by Lela Nargi
“Let’s go, CaMise!” Micah Stillwell-Zinn yells to his father, founder of a design firm Marquise Stillwell, as he speeds his scooter down a crowded stretch of 8th Avenue in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. “He’s calling us by our first names these days,” laughs Micah’s mom, Randi Zinn, founder of mom networking community Beyond Mom, as pedestrians hurl themselves out of Micah’s path. “And for some reason, he also calls Marquise ‘CaMise.’”
It’s one of several phases the 3-1/2 year old is currently undergoing (another, which will be familiar to any parent of a post-toddler: “What school do you go to, Micah?” Answer: “Poopie!”), which the little family is taking in stride. Part of their coping strategy is to keep Micah active. And on this day, they’re making their way down to Gansevoort Street’s Seravalli playground, one of several outdoor spaces in the weekend rotation of what Ohio native Marquise refers to as New York’s all-important “park ecosystem.” Read on to find out what else makes Chelsea the perfect home base for the Stillwell-Zinn’s.
How did you guys meet?
Randi Zinn: We met in a magical New York City moment—magical, because there’s no good reason we met, except we did, in a coffee shop on Irving Place. He walked in, I thought he was cute, we looked at each other and started talking. I was reading a really bad book; I don’t even remember the title. I actually read good books, but this wasn’t one of them, and we started talking about what I was reading. We had a phone number exchange, then we had a date a few days later.
Marquise Stillwell: Now we’ve been married for four years. I was living in Harlem when we met.
What made you guys choose to settle in Chelsea?
Marquise: My office is nearby but also, this is such a central location and that allows freedom. There are so many families, and we have such proximity to Madison Square Park, Washington Square, Horatio, the park on 10th Avenue. You can just walk outside and go to a park and not have to plan who you’re going to run into. You’re constantly cultivating community here, whether it’s for business, or just with the kids. Even Micah knows so many people in the neighborhood. When we go downstairs in our building, he loves when the doorman says hello to him, and they also say hi to him at a little café we go to called The Commons.
Randi: One of Marquise and my favorite weeknight restaurants is Le Zie. Their hostess is now doing photography at my events.
What are your usual neighborhood rounds on the weekends?
Randi: Basketball is a big thing for these guys on “Dadurday,” and I use that as my time. I meet up with girlfriends or work out. Sometimes I’ll take Patricia Moreno’s IntenSati class at the Gibney Dance Center, or I’ll go to SoulCycle. But I’m also a longtime yogi at Laughing Lotus.
Marquise: Every Saturday Micah and I go to the Good Stuff Diner. We get the same booth, they bring us the same thing to eat, they bring us the crayons. Then we go play basketball. I’m not trying to get him to be an athlete as much as create the best conditions for his abilities to be expressed. Controlling your physical space gives you a sense of confidence, whether you’re on the playground or in the boardroom. And basketball lets me show him other things, like breathing techniques I hope he’ll be able to roll over into managing anxiety when he becomes an adult. We dribble, dribble, dribble at the free throw line, then breathe. I’m teaching him how to slow down and think about what he’s doing when he’s frustrated and angry.
What do you do when you can’t be outside?
Marquise: When it’s raining, I’ll take Micah to the “zoo,” which is a pet store. They also know to expect him at the Guitar Center—we come in to play the drum sets.
What about family time?
Marquise: We belong to the Brotherhood Temple in Gramercy Park. We really only practice on the high holidays, but we do Shabbat dinner every Friday.
Randi: Micah knows his Shabbat prayers, and we do them as a ritual to slow us down and bring us together. Friday night is very important to us. We got good advice early on, which was that the best way to teach a kid rituals is just to do them. For us, it’s less about what happens at temple than what happens at home.
Marquise: Micah also has two different coin jars: one for himself, and his tzedaka box for what we call “the people.” He’s still struggling with that idea. He knows “the people” is not him, and he hates giving to them right now. But one night we were walking out of a restaurant and we saw a homeless person. We hadn’t eaten all our soup and I stopped and asked the man if he’d like the soup. We walked away and Micah said, “Daddy, why did we give him our soup?” And I said, “There are other people who need what we have.” We were constantly doing and giving and sharing when I was growing up. I think that if you create the right conditions for kids, they’ll start to gravitate towards that. I’m just holding that space for him, for when he’s ready.
Photographs by Roy Beeson