Poet T.S. Eliot had no children. And I doubt he'd ever experienced a Wisconsin winter, either, when he proclaimed April to be the cruelest month. Because as every mom and dad in the upper Midwest knows, each and every one of February's 28 days can feel like an eternity when, due to cruddy weather, you are stuck in the house with young kids.
Fortunately, though, the Madison area has a number of terrific indoor venues that can keep February from feeling like a parenting wasteland. Some are so much fun, in fact, that you might even start wishing leap year came around a little more often.
Golfing through history
In many ways, Vitense Golfland's indoor "Madison Landmark" course is as much a mini-local history lesson as it is a mini-golf destination. That's because each of its 18 holes pays delightful and interactive homage to an iconic capital city building, business or place of interest.
Where else around town can a kid get the chance to send a brightly colored golf ball straight through the rotunda of a Wisconsin State Capitol reproduction? Or attempt a hole-in-one while standing alongside a replica of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile?
And with Vitense's $22 all-day wristband, your child can enjoy not just the mini-golf, but a trip to the heated driving range, tokens for the arcade and access to the remote-control boats, as well.
Vitense Golfland's Madison Landmark Course
501 Schroeder Rd., 608-271-1411, vitense.com
There is no mirrored ball or white leisure suit requirement, but you and the kids are guaranteed to catch "Saturday Day Fever" at the Great Dane-Hilldale this month. On Feb. 2 and 16, the brewpub's pool hall lounge will be transformed once again into a thoroughly non-decadent version of Studio 54.
The kids will enjoy snacks, and parents a much-needed beer, as beloved Madison DJ Nick Nice spins family-friendly dance tunes from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. And at just $5 per person ($20 max for the whole family), this popular Great Dane tradition offers parents a really great reason for "Stayin' Alive" this winter.
Don't worry if you can't make either of the February dates. You'll get one more chance at the final Kid Disco of the season on March 2.
Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co.-Hilldale 357 Price Place, 608-661-9400, hilldale.greatdanepub.com
Finding age-appropriate activities for the very littlest ones can be quite a challenge. But Happy Bambino, the east-side retail store and resource center that specializes in "bellies, babies and breastfeeding," offers more than just the latest products for newborns and their caregivers.
It is also the Madison-area go-to place for joining up with an existing, organized parent/child playgroup. From the Cuddlebugs group for newborns to six-month-olds, to the Nightcrawlers (6- to 12-month-olds), right up through the Fireflies option for two- to three-year-olds, the store offers a warm and sanity-saving place to get out of the house with like-minded folk and their offspring this winter. Trust me - your bambino won't be the only one leaving the store happy.
4116 Monona Dr., 608-513-0789, happybambino.com
Six thousand square feet of tuckered out
In this age of helicopter parenting, "less is more" can be an excellent childrearing philosophy. But in the dreary doldrums of February, when you really need to tire the rugrats out, "more is more" might be just the ticket. And while the name conjures up images of a stodgy prep school, it's the fun that's poured on thick at the Legacy Academy, Fitchburg's absolutely enormous indoor activity center.
During their daily open gym, your future legacy (preschoolers up through preteens are welcome) can enjoy 6,000 square feet of playground, including Rainbow Treehouse play sets, a jumping pit and a Super Strike bowling alley. And don't forget the tricycles, hula-hoops and jump ropes galore. Did I mention the swinging ropes, swing sets, hoppity balls and gymnastics equipment? Your kid is sure to leave elated - and absolutely exhausted. All for $5 a kid. That's a way better deal than prep school.
Legacy Academy Activity Center
2881 Commerce Park Dr., Suite G, Fitchburg 608-270-9977, legacyacademy.com
If you thought you needed to drive to the Dells to enjoy some aquatic fun this winter, look no further than Crawdaddy Cove, Mad Town's only indoor waterpark. The Louisiana Bayou-themed attraction, targeted to the younger set, boasts the very impressive looking S.S. Crawdaddy shrimp boat at pool center, as well as a 55-foot open-body waterslide, five smaller slides, shooting fountains, basketball hoops and a kiddie pool. For the adults, who will definitely need a little spa therapy after a few trips down the waterslide, there is an oversized whirlpool/hot tub.
Crawdaddy Cove is located in the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites on Madison's far west side, and the use of the waterpark is free if you book a room. Birthday party packages are also available.
Crawdaddy Cove Water Park
Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites, 1109 Fourier Dr. 608-826-0500, wiscohotels.com
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.
My 11th-grade and 8th-grade sons have heard "the chant" for years. You know which one I'm talking about -- the ESFY (U?) chant (I'm not sure what the parenting post rules are for writing two of the more forbidden four-letter words in the English language) that appears to have both Barry Alvarez and Chancellor Blank quite concerned.
There are many different criteria parents use when evaluating which pre-school programs will be right for their children. Some parents might be looking for an educational philosophy that stresses creativity and community. Others may desire an option that revolves around learning through play or is more academic in approach.
We spent hours poring over name books and checking for inappropriate initial combinations. We looked at meanings, variant spellings and popularity charts. And, as I am sure every parent does, we thought we'd hit the name jackpot with each of our kids. But there are always surprises.
A generation or two ago, the pediatrician was the guy (yes, they were mostly guys) who gave your kids shots and prescribed big bottles of antibiotics for every sniffle. Madison's Dipesh Navsaria is a different breed of pediatrician.
Gamehole Con will be the premier tabletop gaming convention in the region. And with Wisconsin being the birthplace of Dungeons and Dragons, as well as the nation's leader in gaming stores per capita, it kind of makes sense that the convention's organizers want the Dairy State to be known for more than just cheese, beer and bratwurst.
This year I will also try to ease up some of my previous costume concerns. Sure, the world is rife with inappropriate dress up choices for our kids; there is no parent out there that is keen on his or her child dressing like a pint-sized prostitute, even for one night.
This past Saturday, I took my youngest to hear Caldecott award-winning author/illustrator Kevin Henkes read from his latest work, The Year of Billy Miller, a short novel for the early elementary grades.
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.
Madison's Kashmira Sheth has written four award-winning novels for middle grade and teen readers, and a popular chapter book for six- to nine-year-olds, but right now her picture books are what she's excited to talk about.
A few summers back, my daughter, maybe 8 or 9 at the time, decided to take part in our swimming pool's annual water ballet show. I'm not really sure what initially piqued her interest in the somewhat under-the-radar, very much under-the-water sport of synchronized swimming.
We rarely included a stop at the Central Library as part of our regular outing. For those of you who've been in Madison for a while, I'm sure you'd agree that the old building was pretty run down. Not to mention, dark, cavernous and depressing. Libraries, at their best, should be portals to discovery, right?
My eleven-year-old daughter spent most of last weekend alone in her room, door shut. It wasn't a temper tantrum or an overwhelming need for tween privacy that led to her self-induced isolation, though. Instead, I didn't see her (except for meals) for two days because she was, in her words, "going through her closet."
Yes, the 2004 classic comedy Mean Girls is an absolutely delightful movie. But it's definitely not the smartest mother/daughter viewing as your child is about to enter her inaugural year of middle school.
Despite celebrating 30 years in business this year, Knowledge Unlimited Inc. remains relatively unknown in the community. Those concerned with closing the achievement gap in Madison's schools, however, may want to take note. This award-winning educational-materials producer, based in Middleton, is unique in emphasizing multiculturalism throughout its lines of educational posters, DVDs and children's books.