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
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?"
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.
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.
"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.
"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."
"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."
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.