DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES – I was born and raised in Los Angeles and I have always felt a certain pride saying that. Growing up in Boyle Heights meant that we did not have malls or big shopping centers, so we would regularly take the Metro 68 bus Downtown to shop in the callejones with my mother, where we haggled for bargains. Not much has changed in the area or what people now call Santee Alley.
But a world of change has occurred in the rest of Downtown, and an even bigger change has happened to me: I am the mother now, and I don’t have to hop on the 68 to get Downtown, because I live here.
I never could have guessed that I would be a mother of two in my mid-20s, living in South Park, because this did not exist as a desirable residential location when I was a kid. But this is the neighborhood that Bella, Iza, Matt and I call home.
Every mother will tell you how annoying it can be to listen to the well-meaning advice of others when it comes to parenting choices. I constantly hear about how we should be in a house with a back yard and enough square footage so that the girls have their own room, a playroom, a family room and their own bathroom. The list goes on and on and I try not to cringe physically when other mothers seem appalled that we, a family of four, do very well sharing less than 1,000 square feet.
I have grown accustomed to the probing questions and confused looks I get when I take my girls to school on the Dash bus every morning. People seem to think that children do not exist outside the suburbs.
One thing I have learned is that with kids, people in Downtown will approach you. I am continually asked about the girls’ ages, where they go to school and where we live. People seem fascinated with the fact that they look like twins (they’re not). In fact, people asking Iza about her day at school or whatever outfit she has pulled together has helped her get rid of some of her shyness. Oddly enough, living in a big city has increased our human interaction and connections with strangers. Now it seems that people recognize us from the bus, and Bella and Iza have become sort of Downtown mascots whose silliness cheers up people on their way to work.
After living here for a little over a year, I noticed that my girls did not have friends to invite over on the weekend. I tried online parenting forums, but most of them seemed to be based on the Westside or in the Valley, both areas outside the parameters of my car-less lifestyle.
After dabbling in a few neighborhood council meetings and trying to attract parents to meetings, I decided to do that lazy, easy thing, and created a group on Facebook for Downtown parents. We started with three parents and it went through word of mouth from there. At first the group grew slowly, but after we had our first pool party — I invited about 15 people and 50 showed up — I knew I had hit upon a real need in Downtown.
A few months later, the group has more than 100 members, and if you show up at Grand Hope Park on a Saturday morning you will find at least 20 of us. Sometimes the crowd grows so large that we not only take over the playground, but swell over to the grass area as well.
I am proud to be a Downtown parent, proud to be providing my daughters with a childhood full of outings to MOCA, World City events at Walt Disney Concert Hall, and visual stimulation as we walk a different route home from school every day.
The girls know that they are lucky to have both a mommy and a daddy, and to have a roof over their head unlike the homeless people that they see every day. They are aware that living in Downtown seems odd to their friends, but they always seem to enjoy saying they are from Downtown Los Angeles, California — that’s exactly how they say it.
This Mother’s Day, I celebrate another year of feeling the beauty of unconditional love that you get from your children (at least until they hit puberty), and giving that love back tenfold.
I guess you can say that I have grown and matured along with Downtown. I’m no longer the 16-year old that used to skip class to sneak off to the Central Library. I’m a mother of two who has been continually involved in finding them a good school for the approaching kindergarten.
I love the fact that I get to do all this while walking through streets that never cease to amaze me with their charm. This makes the mothering experience much more exciting than if I tried to take a walk in the Valley — there, I’d only end up with a sunburn.
Published: Friday, April 30, 2010 4:32 PM PDT
page 15, 05/03/2010