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Moms and babes

The counter culture meets kid culture, and the Eastside will never be the same.

June 10, 2004|Susan Carpenter | Times Staff Writer

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."

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.

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.

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.

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