The mama: If you happen to recognize the name Lauren McCutcheon, it’s likely because you’ve seen her byline somewhere recently: Lauren is one of Wee’s favorite writers, who writes — in her words — “all kinds of things, including stories for the Philadelphia Daily News and Inquirer, press releases for Visit Philadelphia, excuses for why I’m running late.” (Hey, she wrote this story featuring yours truly!) Lauren is also mom to five-year-old Michael, and currently lives in “that part of South Philly people now call East Passyunk or ‘Passyunk Square’, even though there’s nothing square about it.” Between her job writing about this place and its people, her Jenkintown upbringing, and 20 years now as a Philly resident, she knows this city as well as anyone here — and below, she dishes out some really excellent under-the-radar outings and a bunch of insider secrets.
Where does your little one attend daycare/preschool/school? My son attends Children’s Village, at 8th and Arch, across the street from the driver’s license center. C.V. has been there more than 40 years, and is a loving, inclusive and instructive place. I have a very hard time leaving the classroom during morning drop-off.
Favorite kids’ classes: When my son was an infant/toddler, we attended Enchanted Music Together at Trinity, where I’d routinely sob at the end of each session, especially when the teacher would play “Shenandoah” on her flute. It was a nice outing, but my kid is no Josh Groban. (Also, I definitely had postpartum depression, which I denied for about two years. Now since it’s like a celebrity thing, I kind of wear it like a badge of honor, even though it was the worst I’ve ever felt.)
Best way to spend a Saturday afternoon as a family: This spring, Saturdays meant Taney t-ball, which is hilarious. Thank goodness none (or few) of the parents on our team are super serious about it, because my husband is the coach, and he is not a baseball player. Also, I love cheering for both teams. But really, my favorite, favorite is hanging out at my mom’s house in Ocean City. She’s there year-round, and the beach is best on the edges of summer, in late spring and early fall.
Parents’ class: Does therapy count? I have a few recommendations. Also, it’s certainly not for parents only, but I’ve been going to Joan White in Powelton Village for Iyengar yoga for years. She helped me through my pregnancy, helped me recover from my pregnancy, and is just the best when it comes to doing the poses correctly, and adapting them to your particular body and issues.
Date night: It’s not a night, but this spring we went to the Cultural Access Awards for Art-Reach at the lovely FringeArts/La Peg. The whole thing was amazing. Thanks to Art-Reach, anyone with a PA ACCESS card can get into the Please Touch, Longwood Gardens, PAFA, the Barnes, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and about 30 more expensive and fantastic attractions, for just $2 for up to four people. Art-Reach works to give access to art and culture to people who might not ordinarily be able to experience it.
Hidden Gem/special find for families that you love: Artisan Boulanger Patissier at 12th and Mifflin. Such great croissants, baguettes, brioche buns, almond sticks, coffee…. We’ve gone there so often, the owners have my son’s picture displayed. Also, the pastry shops of Chinatown. We go to Saint Honoré every Friday morning for an egg tart and fluffy, coconut-dusted rolls.
Rainy day go-to: Netflix. Paw Patrol. Rescue Bots. Sometimes, The Crown. I know, I’m an awesome parent.
Holiday tradition: The PA Ballet’s The Nutcracker at the Academy of Music. This year, I’ll force my child to wear pants with nutcrackers all over them. (Also, the PA Ballet will be offering a sensory-friendly performance of The Nutcracker again this year.)
Outing you avoid: Disney. Please, never make me go there. Also, anyplace with long lines.
Outing you love: Storybook Land. Not that we go often, but when we do, I pretend it’s Disney (see above).
Favorite fast massage or spa treatment or some treat for you: An Aveda facial with Rachel Hezlep at Adolf Biecker at 16th and Sansom.
Family-friendly restaurant: We go to pretty much two places: the junky takeout pizza shop around the corner and Bing Bing Dim Sum, where, at age 3, my kid was already a regular. He orders “my usual” when he sits down. (I just wrote that and realized how obnoxious it is.) I love that place—and pretty much everyone who works there. One day, I’ll order one of their enormous cocktails. One day. And then I won’t be able to function for a full week.
Favorite cultural activity or event in Philly or ’burbs: The Chinese Lantern Festival. At dusk, it’s a wonderland, worth missing bedtime. Not only are the installations and performances and food fantastic—they remind me of a park my family and I once visited in China—but I can’t help but remember what the square used to be like, and to see it filled with so many people from so many different places, so much joy… I’m getting goosebumps.
Favorite community service with kids: We live in South Philly and have been known to spend a magical hour or two with gloves on, toting plastic shopping bags, and picking up trash on our block.
Gear you can’t live without: My Baggu backpack. Got my first one from Vagabond in Old City to use as a diaper bag. Am now on my third. I like that it’s lightweight, washable, didn’t look like a diaper bag then and doesn’t look like a work bag now.
Person/professional you can’t live without: A few months into my pregnancy, we hired Casa Blanca Cleaning to come to our house every other week. Mrs. Rivera, the owner, is one of the world’s very best people, including an amazing mom and grandmother.
Indulgence you can’t live without: Mrs. Rivera. And Biologique Recherche’s P50 from Rescue.
Place for baby/children’s gifts: Another perk of living near East Passyunk Avenue: Adorable Tildie’s Toy Box, open at 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays for your oh-shit-I-need-a-birthday-present-today convenience.
Favorite children’s book right now: Jacob’s New Dress. My son has long been obsessed with not only bodily differences among genders, but also the perceived limits of gender identity. (Naturally, he doesn’t call it that.) I picked up this book to offer him a story about a boy who loves to wear a dress. It’s not preachy. The message is that everyone should be comfortable to be how they want to be. Now maybe he’ll stop asking me so many questions. (Just kidding.)
Best piece of advice you’ve gotten about parenting: Trust yourself. For me, it’s been the hardest piece of advice to take.
Favorite toy in your house right now: LEGOs. LEGOs. LEGOs.
One thing you wish Philly/burbs had that it doesn’t: I’d love to see a Bounce U somewhere in town with a parking lot. Maybe along Oregon Avenue? Also, a kids’ shoe store.
Hardest part of raising kids here: I’m not sure if it’s the hardest part, but it sure would nice to have a little yard. And more parks. If these developers clashing with neighborhoods were smart, they’d throw in a few parks along with their condos.
Best part of raising kids here: Convenience. Diversity. Playmates within shouting distance. So many choices of things to do. Feeling like my family is a larger part of something bigger, something positive.