Two Generations of Tutor Babies

Jack puts his frosted mini-wheats one by one into his bowl, an American flag bib protecting him from small splashes of milk. Across the table, his sister Kate, in an understated red rose headband, lets her eyes wander over the Kirkland House dining hall.
By Niv M. Sultan

Jack puts his frosted mini-wheats one by one into his bowl, an American flag bib protecting him from small splashes of milk. Across the table, his sister Kate, in an understated red rose headband, lets her eyes wander over the Kirkland House dining hall. The two don’t seem to be too engaged in the conversation surrounding them, but that makes sense given their unique positions in the Harvard community: Two-and-a-half-year-old Jack and six-month-old Kate are Kirkland tutor babies. Between them sits a former tutor baby, Simone-Élise S. Hasselmo ’16, who spent her early childhood in the halls of Eliot House. These days, she lives in Leverett House as a Harvard undergraduate.

Simone and Jack were born in the same hospital: Brigham and Women’s in Boston. Jack goes to the same day care that Simone once attended: Soldiers Field across the river. And Jack’s favorite room in his House matches the one that used to excite Simone the most: the mail room.

“Growing up here was a lot of fun. I loved eating in the dining hall,” says Simone. While she doesn’t remember everything from her earlier time at Harvard, some things have stuck with her. “I remember super-cool undergraduate babysitters; I remember eating tofu in the dining hall. Weirdly, that’s one of my biggest memories. Raw tofu from the salad bar.”

Jack’s mother, Erin Walczewski, a Kirkland House tutor, interjects: “Was it the same tofu they have now?”

Simone’s nostalgic answer? “Yeah, yeah.”

Luke Walczewski, Jack’s father, also a Kirkland House tutor, expresses some concerns about raising Jack in the House. He wants to know if Simone can shed some light on how her parents dealt with similar challenges. “One thing that we’re worried about with Jack is that he’s not developing any sense of stranger danger because…he’s surrounded by adults, and everybody knows him. He’s everybody’s friend, and everybody gives him a high-five.”

Erin wonders aloud about how they should teach Jack about strangers. “Like, don’t talk to strangers, unless they’re one of the 500 people who live in this building?” Then she raises another question about growing up at Harvard. “Some of the things that I wonder about, are like, at what point will he realize that dishes are not usually done by putting them on a conveyor belt that takes the trays into a magic hole in the wall—you know what I mean? The kinds of things he takes for granted. I wonder how old he’ll be when he figures out that this is a special part of living at Harvard, and specifically in the Houses, and at Kirkland House, and not something that every toddler gets to do.”

“We did kind of learn that you have to wash out your own cereal bowl, and things like that,” Simone assumes.

Jack seems to be doing just fine: He uses a towel to wipe the milk he’s spilled on his tray.

For all of the unexpected problems that might come with raising a child in a Harvard House, Luke, Erin, and Simone agree that there are clear advantages. Erin recounts Jack learning how to shoot a basketball from members of Harvard’s Varsity Women’s Basketball team, and a group of guys in Kirkland teaching him the importance of crushing one’s cup after finishing a drink. Simone even had an undergraduate babysitter “drill feminism into [her] head.”

“My parents actually did a really fun thing when we were living here,” Simone recounts. “They got a bound journal for both my brother and I, and then every year at Commencement they would put it out and have Eliot residents who had interacted with me or my brother—and they’d go sign it, write us a message. Some of them are really short and just ‘oh, you were really cute and I enjoyed seeing you around,’ and some of them were like two page epics. They gave it to me on my eighteenth birthday. When I was young it wasn’t so interesting, but once I actually was talking and saying cute things, people would remember the things that I’d say and write them down.”

Luke and Erin exchange an excited and knowing look. “That’s a great idea. We’re stealing that,” says Luke.

There’s no question they’d have enough to fill a journal. “We have 350 neighbors that we know really well and that’s a really rare thing,” Luke remarks.

Growing up in Kirkland House appears to have instilled in Jack a powerful sense of community. “One of the things that Jack likes to say the most is ‘Go Harvard,’” says Erin. She and Luke once took Jack to the bar mitzvah of a boy—now a man— whom they used to babysit at Kirkland. Jack capitalized on his new, mysterious audience. “He yelled it in the middle of the bar mitzvah.” Luke picks up the story from there—“Like an hour in. Like stood up in the back, and yelled ‘Go Harvard!’”

The mere mention of “Go Harvard” makes total sense to Jack, who seizes the opportunity to exclaim “Go Harvard!” with practiced skill.

Simone, too, shares the feeling of belonging that Jack has just expressed so eloquently, and it has rooted itself deep within her. “Freshman year, every so often I’d be walking around or I’d be in a certain classroom building, and I would just be like ‘wait, I’ve been here before,’ and it was definitely before I could really walk or talk.”

In spite of supernatural déjà vu and unaltered tofu, seeing how well adjusted Simone has become seems to reassure Erin. “But it sounds like this didn’t mess you up for life,” she says, “because obviously you go to Harvard.”

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