The mama: It’s no coincidence that we’re featuring Chestnut Hill’s Laura McManus in February: February is heart month, and Laura, a Philly native, has for years been devoted to raising awareness about congenital heart defects (a.k.a. CHDs). In addition to being mom to Lily, 7, and Maeve, 3, Laura is a board member of The Children’s Heart Foundation’s Pennsylvania Chapter* and Event Chair, helping plan family picnics, the Congenital Heart Walks and more, including last weekend’s CHF’s Sweet Hearts Ball — a 350-person party and major fundraiser. (You can see more here!)
For the uninitiated, the Children’s Heart Foundation is a national nonprofit that funds research for congenital heart defects, which are the nation’s number one birth defect, affecting one out of every 100 babies. “My 7-year-old daughter, Lily, was born with a complex congenital heart defect and underwent open heart surgery to save her life at CHOP,” Laura says. “Besides the incredible team there, research was critical to saving her life. It’s only through research that a child like Lily is able to survive and make her beautiful mark on our world.” The CHF work, Laura says, is one of the ways she gives back. “It feels good to do something so impactful for so many children,” she says. “Plus, event-planning is super fun! Had I known, I would have made a career out of this from the start.”
Neighborhood: Chestnut Hill. We made the move from Logan Square last year and couldn’t be happier.
Where do your kids attend daycare/preschool/school? Our three-year-old attends the most darling preschool, Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church’s Pre-K. Her teachers are loving and nurturing, all while making her first experience with school a positive one. Our first-grader started at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy this year. We really believe in single-sex education, especially at a young age. SCH empowers girls to learn and lead. There’s a deep foundation in science, mathematics, robotics, engineering and the environment, as well as the humanities. It’s so different than how I learned as a child. Lily’s teachers really ignite curiosity and creativity. I wish I could go back 30 years and be a first-grader at SCH. My first stop would be the Lower School Girl’s Library, where you’d most likely find a fire glowing, the absolute perfect setting to curl up with a good book.
Favorite kids’ classes: After moving to Chestnut Hill, we were thrilled that our downtown favorite, Nest, opened a satellite location there. We discovered that the Morris Arboretum had terrific children’s programming where both of my girls enjoy nature classes, kids yoga, and our favorite — constructing a fairy garden.
Best way to spend a Saturday afternoon as a family: We love to eat, so fun family outings usually include food. We have to check out our local farmers’ market, restaurants, diners, the Reading Terminal Market. The girls get giddy thinking about where we’re headed for breakfast or lunch on the weekends.
Date night: We still love going “downtown” for dinner. But Chestnut Hill has some delicious restaurants, as well. We just ate at Paris Bistro, and enjoyed the downstairs bar, where you’ll find live jazz music on the weekends.
Favorite spring break camp or summer camp: Our 7-year-old is obsessed with American Girl dolls. She’ll pore over the catalog that comes in the mail like it’s a favorite storybook. SCH has a fabulous camp devoted to all things AG related. That was Lily’s favorite camp last summer.
Hidden gem/special find: We love hiking in the Wissahickon. It’s within walking distance from our home. The girls call it the fairy forest. If you look closely, you’re sure to find little fairy homes hidden among the foliage.
Rainy day go-to: Our basement. We finally have the space to spread out so I don’t feel cooped-up like I used to on rainy days.
Holiday tradition: On Christmas Eve, or the last weekend before the holiday, the Philadelphia Boys’ Choir sings holiday carols at the Wells Fargo Bank on Broad Street. There’s even a surprise visit from Santa at the end. It really puts us all in the holiday mood.
Favorite app for parents, or favorite app for kids: Maybe I’m old-school and/or trying not to utilize technology all of the time, but I really don’t use too many apps. I still have a large paper calendar in the kitchen — I like the visual. If I must pick one, it would be Pinterest. It’s easy to categorize favorites recipes, decorating, entertaining, kids’ ideas, you name it.
Favorite fast massage or spa treatment or some treat for you: I just love the facials at Salon Dominique in East Norriton. Dom, the owner, cuts and colors my hair, too. She’s fabulous, super-talented.
Family-friendly restaurant: El Poquito in Chestnut Hill — the homemade guac is out of this world.
Favorite community service with kids: During the holidays, I feel it’s important for our girls to think of others. We participate in the giving tree at our church, where the girls choose a child less fortunate to purchase something on their list. Both schools my daughters attend focus on community service, so there are also opportunities embedded in the curriculum.
Gear you can’t live without: My BOB stroller. They’re hands down the best for navigating city streets, cobblestones, etc. I never needed another one. I had so many friends in the city that had multiple strollers. One, we never had the space to store them. Two, with the BOB, you don’t need any other stroller. It’s a workhorse. We had the single, then double, and now we’re back to our single again. It’s going strong for seven years now — it was a fantastic investment!
Person/pro you can’t without: We are so lucky to live close to CHOP. CHOP has the best doctors, nurses and staff. Families travel from all over the world to go to CHOP, and it retains and recruits the top doctors in every specialty. As the slogan says, hope lives here. That’s 100 percent true.
Indulgence you can’t live without: Ice cream. It doesn’t even have to be the summer. Although my daughters are partial to the frozen yogurt spot, Chill on the Hill, as they love adding their own toppings.
Favorite children’s book right now: Being a former teacher, I try my best to rotate a basket of books based on a current holiday or theme. Right now it’s Valentine’s Day, and we have quite the selection of Valentine’s stories. You don’t need to purchase a ton of books, instead you can utilize your local children’s librarian. I make them do all the work for me and pull whatever books we need. Chances are, he/she has already done this and has them on display. My daughters love that the basket rotates, and I love the variety. Lily is starting a unit on Black History Month, so I’ll be visiting my local library soon.
Favorite outdoorsy thing to do with kids: We are really beach people. So if it’s the summer or fall, chances are that we’re in Ocean City. On nice days in the spring, you’ll find us strolling on Kelly Drive, visiting the Zoo, or taking a hike on Forbidden Drive. Cape May County Zoo is so sweet if you find yourselves on vacay with a spare day … and it’s free!
Fun kids party spot or entertainment: Zoom Dance. We’ve had two parties, and we’ve just loved it. The parent/child chooses a favorite book, and the teacher thinks of a dance and activity to go along with it. If I have to take the kids to another birthday party at Bounce U. or Sky Zone …
Best piece of advice you’ve gotten about parenting: Tomorrow is a new day. That’s the greatest thing about parenting: Bedtime will be there before you know it, and you can have a fresh slate in the morning.
Best parenting book you read: Lily’s former physical therapist (a father of three) recommended 12 Hours By 12 Weeks. I followed it to a tee, and it worked. She was and continues to be a solid sleeper. Bringing Up Bebe came out when I was pregnant with my second child, and I had so many takeaways. I think “the pause” really worked. Now if I can just get my kids not to snack, like the French.
Favorite toy or kid entertainment in your house right now: My three-year-old loves these little Calico Critter families complete with dollhouse, school and school bus. She can spend hours setting up critters and playing.
One thing you wish Philly/burbs had that it doesn’t: I wish Chestnut Hill/Mt. Airy/Lafayette Hill had a blowout bar. Sometimes you just need a good blowout to complete your look.
Best part of raising kids here: I love the changing of the seasons. Even though our winters can be tough, I do love experiencing each season. Yes, there’s been a few mild winters over the years in which brand new snow boots did not get worn, but I still wouldn’t trade it.
Need something to do this weekend? Join us at Nest Chestnut Hill for their annual TweetHeart Social. There will be games, crafts, food and all other things hearts, 4:30 to 7 p.m. on Friday, February 10. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Children’s Heart Foundation!
* One more thing, adds Laura: “I’d love for people to know that the CHF is the only organization in the country that’s dedicated to babies with congenital heart defects. CHF is made up of all volunteers — we have only five paid employees in the whole organization. Here in PA, we are all volunteers.”