A Chat With Mommy Poppins Founder

The Ear Inn is a three-story Federal-style building tucked away on a quiet, tree-lined block in SoHo amid tall, sleek glass buildings. Originally built in 1812 for James Brown, the African American who helped George Washington make his famous escape across the Delaware in the early days of the Revolutionary War, the squat building’s ground floor has served as a local tavern for nearly 200 years.

“I used to live here,” Anna Fader tells me off-handedly as we head inside for lunch. I laugh, thinking she’s making a joke about some boozy past, made funnier by contrast to her present success as founder of Mommy Poppins—the popular parenting website for local fun. But no. She means it. She used to live here.

In the mid-1970s, the building housed a group of artists who ran the pub and, with the help of Anna’s mother, published a music journal called “The Ear” out of the upstairs apartment where Anna and her mom lived. “The shower was outside on the back deck, right over there,” Anna tells me, pointing toward a corner of the tavern where light pours through the ceiling.

This story hangs off Anna the way the whole city seems to—an old joint that she knows intimately, but one that she’s constantly revisiting and rediscovering. Luckily for parents throughout NYC, she isn’t one to keep great finds all to herself. Actually, she’s just the opposite—sharing the best that our city has to offer with her faithful Mommy Poppins followers.

I first came across the site about five years ago. I was a new mother, a graduate student, and one of the first of my cohort to have a child. A Midwestern transplant in New York, I was daunted by the task of raising a kid in the city, and Mommy Poppins quickly became a valuable resource for navigating it with a baby. Kid-friendly museum exhibits, festivals, restaurants, children’s concerts—all of it was made more manageable and accessible.

I tell Anna all of this over lunch. “I love it when I hear people repeating what is essentially my mission statement back to me,” she responds. “When I started the site, the main outlet for information were websites that seemed to promote the fantasy that the cool thing about being a parent in New York was that you could still wear high heels, be glamorous and ‘Sex and the City’ with kids. Having grown up here, that was not what I thought was cool about raising children in New York. I wanted to change that culture and promote a different view of raising kids here.”

On January 1, 2007, Anna wrote her first blog post. It was a New Year’s resolution: A one-year commitment to work on a creative project for herself, outside of her day job as an associate creative director at an ad agency. She began writing humorous quips about raising her own two kids, Amelia and James, in the city. Her first entries can still be found in her archives, and looking back at them provides a sense of how rapidly the blog evolved from a personal chronicle to a thorough indexing of New York City and all of the fun things it offers families. Soon enough, Anna found herself, as she puts it, “in a fever,” working obsessively to create a virtual curriculum for the cultural classroom that is New York City.

At the end of the first year, Anna took a huge leap of faith and walked away from her lucrative career to work on Mommy Poppins full-time. “It was one of the most courageous things I’ve ever done: thrilling and terrifying and so satisfying,” she says.

Designing the site, writing code, organizing information, scoping out venues and events, and writing, writing, always writing kept Anna as busy as ever. “It was the work of ten people. When I look back, I don’t know how I did it the first few years,” she says.

But it was work to which she was perfectly suited. With a background in art and graphics and writing, and passion for city life, it all added up. And of course it helps that she’s relentlessly enterprising. “Stoop sales—it’s where it all started,” she laughs. “I’ve always been entrepreneurial. When I was 17, I hand-stitched t-shirts and sold them on Spring Street to tourists!”

The entrepreneurial spirit is a core part of who she is, and, as a result, the evolution of her site has been organic in many ways. Today, Mommy Poppins serves the entire tri-state area as well as Boston and LA. It’s a pivotal moment for Anna as she decides how the business will continue to take shape outside the city limits. But it’s clear that her heart belongs to New York in the way she goes about her work: the neighborhood guides showcase the charm and culture of each unique community, like Indian food at the Jackson Heights Diner or an art exhibit at the Armory made kid-friendly by virtue of a creative write-up. In a sense, Mommy Poppins stands out because it’s Anna’s ideal New York childhood experience. She’s curating it for us, while also using it as a parent sidekick for her own children: Amelia, her 13-year-old daughter, and James, her 10-year-old son.

They’re growing up in a much different New York than Anna did in the 1970s, of course. She used to drift off to sleep to sounds of literal gunfire in Union Square (“My mom would tell us it was a truck backfiring!”) as well as metaphorical gunfire (her parents’ traumatic divorce left scars). But the city never failed to provide her with a deep sense of wonder. “Magic is a key word for me,” she says. “Even though I didn’t have a great childhood, it was magical in a lot of ways. I work hard to try and recreate that magic for my kids. It can be difficult, but living in New York makes it easier because all you have to do is step outside your door.”

Eight years ago, Anna and her daughter happened upon a public dance performance at the World Financial Center. The dancers were using the entirety of the pavilion, flying from one end of the atrium to the other, dancing on escalators and stairs, and the audience followed after them as they moved. “I know this is a fairly esoteric thing to stumble upon with my five-year-old,” Anna explains. “But people were dancing and we were watching them, and, in the middle of it all, Amelia turned to me and said, ‘I can’t believe that I am me!’ She was so happy. So excited and proud that she was experiencing this firsthand.”

And that’s the trick to enjoying our city, Anna says: simply stepping into the streets with your kids and getting outside to where the magic is happening.

Sarah Torretta Klock is a storyteller, photographer, and expert wrangler of her three children, all redheads like their father. They live happily in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

To find out what’s happening at Mommy Poppins in 2013, click here.

 

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