I'm as "Proud To Be An American" as Lee Greenwood could ever hope to be. And thanks to a near-religious Saturday morning devotion to School House Rock growing up, I can still sing the preamble to the US Constitution and know how a bill becomes a law .
My first crush was none other than the author of the Declaration of Independence himself, Thomas Jefferson. The actor that played him in our local dinner theater's bicentennial production of 1776 was even cuter than Vinnie Barbarino and all the Bay City Rollers combined. Casting definitely counts.
But I am not a big fan of light-up-American-flag lapel pins, Miss America speeches or "Don't Tread on Me" bumper stickers. I think these may just be "the impostures of pretended patriotism" George Washington had in mind when he warned against them in his Farewell Address of 1796 [PDF] . I find this Hallmark-y take on nationalistic pride to be a bit of a turnoff. And at no time of year does it wave its flag more intensely than on the Fourth of July.
Growing up in DC, I always felt estranged from Independence Day. With hundreds and thousands of red, white and blue-clad visitors descending upon the Mall to take in the Army-Navy Band playing Sousa, I usually chose to stay home. The Fourth seemed to be a holiday for interlopers chomping at the bit to sing the Star Spangled Banner en masse while overlooking the Reflecting Pool. There was no room for a native, a townie. I was an alien in my own backyard on the "holiest" day of the year in the Nation's Capital.
I cannot remember a single July 4th from my young adulthood in Chicago. As a post-collegiate (maybe-not-so) swinging single, I should have been having the time of my life playing volleyball on North Avenue Beach or at least going to some swank urban barbecue to celebrate our country's birthday. But I don't think I even stayed up late enough to see fireworks. Maybe it was successive Reagan/Bush presidencies, or the fact that I hate loud noises--the holiday still wasn't speaking to me.
But moving to Wisconsin in the late 1990s gave me a sense of civic pride I had never before enjoyed. I could finally name my state senators. Heck, I could finally name my U.S. Senators, sad but true. I became interested in local ordinances and local history.
I even became interested in the Fourth of July.
This year the annual Virginia Terrace July 4th Parade and Block Party -- one of the oldest in Madison-- will be turning 84 years old. That's nearly 84 years (the 'hood took off four years in the late '50s/early '60s due to lack of kids on the block) of youth-engineered floats jockeying for "Most Patriotic" in the eyes of gentle-hearted judges. It is four-score years of adorably aggressive toddlers hunting down lollipops in a wading pool of cedar shavings. It's hard to believe that back in 1927--two years before the Great Depression, not quite two months after Lindbergh's transatlantic flight--families were lined up on both the east and west sides of the street anxiously awaiting the start of the water balloon toss.
While my address technically puts me "Off-Terrace," my family managed to jump the imaginary velvet rope governing invites to the Rockwell-esque celebration the very first summer we moved in. The neighborhood had been running low on little kids once again and decided to include families from adjacent Norwood Place.
I've been a loyal Virginia Terrace patriot every year since. I've made my children promise, that no matter what their addresses may be in the years to come, they will return each Fourth to the Terrace -- a kind of patriotic pilgrimage. While I know monarchy is frowned upon this time of year, I long to someday be the matriarch of one of the event's "Royal Families," holding court, sipping a root beer float and furiously rooting for one of my grandchildren to take first in the "Run to Daddy" contest.
While my neighborhood rocks each and every day, the Fourth is something special. And I know I am not alone in feeling this way. The popularity of community-oriented Independence Day festivities in and around Madison is extraordinary: parties all across town and in surrounding towns and villages. It's wonderful to see love of country played out at this most local of levels.
Yes, some recent events have definitely put some distance between cliched patriotism and me. I can't say I've been able to muster up my normal "Forward" pride this time of year, given what's be going on down at the Capitol.
But, as always, I plan to celebrate our country's independence from England by celebrating my dependence on my neighborhood, my community. And Virginia, sans Terrace, was one of the 13 original colonies, after all.
What's your family doing for the Fourth? Are you part of the Rhythm and Booms crowds, or more sparklers on the corner, like me?comments powered by Disqus
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.
For the past 17 years or so (i.e., since I've had kids), I haven't made books the priority in my life I know they should be. It's not that I don't try. Just this past weekend I had the best of intentions of picking up, and even finishing, I am Malala, this year's UW-Madison's Go Big Read pick. But the copy still sits untouched on my nightstand.
The longest day of the year is upon us. For those of you keeping track, the sun will rise at 5:18 a.m. and set at 8:41 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. All that daylight, courtesy of the annual summer solstice, will provide the perfect backdrop for Make Music Madison, a daylong event featuring hours and hours of free performances in nearly every corner of the city.
Last week, for the first time, I made my way up to one of the open gallery nights during Madison West's Fine Arts Week, the school's annual showcase for all things creative. The scope of the event is huge, with nearly 1,600 students participating, and the quality of the presented works is phenomenal. It's almost as if the school had been lifted off its perch on Regent Street and traveled back in time to Belle Époque Paris.
If you have aspiring authors in your house, this summer offers a fabulous opportunity for them refine their writing skills. For its second summer, the Greater Madison Writing Project, in partnership with Olbrich Botanical Gardens, is sponsoring two week-long camps in August for young writers entering grades 3-8.
There are lots of benefits to living in a college town. First and foremost, there is always something going on -- a lecture, a film series. Maybe even a protest, if you're lucky. And since becoming a Madisonian, I, for the first time in my life, find myself interested in college football.
My passion for the talent show clearly runs deep, but I'm more than just a fangirl. This year marked my second as one of the "Ziegfelds" of the Follies, Hamilton's annual showcase for singers, musicians, dancers and other varied forms of entertainment. Trust me, when you are part of the spectacle's "producing/directing" team you get a new-found appreciation for how hard the kids worked to get up on stage.
My daughter, who turned twelve just this past week, is not legally "of age" when it comes to social media. But I guess, in many respects, especially in those that involve screens, I am a permissive pushover. I've allowed her join some networks.