My kids always protest accompanying me on errands. They have an understandable beef. Yes, it's true, as they claim, that I have a distinct talent for turning what should be a five-minute stop for a gallon of milk into an hour-long excursion.
It's not that I'm indecisive when it comes to 1% vs. 2% milk. The problem is that I'm too talkative. When I enter a store, bank or coffee shop within a two-mile radius of my house, it's pretty darn likely that I'll run into someone I know. And I'll always have something to chat with them about. It's one of the things I love best about Madison; being part of a tight-knit community filled with familiar faces.
But there are times when living in an extended village, even one I adore,can start to feel a bit claustrophobic. And every so often I get the itch to have an anti-Cheers experience. To go where no one knows my name. I want to see and meet new and different people. I want to push both my geographic and social boundaries.
But leaving town isn't always practical. And more importantly, it isn't really necessary. Because there are entire parts of Madison, in my fifteen years of living here, I've never been to. Entire neighborhoods and communities I never knew existed.
And these places, as I had the good fortune to find out last week, while off my beaten path at least, can be truly extraordinary.
This past Thursday, I headed north on Wright Street. I had previously had absolutely no idea where Straubel Street was -- the right turn I needed to take to get to the East Madison Community Center, where I'd been invited to take a tour. Yes, I was a mere twenty-minute drive, in traffic, from my near west side home. But I felt worlds away.
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.
While checking out the impressive 20,000-square foot facility, I couldn't help but be impressed by the sheer amount of programming the small staff (four full-time and four part-time employees) is able to pull off. The Center offers Boys and Girls Development Groups, summer day camp, and an "Alternatives to Violence" program. There is a twice monthly food pantry, parenting classes and the "First Impressions" program where ex-offenders can get stabilized and receive a free suit for interviews. The Center also hosts talent shows, the popular Kids Cafe, and acts as home base for the Madison Breakers Dance Crew, recently named best in town at the Madison Hip Hop Awards. And that's only the tip of the programming iceberg.
Moen is quick to point out that there is no way the staff could pull all this off alone. There are hundreds of volunteers, many from the neighborhood, that are totally invested in the center. They tutor and cook meals. And many of the kids who take part in the center's youth programs are able to transition into paid positions as teens.
As Tom and I walked through the cheery space that housed the afternoon Headstart program, the lunching preschoolers all shouted "Hi Tom" to him. They were excited to see his unquestionably familiar face. But most of the kids politely ignored me. There was one little boy though, probably four at most, who leaned over and asked me what my name was. And when I replied, he gave me the kind of smile that had me, for a nanosecond, considering another baby. There is no question the community center and its surroundings are their own, extraordinary extended village. And I felt at home.
So maybe next time I want the kids to come with me to the grocery store, I'll offer to take them to Woodman's East or the south side Copps. I need to make it a point to venture out of our home zone more often. But we probably shouldn't go to the shopping center closest to the East Madison Community Center. Because, once again, it might take too long.
I, after all, now have a four-year-old friend in the neighborhood. And many more potential friends off Straubel Street.
Sorry, Tom. Your secret is out.comments powered by Disqus
I think the first time in recent years that I've felt a real sense of shame, as both a parent and community member, was last Tuesday evening as I sat in a crowded elementary school LMC to listen to Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, and his colleague, Torry Wynn, present key findings from the 2013 Race to Equity report to our PTO group.
It's Wednesday morning at Allis Elementary School on Madison's east side, and 16 third-graders " 10 boys and six girls " enter into an open-space classroom in typical wiggly, giggly style. Some are making goofy faces at one another, some are bouncing around hand-in-hand with friends, and others are just trying to stay out of the whirling-dervish path of activity.
Of the 789 poorly-composed, way-too-dark and out-of-focus photos currently living on my iPhone, I can count on two hands the number that show my kids and me together. And my husband is in probably no more than three or four of those.
Something kind of magical has happened these past two weeks during the Sochi Olympics. There is no question, debate or disagreement on what will be watched on television once all homework is done. Everyone in the family makes time to sit down together to watch an hour of so of the primetime televised games.
Truth be told, though, this month I'm feeling a bit cinematically fried. In some ways, I already feel like I've spent the last week or so at a film festival. A festival specializing in minute-long glimpses of ordinary lives all ending with credits that feature the ubiquitous blue thumbs-up. Yes, it's been the February of the Facebook movie.
Just last week, on precisely the same day the Momastery post was getting over a million well-deserved views, Madison mom Suzanne Buchko was telling a similar story. Not on a blog but instead in the confines of the modestly circulated Franklin-Randall Elementary School weekly newsletter.
Late last month, the Madison Metropolitan School District adopted a five-year, $27.7 million technology plan calling for all district students, including those in the primary grades, to have significantly increased access to their very own tablet or notebook computer by 2019. Some parents, as well as education professionals, questioned whether elementary-aged kids, especially kindergarteners who aren't even able to read or write yet, will gain much benefit from introducing yet another screen into their lives.
This past Monday, had winter's unrelenting weather allowed, Middleton Cross Plains School District teacher Andrew Harris would have once again been at the helm of a classroom. After nearly four years of fighting his dismissal from Glacier Creek Middle School for viewing and passing on sexually explicit material on district computers, MCPSD has been legally forced to reinstate Herris, this time as a seventh-grade science teacher at Kromrey Middle School.
In a study published last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, academics have found that the 16 and Pregnant series may have played a significant role in the recent decrease in U.S. teen pregnancies.
In our house, sad but true, we've rarely spent the Martin Luther King holiday discussing race, social justice or the power of non-violent civil disobedience. Instead, the third Monday in January has historically been treated as just another day off school, just another long weekend. And it's been a missed opportunity.
It's not something that happens very often, but last Friday, as news of the impending arctic cold snap reached our house, my kids were rooting for Governor Scott Walker. They were rooting for him to take Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton's lead and cancel school throughout the state. They couldn't care less if he had the authority to do such a thing -- if he called off school, he'd be their hero.
Late last semester, as students were packing up their backpacks one final time before winter break, Middleton High School principal Denise Herrmann and assistant principal Lisa Jondle were co-authoring a note home to parents informing them of a widespread cheating scandal involving nearly 250 calculus students at the school.
Breathe in, breathe out. Have you ever been in the heat of a parenting moment with these words ringing through your head? Then you're on the right path toward mindful parenting.
The week between Christmas and New Year's is famous for all sorts of things. Malls are packed with folks exchanging those holiday sweaters that don't fit just right. It's the week those same folks pledge to never again eat another frosted sugar cookie or candy cane (hence the sweater issues). It's also the week the media saturates the public with dozens of "Best of Year" lists.
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.