Moms and babes
It’s about 1:15 in the afternoon when the first woman walks into Malo, the super-styley Mexican restaurant in Los Feliz, carrying an infant seat in one hand and a nonalcoholic Clausthaler beer in the other. Fifteen others follow, all first-time moms in their late 20s and 30s, some with tattoos, others with chipped black nail polish, many with tiger-striped and Asian-print diaper bags.
They settle into a cozy upstairs room and begin a casual discussion about milk production, sore breasts, diaper blowouts and losing the post-baby “pooch.”
For the record:
12:00 a.m. June 11, 2004 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday June 11, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Alt-moms -- In Thursday’s Calendar Weekend section, a photo of seven entrepreneurial mothers was credited to Los Angeles Times photographer Gary Friedman. It was taken by Times staff photographer Damon Winter.
The neighborhood’s weekly breast-feeding group is in session.
It used to be that if you started a family in Los Angeles, you got out of town or moved to the Westside or to the Valley or the suburbs, where the schools, families and neighborhoods were supposedly better, more friendly and safe. No longer. Increasingly, parents of a certain age (Gen X) and sensibility (artsy) are staying put, creating a new kind of family community that in many ways celebrates their nonconformity.
Call them the alt-moms. This Eastside view of childhood replaces pastels, innocence and witless farm animals with black, irony and a sly worldliness. Many came to motherhood in their late 30s, were equipped with degrees and demanding careers, but gave up the chase to be with their kids. With partners often still making or selling music, movies and graphic art, these mothers are more in tune with rebel yells than gentle lullabies.
From Hollywood to Silver Lake, Eagle Rock to Glassell Park, these new urban parents are coming up with new ways to maintain their own identities while spending more time with and fostering the individuality of their children. They’re starting quirky activity centers catering to kids and parents, boutiques that shun the pink equals girl/blue equals boy mentality, furniture shops that are more Herman Miller than plaid-with-teddy-bear.
“Our generation just wants to feel like they’re individuals, so I kind of cater to that,” said Lyvonne Hill, owner of Grometville in Silver Lake, a kids’ boutique stocked with Ganesh lunchboxes, hot-pink hip slings, pint-sized flight suits and onesies that say “I can’t read” and “Keep on truckin.”
“All of us kind of grew up listening to a different kind of music that told us to think for ourselves and not always believe what society or the government or the teacher or anyone tells us is fact -- to find out our own truths.”
Hill, 35, is living proof. Two years ago, pregnant with her daughter India and faced with the unappealing prospect of going back to long hours working as a post-production coordinator, she traded in the job security of a 12-year career for risky retail.
“I didn’t want someone else to raise my daughter,” said Hill, who sports a heart-shaped tattoo on her neck that bears her daughter’s name. “I really just wanted to be a progressive parent and do something different.”
Back when Grometville opened up shop in August 2002, it was a lone, alt-mom outpost in a landscape catering to hip-bone-baring singles and slouchy, childless couples. Now, just a few blocks away from Hill’s store, there is the toy shop Furthur Kids. Around the bend, on Silver Lake Boulevard, the sleek, modern furniture store Yolk has begun selling baby furniture. And Glory, the vintage motorcycle shop on Hollywood Boulevard, is working out licensing deals for a line of infant- and toddler-sized biker tees.
“Los Feliz is ripe,” said Ling Chan, a 35-year-old mother of two who will be opening a “baby lifestyle boutique” on Vermont Avenue next month. “All these rockers are having babies.”
Her store, La La Ling, will carry “very pop, modern baby furniture” instead of “that distressed paint, shabby chic kind of thing” and baby clothes “with a twist,” like Paper denim and C&C; tees -- adult fashions that have been shrunk to baby size.
“We’re so over the cutesy baby store,” said Chan, who also plans to offer kids’ classes in language, art and culture.
The demographics of Eastside neighborhoods are shifting, thanks to classic architecture and housing prices that -- for a while, at least -- were within artists’ budgets. And not just in Silver Lake and Los Feliz. Eagle Rock, the latest “it” neighborhood, is also changing to accommodate the baby boomlet.
Walk near the intersection of Colorado Avenue and Eagle Rock Boulevard and you’re likely to see fabulously dressed women who’ve rejected the notion of dowdy momdom -- women in asymmetrical skirts and ‘80s retro who have no shame showing a little skin post-pregnancy.
During the weekly farmers market, it’s stroller to stroller as health-oriented parents snatch up organic produce and juice, feeding them baby-bird style to their kids. At Swork, a local coffee shop, a children’s play area lets mommies sip their lattes without squirmy babies spilling them down their shirts.
Twerps, a baby boutique that sells pint-sized blaxploitation tees and Dr. Seuss play tables, among other things, is open for business just a couple doors down. Take a few more steps and you’re in Imix, the recently relocated Chicano/Latino bookstore and gallery owned by Elisa Garcia-Rodriguez, a mother of three whose kids usually work with her in the store. Last month, Rodriguez hosted her first art workshop for kids, something she plans to do monthly, along with children’s book readings.
A short car trip down the road is the Garden School in Glassell Park, a co-op preschool in whichparents are on site with their kids. During a recent lunch hour, toddlers were running around in various states of undress covered in light dustings of dirt. The outdoor picnic tables were covered with plastic containers of carrots, crackers and other foodstuffs. Nothing unusual here, until you take in the Donnas lunchbox sitting in front of one mother.
Sydney Walsh, Clay Wilcox and their 3-year-old son, Harry, have been going to the school for the last year.
“I wanted to be part of my child’s primary education,” said Walsh, an actor who describes herself as an “attachment parent and stay-at-home mom.”
Two years ago, she and her husband bought a fixer-upper in nearby Adams Hill -- a “1,100-square-foot plot of genius,” she said. “I love this part of town because I like how old it is. I like the trees and the hills. I like that once you’re over here, you’re not in town. I also like the way people are living their lives over here. Everybody doesn’t have a nanny, frankly.”
At 43, Walsh is an older mom -- as are many Gen X and trailing-edge-baby-boom mothers. They are women who spent their 20s and 30s finding themselves and establishing careers before marrying and having kids.
Xers, as a whole, were the first generation to grow up in households in which both parents worked, and many of them say they don’t want their children to have latchkey childhoods.
It’s that history that’s shaping Gen X mothers “looking to get right what they felt their parents got wrong, just as the boomers did,” said John McManus, editor in chief of American Demographics magazine. “As an age group, they’re very ambitious in terms of balancing life objectives that create equilibrium between values having to do with work and career and home.”
Jennifer Barrett Bernstein, 43, puts it this way: “We were all executives, and it was so sort of suffocating to us because you can’t have a child and enjoy them to the fullest and do what you’re doing.”
Two and a half years ago, Bernstein and her business partners Gayle Baigelman and Cheryl Bayer Brady left their executive jobs at Hollywood studios to start Creative Space in Hollywood. One of the first alternative-kid businesses to open east of La Brea, the “unique enrichment center for children,” as it’s billed, is a far cry from the chlorinated institutionalism of the Y.
With its chartreuse walls and cathedral ceilings, it has a warm and funky vibe that appeals to aesthetics-oriented adults and their playful progeny. Wander down the hall and you’ll find a maze of rooms that are home to works in progress -- enormous papier-mache eggs made in a Digz & Dinosaurs class, a refrigerator stocked with goodies for wannabe Iron Chefs -- as well as a workout studio where parents can take yoga and other classes, with or without their kids.
“We were all parents who lived on this side of town, and there wasn’t a lot available that our kids could do,” said Baigelman, 43. “We decided we could keep meeting and [complain] about it or we could actually do it ourselves.”
Creating a place that’s whimsical, cool and equally fun for kids and their parents -- as opposed to the traditional, drop-and-go classes that have been offered in so many places for so many years -- seems to be taking off. The owners of Creative Space say they’ve been asked to branch out to San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York and other cities. Many of those requests are from women like themselves -- businesswomen with kids who are looking for careers that are more inclusive of their families.
“I didn’t want to end up being the soccer mom, chauffeur mom. I wanted a place where I could feel free to bring my child, and no one’s looking at me like, ‘What is the little whiny baby doing around?’ ” said Kristy Beauvais, 33.
A year ago, Beauvais and her husband, Paul, had a baby girl. Nine months ago, they opened up Focusfish in Hollywood. Offering a staggering array of services -- from classes in circus arts and capoeira to hair cuts and massage -- they call it a “performance fitness center,” but it’s more of a far-flung, all-ages activity center and spa.
“Families that want to do stuff for their kids end up being all over the place. This kid has to go this place, this kid has to go to that place. Mom, if she’s going to get a workout or a spa treatment, she’s got to go somewhere else or neglects herself and just becomes a cabdriver,” said Paul Beauvais.
At Focusfish, like Creative Space, parents can take classes for themselves at the same time as their kids -- or they can take them together.
During a Friday afternoon family hip-hop class, in a converted space that was once Peggy Fleming’s ice rink, choreographer Hassan Christopher leads a class of seven moms and their spawn through a challenging routine of fancy footwork. The room is loud with Usher, Britney and other top pop stars as the moms, many of them in velour track suits or cargo pants, and kids, both boys and girls, strut and spin across the floor.
They say every generation reinvents motherhood, and for Gen X, it’s a work in progress.
At a baby group in Silver Lake, roughly a dozen new moms are figuring it out with friends. Every other week, in a perfectly decorated midcentury-modern hilltop house, moms with names like Debra and Diana and Connie show up with their offspring -- Electra, Keaton and Aksel -- to swap stories, trade info and vent. Their host is Julie Hermelin, a 36-year-old mother of twin 6-month-olds, Chaz and Dex, a.k.a. Monkeyboy and Superman.
Ordinarily, there’s a topic or activity -- previous groups have centered around infant massage, yoga and nutrition -- but today it’s free form. One mother asks if anyone’s heard about the woman who recently gave birth to a 13-pounder. Another talks about her experience with baby sign language. Hermelin talks about feeling guilty about not breast-feeding after six months.
An hour of casual conversation yields to a call for ideas for group activities. Someone suggests a clothing and toy swap; another wants to form a baby drum circle; a third suggests going to the Wednesday Mommy & Me matinee at the Los Feliz 3 theater.
“What we’re trying to find here is a balance,” said Hermelin, a film director who’s married to Mitchell Frank, owner of the popular Spaceland rock club. “We want to find a balance between the society we know and were raised in and something different, but we’re not ready to throw out the baby with the bathwater.”
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Bellies, Babies & Bosoms: A maternity, baby and breastfeeding boutique with kids’ clothes, maternity wear, breastfeeding equipment and lactation consultants. 3461 N. Verdugo Road, Glendale. (818) 541-1200, www.bellies.biz.
Creative Space: A children’s enrichment center offering quirky classes for kids and parents. 6325 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A. (323) 462-4600, www.creativespaceusa.com.
Focusfish: A far-flung, all-ages activity center and spa offering classes in yoga, pilates and hip-hop dance, as well as circus arts, capoeira and gyrotonics, for kids and parents. Or forget the class and just get a pedicure. 6121 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A. (323) 957-0901, www.focusfish.com.
Furthur Kids: Kids’ boutique with toys, furniture, clothes, stuffed animals, books and other neat stuff. 2901 Rowena Ave., L.A. (323) 661-2120, www.furthurla.com.
Glory Sales & Service: Vintage motorcycle shop that sells clothes for pint-sized rockers. 4659 Hollywood Blvd., L.A. (323) 644-5679, www.glorysales.com.
Grometville: A funky kids’ boutique carrying a wide variety for infants and toddlers. 2876 Rowena Ave., L.A. (323) 665-5524, www.grometville.com.
Imix Bookstore: Chicano/Latino book store and gallery with children’s art classes and book readings coming soon. 5052 Eagle Rock Blvd., L.A. (323) 257-2512, www.imixbooks.com.
La La Ling: A baby lifestyle boutique offering clothes “with a twist,” modern furniture and language, art and culture classes. Opens July 17. 1810 N. Vermont, L.A. (323) 664-4400, www.lalaling.com.
Los Feliz 3 Cinemas: Mommy & Me matinees 10:30 a.m. Wednesdays. 1822 N. Vermont Ave., L.A. (323) 664-2169.
Lost & Found Children’s: High-style but practical boys and girls clothing sizes 0-12. 6314 Yucca St., L.A. (323) 856-5872.
Lost & Found Etc.: Up front is home items, but in the back you’ll find kids’ toys, puppets, dolls, musical instruments, books, games, pillows and comforters. 6320 Yucca St., L.A. (323) 856-5872.
Pump Station Breastfeeding Group: Wednesday afternoon meetings for breastfeeding moms. Malo Restaurant, 4326 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A. (310) 826-5774, www.pumpstation.com. Cost: $10.
Swork Coffee: Coffee shop with a good kids’ play area. 2160 Colorado Blvd., LA. (323) 258-5600, www.sworkcoffee.com.
Tokio: Restaurant with all-ages kids’ karaoke hosted by lounge singer, Miami. 1640 Cahuenga, LA. (323) 464-2065. Sundays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Twerps: Kids’ boutique that offers toys and new and used clothes. 5060 Eagle Rock Blvd., L.A. (323) 256-7608.
Yolk: Modern furniture shop that offers baby items, including a Svan high chair and a chalk play table. 1626 Silver Lake Blvd., L.A. (323) 660-4315, www.yolk-la.com.