What Every Portland Kid Knows


My husband and I lived in New York City before moving to the great state of Oregon. Some people thrive on the energy of New York. They can appreciate the diversity and resiliency and culture of the city. It turns them into better people. For others, however – like myself – it turns them into miserable, self-important neurotics. I have a friend who told me she knew it was time to leave the city when a cashier at the grocery store asked her how one of the cereals she picked out tasted, to which she responded (excuse the language, quoting here) “Why don’t you shut the fuck up and do your job.”

My husband and I knew we would want kids eventually, and thought we probably didn’t want to raise kids who may some day grow up to abuse grocery clerks. We also thought they might do well with a yard and stairs and a garbage disposal and other things you can’t get in New York City. So we packed up for Portland to start our family.

The other day, though, when my daughter (age three) explained to me “I can eat gluten and not gluten,” I realized that no matter where my kids grow up, they will be viewing the world through a lens. It’s just the Portland lens is made through organic, sustainable practices. Here are just a few of the things my kids – and all Portland kids – have ingrained in them from an early age.

  1. An appreciation of diversity. While Portland is about as white as organic raw-milk yogurt, kids nonetheless gain an appreciation of one type of diversity: the culinary kind. I didn’t know the word “gluten” until I was in my thirties. My kids use the word daily, and love and accept their gluten-free (and pescatarian and vegan and dairy-free and bacon-only) friends.
  2. How to think theoretically. Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist: atoms, molecules, germs. And in the case of Portlanders from October to May – the sun. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Portland kids manage to grasp the concept that the sun is real. (True story: My son was born in April of a particularly gloomy spring and literally did not see the sun for the first two months of his life. One of his first sentences was “No like the sun!”)
  3. How to ride a bike. By age four. My son learned how to ride a bike a few weeks after he turned five. He was one of the last of his crew. Kids get strider bikes before they can walk in these parts. Biking is a big deal y’all.
  4. The difference between cool and uncool facial hair. Nah, just kidding – it’s all cool! Except perhaps for mama’s chin hair.
  5. What goes into each bin. Those who don’t live in Portland may not know this, but we actually have government-issued compost bins. It sounds like a joke, but it’s not. And let me tell you, the fruit flies are giddy over it. By the age of three, Portland kids know what foods go into the garden compost, what foods go into the government compost, as well as which items can be recycled and which have to be trashed.
  6. How to recycle everything. No Portland childhood is complete without making an art project out of recycled pinot noir corks, artisan beer caps and free-range egg containers.
  7. How to dye eggs using only dandelions and beets. Portland kids say pshaw to Paas in these parts (unless they are my kids).
  8. Resiliency. A little rain can’t stop Portland kids from playing outside. And thank goodness, because see item number 2. And they don’t need umbrellas either – rain coats and boots will do just fine.
  9. What strawberries are meant to taste like. Whether from the garden, a u-pick field or the farmers’ market, Oregon strawberries are nothing like the packaged strawberries you get at the supermarket throughout the year. Sweet, tangy, juicy, and red to the very core.
  10. The best acupuncturist (and craniosacral therapist and naturopath), by quadrant. It’s funny because it’s true.

All right Portlanders, what would you add to the list?

14 responses to “What Every Portland Kid Knows

  1. This is a great list! I am a transplant to Portland by way of Los Angeles. All of this stuff was new to me when I came here 6 years ago and I have acclimated and come to LOVE it!


  2. It’s still weird going to other cities and NOT seeing other bins for recycling! Congrats on your kids knowing what goes into each bin – I know what works in my own home, but every time I’m out at a restaurant or market or festival I stand like a deer in headlights trying to read the signs and figure out which bin…


  3. I know the first “appreciation for diversity,” was supposed to be funny, but I worry that saying Portland is yogurt-white, is kind of an oversimplification of the various cultures and ethnicities that are present, but overlooked or outright ignored or shunned by people who assume that everyone here is the exact same hue. If we all appreciate diversity, let’s take time to make sure we’re accounting for it. All children should get a chance to be visible face of our city.


    • Yes it was an oversimplification and I don’t mean to discount the cultural diversity among those who have lighter skin. Coming from nyc though, the lack of (easily) perceived diversity is one of my least favorite aspects of portland. I appreciate your perspective -thank you for sharing it.


      • Actually there are darker skinned people here too. Much less than NYC, but also far more segregated, which is the bigger problem to me (white girl from Boston). That one made me a little uncomfortable too, although I thought the rest was pretty right on and my son did bring his wine cork art home from preschool recently.


      • Point taken. I was making a simplification – There certainly are some people here who are not white. But portland is also the whitest major city in the country. It is not as racially diverse as it could be or should be and the problem is getting worse. This has already led to some interesting discussions about race in our house and I am sure will lead to more! http://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/index.ssf/2011/04/in_portlands_heart_diversity_dwindles.html
        I love that your preschooler brought home a wine cork project. I really need to think of some projects for all the wine corks I have lying around. I could probably have them build a small boat at this point!


  4. Great! Although for #4, I know of a few Portland women with strong facial hair that wear their beards proudly… which goes right back to #1 and respect for a different kind of diversity!


  5. Haha! This is great. And yes, as a native Oregonian, I definitely learned a strong appreciation for recycling, especially when watching my dad rummage through the garbage when we accidently threw things away that could have been recycled! It is a great city 🙂


  6. My 3-year-old learned graduated to a non-training wheels bike and rocked it…way sooner than my other two who we had before moving here. So for sure #3!


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