How I Wound Up Shirtless in the Park

Last month my husband and I took the kiddo to Kids Day at the Zoo at Vilas Zoo here in Madison. 

It was the first warm Saturday we had this year. Sunny skies, with a high of 68 degrees in early-April. 

Kids Day at Henry Vilas ZooKids Day at the Zoo meant free hot dogs and an ice cream treat for every kid under 12. Plus free carousel and train rides all day long. There were special exhibits with the animals throughout the day as well. 

After we took full advantage of the all of the freebies that afternoon, we wandered over to Vilas Park, which is adjacent to the zoo. 

Since it was such a beautiful day, the park was in full swing with children happily playing everywhere. And parents who were clearly glad to be out of the house and enjoying the sunshine as well. After an exceptionally brutal and long end to winter.

I parked on a bench for a bit and let my husband take the lead in playing with our son, as I often do. However, after a short while, he glanced over in my direction and said “tap out?” Which meant it was my turn to get in there and play for awhile. 

Now, when it’s my turn to play, I will not be outdone by my husband. Well, actually, I will because there are things his body can surprisingly do at 6′ 2″ and 230 lbs that mine just can’t. However, I will play on the playground equipment with the kid. I’ll get silly and chase him over bridges. And race him down the slides. Or swing along side him. 

On this particular day, I pushed him on the swings for what felt like a very long time and was probably actually only 5 minutes. Then he ran over to the slide shaped like a shoe. 

If you have lived in Madison for a long time like I have, the shoe slide at Vilas Park is somewhat iconic. While it’s been repainted over the years, it’s the same exact shoe that has stood in that park for millions of years. Yet, this was the first time I ever attempted to go down it. 

After my son ran up the slide and slid down at least five consecutive times, he yelled down to me to join him. The opening to the slide looked a little slim…And I am not a small gal. Alas, I cannot resist a “Come on Momma!” from my child. Plus, I enjoy a challenge. 

Shoe Silde at Vilas ParkSo, I crawled inside that slim old shoe and climbed up the tiny stairs behind him. First he asked if he could ride on my lap, which I knew was impossible given my size in relation to the size of the slide’s opening. I told him I’d follow him down instead. 

At the top of the slide, I took pause to re-evaluate the situation at hand. That slide opening was quite tight. But how will we know what we can or cannot do, if we don’t try?

I sat down and put my legs through the tiny opening. I then put my arms up over my head because I knew there was no way in H-E-Double Hockey Sticks that I was going to fit through it with my arms by my sides. 

And I scoot scooted my buns until I started to slide downward. 

It was at that exact moment of descent when I felt a tug on my shirt. 

Then heard the sound of fabric ripping. 

And realized that my shirt was somehow caught on the slide. 

I tried to tug ever so slightly to get it to come loose.

But it was too late. 

To my complete horror and utter surprise – my shirt ripped clear off my body on the way down the slide. 

And I landed at the bottom shirtless.

Standing in a very busy public park in only my bra and pants. 

I immediately burst out laughing. Because how ridiculous is that?!

I also quickly tried to cover myself, because I realized how I must look. This overweight 40-year old woman in her nude bra and mom jeans exposing herself in an area designed expressly for kids.

I tried to compose myself and recover my shirt. Which I then realized was hanging from the top of slide. Mocking me. 

I laughed harder. And ducked into the body of the shoe to try to shield myself from others’ view. 

“What happened Mom?!” my son exclaimed, as he realized that everything about what was happening wasn’t normal. 

“My shirt ripped off on the slide!” I giggled. 

“Where is it?” he asked. 

“It’s hanging from the top of the slide!” I cackled. I literally could not compose myself. 

“I’ll go get it for you!” he replied gleefully. And ran up the slide to retrieve my garment. 

It was about then, when my husband, who had been sitting on a bench nearby on his phone looked up to see what all the commotion was about. 

The look of confusion on his face was priceless. 

“What the…?” he muttered. Shaking his head while simultaneously tilting his head inquisitively. 

“My shirt ripped off on the slide!” I told him. 

He then began laughing and tried to take a picture of course. Because that’s what husbands do. 

My superhero son swiftly returned my shirt to me, which just so happened to be inside out. For some odd reason I took the time to turn right side in before putting it back on my body. 

While it felt like an eternity being shirtless in the park, I’m sure the whole thing went down in just a matter of minutes. And by some small miracle, there was only one woman and her child near the slide when this all occurred. She gave me a strange look, but didn’t say a word. 

Thankfully, my husband did not have time to capture this incident on camera. Though had he, I can’t help but think we’d have a great submission to America’s Funniest Home videos.

We’ve laughed about this as a family several times since. I’m sure we will never forget the day I wound up shirtless in Vilas Park. 

Will this stop me from going down a tight slide again? Nah. Because we only live once. And I want my son to always remember the good times when BOTH of his parents played with him at the park.

I will, however, choose my attire more carefully when heading to the park in the future.

Because you just never know what might happen…

Alicia was born and raised in Racine, Wisconsin and moved to Madison in 1996 to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she received her degree in Communication Arts with an emphasis in radio, television and film. She’s been working on campus in some capacity ever since and currently manages career and leadership development initiatives in the School of Human Ecology. Alicia married her husband Eric in 2012 and became a mom to her sweet and funny son Ellis in 2015. When she’s not playing with or reading to Ellis, she likes to read, watch TV, and might be caught playing bingo at the VFW. She also runs her own lifestyle blog ( and catches for her softball team through Madison Schools & Community Recreation every summer.


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