Downtown is my family's playground

Andreae Callanan
Andreae Callanan is a writer who lives in downtown St. John's

When you're raising kids in the city, there's so much to do, so much to see, and so many people to do and see those things with.

I have four children ranging in age from four months to nine years, so I don't get to do quite as much as I would like. Have you ever tried to keep an infant, a toddler, a preschooler, and a tween entertained at an art gallery opening?

Yes, the catered trays of grapes and cheese add essential nutrients to the childhood diet, but even the most advanced two-year-old (which mine is not) bores quickly among the chatty art crowd.

But I try.

If the outing to the art gallery doesn't work out, there's always a book launch next week. Same cheese tray, but with story time. Not interested in a book launch? We'll go to a café, where I can have a decent cup of coffee and my kids can feel like grown-ups, drinking milk out of espresso cups. Or maybe we'll stop by the second-hand bookstore, then go read under a tree.

And then there are the museums: within walking distance of our house there's a provincial museum with a permanent natural history exhibit, which my four-year-old son calls the "dead animal museum," and a railway museum dedicated to the now-dismantled Newfoundland rail system, which he calls the "dead train museum." Four-year-olds seem to like dead things.

My eldest is much more into living things, which is why I take her to the community garden with me every week. Right in the middle of the city, in a low-income neighbourhood: tomatoes up to your eyeballs, trees to climb around the edge of the garden, and kids my daughter's age from all around the world to hang out and look bored with, because that's what kids her age do in all languages, apparently.

It makes me happy that wherever in town we go, my kids can meet people that are at once nothing like them and just like them.

Because that's one of the things you do in a city. You meet people: businesspeople, public servants, television personalities. Window washers. Refugee claimants. Community wellness coordinators. People with addictions issues. Buskers. Professors. People who dress funny.

When my children observe all these people, rubbing elbows and walking their dogs and trying to make change for the parking metre, their view of what people are, and what normal is, grows and grows. Nothing is weird. Nobody is out of place.

In the city, my kids have options. Go to the playgroup and meet up with their friends (and mine), or take the bus across town just for the sake of doing it? Go berry picking along a walking trail, or go roller-skating in a parking lot? Dance class? Free papier-mâché workshop? Get popsicles and go watch some skateboarders? Eat fries from a chip truck? Want to make some sandwiches and go look at the diggers at the nearest construction site, or should we go to the closest pond and feed the ducks?

If I lived in the suburbs or out in the country, I'd be a stay-at-home mom.

Downtown, I get to be a pack-up-the-kids, find-everyone's-shoes, where-are-we-going-today? mom.

It suits me much better, and I think it helps my kids learn through observation and experience that their options are nearly limitless.

Cities allow for choices. Lots of them. Children who grow up exposed to as broad a range of experience, and as broad a spectrum of humanity as possible - safely, and under the watchful eye of parents who love them - will always land on their feet.

I have always landed on mine, and I expect my children will always land on theirs. So long as there is a decent coffee shop nearby. And an art gallery with a caterer who cares enough to spring for a good cheese selection.

Andreae Callanan is a writer who lives in downtown St. John's

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