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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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.
I know, in the grand scheme of things, that my kid issues, when it comes to dining out, absolutely pale in comparison to those of parents whose kids have special needs. Many kids, especially those who are on the autism spectrum, are disturbed by changes in their routine, or anxious around noisy places. They may not be able tolerate waiting for a table or standing in line. So unfortunately, many of these families just avoid eating out at restaurants altogether.
It's weird to admit this, especially in a city surrounded by as much outdoor beauty as Madison. But frankly, I'm just not that into nature. I'm more of an indoor kind of gal. Give me an afternoon at the Chazen or the Wisconsin Historical Museum over the Arboretum or Olbrich Gardens any day.
Lavish costumes, gorgeous sets, a full orchestra and a concession stand where nothing cost more than two bucks and you have a pitch perfect experience at the theater. Oh, and did I mention the ticket prices were just $10 dollars apiece? One could afford to take the whole family for a live theater experience for less than an evening at the Lego movie would cost including popcorn.
I think the first time in recent years that I've felt a real sense of shame, as both a parent and community member, was last Tuesday evening as I sat in a crowded elementary school LMC to listen to Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, and his colleague, Torry Wynn, present key findings from the 2013 Race to Equity report to our PTO group.
It's Wednesday morning at Allis Elementary School on Madison's east side, and 16 third-graders -- 10 boys and six girls -- enter into an open-space classroom in typical wiggly, giggly style. Some are making goofy faces at one another, some are bouncing around hand-in-hand with friends, and others are just trying to stay out of the whirling-dervish path of activity.
Of the 789 poorly-composed, way-too-dark and out-of-focus photos currently living on my iPhone, I can count on two hands the number that show my kids and me together. And my husband is in probably no more than three or four of those.
Something kind of magical has happened these past two weeks during the Sochi Olympics. There is no question, debate or disagreement on what will be watched on television once all homework is done. Everyone in the family makes time to sit down together to watch an hour of so of the primetime televised games.
Truth be told, though, this month I'm feeling a bit cinematically fried. In some ways, I already feel like I've spent the last week or so at a film festival. A festival specializing in minute-long glimpses of ordinary lives all ending with credits that feature the ubiquitous blue thumbs-up. Yes, it's been the February of the Facebook movie.
Just last week, on precisely the same day the Momastery post was getting over a million well-deserved views, Madison mom Suzanne Buchko was telling a similar story. Not on a blog but instead in the confines of the modestly circulated Franklin-Randall Elementary School weekly newsletter.
Late last month, the Madison Metropolitan School District adopted a five-year, $27.7 million technology plan calling for all district students, including those in the primary grades, to have significantly increased access to their very own tablet or notebook computer by 2019. Some parents, as well as education professionals, questioned whether elementary-aged kids, especially kindergarteners who aren't even able to read or write yet, will gain much benefit from introducing yet another screen into their lives.
This past Monday, had winter's unrelenting weather allowed, Middleton Cross Plains School District teacher Andrew Harris would have once again been at the helm of a classroom. After nearly four years of fighting his dismissal from Glacier Creek Middle School for viewing and passing on sexually explicit material on district computers, MCPSD has been legally forced to reinstate Herris, this time as a seventh-grade science teacher at Kromrey Middle School.
In a study published last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, academics have found that the 16 and Pregnant series may have played a significant role in the recent decrease in U.S. teen pregnancies.
In our house, sad but true, we've rarely spent the Martin Luther King holiday discussing race, social justice or the power of non-violent civil disobedience. Instead, the third Monday in January has historically been treated as just another day off school, just another long weekend. And it's been a missed opportunity.
It's not something that happens very often, but last Friday, as news of the impending arctic cold snap reached our house, my kids were rooting for Governor Scott Walker. They were rooting for him to take Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton's lead and cancel school throughout the state. They couldn't care less if he had the authority to do such a thing -- if he called off school, he'd be their hero.