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.">
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
This past week, against both my will and better judgement, I accompanied 50 or so middle school kids to the Future Problem Solvers Wisconsin State Bowl, a popular academic and skit-writing competition. It was my husband who had originally signed up to chaperone the event, thinking that spending a few days with his 11-year-old daughter and her compatriots would serve as an excellent anthropological experience. But when an unexpected work obligation made it impossible for him to attend, it was me left holding the bag
It may be a bigger waste of breath than electricity to ask my kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. If I've nagged them once, I've nagged them a thousand times. No, I've never noticed anything amiss with their fingers. But it appears they are physically incapable of flipping a switch to the "off" position.
I want to say thank you to the Board of Education for allowing Maia to return to class, unquestionably the place she belongs, as well as to thank them for adopting the new policies. But just as importantly, I also want to thank Maia and her family for their willingness to come forward with their story.
Some clever-clogs is playing Rachmaninoff on the piano at a party, and there it is again, that oft-heard adult lament of lost opportunity from a dejected onlooker: "I wish I could play. I wish my parents hadn't let me quit music lessons. I was just a kid -- how was I to know?" It's a reasonable complaint.
If you're checking out summer camps for your child, there are many issues -- some obvious, some less so -- to keep in mind. Here's a list to keep handy when you contact camps and camp directors, looking for the perfect spot for your kids to have fun, relax, and learn this summer.
I know, in the grand scheme of things, that my kid issues, when it comes to dining out, absolutely pale in comparison to those of parents whose kids have special needs. Many kids, especially those who are on the autism spectrum, are disturbed by changes in their routine, or anxious around noisy places. They may not be able tolerate waiting for a table or standing in line. So unfortunately, many of these families just avoid eating out at restaurants altogether.
It's weird to admit this, especially in a city surrounded by as much outdoor beauty as Madison. But frankly, I'm just not that into nature. I'm more of an indoor kind of gal. Give me an afternoon at the Chazen or the Wisconsin Historical Museum over the Arboretum or Olbrich Gardens any day.
Lavish costumes, gorgeous sets, a full orchestra and a concession stand where nothing cost more than two bucks and you have a pitch perfect experience at the theater. Oh, and did I mention the ticket prices were just $10 dollars apiece? One could afford to take the whole family for a live theater experience for less than an evening at the Lego movie would cost including popcorn.
I think the first time in recent years that I've felt a real sense of shame, as both a parent and community member, was last Tuesday evening as I sat in a crowded elementary school LMC to listen to Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, and his colleague, Torry Wynn, present key findings from the 2013 Race to Equity report to our PTO group.
It's Wednesday morning at Allis Elementary School on Madison's east side, and 16 third-graders -- 10 boys and six girls -- enter into an open-space classroom in typical wiggly, giggly style. Some are making goofy faces at one another, some are bouncing around hand-in-hand with friends, and others are just trying to stay out of the whirling-dervish path of activity.
Of the 789 poorly-composed, way-too-dark and out-of-focus photos currently living on my iPhone, I can count on two hands the number that show my kids and me together. And my husband is in probably no more than three or four of those.
Something kind of magical has happened these past two weeks during the Sochi Olympics. There is no question, debate or disagreement on what will be watched on television once all homework is done. Everyone in the family makes time to sit down together to watch an hour of so of the primetime televised games.
Truth be told, though, this month I'm feeling a bit cinematically fried. In some ways, I already feel like I've spent the last week or so at a film festival. A festival specializing in minute-long glimpses of ordinary lives all ending with credits that feature the ubiquitous blue thumbs-up. Yes, it's been the February of the Facebook movie.
Just last week, on precisely the same day the Momastery post was getting over a million well-deserved views, Madison mom Suzanne Buchko was telling a similar story. Not on a blog but instead in the confines of the modestly circulated Franklin-Randall Elementary School weekly newsletter.
Late last month, the Madison Metropolitan School District adopted a five-year, $27.7 million technology plan calling for all district students, including those in the primary grades, to have significantly increased access to their very own tablet or notebook computer by 2019. Some parents, as well as education professionals, questioned whether elementary-aged kids, especially kindergarteners who aren't even able to read or write yet, will gain much benefit from introducing yet another screen into their lives.
This past Monday, had winter's unrelenting weather allowed, Middleton Cross Plains School District teacher Andrew Harris would have once again been at the helm of a classroom. After nearly four years of fighting his dismissal from Glacier Creek Middle School for viewing and passing on sexually explicit material on district computers, MCPSD has been legally forced to reinstate Herris, this time as a seventh-grade science teacher at Kromrey Middle School.
In a study published last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, academics have found that the 16 and Pregnant series may have played a significant role in the recent decrease in U.S. teen pregnancies.
In our house, sad but true, we've rarely spent the Martin Luther King holiday discussing race, social justice or the power of non-violent civil disobedience. Instead, the third Monday in January has historically been treated as just another day off school, just another long weekend. And it's been a missed opportunity.
It's not something that happens very often, but last Friday, as news of the impending arctic cold snap reached our house, my kids were rooting for Governor Scott Walker. They were rooting for him to take Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton's lead and cancel school throughout the state. They couldn't care less if he had the authority to do such a thing -- if he called off school, he'd be their hero.
Late last semester, as students were packing up their backpacks one final time before winter break, Middleton High School principal Denise Herrmann and assistant principal Lisa Jondle were co-authoring a note home to parents informing them of a widespread cheating scandal involving nearly 250 calculus students at the school.