Last week should have marked our initial transition from summer lollygagging to school year mode. The kids should have registered, gotten their class schedules and found out whom their teachers will be. We should have purchased new shoes and set out on at least our initial quest for the Holy Grail of school supplies, the non-perforated spiral notebook. We should have been getting to sleep a whole lot earlier.
But instead of using "the week before the week before school starts" as prep time for the 2012-2013 academic year, as any sane parent might do, we decided to milk just a little more out of the season by taking our summer vacation as late as possible. And while only time will tell if this proves to be a smart re-entry strategy for 10th, 7th and 5th grade, I can tell you one thing for sure. Vacation serves as an excellent immediate warm-up for school; there really is legitimate learning going on. Especially when a family like mine spends a few days pretending they know what to do in the Great Outdoors.
Now, this is not to say we aren't an adventurous bunch when on "holiday." We've tackled the New York City bus system without a map. We've "hiked" Boston's Freedom Trail many times over without incident or injury. The kids have safely bounded through quickly closing Chicago subway doors in order to make the last express train of the evening. I'm frankly quite proud of their urban "survival skills."
But this year, instead of going the major city route, we decided to join my two sisters, their families, my mom, my sister's German speaking in-laws and two dogs in a central Virginia lake house for a few days. It was hard to say no to the idea of fresh air, going off the grid and canoeing. We were excited to check out a trail that wasn't followed by "mix." And the fact that it was free (my sister's friend very generously lent her house to us) definitely helped seal the deal.
Little did we know it would turn out to be such a learning opportunity.
Lesson number one dealt with math. One should always choose the highest percentage of Deet of available in bug spray when staying in an area called "Lake of the Woods." We also learned that tubing a mile of the Rappahannock River, post-drought, is significantly slower than walking the same distance with your tube placed decoratively around your neck. My daughter did, though, learn that "stuck between a rock and hard place" is more than just an idiom. And that if you are "up a creek without a paddle" you'll need to actually use your hands to guide you though the water.
We now know that if one of the first things you see at a lake house is a coffee table guide to poisonous snakes of the region, it's not a bad idea to look through it. We still don't know if the species spotted about 10 feet away from us by a few locals was a copperhead, cottonmouth or a less deadly "brand." It probably pays to do your research.
I've also learned that packing the car should be done very carefully when fishhooks and four-year-olds are involved. And that insect repellent and five year olds do not mix well. I was given the honor of calling Poison Control after my nephew sprayed Deep Woods Off in his eyes. In case you are wondering, you flush with warm water for 15-20 minutes. We learned it's much easier to do this in the shower than with a head held over the sink.
And we learned, through tourist literature at one of our Virginia outposts, that Richmond, the state's capital, hosts one of the few urban white water rafting adventures in the U.S . We'd love to get our "paddle" on again. But this time perhaps surrounded by the buzz of city life instead of stinging insects.
But the best lesson we learned by far is that we can happily survive just about anything.
Even a week in the woods. With extended family. In a lake house without cable TV.comments powered by Disqus
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.