Babes in the Houses

Combining Kids and Life at Harvard

There are some people at Harvard who look forward to eating dining hall hash browns. There are some who visit their favorite Harvard museums every weekend just to see the fossils. There are some who take full advantage of their houses' sunny courtyards on bright fall and spring afternoons.

Where can you find these cheery, energetic people? Look down--they're the infants, toddlers and grammar-schoolers of resident tutors, senior tutors and house masters.

"At Lowell House, we actually have a lot of kids at the moment on the way or here," says Barbara E. Petzen, resident tutor in Lowell, who is eight months pregnant with a son, Liam. "Having watched some of the kids grow up in the house, I just think it's the best environment for having kids."

All the resident tutors and masters interviewed for this article agreed with Petzen: The Harvard houses provide intellectual and social stimulation for their children as well as an enduring sense of community.

And the benefits are not limited to parents and kids in the houses. For many students, cooing at the babies in the dining halls or saying hello as older children barrel through halls on their tricycles is one of the best parts of house life--although students say they're glad to send the kids back to their parents at the end of the day.

Cultivating Community

Parents praise life in the houses for the strong sense of community it creates.

"This is an incredibly vibrant intellectual community and a personally warm community, too," says Vincent L. Cryns '83, a tutor in Mather House who raises 16-month-old Avery, "a very cute son," with Julia A. DeMaria. "It's a safe community too, with all the security and whatnot. It's a great place for Avery."

Last year, Avery participated in a play group with the children of other tutors and junior faculty members. One of the babies was Mather infant Sofia Gomez-Doyle.

"Sofia and Avery are about two weeks apart," Cryns says. When both DeMaria and Sofia's mother, Christina Gomez, were pregnant, Cryns said, "We went through this pregnancy together, and we did Lamaze [classes] together, so that's really nice."

The sense of community Sofia brings extends to Matherite Kareem Ghalib '96, who lived next door to Gomez and her husband, Jerry P. Doyle, in DeWolfe his sophomore year.

"[Christina] was pregnant during sophomore year--she was getting pretty big, and when we got back for junior year, all of the sudden there was Sofia," Ghalib says.

Doyle and Gomez now live in Ghalib's former DeWolfe suite, he said, and it has an entirely different feel from when he lived there.

"So now my room is a baby room," Ghalib says. "It's got this little mini desk and little building blocks. It's much nicer than my room was before."

Ghalib said having children around reminds him of family life outside Harvard.

"It's kind of a good measuring stick for us, because here we are at college and all we grow at college is a few inches around the waist, but here are these kids and they're growing inches and learning how to eat," he says.

The only time Sofia bothered Ghalib and his roommates was when she and her peers cried and shouted while participating in Radcliffe's daycare program, located just under his former window in DeWolfe.

"She's in the daycare that would wake us up in the morning," Ghalib says. "It bothered you at first, but you look out the window, and you see them toddling around, and it makes you smile."

Sozi C. Sozinho '97, a Leverett resident, says the young children who run and play in the house courtyard remind him of his three younger siblings at home.

"You see the kids, and they remind you a little of the youth you had before Harvard," Sozinho says.

The community feeling extends beyond personal interaction, says the head of one house.

"It's a very rich environment to grow up in," says Leigh G. Hafrey '73, co-master of Mather House, who is raising Nathaniel, 9, and Benjamin, 4, with house Master Sandra A. Naddaff '75. "You've got all these smart, accomplished people who are almost always very generous with their time and their attention."

For instance, Nathaniel has become interested in World War II. "That's the sort of thing I think undergraduates respond to," Hafrey says.

Sometimes, children can even add to the financial resources of a house, as infant Alana Yang, daughter of tutors Malia Preble and Scott H. Yang '87, once did at a Kirkland House Dutch Auction.

"Students convinced my husband to put Alana up for auction--holding her--it kind of eases their stress during exam time, holding a little tiny baby," Preble says. "The bidding started at $5, and it went up to I think $15. Mostly men were bidding."

The man who won the bids held Alana, now a year and a half, for 45 minutes, 15 more than the agreed-upon length of time.

"When I told him he owed extra money to House Committee, he [said], 'But she was sleeping for 15 minutes!" Preble says."

And most parents say the obvious: It's never hard to find a babysitter among hundreds of Harvard undergraduates.

"Of course, one benefit of living in a house is virtually unlimited expert babysitting," says Tim Markey, a resident tutor in Lowell House, who is raising Claudia, 3 1/2, and Seamus, six months, with his wife Lorraine.

But another tutor disagrees.

"It's very difficult to find a babysitter, [because] Harvard undergraduates are very busy," says Theresa M. Sull '84, who is married to Donald N. Sull '85 and is raising three children: Charlie, 5, Phillip, 3 and Elizabeth, 17 months. "Babysitting is a worthwhile activity, but it's not going to go on your resume."

"But then once you do [find babysitters], they're fantastic," she adds. "I mean, Harvard undergraduates are the greatest people in the world."

What Harvard Has to Offer

And according to parents and kids in the houses, Harvard's resources for children and families are some of the best in the world.

"My wife and son during the weekdays and myself on weekends often go to Harvard museums," Cryns says. "[Avery] loves the Peabody Museum, with the stuffed animals and the fossils, and he loves the art museums as well. It's really a very rich environment for him to grow up in."

An administrator at the Graduate School of Education echoes that view.

"I would would be very advantageous, in terms of being in an environment where academic work and studies and [books] and the like are always present," says Vito Perrone, director of teacher education programs.

"And they likely see a lot of musical performance, and they likely see a diversity of students in terms of background and culture," he continues. "I tend to see the environment as mostly a positive environment."

Powell Graham, 7, son of Currier House Masters William and Barbara Graham, has lived in Currier House for five years and seems to have imbibed some of that richness.

Sometimes, Powell "comes out and plays violin for us," says Currier House Committee President Zachary T. Buchwald '96. "That's pretty clever.... I can't imagine that taking place not having grown up in an environment of this nature."

Where They Meet

The center of interaction between students and children seems to be the dining hall.

"We like watching [the kids] at dinner, because they're really funny," says Kristy L. Garcia '98, who lives in Leverett House. "They're really cute, because they run around in capes and stuff."

And Sozinho said that the Leverett kids follow him around in the dining hall.

"Sometimes things get a little serious in the dining halls, and [the kids] come in and break it up," he says.

The dining hall can initially intimidate babies, but eventually they learn to enjoy the company, Preble says.

"At first, she was kind of daunted by being in the dining hall, but she has gotten comfortable in that kind of setting, with all the people poking at her and peering at her," Preble says of Alana.

And the Markey's children are "impressed by the high ceiling in the [Lowell] dining hall." Tim Markey says.

Of course, combining toddlers and cafeteria-style dining can occasionally lead to disaster.

"A lot of times, I feel like, 'Oh my God, they're touching the doughnuts,' or "They spilled a second glass of juice all over the table," Theresa Sull says.

Despite some hazards, Markey and other parents say that tending to children in the dining halls helps the parents meet the students they oversee.

"As resident tutors, one knows a lot of students, but one knows that many more having a baby or a small child in the house, because many students are attracted to your child in the dining hall," he says.

"By the end of the first semester, we probably know at least 100 students by name. We've made more friends that way, and acquaintances too."

Babies can help students meet other students as well.

"Sometimes Alana has helped students who wouldn't otherwise get to know each other become friends," Preble says.

And the kids enjoy themselves too. "They're already having lots of fun, in the dining hall, talking to people, playing with people," says Caroline Quillian Stubbs, senior admissions and financial aid officer, who lives in Currier House with Senior Tutor John L. Stubbs and their three young children.

"Currier is great because there's so much inside space where kids can ride their tricycles," she says.

But constant socialization with strangers needs to be monitored, she says. "We have to be sure to have family time also."

Theresa Sull, who lives in Winthrop House, which hosts just six children, says sometimes there are not enough other children around for her three to play with.

"The bad thing is obviously that there aren't a lot of kids around," says Theresa Sull.

"Otherwise, we'd probably be living in a suburb with lots of families and a house and a yard and a garage. But then on the plus side, it's hard to separate our family and ourselves, because we really enjoy living in the house."

Perrone says it is important to make sure the children of tutors and masters do not interact exclusively with 18 to 22-year-olds.

"Clearly, there is a great need for them also to be engaged with children their own age," Perrone says. "I'm sure their parents are providing those things for them."

Through play groups and daycare, most parents interviewed say they do just that.

Sozinho says that he sometimes wonders if the kids miss out on being with other kids.

"I get a feeling that these kids can be kind of isolated, living in this kind of environment--especially Leverett Towers," he says. "But I imagine the parents try as much as possible to get them involved with other kids."

Growing Up

Since most tutors stay in houses for only a few years--until their dissertations or residencies are done--they say they will move on to "real" houses as their children grow up, but not because they feel the undergraduate houses are a bad influence.

Hafrey said that his nine-and four-year-olds might have different attitudes toward house life as they grow up.

"My guess is that as kids get older, as they move into their teen years, they really do need a sense of privacy," Hafrey says.

But for right now, the distance in ages is perfectly adequate. "What's happening, then, is that they are getting closer in age to the age of the students, but they aren't students, and so that distance makes itself felt." Hafrey says.

To Raise a Child

All in all, parents say, the Harvard houses, with their vibrant intellectual life, diverse social life and sense of community, seem to be an ideal place in which to raise their children.

"It has been like living in a small town or a town within a city, having a kid [in the house], and that really tickles," Cryns says.

Gomez agrees that the house "feels good" to her and her husband.

"Because we've only lived in a university setting, this is all we know," she says. "I think it's making [Sofia] very social."

And Hafrey says the house has provided a real home for Nathaniel and Benjamin.

"It has been exactly what we had hoped--a good environment for kids to grow up in," he says.

"There's that expression--it takes a village to raise a child--and in many ways I think that's what the house is," Hafrey says. "A village."