with a little distance. When you’re with your kids all day, every day, what is special is not more time with them but a little time to do your own thing. 

I’m not really a city girl. I wouldn’t love living in the big city. But I love wandering around in cities. I love museums and eating alone in restaurants. I love riding on the subway. And I love being by myself in a crowd. I love long walks and time to think my own thoughts and let them wander too.

When Dom said I should take some time for myself, I immediately knew what I wanted: not for him to take the kids and go somewhere so that I could have the house to myself, but for me to go have an adventure on my own. There would’t be any messes or unfinished projects staring me in the face. No interruptions, no emergencies needing my attention. They could have a fun day with Daddy and I could have a fun day missing them— but not too much.

And yeah, I spent the whole day thinking of this Sophie and Bella and Ben and Anthony and Lucy and wanting to tell them something or show them something. But storing up stories to tell them is part of the fun, too. I wish you were here… except not really.

Harvard Yard in the Rain

I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go at first. It was a rainy day so a stroll in the park or down on the waterfront was out. Museums are nice, but I’ve been to the MFA not too long ago and I didn’t really feel in the mood for the Gardener. But… Harvard has a fine art museum and I’ve never visited. That could be a fun adventure.

I took the train so I wouldn’t have to drive. And that was the beginning of the fun. The train service was down so I had to take a shuttle bus. Then the train to Harvard Square. Across Harvard Yard and wouldn’t you know I took a wrong turn and got lost and wandered for a bit in the rain. But eventually I found it.

Lunch first: I got a tomato and cheese panini and a blueberry soda and sat in the atrium and looked at people and wrote in my journal. Then I bought my ticket and wandered. A quick glance through the modern art section because a Jackson Pollock caught my eye. I’m not really a fan of most modern art, but for some reason I find his splash paintings mesmerizing. The same part of my brain that likes to follow the patterns of curtains and bedspreads loves to trace the lines and colors and search for patterns and pictures.

But really, I wanted European art. I started with the Impressionists — Monet, Degas, Mary Cassatt. Oh and they have a copy of Degas’ bronze dancer, that I’ve seen at the MFA. But this one isn’t in a glass case and her plinth is a little lower, I think. At any rate, I was able to see her expression much more clearly. And I feel in love. I took a dozen photographs and I stood and stared and stared. Serene and powerful, composed and controlled, content and self-contained.

Little Dancer, Aged 14 by Edgar Degas

Little Dancer, Aged 14 by Edgar Degas

Copley and John Singer Sargeant. John Adams and John Quincy Adams and Madame de la Pompadour. I was all about the faces more than landscapes or clothing. I just wanted to look at eyes and expressions. I spent a lot of time looking at the medieval art: crucifixions, madonnas, reliquaries, apostles.

It is a fine collection and I took lots of pictures— for myself and to share with my art loving family. When my feet were aching and my hip protesting and my eyes swimming with art overload, I knew it was time to leave.

I sat for awhile in the Atrium sipping water and wondering where I should go. Looking at Yelp and Google and sending photos to friends and family. Finally I decided that what I really wanted was pastry and coffee. I ended up at Tatte, overcrowded on a rainy afternoon. I got a croissant and a cappuccino and found a corner of a table to perch at and texted with my sister for a bit and wrote in my journal some more.

Then on to the bookstore, no day adventure is complete without a trip to the bookstore. I found myself sitting on the floor in the poetry section, reading W.S. Merwin and decided I needed to buy the book.

And then of course I needed a place to go and read some more. It felt too early to go home quite yet. Where could I sit and read if the coffee shops are too crowded? Of course: a pub. I found a table in the corner and ordered a cider and a beet and spinach salad. I read poetry and wrote some more and texted happy mother’s day messages to my mom.

Dinner at John Harvard’s Pub, beet salad and cider

After that I thought it was about time to head back home. Of course the train I was on had a mechanical problem and we all had to get off and wait for the next train at South Station. And then the shuttle home. The ride took twice as long as it should have. But somehow I didn’t really care. I stopped for milk on the way home, because after all I am a mom and my kids need milk.

When I got home it was after bedtime, but everyone was still awake except Lucy. They all came running and showered me with hugs and kisses and cards and all the things they had to tell me about their day. And it was very good indeed to be home again. Sore footed and tired, but very very happy to have had a day out.

Everyone needs a change in routine and we introverts often crave long stretches of uninterrupted time to be by ourselves. I know my extrovert friends and family don’t quite get it. I’m glad my husband does. I usually try to snatch my solitude by staying up late after everyone else is in bed— I’m doing that now because I write best at night. I’m quite a night owl. But even when everyone else is asleep, they’re still here and someone may have a bad dream or get sick. I’m still on call, even if no one does wake. It’s a different feeling. 

But when I’m in Cambridge and my family is an hour train ride away, when I’m wandering and getting lost and being spontaneous. Well, I feel young again. Like I’m in grad school again, that young woman who couldn’t believe she’s really moved to Massachusetts. It’s the same impulse that led me to UD and to Rome: wandering the cities of Europe, mostly by myself. I love being a traveler. I might not meet many people, but I watch them, I appreciate hearing snatches, seeing other people’s lives. Being among strangers in the anonymous way that people are close and yet in their own little bubbles the way they are on a train: all in it together, just trying to get where we are going and not expecting other people to entertain us. No demands of conversation or conviviality. I can close my eyes and nod off without offending anyone. I can stare at someone’s shoes or marvel at a woman with a toddler. I can wonder about their lives: where do they live, what do they love, where are they going? where have they come from?

I don’t know why I love walking city streets and riding trains and buses as much as I do. It always feels like an adventure. I feel brave and competent and I never know what story might happen. I like the unpredictability within safe parameters.

Victor Chocquet by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

detail from Summer Scene (Bathers) by Jean Frédéric Bazille

Portrait of a Young Woman Circle of Jacques-Louis David

Miss Alice Kurtz by Thomas Eakins.

Flamma Vestalis by Edward Burne-Jones.

detail of nursing mother from The Interior of the Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam, with a Sermon in Progress by Emanuel de Witte

Censing Angel by Arnolfo di Cambio from Florence cathedral

Virgin and Child

detail from Virgin and Child with Angels by Taddeo di Bartolo

detail from Fra Angelico Crucifixion. I love the Tree of Life and pelican motifs.

detail of Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross from Mystic Crucifixion by Sandro Botticelli.

Pieta unknown artist, Austrian 15 century

Recumbent Effigy 13th century Spanish

detail from Descent into Limbo by Master of the Osservanza

6 Responses to Mother’s Day Adventure in the City

  1. Suzanne May 19, 2019 at 7:23 pm #

    This sounds like the perfect Mother’s Day! Thank you for the great pictures at the end of the post. I love museums, but my kids want to move much faster than I do.

    • Melanie Bettinelli May 19, 2019 at 10:53 pm #

      My kids also want to move much faster than I do. Well, Bella is learning to slow down, a bit.

  2. John Whitehead May 21, 2019 at 5:39 am #

    I am glad you had such a great day. I had no idea you lived in Massachusetts–that’s where I am from. Spending a rainy day in museums, cafes, pubs, and bookstores in Cambridge sounds like a pretty marvelous time to me.

    Also, I think “No day adventure is complete without a trip to the bookstore” could be my epitaph…

    • Melanie Bettinelli May 22, 2019 at 12:25 am #

      I’m a native Texan, but I moved to the Boston Area back in 2000 to get my MA at Boston College and eventually got married and settled down here.

      • John Whitehead May 22, 2019 at 6:12 am #

        Cool! I left MA when I went away to college and moved around the country for a while before settling down in Maryland. Also, my wife is from Texas, so I spend a fair amount of time there these days, as well.

  3. Emily J June 3, 2019 at 11:39 am #

    I’d have to agree that it sounds like a perfect day!

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