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
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 Verona resident Melissa Wardy got fed up with stereotypes found in clothing for girls, she started her own company.
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.
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.
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.
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?"
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.