The mom: Hundreds of local parents know Jessie Menken as the owner of Ali’s Wagon, the great gift/kids’ shop and (indispensable!) parenting center nestled in the heart of Fairmount. She’s also mom to Lily, who’s 9, and 6-year-old Abe, as well as a true-blue city girl who moved here 10 years ago from NYC “with my nose so far up in the air I didn’t even visit when my husband came to do an interview for the job that brought us here,” she says. “I was so sure this was to be a temporary city for us. Oh, how wrong I was.” Jessie hasn’t just made a home here with her family: She’s helped tons of other urbanites adjust to Philly life as parents via her parenting center, which offers breastfeeding and new-mom groups, as well as workshops and more. Here, she shares some of her favorite spots, insights and tips.
Favorite local playground or park: We love us some Play Pen, also known by my family as the “Rock Playground,” just behind the Eastern State Penitentiary.
Where do your kids attend school? Both Lily and Abe attend the Waldorf School of Philadelphia.
Kids’ haircuts: The Beehive. I really appreciate that they end up spending more time on my kids’ hair than with some other adults (namely, my husband!) and still charge only $12!
Special snack: Our route home from school has us driving in on Kelly Drive, past the Cosmic Cafe, near Lloyd Hall. It is SUCH a treat when we have the time to pull over and buy a banana pudding (for them) and a rice pudding (for me). And it’s a beautiful spot to sit and watch ducks!
Summer outing: The City really is our backyard: The Oval! Art Splash! The Franklin Institute! Sister Cities! Last summer we landed a spot at the University City Swim Club, which is such a treat!
Vacation spot: We spend a lot of days away at a home in the Catskill Mountains, long owned by generations of my family.
Kids’ class: Both kids swim at Penn Charter on the weekends, and Lily also takes cello lessons and Irish dance classes.
Parents’ class: The most instruction I get to enjoy is a strength training/cardio class taught by Annette Durst at Lifesport gym on Fairmount Ave.
Date night spot: Dinner at Zahav is our favorite meal to share!
Hidden gem activity: It’s so random, but going to the U.S. Mint was once a planned trip and now an impulse destination — I always seem to luck out and get a parking spot nearby. It’s never oppressively crowded, and everybody there is a tourist, so it feels like I am the local that “discovered it.” And it’s free! Watching the factory floor never gets old, it’s so cool.
Dad/child activity: Underdogs, where they enjoy varieties of hot dogs I can’t even listen about afterwards, yuck!!
Favorite app for parents or kids: I am sort of a generational outlier and don’t use any parenting apps, but I couldn’t do without the Fairmount Parents list serve!
Place for baby/kid clothes/gifts: I do get sort of a good discount at Ali’s Wagon 🙂
Kid-friendly restaurant: We have a sort of love/hate relationship with Little Pete’s in the Philadelphian because there are always a zillion kids running around outside … but that’s also why we are there in the first place!
Cultural event: I love the Fairmount Arts Crawl.
Holiday activity: We enjoy marking and celebrating Jewish Holidays at our synagogue, Rodeph Shalom. I also love the month of December when I feel so grateful to have the holiday traffic come and support our store. I love matching people to the right gifts that I have worked all year to stock the store with. When I close up on December 24th, and the streets have quieted down with everybody off on holiday travels, I just about bust a gut that the community has carried Ali’s Wagon for another year.
Family memberships worth the cash: Franklin Institute is great — we have renewed it more years than any other memberships because what was once mindless button-pushing is now stuff the kids are taking in and understanding in an age-appropriate way.
Place to find babysitters: I accost any teenager who comes into my store and ask if they want to babysit. I have a list running now of some who want more work…
Preferred mode of city transport: Car, train, bus or stroller? Walk! Philly is so walkable!
Item you can’t live without: As far as gear, when the kids were small, it was my BOB stroller.
Good (or secret) public bathroom that’s good for diaper-changing: I am always happy to let folks use the changing table in our Parenting Center if there isn’t a class in session back there. If I am not too busy, I am thrilled to hold the baby while you get to pee, too!
Professional you can’t live without: We are so lucky to have Dr. Alexis Lieberman of Fairmount Pediatrics in our corner! We traded in our big practice with an impersonal nurse line for easy, direct access to our actual doctor via phone, text and email. And scheduling is a breeze with online appointment-making, so even in the middle of the night with a sick kid, we can make our plans for who will go the doctor and when. And the practice runs ridiculously on time. I love it!!
Kids’ party spot: When we haven’t thrown DIY parties at the house, we’ve had great experiences with the Academy of Natural Sciences and Bounce U. (Just please, I can’t attend ONE MORE PARTY at either place — we and every other parent in our kids’ social circles threw parties there, too!)
Favorite toy in your house right now: Lego-building while listening to Harry Potter books on tape — endlessly — is a much enjoyed way to spend time, lately.
One thing you wish Philly had that it doesn’t: A better subway system.
Best part of living in Philly with your kids: We have a great quality of life here in this vibrant, growing and changing city! There is no other city in America where my husband and I could do the do the work that we do and afford to live near the center of the city and all its museums and restaurants. It’s a big enough city to really be making a place for itself in the country, but also small enough that I had a chance to make a mark on it with my own small business.