Mama Madison: Bright lights, box city

Kids get a chance to try out the career of urban planner at Terrace Town

There are questions my kids regularly pose that drive me nuts. Every day after school they ask"no, more challenge --"What's for dinner?" I'm not sure why they haven't yet learned that I'll never have an answer to this before six o'clock. And although they are now 14, 12 and 9, they still plague me with "Are we there yet?" Even when the final destination is Sun Prairie or Waunakee.

I'm sure they feel the same way about a lot of my clichéd interrogatories, as well. "Have you cleaned your room yet?" or "How was school today?" would definitely make my kids' "Don't Ask Me Again Top 10 list." But there is one other question I can't help but ask more frequently than they'd like. And it's laden with heft, potential guilt, and much uncertainty.

I know my kids hate it when asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

I had my pat answer down when I was as a kid. I went with ballerina from ages 3-6. I was partial to pink tutus and, in those pre-"Black Swan" days, it seemed a far less dangerous occupation than that other pre-school-standby, fireman. Later in the elementary years I went with Rabbi for a while. While I have no idea why any adult in my life thought I'd ever be able to pull off great spiritual leader, there was nothing that garnered more praise from Nana and Pop Pop than the thought of their granddaughter studying holy books and giving good sermon.

But as I got closer to the age where the question might have really mattered, my parents weren't much help. My dad was a professional artist and subscribed to the "follow your dream" philosophy of career counseling. The problem was I had no dreams"just nightmares of having to revisit ballerina due to no better options. And while my Mom always loved her work in non-profits, her specialty was digestive diseases. An importantly cause, for sure, but I never felt much of a future for me in the world of ileitis and colitis.

So I've considered taking it easy on the kids when talking careers. But I can't help making little (they might say big) inquiries here and there. My oldest, now 14, seems to have his mind made up. After a brief dalliance with engineer (transitioning from train to electrical in third grade), he now wants to be a history professor. But only the kind of professor, he tells me, who is asked to be an expert on Ken Burns documentaries and History Channel shows. I am strongly advocating for a second major in Comm Arts.

When I ask son number two the same question, his casual, and mildly annoyed, answer is usually early-90s pop rapper. He is perhaps the only member of the MC Hammer fan club who is currently under 40. And while I was able to secure him the "Hammer Pants" he was coveting for his last birthday, perhaps feeding the dream, I need to remind him that clothes don't make the man. And they certainly don't make the rapper. I am gently steering him toward careers that don't involve singing.

But it's my daughter who is always the most thrown by question. She definitely knows what she doesn't wasn’t to be. Not first woman president of the United States ("Mom, no one wants to wait 30 years for that), a doctor ("Seems hard and it's bad to mess up") or dancer (for reasons obvious to anyone who has even seen her accompany her brother on "Can't Touch This").

But I caught a little glimpse of what the future might hold over the past few weeks as she and her fourth grade class worked furiously with glue, tape and box cutters in order to participate in "Terrace Town" , the community-wide "Box City" event on display at Monona Terrace this coming Saturday, February 4.

Through mentors, amazing teachers and dedicated parent volunteers, my daughter was exposed first hand to careers in sustainability, architecture, city planning, construction and business proprietorship. She chose to make her contribution to the "city" a salon called "Scissorhands". And while I don't think she's yet contacted Tim Burton about the possibility of using the name beyond Saturday (a lesson in licensing is sure to follow), I'm glad she recognized no one wants to live in a town without a decent place to get their hair cut.

And a career in planning, historic preservation or real estate wouldn't be bad choices for her to consider at all. Because based on the constant Madison discussion surrounding projects like The Edgewater and the 100 block of State Street redevelopment, she could be kept pretty busy professionally speaking.

And far away from the hair of unsuspecting citizens who, if they saw the baldheads of her current crop of Barbies, would know she has no business getting into the salon business.

comments powered by Disqus

More to read

Loading More Articles
No More Articles

Mama Madison: Parental dice rolls?

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."

Mama Madison: What constitutes a keepsake?

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.

Mama Madison: Young love

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.

Mama Madison: What a mother fears most

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.

Operation Fresh Start's Youth Conservation Corps helps kids, and kids help parks

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.

Mama Madison: Summer stress solved by yoga

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.

Mama Madison: The greatest fans of road repair

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.

Mama Madison: The alarm sounds

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.

Mama Madison: My summer book list

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.

Make Music Madison gives young artists a chance to perform

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.

Mama Madison: Watching talent grow

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.

Mama Madison: Writing time at Olbrich

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.

Mama Madison: When UW-Madison's semester is over, the kids want out too

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.

Mama Madison: Another amazing talent show

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.

Mama Madison: Preserving children's stories

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.

Tenting tonight? Not so fast -- take the time to prepare for the first family camping trip

What adults love about camping -- sleeping under the stars, getting away from it all, the sounds of nature -- can be scary for children. It's dark in a tent. Nothing is familiar. Of course, camping with kids is more work for adults, too. Stay cool, live in the moment. Forget about that lost fork. Making s'mores, spotting wildlife, that's what kids will remember.

Mama Madison: It's time for the college tour

I have just returned from a whirlwind, five-day, four-city college tour with my son. You know those "101 Things to Know Before Visiting Disney World" guidebooks that experienced theme park travelers have written to help the uninitiated? I think I am now officially seasoned enough in information sessions and campus tours to give some serious thought to penning a similar "insiders guide" for the junior-year parent.

Mama Madison: When mom gets a new roomie

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.

Mama Madison: Earth Day awareness

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.

Mama Madison: Parents should know and understand school codes of conduct

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.

Emails from Isthmus Parents feature event highlights, story links, site updates, and occasional special offers from trusted sources. Name and email address are required. Thanks!