Mama Madison: A different way of looking at July 4

What about those who don't have neighborhoods?

I dare you to find a happier place on Earth to be a kid, American or otherwise, than my neighborhood on the Fourth of July. I don't care if Mickey and Minnie dress up like George and Martha Washington this coming Independence Day, Disneyworld will have nothing on my "Magic Kingdom." We have balloon tosses, fire engines, hot dogs and brats. We will listen to John Phillips Souza blasted over loud speakers as every child in the five-block radius of Virginia Terrace makes his or her way up and down the block for the annual Grand Parade.

And my kids and I agree, the perfect way to finish off the festivities is with the Roman Candle, Black Cat and snap display that some how manages to crop up every year right in front of our house around eight p.m. It's pure pyrotechnic joy until the first kid steps barefoot on a sparkler. That scream though, usually around 8:45 p.m., serves a signal to the rest of the neighborhood that it's time to slather on the Deet, pack up the blankets and head over to the Village of Shorewood for the volunteer fire department's fireworks show.

But I'm going into my favorite kid-centric holiday a bit more solemnly this year. Because for the past week and a half, I've spent many of my evenings volunteering with The Road Home Dane County shelter program for homeless families. And I am reminded that the magic of July 4th isn't the same when you have no permanent neighborhood to celebrate it in.

The three families currently in the program have been staying on the lower level of Temple Beth El on the city's near west side. And while a typical Road Home rotation usually lasts just a week for congregations, this time around we had the rare opportunity to host the families for two weeks in a row.

This longer stretch has had the advantage of being less disruptive for the guests; it's one less time a family needs to stuff everything they own into labeled garbage bags for the move to the next host house of worship. But the two full weeks together also allowed volunteers and guests to get to know each other a little better than they might have otherwise.

I met a lovely mom of five who made the move to Madison last summer with her four younger children. The kids have settled nicely into school. Now they just want to settle into a permanent home.

Another young couple had two little ones and a third on the way. Her due date is mid-July. All the baby-loving volunteers not-so-secretly hoped the new arrival might come a bit early, during our host weeks. Who doesn't want to cradle a newborn in their arms?

But we were all sobered by the realization that if this did happen, the infant's first night "home" would be in an institutional basement. Much to my happiness though, the third family, an adorable first grader, his mom and older sister, has likely secured housing and will be moving out of shelter later this week. If all goes well they should be fully settled in to their new place by July 4th. Talk about giving new meaning to the idea of Independence Day.

I'm hoping I can even buy them a few fireworks, legal of course, as a homecoming present.

Because stepping on a sparkler always hurts. But it hurts a little less when it happens in front of a home you can call your own.

comments powered by Disqus

More to read

Loading More Articles
No More Articles

Mama Madison: Apple-picking time

The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.

Mama Madison: Baby feeding recommendations

I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?

Heartland Farm Sanctuary helps animals that help kids

Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.

Mama Madison: Back-to-school confidences

Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.

Mama Madison: Does back-to-school really mean a whole new wardrobe?

This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?"

Mama Madison: Next generation of bloggers

Volunteering with the Young Writers Summer Camp this past week really helped me to remember how utterly creative kids can be when encouraged to come up with their own ideas and use their own words.

Mama Madison: Returning to the workforce

This past week I gleefully accepted an offer for new job on the UW-Madison campus. My kids are getting are older and I guess I've felt for a while now that it was time to figure out what would be next for me on the professional front.

Triathlons raise money to teach kids healthy habits

"Kids spend so much time in and around school, it's the only place where some have a chance to develop an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle," says Katie Hensel, founder and executive director of Tri 4 Schools.

Mama Madison: Kids will find their own passions in their own ways

"I'm envious, mom," said my twelve-year-old daughter as she hopped in the car after theater camp last week. "All the other kids in my group seem to really like, and to be really good at, singing, dancing and acting. But I think all those things are just okay."

Vital work is being done at the Lussier Community Education Center, from community-building to STEM skills

"People are looking to book space here all the time," says Remy Fernández-O'Brien, communications and facilities coordinator for the Lussier Community Education Center, a private, nonprofit community center on Madison's west side. "They want to throw their child's first birthday party here or hold a Girl Scout meeting. We're really busy year-round, but it's especially lively here in the summer."

Mama Madison: Parental dice rolls?

Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."

Mama Madison: What constitutes a keepsake?

As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.

Mama Madison: Young love

Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.

Mama Madison: What a mother fears most

All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.

Operation Fresh Start's Youth Conservation Corps helps kids, and kids help parks

Last January, when temperatures dipped below minus 30 and most people between the ages of 16 and 24 did anything to stay inside, a small yet sturdy group of at-risk teenage boys and young men stacked wood and managed controlled burns at Festge County Park near Cross Plains. Five months later, following a temperature swing of more than 100 degrees, Isthmus found some of those same guys removing invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn at Lake View Hill County Park on Madison's north side.

Mama Madison: Summer stress solved by yoga

The first week of summer break at our place usually comes and goes without incident. At times, one could argue, it even verges on pleasant. I have no school lunches to pack and the kids have no 7 a.m. buses to catch.

Mama Madison: The greatest fans of road repair

Have you tried getting anywhere on either Verona Road or East Johnson lately? I'm pretty sure a six-month old could crawl to Fitchburg, or across the isthmus, in less time that it takes me to drive there these days.

Mama Madison: The alarm sounds

As soon as the door closed behind him, I poured myself a cup of the coffee he had made and took a moment to let the enormity of what just happened sink in. My son was ready that morning despite my inability to properly set an alarm clock. My kid was ready that morning without nudging, cajoling, or reminding. He was ready, even when I wasn't.

Mama Madison: My summer book list

For the past 17 years or so (i.e., since I've had kids), I haven't made books the priority in my life I know they should be. It's not that I don't try. Just this past weekend I had the best of intentions of picking up, and even finishing, I am Malala, this year's UW-Madison's Go Big Read pick. But the copy still sits untouched on my nightstand.

Make Music Madison gives young artists a chance to perform

The longest day of the year is upon us. For those of you keeping track, the sun will rise at 5:18 a.m. and set at 8:41 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. All that daylight, courtesy of the annual summer solstice, will provide the perfect backdrop for Make Music Madison, a daylong event featuring hours and hours of free performances in nearly every corner of the city.