Mama Madison: The other side of the story

Listening to the stories of homeless...kids

Over the past couple of years, I've found that this blogging thing definitely has its advantages. Pre-Mama Madison, for example, my command of standard written English was questionable at best, especially for someone who claims to have majored in the language. But while I still regularly fall victim to the dreaded comma splice and may never master the difference between affect and effect, there is little question these weekly posts have forced me to rekindle my long overdue relationship with The Elements of Style.

Another wonderfully unexpected side effect (not affect, thank you) of writing regularly about my kids is that it forces me to pay much closer attention to some of the littler details of parenting. Someone very smart once said, "Write what you know." And it didn't take me very long to figure out that I was all too often the mom who didn't "know" what position her son usually played in the outfield. Or even whom my daughter sat next to each day at lunchtime. A weekly deadline for telling their stories has made me much more attune with the subtle ins and outs of their lives.

But perhaps the very best part of this blogging gig has been the chance to discover my voice. Not so much my speaking voice--that is something I use often and perhaps a bit too loudly. But forcing myself to write those same thoughts down, and then post them in a public space, has helped me to realize just how therapeutic, for both the writer and perhaps, too, for the audience, the sharing of stories can be.

My world view though, while 100% mine, is admittedly limited. And there are many other far more important voices in our community that need to be heard. Wise voices. Original voices. Young voices.

No, adults aren't the only ones with stories worth sharing. There is a lot, too, we can learn from listening to Madison's children, including the ones who have had the experience of homelessness.

In May of this past year, Jani Koester, a veteran educator for the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Transition Education Program, spearheaded a daylong workshop where nearly 20 homeless MMSD students got to the opportunity to tell their stories--raw, real and honest--through several media forms including writing, art, and personal interviewing. Koester's hope, and that of her partners in Madison's creative community, is that by giving these kids the space to express themselves, some of the stigma associated with homelessness can be broken down.

This coming Wednesday, July 11 from 5 to 8 p.m., the organizers of the Who We Are: Voices in Our Community effort are collaborating with the Madison Children’s Museum to celebrate the workshop participants' projects at the museum’s free "Twilight Art Night." Some of these brave kids plan to attend the exhibition, and to share their experiences in person. I have little doubt this show will stand out as a unique chance for the community to view one of the biggest social justice issues of our time, homelessness, through the eyes of the young people who are living it.

At the end of May this past school year, the district counted 1,100 homeless children among their students--a number that has been steadily growing over the years. Next Wednesday won't give us the chance to hear from all of them. But I am sure these representative few will have a lot to say.

This project has been the chance for these kids to write what they know. And it's important that we listen.

comments powered by Disqus

More to read

Loading More Articles
No More Articles

Mama Madison: Time for New Year's 2015 resolutions

New Year's resolutions are hard to keep. In fact, something around 90% of people fail every year! But one way that you can increase your odds of victory is to get other people involved.

Mama Madison: Talking about race with Families for Justice

Like many parents, I look at the wide world around my kids and do my best to prepare them for life. We talk about working hard, being kind and responsible, Internet safety, stranger danger, and the (gulp) birds and the bees. But what about a topic such as race?

Mama Madison: Checking it twice

If you're like me, looking around your house in the weeks before Christmas will probably have you convinced that the last thing your kids need to find underneath the tree is a pile of new toys.

Mama Madison: Managing holiday lists

I spend a lot of time talking to my kids about how lucky we are to have what we have. Though our house is tiny and our van is unequipped with automatic doors, we have all we could ever need, and a lot of what we want.

Girls on the Run of Dane County marks a decade of changing young lives

On the evening of Nov. 6, a throng of people gathered at Monona Terrace. They were there to attend an impressive anniversary shindig, but the real buzz of excitement centered on the event's guest of honor.

Mama Madison: Mom dates are hard

You may call them "play dates," but I like the term "mom dates," especially since my kids are still too young to really care that there's another small person to squabble over toys with.

Mama Madison: No judgments with No Excuse Mom

If there is an excuse for not working out and eating healthy, I have used it: I don't have time. I'm too tired. I'll start tomorrow. I'm no good at this, I give up. I don't know where to start. Yes, I have used all of these and more.

Mama Madison: Introducing kids to your CSA box

At almost a year old, my kids are in the blissful stage of life where they'll eat nearly anything that I put in front of them (at least as long as it doesn't require much in the way of molar action).

Mama Madison: Changing tables, changing times

My family recently went through something that we have not experienced in over eight years. We have become a household that no longer harbors a crib or a changing table.

From museum to school with MMoCA

"There really is no wrong way to do it." That's how Madeline, age 13, describes creating artwork. She and her classmates at Prairie View Middle School in Sun Prairie are honing their artistic skills by participating in the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art's Art on Tour program.

Mama Madison: Coping with toddlers in a Wisconsin winter

I'm having trouble enjoying the season, because I can't keep myself from thinking about the miserable weather that's sure to be following close on the heels of the crisp, pleasant fall we've been having. I am not at all emotionally prepared to be the parent of two toddlers during a Wisconsin winter.

Mama Madison: Melissa Wardy pushes positive messages

I've always been a supporter of companies that empower women and girls, and when the creator of such a company is a fellow Wisconsinite, I get even more excited. When Melissa Wardy of Janesville got fed up with stereotypes found in clothing for girls, she started her own company.

Mama Madison: Three cheers for reading at the Wisconsin Book Festival

Do you have a little reader or an aspiring teenaged writer in your house? If so, you may want to venture to the Wisconsin Book Festival this weekend, to whet their appetite for wonderful words as well as your own.

Mama Madison: What's in a name?

When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I had two names picked out. Upon her arrival we had not yet come to a conclusion on what that name would be. Everyone told us that when we saw her we would just know. We didn't.

Mama Madison: Eugster's is more than just a visit to the farm

At age 10 months, my kids have seen the zoo a lot already. I was a zoology major in college, and I have something of a zoo addiction still, so the twins (and their dad) are more or less condemned to a future rife with zoo visits.

Help for home-schoolers at the Madison Mentor Center

Home-schooling can be a lonely proposition. Even as a college professor, Juliana Hunt remembers struggling to find support to home-school her now-grown daughter. "I was always hoping to find like-minded people who were in the same position as me," she says. "I know that children learn best through a give-and-take, question-and-answer process of teaching and learning, but where do you find mentors who can make that happen?"

Mama Madison: Yummy Sprout is a wonderful resource

After sleep patterns, I think the next biggest parenting concern I have and hear about revolves around the topic of food. How can I make sure my kids are eating enough vegetables? Did I pack them a lunch that is healthy enough? What can I feed them after school that doesn't come from a box? How many gripes am I going to get about the dinner I'm about to prepare?

Mama Madison: Tips and tricks for baby air travel

As far as places to embark on Baby's First Air Travel go, Dane County Regional Airport is a pretty sound choice, especially at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. My biggest fear was that my nine-month-old son would start screaming in the airport; my second biggest fear was that my son would start screaming and some of my former Epic colleagues would be around to hear it.

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?