From Matty Rhoades and Luis Gomez
Welcome to another round of “Borderstan People,” a series of interviews and profiles of people who live in the Dupont-Logan-U Street area. Sometimes we profile the more well-known… or people you may recognize in the neighborhood… and sometimes people who are organizers in the community. Today’s Q&A with Nadia Asancheyev fits into the last category. She is the founder of the Yahoo! listserv, Moms in Logan Circle (MILC). About MILC: In order to keep the group truly local, the boundaries for membership are Florida Avenue NW, 6th Street NW, K Street NW and New Hampshire Avenue NW.
Borderstan: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how your current lifestyle led to the creation of the Logan Circle Moms listserv?
Asancheyev: When I was pregnant and walking around the streets in our neighborhood, I found myself thinking that I really wanted to connect with other moms, kids and families right here in our community. Starting MILC was a no-brainer!
Borderstan: When did you start the listserv and how many moms are on it? Is it limited to moms only, or can dads join?
Asancheyev: There are over 250 people on the list. I started it when my son was just a few months old, in the spring of 2010. At the time, I was looking for a community of mothers to share the intense ups and downs of those first months. I thought that the acronym “MILC” was pretty awesome. Little Gus is 2-years-old now, and I see the list as a resources for families, not just moms. We love dads! We want dads in the group! I do regret using the word “Mom” in the group’s name. I wish I had thought to be more inclusive. But I can’t come up with a good acronym. Families in Logan Circle, FILC, is terrible.
Borderstan: Do you organize regular outings for moms and kids… perhaps lunch dates?
Asancheyev: It varies! For instance, when my son was an infant and I was on maternity leave, I organized meet ups with other moms of infants at Whole Foods, ACKC or Mid City Café. I know there are play groups that get together with toddlers. And there have been infant meet ups as well. It all depends on a having a critical mass (and someone to take up the reigns) of people who are similarly situated at the same time. If there’s anything I’ve learned about having a kid, it’s that having one changes the name of the game!
Borderstan: You have organized some special activities? For example, you had a Halloween event and a Valentine’s Day event. You work in partnership with local businesses on these activities?
Asancheyev: Yes! We’ve had such successful special events! I think the tremendous success of both the Little Goblin Halloween Parade and the Cupid’s Belles and Beaus Valentines Day Party are a tribute to the increase in the number of families in Logan, but also to deliberate efforts to build community. MILC superstars Joelle Myers (mom to Ava, 17 months) and Evelyn Boyd Simmons (Mom to Mikey, 5, and Marie, 3) deserve all the credit for putting those two events together. They partnered with Whole Foods, the Shaw Library, Council member Jack Evan’s office, Logan Circle Community Association, and the Mandy and David Team with Coldwell Banker. Our neighborhood churches are getting involved, as are our elected officials — our councilmember, school board rep and ANC members all came together for these events.
Borderstan: We have to ask: What kinds of info do you share on the listserv? Practical stuff? Child-rearing advice?
Asancheyev: Everything baby and kid related, like recommendations for kid-friendly car services and urgent care clinics, to making nanny share connections between members. People also help each other out with non kid-related things, like optician and home renovation recommendations. I once emailed out looking for a crow bar and had one in an hour.
Borderstan: What do you think was the primary factor in so many of your listserv members choosing to stay in the Logan Circle neighborhood after the kids arrived, instead of moving to outer DC neighborhoods or the suburbs?
Asancheyev: First, I think living in a vibrant community with proximity to lots of urban amenities is a major factor. I also think it’s about not driving everywhere; instead, we can head out the door and walk to Whole Foods, fill our strollers with groceries, and maybe run into a friend or two along the way. Add our proximity to playgrounds, the Shaw Library, the many wonderful museums, and it’s really a great place to have small children!
Borderstan: Finally, on a personal note, what are the things that you love most about living in Logan Circle? Any favorite hangouts or restaurants? Playgrounds?
Asancheyev: Yes! So many! Stead playground is always a go-to spot, with its central location and great squishy surface for the kids (and adults!) to walk on. In the summer when the sun is blazing, Westminster playground with its shade and sprinklers is the best. But my favorite has to be when we happen to run into friends and have a spontaneous play date in the middle of Logan Circle, under the statue. That is the best!
Borderstan: What’s the biggest challenge for families in Logan Circle?
Asancheyev: For families that are making decisions about schools, the stakes are high. There is a group of parents who have committed to improving our neighborhood elementary schools. With a lot of parent engagement, communities in DC have made dramatic improvements in their local public school options. I laud the parents who are working with our neighborhood schools now, and I hope that soon it won’t be the case that many families leave the area when their kids are school-aged.
Author’s Note: Yesterday, we shared the first part of our interview with two DC families about raising kids in the neighborhood — Jim and Kathy have two young adults in college, and Bryan and Cristina have a son in primary school. Jim and Kathy live in Dupont-Logan while Bryan and Cristina live near the U Street corridor.
Understanding that DC is frequently at unrest with the politics of its school system, the question seems obvious: Did you send your kids to DC public schools?
The couples explained why they sent their kids to private schools. Jim and Kathy’s kids attended the Washington International School, largely to continue the experience their children gained while living abroad (the family spent five years abroad before returning to Dupont-Logan). Bryan and Cristina continue a family tradition in sending their son Brendan to a parochial school.
- Kathy: Everyone we know in our neighborhood went to private schools. Schools were a factor for folks to move to the suburbs.
- Jim: [But], people work hard to make [DC Public Schools] good. The larger community supports the schools.
Lusk: So then in what way do you feel connected to the city?
- Jim: One draw for us is the politics. Our family feels very engaged; we’ve volunteered for many campaigns and our kids enjoy that.
- Cristina: To be able to talk about the history of our neighborhood — to walk past Duke Ellington’s house, to talk about what he became, to talk about the Underground Railroad in a place that makes sense to a kid…
- Bryan: We live in a neighborhood older than the state I grew up in (Wisconsin).
- Kathy: It’s vital — the city is vital.
Lusk: What perceptions do they have about life outside DC?
- Jim: They have friends from Bethesda, Arlington, so they venture out into the suburbs to visit their friends. They don’t like it [in the suburbs].
- Kathy nods in agreement, “[Our son] characterizes the people he’s sees there. Spoiled, popped collar, rich suburban kids. That’s just his perception.”
- Cristina, “In our home, we have a lot of DC-related artwork and Brendan has asked… why the diamond is missing a chunk. So we explained it to him and he has a strong opinion about it.”
- Bryan (turning to his son): “Brendan, what should Virginia do with Arlington?”
- Brendan: “Give it back [to DC].”
Author’s note: I had a chance to catch up with Jim and Kathy’s kids, Jennie and Matt, a few days after talking to their parents.
Lusk: Growing up in Dupont-Logan, what did you do? What were your favorite places to go… to eat?
- Jennie: There is shopping in Georgetown, you hang out by the waterfront. The Phillips Collection is great. You can eat at places like Sticky Rice, Hank’s [Oyster Bar], Café Saint-Ex…
- Matt: I agree, Georgetown is a good place to go. I like the National History Museum and the Air and Space Museum. Ben’s Chili Bowl is always good.
Lusk: How did growing up in DC affect your decisions as young adults?
- Jennie: Of course you absorb the politics. I appreciate DC more now that I’m older. Having grown up in a city, I needed to choose a university in an urban area.
- Matt: I feel like we’re more informed [about politics] than the general public. It affects your friend circles because you want to talk with people about these things you know. It affected my decision to have a minor in political science.
- Jennie: Growing up in a city made me feel as though I could pack up and live pretty much anywhere, so I think it does make you braver in that sense.
Jennie and Matt both confirm that they’re not opposed to returning to DC as adults. And if they do return, they both decided they’d look to Dupont Circle or Adams Morgan neighborhoods as a new place to call home.
We know that the Borderstan area only represents a small portion of DC. We are also aware that the two couples we interviewed have resources and education that many of our neighbors only dream about having — which gave them more options for schools and opportunities (a fact they all recognize). Still, we are glad to see a sense of community thriving here. We hope it serves as a clear invitation for our younger and more recently arrived residents to stay awhile in the city, in our neighborhood.
Author’s note: The streets of the Dupont-Logan-U Street area teem with 20- and 30-something professionals. Many are recent graduates or have moved to DC to accept a new job. The Borderstan area has always had a lot of young people, and it is this demographic that is driving much of the neighborhood’s population growth today.
But you have probably noticed something else in the last five-or-so years in the neighborhood: more baby strollers and more toddlers. A decade ago, when parenthood approached, it was almost a given that these not-so-longtime residents would leave for the Maryland and Virginia suburbs (or the outer neighborhoods of DC, at the very least). These were people with the means to pack up and move — for a house with a yard, better public schools, safer streets — and for decades leave is exactly what they did. Those with fewer options stayed put, as they always had.
Today the once automatic flight to the suburbs has slowed, with more middle class parents choosing to stay and raise their children in the DC — right here in our neighborhood. We talked to two couples with kids who represent each end of the spectrum: one couple moved to the city in the late 1970s and then stayed to raise their children in the neighborhood; the second couple bought a house in the neighborhood a decade ago as the area was beginning to change.
Jim and Kathy, and Bryan and Cristina, are parents who have stuck around to explain what life looks like on the other side of adulthood — they are parents. Jim and Kathy are new empty-nesters while Bryan and Cristina have a son in primary school. We sat down with them to discuss stereotypes about urban living, public schools and the seemingly paradoxical nature of an urban community. It is important to point out that we realize these are two couples with the resources and education that many of our neighbors only dream about having — which gave them more options when it came to raising kids in the city — a fact they all recognize.
Part 2: Tomorrow, we’ll share more of our conversation from these DC families as we discuss DC Public Schools, perceptions of life outside the District and the best teenage hangouts.
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
Jim and Kathy have been living in the District on and off since 1979, and they chose Dupont-Logan as the place to raise their kids, Matt and Jennie. Their kids are young adults now –Matt is at University of Miami studying public policy; Jennie is completing her master’s degree in French Literature at the American University of Paris.
Bryan and Cristina have been living in the District since the late 1990s and have an articulate six-year-old named Brendan; they live near the U Street corridor.
We start the conversation talking about the neighborhoods their kids know as home: Cristina and Bryan are homeowners in Harrison Square and they admit that the neighborhood was on the edge of changing even more, but at the time they bought it, things were still unsure.
“We were willing to assume the risk that [the green line] was a magnet for something,” said Cristina. “And if it wasn’t, we were still on the Green line.”
Jim and Kathy, who live on Corcoran Street NW, knew initial risks were involved in their neighborhood, but were undaunted. “It was pre-crack, more heroin,” said Jim. “We’d find syringes in the parking lot. At that point there was only Connecticut Avenue [as a place to go].”
Here’s what the two couples have to say about raising kids downtown.
Lusk: With neighborhoods still in the throes of development, any thoughts about moving to the suburbs when kids came into the picture?
- “No,” Cristina said firmly, and the others agree.
Lusk: So what do you give up by living in DC? What do you gain?
- Cristina: We give up a yard; we can’t have a big dog. And if that’s the only thing I’m giving up…
- Bryan: Right, but Brendan has gotten to go to more baseball games, museums; his [out-of-town] cousin’s get to do those things once a year– for our kid that’s a Sunday afternoon.
- Jim: I guess you do give up a little safety.
- Bryan: [But] the suburbs are just as messed up.
- Kathy: You gain something in terms of your teenage children — you gain that they are not driving. They’re taking public transportation.
- Cristina: I think you do give up a lot of phobias; we have so much in diversity — Brendan sees it when we ride the city bus. He’s seen things at age 6 that [kids] much older have no idea about. I think he’ll handle things differently when he gets older.
- “Brendan knows the train, the bus. He’s hailing taxis for us now,” laughs Bryan.
- Kathy: I feel like [urban] kids have a broader view. They see a lot of the real world now and not later when they are [done with college].
Lusk: And is there an age when you felt safe letting your kids ride the Metro alone?
- “8th Grade,” said Kathy, firmly.
Lusk: What kid-friendly hotspots in DC do you recommend?
- Jim: I think our kids had sophisticated tastes, [so we didn’t look for kid-specific locations].
- Kathy: We used the parks a lot when they were little.
- Jim: DC has great green space.
- Cristina: The National Building Museum is unbelievably kid-friendly and it manages to be kid-friendly without being unwelcoming to adults. The Portrait Gallery is really kid-friendly–the indoor atrium is a really great space for kids. They have a scavenger hunt you can do with the portraits.
- Kathy: We hiked on Rock Creek Park, Roosevelt Island.
- Cristinia: DC has really made an effort to revitalize the library. We go to the library almost every week.
Lusk: People assume that people who live in a city don’t have access to the same sense of community that one might in the suburbs. True?
- Cristina: [The staff at Home Rule] all watched Brendan grow up and they know him at Yes! Organic. They all know him at Ben’s [Chili Bowl].
- Bryan: Brendan, what do you get at Ben’s when you order?
- Brendan: Cheese fries, a milkshake.
- Bryan: Who makes it for you?
- Brendan: Jay.
- Bryan: The neighborhood is a community within a community. We know a lot of people in the neighborhood and when Brendan is older and maybe out in the alley doing something he shouldn’t, we would find out as our neighbors would tell us.
- Kathy: When I walk to Safeway or to Whole Foods, I very often run into someone that I know on the street, and spend some time chatting. It’s a nice feeling of community.