Mama Madison: Two Madisons

Shouldn't we all be living in the same city?

My husband and I moved to Madison in early 1998. We had just had our first child the previous spring and were looking for a change from downtown Chicago living. We had no real prerequisites for where we might want to migrate. Hawaii and Alaska felt a little far, but the contiguous 48 states were all in the running.

Step one, logically, would have been to do a little research on where to relocate. And "little" ended up being the operative word. Because a few weeks after we made the decision, I spotted the cover of an old Money Magazine buried between Parents and Fit Pregnancy in the pediatrician's office. Madison, Wisconsin was, evidently, the best place to live in the country. And, being easily influenced by the popular media, the decision was made. We were heading northwest -- a new kind of pioneer -- bypassing the suburbs of the Windy City intent on laying down roots in the capital of America's Dairyland.

We've never looked back for even a second. For my family, Madison has lived up to the #1 ranking, and then some. We love living a life lifted directly from a Norman Rockwell painting. I adore that our neighborhood has an open door policy for playdates, a volunteer-flooded community ice rink, and the sweetest holiday parades this side of Mayberry. Two out of three of my kids can walk to school within minutes. And I accompany the younger one mostly to get the dog out for a walk; she certainly doesn't need an escort for safety reasons.

But sometimes I forget that it's not all Saturday Evening Post covers for everyone in town. Yes, we have a great children's museum, a beautiful, free zoo, and fabulous bike paths. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, a dark underbelly is uncovered. Like the horrible child abuse story that came to light earlier this month. Impossible, I thought, that what happened to this 15-year-old girl happened less than a 20 minute drive from my home. This is Madison, I wanted to scream, and this stuff isn't allowed to happen here. And yet it does.

And it saddens me to know there are hundreds of homeless kids in the Madison public schools. When you are living in a shelter or out of your car you probably don't care what ranking Madison received in the latest "Top Places to Live" du jour.

This is also the week Dan Nerad is launching the first of ten community conversations to get feedback on the proposed district plan for eliminating the achievement gap in the Madison Public Schools. Yes, my kids are being served in spades by our schools and teachers; I am continually awed by some of the transformative experiences they've had in the classroom. But based on what I've seen and heard, not every family in the district feels they can say the same.

So I will participate in the Superintendent's conversations; an excellent public school system for everyone is absolutely vital to the health of my adopted city. And I'll remember that abuse, neglect, violence and poverty do happen here --and that we can do better.

Because right now I think there might just be two Madisons. And I want everyone to feel we are one, as well as #1.

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