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.comments powered by Disqus
This will not (although it could) be a treatise on the value of "alone time" for a healthy marriage, though. Nor will it be an ode to how nice it was for me to have a few days off from lunch-packing, carpool-driving and homework-nagging.
For those of you who haven't yet seen it, the eight-week-long transit campaign, placed both inside and on the outside of buses, features a photo of an orange tabby with a stainless steel bar drilled into its head accompanied by the line "I am not lab equipment. End UW cat experiments!" Just as PETA hopes, the image is shocking and demands an immediate response.
If I had my druthers, I'd sit out the entire shopping week that follows Thanksgiving. Black Friday, for starters, has corrupted the fine art of bargain shopping and turned it into a gladiator sport. There is no percentage off that is worth losing sleep, or even worse an eye, over. Especially if you have kids in tow.
When you shop for toys, there is always the conflict between what you think is appropriate/adorable and what the child being shopped for might actually want/play with.
Many of the pop-culture seasonal touchpoints of my youth are completely lost on my kids. You see, while I may have memorized every word to both the Snow Miser and the Heat Miser's songs from The Year Without a Santa Claus, I'm pretty sure the only Rankin-Bass stop-motion Christmas special my kids have ever seen has been Rudolph.
I am so thrilled that the United Way is sponsoring a Teen Gift Drive this holiday season. Sure, teen "wants" often aren't as fun to shop for as precious baby dolls and sweet Lego sets. But middle and high school kids still "need" to feel valued and loved during this time of year. And helping a family in need to provide this for their child is a wonderful way to get in the spirit.
My 11th-grade and 8th-grade sons have heard "the chant" for years. You know which one I'm talking about -- the ESFY (U?) chant (I'm not sure what the parenting post rules are for writing two of the more forbidden four-letter words in the English language) that appears to have both Barry Alvarez and Chancellor Blank quite concerned.
There are many different criteria parents use when evaluating which pre-school programs will be right for their children. Some parents might be looking for an educational philosophy that stresses creativity and community. Others may desire an option that revolves around learning through play or is more academic in approach.
We spent hours poring over name books and checking for inappropriate initial combinations. We looked at meanings, variant spellings and popularity charts. And, as I am sure every parent does, we thought we'd hit the name jackpot with each of our kids. But there are always surprises.
A generation or two ago, the pediatrician was the guy (yes, they were mostly guys) who gave your kids shots and prescribed big bottles of antibiotics for every sniffle. Madison's Dipesh Navsaria is a different breed of pediatrician.
Gamehole Con will be the premier tabletop gaming convention in the region. And with Wisconsin being the birthplace of Dungeons and Dragons, as well as the nation's leader in gaming stores per capita, it kind of makes sense that the convention's organizers want the Dairy State to be known for more than just cheese, beer and bratwurst.
This year I will also try to ease up some of my previous costume concerns. Sure, the world is rife with inappropriate dress up choices for our kids; there is no parent out there that is keen on his or her child dressing like a pint-sized prostitute, even for one night.
This past Saturday, I took my youngest to hear Caldecott award-winning author/illustrator Kevin Henkes read from his latest work, The Year of Billy Miller, a short novel for the early elementary grades.
I was greeted at the door by Tom Moen, who has served as executive director of what he likes to call "Madison's best kept secret", for the past 39 of the center's 47 years. Located in the middle of the subsidized Truax Park apartment complex, EMCC, with its vast array of offerings for kids, seniors and everyone in between, is unquestionably the heart of the neighborhood.
Madison's Kashmira Sheth has written four award-winning novels for middle grade and teen readers, and a popular chapter book for six- to nine-year-olds, but right now her picture books are what she's excited to talk about.
A few summers back, my daughter, maybe 8 or 9 at the time, decided to take part in our swimming pool's annual water ballet show. I'm not really sure what initially piqued her interest in the somewhat under-the-radar, very much under-the-water sport of synchronized swimming.
We rarely included a stop at the Central Library as part of our regular outing. For those of you who've been in Madison for a while, I'm sure you'd agree that the old building was pretty run down. Not to mention, dark, cavernous and depressing. Libraries, at their best, should be portals to discovery, right?
My eleven-year-old daughter spent most of last weekend alone in her room, door shut. It wasn't a temper tantrum or an overwhelming need for tween privacy that led to her self-induced isolation, though. Instead, I didn't see her (except for meals) for two days because she was, in her words, "going through her closet."
Yes, the 2004 classic comedy Mean Girls is an absolutely delightful movie. But it's definitely not the smartest mother/daughter viewing as your child is about to enter her inaugural year of middle school.
Despite celebrating 30 years in business this year, Knowledge Unlimited Inc. remains relatively unknown in the community. Those concerned with closing the achievement gap in Madison's schools, however, may want to take note. This award-winning educational-materials producer, based in Middleton, is unique in emphasizing multiculturalism throughout its lines of educational posters, DVDs and children's books.