あそびのもり ONLINE

Series CHILDREN IN THE WORLD Part III Diversity of families − Families from San Francisco & Bay Area –

James Sword and Jen Hein Demause,
and their children Milo, 3, & Elliott, 1month

  • Milo loves to hug and kiss his little brother, Jen says.

  • Jen and her children Milo, 3, & Elliott, one-month-old at their house in Haight District in San Francisco.

  • Their house is located on the second floor. James takes the stroller downstairs.

  • The family is on the way to a park a couple of blocks away from their house, James pushes the stroller that they customized by adding the part where Milo can stand on.

  • While Jen watches the baby Elliot, James let Milo play with sand at a park.

  • On the way home from park, James carries Milo on his shoulders.

‘Our son doesn’t question why his friend has two mommies’

Many couples have found it impossible to raise a family in San Francisco.
But for one lucky family, some foresight from their parents allowed them to continue to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

James Sword and Jen Hein Demause are married and live in San Francisco with their children Milo, who is three years old, and Elliott, who is one month old. Jen is a public school teacher for special assignments in the Public Elementary schools in San Francisco, and James works for the National Park Service.

James is a native of San Francisco, and Jen grew up living in New York City so they both value what residing in a city offers them as a family.

He grew up in the Sunset District of San Francisco and then moved to the Haight district and went to a public high school. James considers himself lucky because his parents bought multiple properties in the Haight in the early 1980’s when the price of real estate in San Francisco was very reasonable. It is now costly and unaffordable for most families. James and Jen live in one of family properties in San Francisco.

“But all of our struggles are hollow first-world struggles. Because we’ve owned the building so long we don’t pay $3000 a month in rent,” explained James. “What other people would pay in rent we are going to put into pre-school.”

James and Jen currently pay for over $25,000 for daycare and pre-school for Milo each year. When Elliott is old enough to enter daycare the cost for both of them will be $30,000 through $40,000.

“Now we are trying to reconcile with paying for two daycare (services),” explained Jen. “It’s going to be tough.”

They might be dipping into their savings but, as Jen notes, “We are able to live in the city [San Francisco] with kids. It’s unusual.”

“I don’t really know anything different [than growing up in a city] because I grew up in New York City. To me, it is just how I grew up except we have beautiful nature around here also,” said Jen. “[Our children are] going to have access to all of these great things that we appreciate as adults [living in San Francisco], and they will be able to appreciate them too. I don’t see myself living anywhere else.”

Jen appreciated the diversity she experienced growing up. “It was the first time that I was in the majority when I went to college [in Minnesota], and I was not used to that. It felt funny.”

“It wasn’t unusual to interact with people that are different than me,” continued Jen. She firmly believes that Milo and Elliott should have the same experience living in a diverse city like San Francisco.

Jen gave birth to her youngest son Elliott just a month ago. She has twelve weeks extended maternity leave. Then Jen will take a leave of absence from work (using available sick days) until returning to school the following August. She specializes in instituting academic standards for math teachers in San Francisco Public Schools. Her program is integrating the STEM system of education into the school system. Jen works with a Japanese professor from Mills College in Oakland to develop the STEM curriculum in San Francisco.

The break from her job will give her a time to bond with Elliott and also not have to pay for daycare. James had some parental leave time and along with some saved up personal time and was able to take a month off of work.

‘Having a kid exposed to diversity normalizes that there are non-typical families out there’

As for their philosophy raising their children, Jen said they work on teaching their kids to be kind to others, not impulsive, and don’t hurt other people. They explain that hurting someone else can make them sad and it’s better to make them happy with a hug or a kiss. Also if you apologize, it has to be a sincere apology.

“One of the big things we work on is being kind to other. Milo is at an age when he is impulsive,” said Jen. “He is very sensitive to making people sad, and he wants to make them happy. We try to not make him sorry if he isn’t really sorry. We try to show how his actions impact others.”

Milo loves to hug and kiss his younger brother. Milo calls himself Jen’s big baby and Elliott is her little baby. “He wants to hug and kiss him all the time,” said Jen about Milo. “Sometimes too hard,” she said with a laugh.

Because San Francisco has a lot of diversity, James and Jen haven’t felt that they have had to teach their kids about how to interact with people that are of different cultures or ethnicities.

“He hasn’t asked us questions about it,” James noticed about Milo “One of our good friends is a lesbian couple, and they are really good taking it all head on. Milo doesn’t question why his friend has two mommies.”

Having a kid exposed to diversity in San Francisco is essential he continues. It normalizes that there are non-typical families out there.

‘I believe in a public school education’

As for whether they want their kids to go to public or private school, it’s a simple choice. They both believe in a public school education.

“We want our kids to go to public schools. We both went to public schools. I think that private schools provide a good education,” said James, “but when I think of diversity, I don’t think of the diversity of people’s family background. A social-economic diversity I think is more important than racial diversity.”

“Part of it is I work for public schools, and I believe in them,” said Jen. “But it really comes from growing up that I went to public school, and my brother went to private school, and I got to see both worlds.”

“Living in the city, when you go to public school you go to school with different people and different [social] classes and living situations,” Jen continued. “Private school tends to be a lot more homogenous. That impacts your worldview.”

Jen explained that when her brother went to a private school as a kid, he never felt like he was good enough because all the rest of the children were from families of higher financial and social status. She said that private school students are very focused on what you have (material items) and what you make for money.

However, she believes that public schools are required to serve all kids of all social and economic levels and accommodate them. Private schools are not as flexible, and they will explain to the student and family that they need to change how they learn or act to fit their system of education and learning.

Jen feels that the biggest difference between private and public schools is that the private schools give their students a demanding curriculum while many public schools do not challenge their kids enough.

“There is no reason why public school students can’t do that cognitively demanding work. [As a teacher] you have to believe they are capable of doing that and then managing them and support them.”

San Francisco has 72 elementary schools, and it’s a challenge to have them all up to the same standards. Each school is different in their curriculum and how they support teachers. In San Francisco, there is also a VAPA (for art programs) to have in schools.

As a teacher, she tries to develop the capabilities and the standards for the education system.

She feels that schooling is more about helping the child learn and succeed and feels that they need to get rid of the rules imposed by No Child Left Behind Act (For more information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_Child_Left_Behind_Act). No Child left Behind focused on reading, some math but mostly teaching a standardized core which would help school pass the standardized test standards developed by the education department. Jen prefers the STEM system of learning, comparing it to the Japanese common core idea of teaching. Some teachers are resistant to the new regime she said, but for some, the difficulty is just learning a new way of education.

“Schools are really coming out of the “dark ages” of No Child Left Behind,” Jen explained. “They have really focused on reading and math to some degree and testing and standardization. We are working against that tide.”

“I feel that teachers have been traumatized by the No Child Left Behind era. “

As part of revamping the school curriculum in San Francisco, Jen is working in particular with the math departments of the SF public schools, helping each one develop their curriculum for their students.

‘Biggest problem for moms with young kids is paying for private preschools’

Although they prefer living in the city, they have considered what residing in the suburbs would be like. “Everyone else is moving out when their kids are getting older,” James noted. Many of their friends have moved to the suburbs when they have children.

Every once in awhile when visiting relatives who live in the Bay Area suburb of San Ramon, they daydream about what it would be like to live there. “However, I think we would be miserable after a while out there,” Jen said. “We can’t even keep our apartment clean, never mind a 3,000-foot house,” added James. “Who are we kidding.”

Although they can’t see themselves ever moving, James and Jen agree there are downsides to living in the Haight District of San Francisco. There are wealthy and poor individuals in the neighborhood, and there is crime but it’s manageable, James notes. Some families have lived on his block from the 1970’s. With so many long-term owners nearby his neighborhood feels like a community.

There is a constant homeless problem (the city just moves them from neighborhood to neighborhood when there are complaints explains James, and they do not tackle the issue head on). Parking is also a huge issue, and he feels that many of the public agencies in the city do not work together to solve the problems that face families living in San Francisco.

He does like that there are also some programs for lower income people to have day care access in SF including “Faces SF (http://www.facessf.org/).” He thinks it is great the city can help some parents with limited incomes stay in the city, but he feels the city could do a better job helping out middle-class families as well.

“I hate saying we are not being helped out by the city because we are doing fine,” said James. “OK, we don’t eat out as much. I think the city can do a better job for people that are not able to live here.”

He thinks that biggest problem for moms with young kids (from birth to age five) that is paying for private preschools which cost $1,500 to $2000 a month. Some families hire nanny’s and au-pairs but that seems like a sense of entitlement, and they are not into that.

“The biggest complaint from recent imports into the city are the forgotten in the middle class,” continued James. However, noting the number of people who have the financial means to have a nanny or an au-pair shows him that many people are doing OK. “The concept of a nanny or au-pair is so foreign we would not even consider it. Neither of us grew up with it. We might be able to afford it. A lot of it is expectations. Our situation is rare but people who move here and move to SF expect everything to be shiny and clean and that’s not the reality of cities.”

When asked about what they thought about Donald Trump and what his administration means for the country, Jen responded: “Honestly it’s so hard to think about how destructive the Trump presidency will be for our children’s future because I can’t get over how destructive it will be/already is for the present. My brother is on Obamacare and needs it for monthly treatments for an autoimmune disease.”

“As a public school teacher, I’m worried about the defunding and privatization of schools in the not too distant future,” Jen continued. “As a federal employee, James could be impacted by a government that is basically trying to dismantle all federal agencies. And Trump is/will be so much worse for those of us who aren’t white/straight/economically doing okay. I guess my biggest worry about the future is in terms of climate change, as that is the area where we won’t see immediate destruction (well not complete destruction at least).”

Reporting by Douglas Zimmerman
Photography by Ayumi Nakanishi

The Team Profiles

  • Douglas Zimmerman Journalist /Photojournalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His understanding about the importance in education was instilled by his mother who was a career teacher and school administrator in public schools in in the state of Connecticut in the United States. As a photojournalist, Douglas has spent the past fifteen years covering football (soccer) culture in the United States and at the FIFA World Cup. He also works as an online photo editor and reporter for SFGate.com, the website of the San Francisco Chronicle.
  • Ayumi Nakanishi Photojournalist /Documentary photographer and filmmaker. She has traveled to 40 countries to meet families & communities, especially documenting children issues. Her passion led her based in Jakarta, Indonesia for the last 10 years working on a long-term documentary film project on a punk commune giving a helping hand to others including children. Her film has been screened in Japan and Indonesia.