by Lela Nargi
When hotel designer Andrew Alford got an offer to pack up shop in hometown San Francisco and become chief creative officer for boutique chain Graduate Hotels, based in Chicago, he knew it would be a big transition (not least of all because of the weather). “It was definitely a change for our family,” says Alford’s husband, Jeffrey Norberg, an intellectual property lawyer. “But Chicago is a great city to raise a kid in!”
Married in 2008 just two weeks before Prop 8 passed in California, the two have spent the last year settling in to the funky Wicker Park neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side with 3-year-old daughter, Kate, a sandwich maven. While Kate munched on peanut butter and jelly and the family’s Boston terrier, Squeaker, waited patiently underfoot for crumbs to drop, they talked to us about their new life in the Windy City.
What’s it like to be a Chicago family, now?
Andrew Alford: Lifestyle-wise, Chicago is more focused than some other cities on families—families with kids of all ages, not just in the 0 to 4 range. There are kids everywhere, in all parts of the city, and we take Kate out with us all the time.
Jeffrey Norberg: When we first moved, I started my own law practice and worked remotely for a bit, out of the back bedroom. I’m really busy now; it’s so easy to get to know people in Chicago. And it’s truly a city of invention: the avant garde, molecular gastronomy. People are willing to take a lot more risks in business endeavors, because the cost of entry into any given market is a lot lower than elsewhere. There’s a real pioneering spirit here.
Was there something about Wicker Park in particular that appealed to you?
Andrew: There are a lot of families in our neighborhood, but there’s still graffiti, a hip-hop scene, underground art. Even though we’re parents, we didn’t stop being interesting people. A couple of weeks ago, a local bar was having drag queen night in the basement, dedicated to John Waters. Kate would have loved it; she’s so social and music-focused. But they won’t let her in till she’s 21.
Jeff: We could get her a fake ID. That’s quality parenting advice! There’s a cool mix in our neighborhood. We’ve got all these galleries, bars, vintage and designer shops. But in the warmer months we can go to the amazing playground in Wicker Park, and to the farmers market on the weekends.
Andrew: We both work intensely so we don’t always want to have to load Kate into the car and put the effort into driving somewhere. Living here, we haven’t had to sacrifice our adult lives. We try hard to maintain the interesting aspects of ourselves, so she can grow up knowing about those.
How old was Kate when you adopted her?
Jeffrey: We had her a few hours after she was born, adopted from Colorado. It actually happened very quickly. Just over three years ago we had gone through the process of getting our household approved to adopt. The agency suggested that we send out letters talking about why we wanted to have a child to clinics and pregnancy crisis centers, and they said we had to hand-address every envelope. We had three big parties for friends who helped us address 3,000 letters. A few days later, we were contacted by Kate’s mother, then three weeks later, we were flying out to meet her.
Andrew: She’s one of the most open-minded, kind-hearted people we’ve ever met. We stay in touch with her, and she keeps track of us on social media. She visited us twice in San Francisco, and she’s due to visit again. We have no secrets from Kate about her—we’ve been reading her books on all kinds of families since before she could even understand.
What’s your family routine like?
Jeffrey: Every weekday Kate goes to daycare from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. and we have dinner together, as long as Andy’s not traveling. In which case, Kate and I will have dinner—steak, because Andy’s not a huge fan. On weekends, we spend both entire days together. December through March can be difficult in Chicago. But there’s the Shedd Aquarium, which has Beluga whales and a submarine with buttons and knobs for Kate to turn. Or we go out to eat. Dove’s Luncheonette has a potato hash that’s on the spicy side, which Kate loves.
Andrew: Kate also loves Vietnamese pho—actually, any incarnation of soup. We have to drive to Argyle Street on the North Side to get it, but then there are eight places to choose from, including Tank Noodle.
Jeffrey: In San Francisco, Kate would be the only child eating out in a restaurant. Here, she never is. I think that’s a good influence on her.
Photographs by Thomas Kubik, TK Photography