When my sister asked if my kids and I would like to take in a performance of The Nutcracker together this weekend, I really hoped to be able to say a heartfelt yes. Both our nine-year-old daughters have friends in the Madison Ballet production and I want to be supportive of their big debut on the Overture stage.
But I politely declined and let her in on my dirty little holiday-season secret. "The Nutcracker" just doesn't do it for me.
It's not like I haven't tried to appreciate the iconic Christmas-themed ballet. This nice Jewish girl actually went, one could say almost religiously, to its performance every December between the ages of five and ten. I went with my equally Jewish grandfather. To this day I'm not sure why he chose this particular work to introduce me to the world of theater. Maybe it was because both the "Nutcracker" and my family shared a common Russian heritage. After all, the "Nutcracker Ballet" debuted in St. Petersburg in December 1892 -- right around the same time my people were likely fleeing the pogroms.
Perhaps a trip to Fiddler on the Roof might have made a lot more sense.
But regardless of religious dissonance, every December the ritual would be the same. I would don a velvet dress and itchy polyester tights and my Pop Pop would take me out to a pre-performance lunch at a restaurant that served Shirley Temples. And that mocktail was the highlight of the day for me. Because once we got to the theater and I settled into the plush seats, an overwhelming desire to nap set in. I often made it through the mouse battle, but was out cold for act 2. Most years I missed the snowflakes, the candy canes and those crazy gingerbread kids that come rushing out from under Mother Ginger's skirt. I don't think I ever once saw the famed pas de deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy and her prince. I usually woke up right around the same time as Clara.
I wanted to love the Nutcracker, I really did. And I certainly cherished the "alone time" with my doting grandfather. But it became clear after about my fourth viewing of the Tchaikovsky classic that my issue wasn't the music, the Christmas setting or the glorification of an 18th century kitchen tool. As it turns out, I did not then, nor do I have now, the patience to appreciate ballet. I have a hard time following a story that does not include spoken word. I want, perhaps need, songs to accompany my dance. If I'm in search of a holiday storyline that romanticizes toys coming to life, I'll always default to the "Island of Misfit Toys" from Rudolph.
But this has left me in a bit of predicament in my quest to build a lasting (and hopefully positive) childhood performance memory for my family around the holidays. We want some holiday theater, but I want it with words.
Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you feel about the length of Bleak House, words are something Charles Dickens is known for. And, as we discovered a couple years back, the Children's Theater of Madison's A Christmas Carol might just be the perfect theater-going tradition for my family. Perhaps it's because I'm a huge fan of APT's James Ridge, especially when he's playing angry characters like Shylock and Scrooge. Maybe it's the spookiness of ghosts--whether Past, Present or Future"that keep my macabre-loving kids entranced. And, as is true, as well, for the Nutcracker, my kids' love seeing local children, many right around their ages, up on stage strutting their stuff.
But mostly, I look forward to welling up during the final scene as Scrooge makes a difference in the life of the Cratchit family, especially Tiny Tim. Because in the end, A Christmas Carol is the story of redemption. A story of second chances.
And it with that spirit that I will give careful thought to revisiting The Nutcracker come next holiday season. Or maybe we'll even try one of the quirkier Nutcracker-inspired works about town like Nutcracker Fantasy or Li Chiao-Ping's The "Knotcracker".
Because in Dickens' classic it is the ever-silent ghost of "Christmas Yet to Come" who most precipitates Scrooge's transformation. And maybe two hours of no talking, ballet style, could actually do me some good, as well.comments powered by Disqus
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.
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.