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 far as places to embark on Baby's First Air Travel go, Dane County Regional Airport is a pretty sound choice, especially at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. My biggest fear was that my nine-month-old son would start screaming in the airport; my second biggest fear was that my son would start screaming and some of my former Epic colleagues would be around to hear it.
The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.
I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?
Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.
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.