Mama Madison: A Madison bucket list for the pint-sized

Start now, before they turn into teenagers

Next Tuesday and Wednesday (July 17 and 18), many of Madison's littlest graffiti artists will converge on Vilas Park to give a Little Old Lady's dwelling an extreme, and colorful, home makeover.

There is little question that the Shoe Slide , which gets a fresh coat of paint each summer courtesy of the Art Cart, the free, traveling art program co-sponsored by MSCR and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, is among my favorite works of public art in the city. Not that Camp Randall's "Nails' Tales" really gives it much competition.

Yet, I always get a bit wistful watching the annual play structure/footwear transformation. When my kids were younger we spent hours at the Vilas playground; sliding down the shoe was always a highlight. I still remember when my oldest -- he was probably no more than five at the time -- asked me if he'd ever get the chance to help out with the painting. And I said sure, I'd look into it. I told him we'd try to do it some day.

But as always I got busy, distracted, or just plain lazy, and some day never came. And now, at age 15, my son is probably too old to take part in the project. And this got me thinking, wouldn't it be great if some sort of catalogue of all the youthful experiences every Madison-area kid should have was handed out to new parents at area birthing centers along with the formula samples (do they still do that?) and cord care info? You know, a kind of bucket list of "What to Do Before Your Kid Hits 13."

Here are a few things I'd start with, in no particular order. Most of these are obvious -- kind of like painting the Shoe Slide. But they are the kinds of things that might just slip through your fingers if you aren't careful.

Riding the Merry-Go-Round at Ella's Deli. According to Ella's website there are only 75 original carousels in the country, and one of them is at this East Washington institution. Just think about it, where else in the world can a kid eat matzo ball soup, an ice cream sundae and take a ride on a painted pony all in the span of an hour?

A run on the "Hamster Wheel" at the Madison Children's Museum. Yes, it's kind of ridiculous. But it's also ridiculously fun. Who knew imitating a rodent could offer such pleasure for kids and adults alike?

Attend a Kevin Henkes Reading. A couple of times each year Madison's beloved Caldecott-winner gives a public reading somewhere in town. Yes, his mice are a miracle all on their own. But for a child to get the chance to hear straight from the author/illustrator's mouth how Lilly, Wemberley and Penny came to be is an absolutely priceless experience.

Go To a Ken Lonnquist Show. I was never much one for kids' music when my guys were little. No Raffi, no Barney, no Wiggles. But Lonnquist is a singer-songwriter of a different color. His stuff is original, thoughtful and mostly hysterical. Yes, my kids are older now, but they still regularly call me "Hurricane Mom," inspired by one of his classics.

First Ice Cream Cone at the Memorial Union. It was here, on a warm summer's day, that I first discovered my mild mannered second son was not so mild mannered after all. For a toddler, he was an excellent sharer -- especially when it came to toys. But not, as it turns out, for Blue Moon ice cream cones. He would not give me a single bite. And I didn't blame him.

Ride the Drive A kid can ride in the street without getting yelled at. Enough said.

Mac and Cheese Pizza at Ian's. Kids can ingest their two favorite foods in one slice, in one meal. Enough said, again.

No, this list is by no means exhaustive. I'd love if you left your own "must do" suggestions in the comments.

And in the meantime, I'll get started on a list for teens and tweens.

Any chance the university would consider letting my son and his friends paint "Nails' Tales"? I kind of owe it to him.

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