Every Wednesday morning when I was three, no more than four, my beloved grandmother and I would walk hand and hand up the street to the local library. The ritual was always the same once we got inside. After a quick obligatory scan of the picture book section, probably the most appropriate place for a pre-schooler who couldn't yet read, Nana and I would steal our way over to the adult biographies. I learned at an early age about the discoveries of Marie Curie, Jonas Salk and Alexander Fleming; my grandmother was completely star-struck by scientists.
And while her judgment was sometimes questionable -- a pre-nap chapter on the life and times of Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb, was not unheard of -- she taught me that a local library branch was among the most enchanted places on earth.
My mild infatuation with libraries continued throughout my youth. I heartily respected the clarity of the Dewey Decimal System (finally, a decimal that didn't involve a calculator). And I loved leafing through the card catalogue; I'm pretty sure I got smarter just reading the dizzying array of titles. And very few childhood memories will top the day I got my first library card. It was like that scene in The Jerk where Steve Martin's phone book arrives. That card, with my name etched across the front, was how I knew I had finally "arrived."
I even lived the fantasy (at least my fantasy) my last semester in college when I snagged a student hourly job as the business school librarian. The job didn't actually involve handling books -- I pretty much handed out Accounting 101 study guides to investment banker wannabees. But I took full opportunity to embrace the "sexy librarian" stereotype, wear my hair in a pencil-held bun, don wire rim glasses, and flirt up a storm with cute grad students.
Post college, bars and coffee shops supplanted the library as far as hangouts went; I probably didn't even set foot in one between the ages of 21 and 30. But the joy of the local branch was completely rediscovered once I had kids. From pre-school story times, to summer book clubs, to my own search for the perfect inappropriate biography to share with my offspring, libraries took center stage once again. We enjoyed the coziness of the Monroe Street Branch, the spiritedness of both the old and re-vamped Sequoya and occasionally took a road trip way west to hang in the stacks of Alicia Ashman.
But I rarely took the kids to the downtown branch, even on Farmers' Market Saturdays. That place always felt too cold, too institutional, and too impersonal, regardless of how kind and helpful the staff may have been. And when I heard that it was being torn down in favor of a shiny new model I didn't shed many tears. It's not like we ever checked a book out of the place.
But I have to say, I'm pretty intrigued to see the space in a new light this coming Saturday for the Madison Public Library Foundation's Bookless event. Central Library is now completely empty -- no books, card catalogs or microfiche, if that even exists any more. But on January 28 only, the 45-year-old building will be transformed into a gallery of sorts displaying library-inspired art ranging from paintings, to installations, to live performances. And there will be tons of free family-friendly activities from 10-2. Your kid can learn printmaking from Madison's Polka! Press and enjoy Klezmer masters Yid Vicious at 1 p.m. And I can't imagine a child in the world who won't be psyched to join the community mural and paint willy-nilly on the walls! In the library! While making noise!
And perhaps, in honor of Nana, the event may even inspire one of my kids to read a book on Van Gogh, Georgia O'Keeffe or Christo.
Or better yet, maybe a biography on Melvil Dewey, inventor of the only decimal system I've ever taken to.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.