On New Year's Eve 1988, home on college winter break, I got together with my high school posse to watch the ball drop on TV. We were all seniors, happy to be back together again to offer up cheap champagne toasts to the dream jobs and grad school acceptance letters we hoped to land that spring. Freshly engaged four New Year's Eves later, my husband-to-be and I raised our glasses not just to the rest of our lives together, but to a year of wedding planning, "do I take his last name?" decisions and figuring out how (and if) to merge bank accounts. But on January 1st 1997, there was no bubbly flowing, at least not for me. I was four months pregnant with my first child and knew that a "dry" New Years was just the first of many enormous life changes that were headed my way.
Fast-forward and I am now the mom of three. And this New Year's Eve, like those in the past, I've got lots of big things to toast in the coming year. Our family has major life cycle events planned, like my middle son's Bar Mitzvah this spring. And this year my youngest will graduate from elementary school and start the exciting, and tumultuous, time known as "middle school girl." And, if all goes according to plan, 2013 will be the year my oldest will learn to drive. It still seems impossible to me that the baby I was carrying that New Year's Eve 16 years ago could possibly be a licensed anything.
But as I've hung out with my kids over the last few weeks of 2012, I've been reminded that it isn't just these big moments that are special. There are a million little things in between that are really kind of awesome, too. Like two delightfully unexpected, albeit backbreaking, snow days to help kick-off winter break. Or the fact that my teenagers still think spending a snowbound afternoon filling out Mad Libs -- using "fart" for every noun and "poopy" for every adjective -- is still absolutely hysterical. Or having all three kids feign reverence during the Les Miserables movie, regardless of their actual level of interest in a French rebellion-inspired sing-a-long.
This coming year I will help at least two kids build science projects. I'll drive (perhaps with some eldest child help) dozens of carpools. The whole family will watch countless TiVo-ed episodes of The Office together on the couch. It's not the kind of stuff that makes the year-end holiday card or requires a photographic record, professional or otherwise. But when you add these little things up, they make up the lion's share of our most intimate times together.
So as I get ready to toast the New Year (with something sparkling and alcoholic of course, no more pregnancies for me), I'll do my best to resist the urge to think too grand. Maybe 2013 doesn't need to be the biggest or brightest one yet. Instead, I'll raise my glass to a year of continued little things...to more snow days, to more chances to use the word "poopy", and to the sincere hope that at least one of my children will come around on this whole Les Miz thing.
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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.
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.
If you're checking out summer camps for your child, there are many issues -- some obvious, some less so -- to keep in mind. Here's a list to keep handy when you contact camps and camp directors, looking for the perfect spot for your kids to have fun, relax, and learn this summer.