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The scene at the Be With Me Playseum was chaos.
A heat wave had struck Washington, and after only a week of operation, the Capitol Hill location was already receiving crowds.
Women in orange aprons ran up and down the stairs, shifting from the bakery to the pet shop to the children’s spa. An equipment deliveryman transported boxes down the stairs on a red trolley.
A mother at the front desk wanted enough Playseum dollars to buy a cupcake to decorate. Another mother with a baby on her hip asked to buy a monthlong pass.
But the various children roaming the place didn’t notice. One young girl couldn’t stop admiring her nails, which she had painted for one Playseum dollar in the spa. Another group stood enthralled in the pet shop, gingerly petting a rabbit that a worker had taken out of its cage, while a boy asked if he could buy a police officer’s outfit with Playseum dollars.
In a city that can seem built only for adults, the Playseum at 545 Eighth St. SE is an oasis for children and their parents. The chaos and excitement of dozens of kids interacting with their parents and each other is just what owner Gina Seebachan once imagined.
The Playseum started years ago as an after-school club Seebachan hosted at her home. One day each week, she’d invite some of her daughters’ friends over to do simple crafts or science projects for a few hours. The club expanded to two days each week, and then one club for grade schoolers and one for middle schoolers. Seebachan said all she could think was, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could have more kids here?”
After her mother died of cancer, Seebachan was compelled to realize her dream.
“Three weeks after that, I was up one night and I didn’t stop writing, and I literally wrote out the entire layout of the Playseum,” she recalls. “And I wrote, ‘Be with me, Mom. The one wish I had is that you would’ve been with me more often.’”
Seebachan realized most child-recreation businesses in the city perpetuated a division between parents and kids by asking parents to drop their children off for the day. There wasn’t a place — aside from the occasional children’s museum — where parents could stay and play with their kids.
So she set off to check out every children’s museum within driving distance. She’d take her kids, then ranging in age from 2 to 11, and spend the day evaluating a museum. Afterward, Seebachan and her children would sit around the table at Starbucks and draw designs for a new type of children’s museum on napkins.