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Mom in Translation: What Was Missing From My Seattle House Hunt

A young mother realizes what's missing in her hunt for a new neighborhood

Published on: April 03, 2017

Moving boxes

Last April, my husband and I were in the unenviable position of looking for a new home. That’s stressful on its own. Now add my being six months pregnant with our first child. My nails were bitten down to the quick.

As relatively new Seattleites — only three years in — we had just barely gotten to know the different neighborhoods. But with a baby on the way and plans for extended visits from both families after his birth, we needed more space than our one-bedroom downtown apartment allowed.

The recommendations came rolling in. Ballard, Fremont, Wallingford, Queen Anne, Green Lake: all were family-friendly neighborhoods that wouldn’t be too far away from our respective workplaces. We’d spent time in each but decided to revisit with our “child-friendly” lens firmly in place.

I wanted a neighborhood that was walkable with a stroller, had a nearby library and where I saw kids out and about (it was only ever dogs at my downtown place).

Armed with those requirements, we eagerly started our search. We saw some beautiful homes including many two- to- three bedroom options that were (happily) within our budget. “Here’s one within walking distance of the Ballard Public Library!” our realtor exclaimed. “This one more or less opens up into Green Lake Park,” she told us. “You’ll be able to send your child to great schools here in Queen Anne,” I kept hearing. 

As I waddled into house after house in neighborhood after neighborhood, I would picture our growing family. Would this be the block where we went for walks? Would this café be our Sunday brunch spot? Would I grab my morning cappuccino from this coffee shop?

And yet time and again I returned to our downtown apartment and told my husband: “I’m not sure.”

It hit me what was missing: Almost none of the families in the parks, in the libraries, in the neighborhood cafés looked like us. 

Soon, days became weeks. We’d either have to squeeze a newborn and visiting family into our one-bedroom apartment, or make a decision — fast.

Then, early one morning after yet another restless weekend of house-hunting, it hit me what was missing: Almost none of the families in the parks, in the libraries, in the neighborhood cafés looked like us. 

Growing up in Singapore, I found my skin color mirrored by so many of my peers — not only by ethnic Indians like myself, but by friends of all different cultures. I loved learning from people who looked nothing like me. I also loved feeling like I belonged.

It was time to go back to the drawing board. What I initially wondered — Where were the family-friendly neighborhoods in our budget? — was incomplete. I needed our new home to be all of the above, but as I now began asking friends: Where could I live in Seattle where the kids would look like mine?

That sent me to the exact opposite direction — south. 

Two weeks later when we drove into the Central District, it all clicked into place. I saw tremendous diversity not only in skin color, but in language, background and even parenting style. It’s not all rosy, though – I’m currently living through the erosion of the very diversity I moved here for. The prospect of raising my son in this changing neighborhood has given me a new focus to try and preserve the magic that drew me to the area in the first place.

I gave birth two weeks after moving into our new home, which is within walking distance of the heart of Seattle’s downtown immigrant community, the International District. 

When it was time to bring my son home, I thought of all the memories we’d create together in this neighborhood: walking through nearby Dr. Blanche Lavizzo Park (named for the first African-American female pediatrician in Washington State), shopping for groceries in Little Saigon, reading at Douglass-Truth Library up the street (and maybe learning about the library’s freedom-fighting namesakes in the process).

After months of searching, this finally felt like home.

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