There is No Such Thing as a Single Family (Lessons Learned at La Playa Preschool Co-op)

When I posted the journalism about La Playa Preschool celebrating their 75th anniversary, there was so much more I wanted to write that did not fit the AP stylebook format. This happens fairly often, but since I do practice journalism, it is essential that I color within the lines. I know that many of my readers call everything ‘an article’ but there are differences between reporting and commenting. For La Playa, I wanted to write commentary.  

The thing about La Playa is that the place really saved my life. Our culture, in one of its most bizarre and harmful facets, has created a standard of raising children all by yourself, in your single family house, no to help you but PBS Kids. If you are lucky, and have a good partner or a steady babysitter/nanny, you might get a moment to breathe now and then. I had neither (but I leaned hard on PBS Kids – we can still sing most of the songs.) You are also supposed to be working 40 hours a week, advancing your career. So how are you taking care of the children? (How are you ever taking care of yourself?) 

It was the beginning of many of my Culver City stories. When I began to ask around about a preschool for my older (then my only) daughter, three people – three very unconnected people – each told me I should check out La Playa. When we were accepted, I found a place in a group of parents with young children. I had not been involved in any kind of group (expect a once a month book discussion) for many years. It was like rain after a drought. 

When I was working at the co-op, I learned some deep lessons, many of which I still check in with regularly. I am not the best; I am not the worst. Other people’s children are just as much fun and as challenging as my own. Children are different in each category; age is not size, is not vocabulary, or social skills. Those who can get along with others and solve their own problems will model for those that can’t (yet.) This all works for adults as well – I learned as much from bad examples as from good ones, and the guidance of the teachers – when I was there, it was the amazing Ruth Hollensteiner and the wonderful Marni Parsons – reminded us all that this was a chapter, not the whole book, and we’d all get through it. 

To those who fight tooth and nail to preserve single family zoning, I just have to say you’re mistaken. There is no such thing as a single family, we connect and overlap and intersect in ways that are vital to our survival as a species. 

I can count many of the connections I made at La Playa among my friends today – and so can my children. I can think of a number occasions when a crisis arose at a public event (block party, summer concert) and the ability to look around and find other LaPlaya alumni meant  things could be explained quickly and people got busy. Problems were solved – no one drowned in the unattended swimming pool, the rambunctious toddler did not wander out into traffic – problems that each of us as individuals could not have solved on our own, certainly not fast enough to save those children.

I’ve been in other co-ops and I think they offer a lot of the things we need to succeed. La Playa gave me gifts I can never give back, but I make it a point to pay it forward. 

Judith Martin-Straw


The Actors' Gang