Back when I had toddlers, Saturday mornings were one of my favorite times of the week. Not so much because I got the chance to sleep in (I swear, the kids actually woke up earlier on the weekends, just to spite me), but because that was the day my husband and I figured out how we could use our Benjamin Franklin-approved sleep schedule to our advantage. Whenever possible on Saturday mornings, we'd pack up the kids and head downtown at what was essentially the crack of dawn. This gave us a terrific jump-start on all the great activities that the Square area is buzzing with on that first day of the weekend.
We usually started out with a quick tour (before strollers became too much of a liability) of the farmers' market for some cheese curds, Stella's spicy cheese bread and a Planned Parenthood balloon. Then we'd hang out for a bit savoring our purchases (as far as I'm concerned, the only place where cheese curds actually taste good is on the Capitol lawn) before doing a little State Street window-shopping. We couldn't have done any real shopping if we tried, the stores weren't even open yet. Then, around mid-morning we'd head over to the Civic Center, now Overture, for the early performance of Kids in the Crossroads, precursor to Kids in the Rotunda.
I always felt a little guilty, though, that there was a big part of the isthmus experience that was missing from our weekly "Downtown Day." Because even though we had a sizeable stash of Kevin Henkes books and Thomas the Tank engine VHS tapes (I know, I am that old) stacked up in the family room, they all came from our neighborhood library branch.
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? But the former Central location felt more like a portal to a mid century Soviet Bloc prison. So when I got word that the Madison Public Library Foundation was launching a campaign to raise 9 million dollars for a total Central revamp, I supported the project 100%, especially the plan to expand and update the flagship site's kid and teen sections.
So parents (and everyone else in Madison, frankly) should be absolutely thrilled that this Saturday, September 21, the new and overwhelmingly improved Central Library will be re-opening its doors to the public. Mifflin Street will be blocked off between the library and the Overture Center allowing for music and activities all day, both inside and out. And if you are early-ish birds (or parents of toddlers, which are basically the same thing), you can easily catch the 9 a.m. ribbon-cutting and be among the fist to get inside where the party, and regular library service, continues. If you are so inclined, you can grab lunch at one of the many food carts that will be stationed outside and then head back in for the 2 p.m. kid-friendly hard-hat tour led by the building's architects and the children's librarians. There will also be screenings of family-friendly short films in the third floor meeting rooms.
I've been inside already. And it's breathtaking. Seriously, one of the more uplifting, fun-to-be-in, inspiring spaces I've ever seen. The kid and teen sections are spectacular -- bright and technologically oriented. There's even a gaming area with a crazy huge monitor. And the kids (and you) don't have to be quiet. You are even allowed to snack in the stacks. Our new Central Library is truly a parenting paradise.
I couldn't be more pleased that the next generation of young moms and dads in search of a fun Saturday (or any day) activity can now consider a visit to our library system's main branch a pleasure, not a chore. And maybe it's about time my family gives some serious thought to reinstituting our weekly "Downtown Day."
But the kids sleep in these days -- my oldest sometimes 'til noon.
I guess we'll just have to get a little later start.