Why We Stay

Since we announced that we are expecting our 4th child, we have been asked (and have asked ourselves) many times whether we plan to stay in the city. I would never presume to know what is right for another family, or for our own family many years from now, but right now, we know Fell's Point is our place, tiny rowhouse and all. It seemed like an apt time to re-read, and re-post, my piece from 2012, which was originally published on the DBFA Blog.

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Every morning, I pack up my children, Elsa on my back and Fiona in the stroller. We take a long, wandering walk through our little corner of the big city. A few blocks to the coffee shop and another few to the harbor, we stop every couple steps to chat with our fellow early risers. We pick up some groceries, stop by a neighborhood shop and catch up with the owner, then head back to our two hundred year old row house, where Polish immigrants lived before us with their five children, two in the attic and three in the bedroom. We know this because one of those grown children knocked on our door the week we moved in. He wanted to say hello and take a look around. The whole kitchen used to be Pepto-Bismol pink, even the damn cabinet doors, he told us.

In the afternoon, we venture out again to drop in the bar where my husband and I met one tipsy night many years ago. Today, my stepson, Elijah, performs magic tricks in front of that same bar with a little hat and collects money from passersby, fifty cents a trick. Fiona is greeted with hoots and hollers from the regulars as she skips in. Captain Kai beckons her to pull his white beard and Gaz starts a debate about the proper name for crisps. They’re called po-ta-to chips, Fiona insists. Bernard makes a joke from behind the bar about kids not being allowed in this establishment and naughty grins spread across the children’s faces.

We live in Fell’s Point, an old waterfront town founded by ship builders, home for centuries to the tobacco, flour, and coffee trades and miraculously avoided by the Baltimore Fire of 1904. Over 200 years, scores of immigrants have built a life here and have come together to create a community rich with culture and diversity. In the 70s, we almost lost Fell’s Point to a highway, but locals rose up and fought for years to save this magical place. And they won. I hadn’t even been born then, but the men and women who spearheaded that revolt still live here. We know them, hang out with them, and are grateful beyond words for their efforts. We just celebrated Bob’s 83rd birthday at Tony and Laura’s house. Fiona wore a fancy dress for the occasion.

But this place we love, that they fought for, isn’t perfect. I know a day will come when we’ll have to explain to our children why one of our neighbors acts differently from one day to the next. Substance abuse, we’ll explain, changes a person. A homeless man rants at his station outside of the coffee shop, scaring the tourists, but we know better. His name is Mike and he wouldn’t hurt a fly. He suffers from mental illness, we’ll tell the kids, and he deserves our kindness. These lessons are real and raw and they are right in front of us.

These people who have become ingrained in the fiber of our everyday, the shop owners, the men selling roses, the homeless, they aren’t people we see at natural parenting playgroups or soccer practice. We don’t meet at 4pm on Tuesday. We live our lives alongside each other, with each other. We don’t share a background, political ideology or age. We share something much deeper and more permanent. We share a place.

We don’t choose who we run into on the way to pick up groceries, who moves in next door, or which children happen to be at the park in the afternoon. But it’s in the not choosing that we find something beautiful. This city, our home, has created a tapestry richer with community and history than one we could have ever woven on our own. And for that, we do choose to stay.