The reality is that you take the whole place for granted when you grow up in it. You're a kid. The MFA is a big building with a lot of stuff in it. Harvard Square has Bailey's ice cream, but basically it's a crowded place with a lot of people who look like nerds and bag ladies, not future leaders of the free world. You grow up worrying about kid stuff and then teen stuff — TV, boys, zits — and even if you're lucky enough to spend summer's ensconced in a beach house on Martha's Vineyard or Cape Cod, it takes a while to realize that this is somewhat unique. You whine about it ("Do we hafta go back to Gay Head? There's nothing to do there&ldots;").

Growing up in Cambridge is also benign because there are a number of fixed rules, which simplify early life. Some of them are small and subtle. On money, for example: because Cambridge parents tend to be land-rich and cash-poor, Cambridge kids end up with strange notions about what they can safely get away with asking for. The general principle: if it will enrich or protect you, ask away (as a child, this means anything that involves lessons; as an adult, try double-bolted locks for your apartment in New York); if it will merely indulge you (clothes, ponies), forget it. Generations of Cambridge girls have tried to argue about the enlightening potential of suede. It doesn't work.

Another rule concerns discipline. Cambridge parents don't believe in violence and Cambridge kids tend not to get hit, a phenomenon that leads to all sorts of experimentation with limits. Long ago, one Cambridge child I know stuck a needle through the carpet in order to see what would happen if her mother stepped on it. The mother stepped. The needle went straight through her foot. The child pled innocent and escaped untouched.

But Cambridge children are disciplined. Insidiously. They are "spoken to." A lot, often at great length, and with much probing motives. "So. Your mother tells me you fed the dog an entire box of Fig Newtons. Do you think this was a wise thing to do?" Hours of this. I can't say for sure, but I imagine it's as painful as an occasional smack.

Other rules are larger and more life defining. Three of them concern your purpose on this planet, and you learn them from the first instances of self awareness. Do well in grammar school. Do well in high school. Do well in college.

The Cambridge child's version of the Fear of God is much less abstract. It is Fear of UMass.

The essential terror extends throughout the Cambridge experience. It is in your blood, your genes — the fear of failure, of disappointing these kind, sensitive people who have raised you so earnestly. It also creates the great contradiction of your upbringing: there you are in Cambridge, a cultural mecca, and all you do is go to school. With other kids just like you. By the time you are old enough to vote, you have spent 14 years in a private school with a small number of upper-middle-class white children whose parents are married to each other and live in nice houses.

Broadening it is not.

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