The mom: Brewerytown’s Anna Fry Bechtel, mom to Josie, 4, and Henry, 2, is a Washington, D.C. native who moved to Philly in 2002 to attend Penn for her nursing degree, moved away a couple times, then found herself back here for good (she hopes!). In October, Anna launched Allergy Friendly Philly, a website that is a local guide for families dealing with food allergies. The site is still in its early development stage, she says, as she’s working on gathering information about locations to review and considering the needs of the food allergy community in Philly. But the idea is simple. “Allergy Friendly Philadelphia is a guide to food, life, and fun in Philadelphia for people with food allergies and their families,” Anna says. “Both my children and my husband have severe food allergies, and no one was taking a local approach or looking at venues other than restaurants. Most food allergy guides are also user-sourced, which means that there is no consistent metric for evaluating a location.” And since, as Anna says, food allergies are an issue anywhere there’s food — museums, festivals, play spaces, pop-ups and so forth — “it is especially an issue for parents of children with food allergies, many whom are new to navigating the world of allergies, and whose kids are putting their hands in everything and then into their mouths.” Her goal, she says, is to “relieve some of the burden, connect people with similar experiences, and raise awareness. The idea is to facilitate a dialogue between businesses that can cater to the Food Allergy Community, as well as those who serve children and could make their experience safer for kids with food allergies. There is a community aspect to the site as well, where people who are either living with food allergies themselves or have children with food allergies can meet and talk to each other.”
Best way to spend a Saturday afternoon as a family: Building. We are a family of builders — we are lucky to have Magnatiles, Legos, blocks and trains, as well as many other toys that can stack. (If you can stack it, we do.) Just hanging out, listening to music and building rocket ships, towns, doll accessories, vehicles, animals, or whatever the fad of the day is, on the carpet, together. There are usually also snacks — no Bechtel family fun would be complete without snacks!
Rainy day go-to: The Philadelphia Public Library Main Branch. I’m such a supporter of the Public Library. Both my mom and my husband’s mom are Librarians, so maybe it’s in our blood. The Main Branch, on 19th and Vine, has great children’s programs. The story hour for infants and toddlers and the story hour for preschoolers are both very well-run. There are books, music, toys, and two dedicated librarians who really care about the work they do. When there isn’t a children’s event (in addition to story hours,there are also musical performances in the theater, arts and crafts programs, Lego club, etc.), the Children’s Department has toys, a kitchen center, a puppet theater, and a writing center. The librarians will order any book from their over 50 locations and have it waiting for you if you can’t find the one you want at the main branch. I wouldn’t have survived the baby years without them!
Holiday tradition: The Fairmount Art Center Halloween Party and Parade. There are arts and crafts for all ages, and then a parade of all the little ones in their costumes. It’s so cute! People sit on their stoops and hand out candy — it’s the perfect option for a young child’s Halloween. It’s daytime, it’s not long, and they get to march around and “trick-or-treat” a little with their friends. The Art Centers do a wonderful job with all their fairs and classes, and they have a drop-in playtime for babies and toddlers, too.
Outing or event you avoid: The Fourth of July. I know it seems blasphemous, since we live in the Cradle of Liberty, here, but I’m not even sure my kids even know all that goes on. We always talk about what it means, but they don’t know about all the fireworks and everything. They go to bed early, and the city gets so crazy that week. We live near The Parkway, so we basically hibernate until it’s over, or leave town completely and go to my in-laws. Someday when they are older, or we finally build that roof deck we’re always talking about, they’ll learn the magic of Wawa Welcome America’s music floating up to our backyard and how many port-a-potties can fit on one median on the Parkway 🙂
Family-friendly restaurant: I have to mention the two restaurants that we have here that specifically cater to those with food allergies: The Farmer’s Keep and Sweet Freedom Bakery. We are so fortunate to live in a place where we have access to so many allergy-friendly options, but these places are one-of-a-kind. Family meals out were not really enjoyable for us before we discovered them — we packed separate meals for the kids and worried about what they were touching the whole time. Farmer’s Keep has a focus on local, organic, fresh ingredients, and they are cafeteria style, with an ever-changing menu. Super family-friendly, since you can get a little of everything for the kids to try or custom-make them a plate of their favorites. Blackbird Pizzeria is another family favorite, since they are dairy, egg, and nut-free.
Favorite cultural activity or event: The Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA). If you are looking for something truly unique, this is it. The theme, artwork, and events are different each time (it’s only had three years so far), and they have something for all ages. The children’s events are mostly free, and it’s a great chance to expose your child to music, theater, dance, and fine arts. The art installations were our favorites last year, I think because of the ages my children were — 1 and 3. I am looking forward to doing some of the interactive programs next time, now that they are older. I have also personally never been to the Street Fair, which is my goal for next time, now that we have a babysitter!
Gear you can’t live without: My Ergo carrier. I carried both my kids everywhere, and learned to nurse in it, too. I liked how the weight rested on your hips instead of your back, and that you could use it for piggy-back carrying when they got older. I hear there is a new version where your child can face forward, too, which sounds like the ultimate improvement.
Indulgence you can’t live without: My all-women’s Muay Thai Kickboxing class at 8 Limbs Academy in West Philly. It’s in another neighborhood, it’s inconvenient to our current schedule and it’s expensive … but I LOVE IT. It was always on my bucket list to learn a martial art, so I signed up so excited to finally do it. The atmosphere is supportive, the sport is challenging, and the coaches and class are all women, so for me it’s more comfortable, and the vibe is just what I was looking for. The workout is intense, too, so I’m finally feeling fit and strong in a way I didn’t know was possible post- babies.
Place for baby/children’s gifts: Marshall’s on Market Street by City Hall. They have a great toy- and kid’s section! I have found the most beautiful wooden toys there, as well as creative science and craft kits. They have all the classic board books and baby-sized Philly sports gear, so I always go there before a baby shower.
Favorite children’s book right now: We’re Tomie dePaola fans. We are always finding more titles — he is very prolific, and our goal is to have read everything he ever wrote. Strega Nona and Big Anthony and the Magic Ring are our favorites. They are classics that I enjoyed as a kid, and they have little songs in them. The songs get sung all around the house after we read the story, and so the books really stick with little kids.
Favorite outdoorsy thing to do with kids: Splash parks! We have so many here! They are the greatest water play for young kids — the parents don’t have to hover as closely as with a pool, and for little ones who don’t swim yet, they get to feel freer. We’ve been to many of them, but I know there are still tons we haven’t been to yet. My kids just get such joy from them — my photo albums are packed with splash park montages where they run screaming with glee through the water and stick their faces in the jets. (I don’t know why they do that, because water always gets in their noses, but they love it.) My current favorite is Sister Cities because they also have bathrooms, a cafe, a wading pool, and a nature area for when you need a break from the water. It really is an “Urban Oasis”.
Best piece of advice you’ve gotten about parenting: It does not matter what sleep philosophy, equipment, or learning philosophy you espouse, your kids are going to be fine.
Any mom’s groups you love? The original moms that I met when my first was born. There is something unique about that experience that brings women together from all backgrounds to support each other. I didn’t find a group that fit for me when I had my daughter, and I didn’t know any other moms at the time, so I did what any crazy person would do and started my own. The Fairmount/Brewerytown New Moms Group, which organized free or low-cost coffee dates and playdates for new moms, and has since become less formal (second child, anyone?). Now those of us who are still around in the neighborhood (and some who have moved to the ‘burbs) meet up monthly to go out. We’re not “New Moms” anymore, but we’re still going through all the same kid phases together. Now “Mom Time” has replaced playdates and coffee with our newborns, but those friendships have been the sustaining force of parenting for me.
Best parenting book you read: I don’t usually read parenting books, but I do follow Brandi Davis of Child and Family Coaching’s blog. We are lucky that she is also my kids’ playschool teacher, but her parenting advice has always been right on the money for us. She has a great sense of humor and says what she thinks, both of which are invaluable to parents.
Favorite toy in your house right now: Lego Duplos. They are a classic for a reason. Want a doll house but don’t have one? Build one! Want a truck that snowplows and also has a crane? Build one! We all like them, too, which is why they’re the favorite — no one ever says “No, I don’t want to play Legos right now”. My kids are also at the age where they can build on their own, and when I need to distract them, I can always say, “Wouldn’t it be fun if your toys had their own pirate ship? Why don’t you build one out of Legos!!!!”
One thing you wish Philly/burbs had that it doesn’t: A great inexpensive taco place. Or maybe there is one, and I don’t know about it?? Please tell me if you know of one!! 🙂 [Ed note: We like Buena Onda and Revolution!]
Best part of raising kids here: That Philly is a small town in a big city. We have all the amenities — great food, theater, music, art, public works, sports, festivals, and access to major medical care and thoroughfares, but Philly is a city of neighborhoods and great neighbors. Each part of the city has its own feel, and the people are friendly and welcoming. There is such a sense of community on my block, and I’m always finding out that the people I know in different parts of my life somehow have a connection through a mutual friend or experience of which I was unaware.