The mama: Michelle Gillen-Doobrajh has every kid’s dream job — or at least, every kid’s dream job for her mama: She owns the charming toy store Tildie’s Toy Box in South Philly, along with her husband, Paul. What’s that job entail? “I do whatever needs to be done there: discovering and ordering new toys, cleaning, hiring, promotions, gift-wrapping … you name it, I do it!” In fact, Tildie’s is about to host its second annual Neighborhood Toy Store Day (November 11, 11 a.m.!) — there’ll be the wonderful author/illustrator Greg Pizzoli signing books, as well as a raffle, giveaways, and more fun and surprises. (Also good to know: All throughout the holiday season, the store is offering free gift-wrapping. And Tildie’s always has personal shopping — they’ll pick out presents for you based on the kids’ ages and interests — and a reward system wherein you get $5 off your next purchase for every $100 you spend! FYI!)
Anyway: Michelle is also a mama to Siena, who’s five, and Amelia, who’s two. So in addition to knowing about all the cool toys and games out there, she’s also got some good ideas about fun things to do around the city with kids. Here’s her take!
Neighborhood: Passyunk Square.
Favorite kids’ classes: We love Music Monkey Jungle! We host one of their lively, entertaining performances at the shop on Mondays at 10:30 a.m. — it’s $10 for a drop-in, half-hour class (the perfect non-committal and affordable option for caregivers). Also, it’s free for babies under 6 months, so it’s a great way to get out of the house with infants.
Best way to spend a Saturday afternoon as a family: I often work on Saturdays, so when I get home, I like to relax with the kids and play a board game or bake cookies. The kids’ favorites are chocolate chip or sprinkle cookies. Since I used to be a pastry cook, I take baking very seriously, but cookies are always an easy, fast and fun project with the kids. And we get to eat cookies.
Date night: Honestly, I’m generally pretty tired at night (I know … I’m lame), so I prefer a “date lunch” if possible. Something like Bing Bing Dim Sum or Cheu Noodle Bar, where it’s casual, where we don’t need a reservation, and where I can actually get to eat my own noodles or soup dumplings. (Did I mention these are also some of our kids’ favorite restaurants?) All that, plus a great cocktail or beer is perfect in my book.
Hidden gem for families: Finding kids’ shoes in a physical store has become quite a challenge, but we love going to Vans where we can all find fun and comfortable shoes.
Favorite toys right now: This is so hard for me, and there is no way I can complete this list without wanting to change it a million times. (There are so many cool things!) But here it goes!
For kids who are 0-1: Oombee Cube by Fat Brain Toys — a travel-sized shape sorter that doubles as a teether … and you never lose the pieces!
Kids who are 1 and up: Tegu Magnetic Wooden Blocks. Building toys provide so many benefits for young brains, and these blocks are not only cool, but they’re heirloom quality, and made by a socially and environmentally responsible company.
2-3 years: Micro Mini Deluxe Scooter. They come in a rainbow of colors, and have an adjustable handlebar that will take your little one from 2-4 years old. It’s a great way to get outside and play!
3-4 years: A play kitchen and its accessories: a great investment for endless hours of pretend play magic.
5 years: Snap Circuits — such a fun way for kids to learn about electricity with engaging and satisfying projects. Also, Stikball is a favorite — a sticky squishy ball you can throw at the wall and it sticks. It’s a super fun way to bring the outdoors in. Bonus: great office stress reliever for adults!
6 years: Rock-and-Roll-It Rainbow Piano — a rainbow colored keyboard that you literally can roll up. How awesome is that?! Also, Dinosaur Dig Kits, which have real dinosaur fossils inside! I have a soft spot for dinosaurs.
7-10: Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty. There are so many varieties of this addictive, sensory-friendly, creative wonder — and it’s made right outside of Philly by adults with disabilities. (We were even lucky enough to host the real Crazy Aaron right in our shop on our one-year anniversary!) This is also a great item for adults — I keep one in my desk drawer, and a mini Thinking Putty in my purse, no joke!
Rainy day go-to: Baking! (see above)
Holiday tradition: The light show at the Wanamaker Building and — I’m a broken record here — decorating holiday cookies with the kids! (I swear my life doesn’t really revolve around the Kitchen Aid and oven!) (Okay, maybe it does just a little bit.)
Outing or event you avoid: The Mummer’s parade. It’s cold, and crazy, and they remind me of clowns. I don’t like clowns.
Outing or event you love: Any other street festival. I just love to be able to walk in the street, sample foods from various restaurants, stumble upon new shops and craft vendors, have a drink, and find fun activities for the kids. Street festivals are one of my favorite family events that we all look forward to and truly enjoy. On East Passyunk, we love Flavors and the Car Show.
Favorite fast massage or spa treatment or some other treat for you: If I can squeeze it in, I like to get a mani/pedi from Christian Street Nails. It’s clean, they always do a great job, and they do both the mani and the pedi at once which not only feels fancy, but you can also finish in half the time!
Family-friendly restaurant: Sate Kampar! It’s only a few doors down from the shop, and it has chocolate malted milk (Milo), chicken on a stick (chicken sate), and super-friendly owners and staff, so it’s always a hit.
Piece of gear that you can’t live without: Our Uppa Baby Vista stroller has been worth every penny. It has a large basket for all of your groceries and diaper bag, a great reclining seat, a glider board for the older kid — everything you need is right there!
Person/professional you can’t live without: There are two people who allow me to make my daily hectic life a possibility, and for that I am eternally grateful: my mom and my husband.
Indulgence you can’t live without: Again, two things: Sticky toffee pudding from Stargazy (also the kids’ favorite dessert) and a latte from Chhaya.
Place for baby/children’s gifts: Ummm, hmmm… Tildie’s Toy Box, duh!
Favorite children’s book right now: This is an impossible question for me because I simply LOVE children’s books (I even tried to write one once). Finding new children’s books for the shop has been one of my favorite parts of the job. I really can’t choose just one, but a few we’ve been rotating between lately are Lily the Unicorn (or anything by Dallas Clayton), Jamberry, and of course, Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls!
Favorite outdoorsy thing to do with kids: We love to garden in our planters. We’re pretty good at planting, but keeping the plants alive is another story.
Fun kids party spot: Lume has fun birthday parties with lots of different themes in a bright and open space.
Best piece of advice you’ve gotten about parenting: Just go with your instincts. Seriously, with my first I was initially so caught up with all the books and other parents’ way of doing things, and so afraid of messing up that it was so stressful. Once I finally eased up and just did what came naturally, everything was much easier and we were all happier.
Any mom’s groups you love? I loved going to the breastfeeding support group at Hall Mercer. I had a lot of breastfeeding issues so it was nice to know that I wasn’t alone. I also met my best two mom friends there, and our kiddos have been growing up together ever since.
Best parenting book you read: They stress me out (see above).
Favorite toy/entertainment in your house right now: A moldable product called Floof! It’s got a marshmallow-y texture, never dries out, and the perfect combination of weird and awesome!
One thing you wish Philly/burbs had that it doesn’t: What don’t we have? Tropical beaches, maybe?
Hardest part of raising kids here: Nothing new here — the public school situation. But community involvement keeps things hopeful.
Best part of raising kids here: Oh, where to start?! Walking everywhere; being a part of our community; all the great family activities like Spruce Street Harbor Park, Food Trust Night Markets and street festivals; parks; friends around the corner; diversity; great food; and a plethora of cultural events. Oh, and soft pretzels of course (with mustard). Philly is awesome!