HOW IT BEGAN
by Sharon Weingarten
The idea for What I Wish You Knew Conversations was born from a personal experience. Many years ago when one of my own children was in college at the University of Queensland, my husband and I experienced every parent’s nightmare. We received a call telling us that our daughter had been seriously injured in an accident. I was on the next flight to Australia. Fortunately, the injury was not life-threatening, but it did require a prolonged period of bed rest and recuperation. Because the doctors advised against her taking the twenty-hour flight back home right away, the plan was that after her
release from the hospital she would return to the University, where she would rest and have physical therapy while she recuperated. I was allowed to stay in one of the empty rooms in her dormitory until she was able to travel.
During that time I had the opportunity to experience something that most mothers don’t. For over a month, knowing that my husband was at home taking care of our other two children, I was undistracted by normal demands of home, family, work and other responsibilities. I was living in a girl’s dorm on the other side of the world and had the luxury of not having to multi-task, of really being able to live in the moment, to be there for my child and to think. I also had the opportunity to get to know many students.
The kids were kind and helpful and curious and forthright too. After a while, I stopped being a strange phenomenon and they began to accept me. They told me about their “mums” and about other things too. They asked questions and talked about their lives and gave me some advice to pass on to other parents.
One of the things they told me about was a friend who took her own life earlier that year. They told me about her parents who said, “If only we had known what she was going through…” and “If only she had talked to us and confided in us…”
A lot of what the kids shared was their desire to be able to talk more easily with their own parents. Probably because I was not their own mother and because there was a degree of anonymity in talking with me around, they did so easily. I was just like a fly on the wall.
Being respectful of what they had to say and of their privacy, I created www.whatiwishyouknewconversations.org for them to have a safe place to express their thoughts and ideas and opinions.
I have since had the privilege of communicating with teens from around the world. I have interviewed hundreds more students in classrooms, in libraries, in a homeless shelter, in youth agencies, and, through an interpreter in a school for the deaf. In addition, through my work with WorldTeach, I had the opportunity to introduce the What I Wish You Knew Conversations writing project in schools in the Pacific Islands.