Introduction

No doubt about it, Washington is one of the most challenging – and exciting – places to raise children.

The city is vibrant and busy. There’s always something happening, and much of it is free and appropriate for kids. DC is steeped in history and we have the benefit of an international population, a truly multicultural city with residents from all over the world. We have some of the best-educated, highest-achieving parents in the nation, concentrated right here in the DC area. Many of these talented parents have created nonprofit organizations, businesses, and resources that benefit children and families. The area has civic-minded leaders, great public transportation and, for those who can afford it, excellent educational institutions. A few of our suburban public school districts are among the best in the country. We have top-notch medical centers and an amazing arts community. We have beautiful neighborhoods and suburbs that have managed to maintain character and charm. Parents really know how to network here, making connections and making this a better place to live.

Washington parents are exceptional people raising children in a great city, but it’s not always easy. We have some of the worst (and most dangerous) traffic in the country, and many fear our suburban sprawl is out of hand. Our cost of living is high and getting higher. Our poor seem to be getting poorer. Balancing professional and family life is often stressful. Schedules are often over-crowded. Some of our public schools don’t live up to expectations, and sometimes our elected officials just don’t take care of business. We worry about our crime rate with good reason – and especially the threat of violent crime. This is perhaps the most transient urban area in the U.S., where it’s not unusual for friends and neighbors to stay only a year or two before being transferred. As in any major urban area, we sometimes feel isolated and alone, lost in a crowd – until we connect with others who want and need the same things we do.

That desire for connection and a willingness to reach out to like-minded others is one of the things I like best about living in Washington. Time and time again, I’m so moved and impressed by what parents here are capable of. When we join forces to share our talents and resources, our creativity, and our love for our kids, this is one of the best cities on the map for having a family. That’s what DC BABY is all about.

A lifelong native Texan, I originally came to Washington as a grad student and Smithsonian fellow in 1998, and I fell in love with the city. I was single, and motherhood wasn’t on my radar. Back in Austin, Texas between 2001 and early 2005, all that changed. I fell in love, married, and had a baby. Just shy of our daughter’s first birthday, my husband got a job offer he couldn’t refuse – in DC, of all places. The prospect of moving cross-country with a little one was harrowing, to say the least. I hated the thought of being so far away from family and lifelong friends. And neither of us had thought of Washington as an ideal place to raise kids. A cool city in which to be professional, single, or both – but for starting a family? In making a decision about our immediate future, we worried about “quality of life” issues in a new way – as the parents of a toddler.

In early 2005 I set out in earnest to “do the research” on raising a little one in DC. During the process, I was reminded of why I’d liked living in Washington so much. I also quickly realized that resources for someone like me, moving into the area with a small child, were obscure. The Lilaguide’s DC edition was the best thing I found, and it just wasn’t enough. I needed a comprehensive, insider’s view of parenting in the city. I needed to know which neighborhoods were family-friendly, where to find great child care, where best to shop and play and eat, where to meet other mamas with similar interests. I was surprised and disappointed to learn that a city with so much to offer families didn’t already have an insider’s guidebook on the market. So I got busy and did it myself. Hundreds of hours of research, networking, query letters, interviews, email conversations, and outings later, DC BABY is complete. In addition to the book, the companion website, www.dc-baby.com, allows me to keep pace with a fast-moving, ever changing city. Check out the site for daily posts on resources and happenings around town. And share what you know – if it’s related to pregnancy, birth, or parenting in DC, I’d love to help spread the word.

My family and I are happy to be back in Washington. We’re having a great time. We thank the many parents who shared their time and recommendations with me, helping to make the book possible. We thank our new friends and neighbors who have made us feel welcome. And we thank you for reading!

Sarah Masterson
October 15, 2005
sarah@dc-baby.com