Weekday mornings Cathy Hotka and her daughter, Katie, leave their home for the nearby Friendship Heights Metro station. There Hotka, a computer specialist at the American Petroleum Institute, folds up the Aprica stroller Katie rides in and juggles it along with her briefcase and the 4-month-old.
Rainy days are the worst because, as Hotka explains, "You can't push a stroller and hold an umbrella at the same time."
Commuting to work with children is an experience that is becoming common as more employers offer child care at or near work sites and developers use the centers as marketing amenities in office and retail complexes in downtown Washington and other business districts.
The interest in child care among developers and employers is changing the typical day-care scenario that began at a neighborhood drop-off point. Many parents now commute all the way to work with children.
"People still have questions about whether they want to bring young children downtown, but more and more are deciding to bring their children with them," said Dianne Lewis, a manager of the Learning Centers, which has enrolled 70 youngsters in centers in Northwest at 1250 24th St. and 1201 New York Ave.
It is not uncommon to see hand-holding preschoolers marching along the sidewalks of Connecticut Avenue or a half-dozen toddlers in an oversized baby buggy being pushed down K Street.
"We like the idea of being able to see Caitlyn during the day," said Diane Thomas, a trade association vice president, who commutes by car from the Palisades section of Northwest to her office at 15th and K streets with her 14-month-old daughter, enrolled at Kid's First nearby.
Other parents said having their children nearby gives them a sense of security and the chance for midday visits, breastfeeding, lunches together or trips to the pediatrician.
Lawyer Karen Landon's office at the National Labor Relations Board is five blocks away from Kid's First. Landon said she visits with her 7-month-old daughter, Jana, at the center once or twice a week. In warm weather, Landon and Jana leave their home in Brightwood to catch a bus that drops them off at the Takoma Metro station, where the two ride downtown together.
"Sometimes my husband and I will meet for lunch and we'll go over and spring her and take her to the park," Landon said.
There are drawbacks. Though colorfully decorated, many centers in business districts lease the less-expensive underground or basement levels that have no natural light. Outdoor play is limited, and having their small children moving around in heavy downtown traffic causes some parents concern.
Hotka said she is concerned about the pollution from traffic and the harsh weather her daughter is exposed to during their commuting trip. She said she enrolled Katie in the newly opened Kid's First because she could find no one in her community to care for the child.
"There was no lady down the street. I could find nothing," Hotka said. "There are so many people downtown who have little kids and don't know what to do with them."
Family commuting has its problems. Both Landon and Hotka are concerned about taking their babies on public transportation in cold weather. And Hotka notes that when she picks Katie up after work, she must take time before they leave for home to make sure the baby is fed and comfortable.
"You don't want them screaming on the subway," Hotka said.