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
This post will not (although it could) be a treatise on the value of "alone time" for a healthy marriage. Nor will it be an ode to how nice it was for me to have a few days off from lunch-packing, carpool-driving and homework-nagging. There is no question I completely enjoyed my break from the kids. But my biggest discovery this past weekend was that it was the kids, perhaps, who needed a break even more.
For those of you who haven't yet seen it, the eight-week-long transit campaign, placed both inside and on the outside of buses, features a photo of an orange tabby with a stainless steel bar drilled into its head accompanied by the line "I am not lab equipment. End UW cat experiments!" Just as PETA hopes, the image is shocking and demands an immediate response.
If I had my druthers, I'd sit out the entire shopping week that follows Thanksgiving. Black Friday, for starters, has corrupted the fine art of bargain shopping and turned it into a gladiator sport. There is no percentage off that is worth losing sleep, or even worse an eye, over. Especially if you have kids in tow.
When you shop for toys, there is always the conflict between what you think is appropriate/adorable and what the child being shopped for might actually want/play with.
Many of the pop-culture seasonal touchpoints of my youth are completely lost on my kids. You see, while I may have memorized every word to both the Snow Miser and the Heat Miser's songs from The Year Without a Santa Claus, I'm pretty sure the only Rankin-Bass stop-motion Christmas special my kids have ever seen has been Rudolph.
I am so thrilled that the United Way is sponsoring a Teen Gift Drive this holiday season. Sure, teen "wants" often aren't as fun to shop for as precious baby dolls and sweet Lego sets. But middle and high school kids still "need" to feel valued and loved during this time of year. And helping a family in need to provide this for their child is a wonderful way to get in the spirit.
My 11th-grade and 8th-grade sons have heard "the chant" for years. You know which one I'm talking about -- the ESFY (U?) chant (I'm not sure what the parenting post rules are for writing two of the more forbidden four-letter words in the English language) that appears to have both Barry Alvarez and Chancellor Blank quite concerned.
There are many different criteria parents use when evaluating which pre-school programs will be right for their children. Some parents might be looking for an educational philosophy that stresses creativity and community. Others may desire an option that revolves around learning through play or is more academic in approach.
We spent hours poring over name books and checking for inappropriate initial combinations. We looked at meanings, variant spellings and popularity charts. And, as I am sure every parent does, we thought we'd hit the name jackpot with each of our kids. But there are always surprises.
A generation or two ago, the pediatrician was the guy (yes, they were mostly guys) who gave your kids shots and prescribed big bottles of antibiotics for every sniffle. Madison's Dipesh Navsaria is a different breed of pediatrician.
Gamehole Con will be the premier tabletop gaming convention in the region. And with Wisconsin being the birthplace of Dungeons and Dragons, as well as the nation's leader in gaming stores per capita, it kind of makes sense that the convention's organizers want the Dairy State to be known for more than just cheese, beer and bratwurst.
This year I will also try to ease up some of my previous costume concerns. Sure, the world is rife with inappropriate dress up choices for our kids; there is no parent out there that is keen on his or her child dressing like a pint-sized prostitute, even for one night.
This past Saturday, I took my youngest to hear Caldecott award-winning author/illustrator Kevin Henkes read from his latest work, The Year of Billy Miller, a short novel for the early elementary grades.
I was greeted at the door by Tom Moen, who has served as executive director of what he likes to call "Madison's best kept secret", for the past 39 of the center's 47 years. Located in the middle of the subsidized Truax Park apartment complex, EMCC, with its vast array of offerings for kids, seniors and everyone in between, is unquestionably the heart of the neighborhood.
Madison's Kashmira Sheth has written four award-winning novels for middle grade and teen readers, and a popular chapter book for six- to nine-year-olds, but right now her picture books are what she's excited to talk about.
A few summers back, my daughter, maybe 8 or 9 at the time, decided to take part in our swimming pool's annual water ballet show. I'm not really sure what initially piqued her interest in the somewhat under-the-radar, very much under-the-water sport of synchronized swimming.
We rarely included a stop at the Central Library as part of our regular outing. For those of you who've been in Madison for a while, I'm sure you'd agree that the old building was pretty run down. Not to mention, dark, cavernous and depressing. Libraries, at their best, should be portals to discovery, right?
My eleven-year-old daughter spent most of last weekend alone in her room, door shut. It wasn't a temper tantrum or an overwhelming need for tween privacy that led to her self-induced isolation, though. Instead, I didn't see her (except for meals) for two days because she was, in her words, "going through her closet."
Yes, the 2004 classic comedy Mean Girls is an absolutely delightful movie. But it's definitely not the smartest mother/daughter viewing as your child is about to enter her inaugural year of middle school.
Despite celebrating 30 years in business this year, Knowledge Unlimited Inc. remains relatively unknown in the community. Those concerned with closing the achievement gap in Madison's schools, however, may want to take note. This award-winning educational-materials producer, based in Middleton, is unique in emphasizing multiculturalism throughout its lines of educational posters, DVDs and children's books.