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.

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