Monday, February 28, 2011

Chicago With Kids

Because we are apparently trying to set some sort of record for Extreme Travel With Children, we took the girls to Chicago for the weekend.  Jason has an annual convention there every February, and we usually loan the girls out to some grandparents for the weekend and I join him in the city after his classes are over for some grown-up fun.  This year, Annie's school break coincided neatly with the convention, plus we're using some grandparent hall passes in March, plus we thought the girls are old enough now to appreciate the big city and would be fun to have with us.

So.  We went.  And we spent the whole time alternating between two states, those states being "Ohmigod, who thought it would be a good idea to take these kids here?  Were we drunk when we decided?  This is not a good idea!  Abort!  Abort!" and "Awww, this is TOTALLY WORTH IT and magical in every possible way!"

Is there another, saner, middle option about how to feel when on vacation with young children?

Here's how it went down:

On Friday morning, the girls and I took the train to Chicago on our own, stocked with lots of coloring books and movies and surprise Jelly Beans.  (All snacks, to be effective, must be a surprise.  If they are not a surprise, the children begin requesting them the SECOND we leave the house - even if it is 6:45 a.m. - and become increasingly more demanding and whiny so that by the time it would be appropriate for me to bust out the snacks in a Save The Day sort of move, I no longer even want to give them the snacks.  Because of the whining and the demanding.)  Anyway, this went well.

When we arrived, we grabbed lunch at a Corner Bakery right by the train station, then took a cab to our hotel (the Embassy Suites on State Street, never stay here, more on this later) to drop off a bag and check in.  After we lightened our load, we ventured out and walked to Michigan Avenue and up to H&M for some good, old-fashioned shopping.  I rarely take the girls with me when I shop for them (especially not both at once); usually it's more of a "Look what I got you from Target!  Does it fit?  Good," routine, and we had lots of fun going through the racks and choosing, among other things, 4th of July outfits for this coming summer, unbelievably cute AND cheap sundresses, and a few gifts for other people.  I grabbed two shirts for myself and bought them without trying them on, because sometimes I live on the edge like that.

Next, we headed across the street to kill a little time at Water Tower Place.  I took them straight to the store I knew they would love:  the LUSH counter in Macy's.  The salesgirl was awesome with Annie and Jemma, letting them touch and smell everything, stick their hands in the suds, and demo-ing all the glittery bath bombs they wanted to see.  It was unique, spontaneous fun, and I watched their eyes get big with a smile on my face the whole time.  In the end, we each chose one to buy.

We were thirsty, so we got some lemonade and water, then rode the escalators all the way to the top of the mall just so we could look down to the first floor from the brass-and-glass elevators on the 7th floor.  I remember doing this once as a child and it blew my mind.  When they were tired of the view from the top, we made our way to the store we'd so obviously come all this way to visit, The American Girl Store.

With Molly and Emily Elizabeth in tow, we browsed the first floor doll displays before heading for the Bitty Baby room.  I'd told them that they could each pick out one thing (NOT a doll), assuming they'd each choose an outfit for the doll they'd brought along.  But Jemma was entranced by a birthday party kit, while Annie ended up choosing pajamas for herself since the matching set she got for her 5th birthday have since been passed down to Jemma.

Late afternoon, we went up to the second floor for tea in the American Girl restaurant.  It was cheesy and overpriced and right up their alley.  They worshipped every minute of the experience, especially the way that the restaurant provides little high chairs and tea cups for the dolls you've brought along.  (Jemma actually kissed the high chair and very much wanted to bring it home with us.)

Around 5:00, we left the restaurant and walked back to the hotel to meet up with Jason.  The girls were full from tea (pb&j, scones, cinnamon rolls, mousse, jello, etc.) so Jason and I grabbed some free happy hour drinks to bring up to our room and let the girls bounce around on their beds until it was bath time, at which point we obviously had to try one of the new bath bombs.

It smelled great and turned the whole tub purplish-pink with glitter.  The girls lost their minds with happiness, brushed their teeth, read books, and went to bed a little after 7:00, at which point Jason and I retired to the living room portion of the suite, high-fived each other, ordered a Pizzeria Due take-out deep-dish, and cracked a Fat Tire while deciding to order an in-room movie.  We'd just chosen "Love and Other Drugs" over "The Social Network" (which I STILL want to see, btw) and pressed Play when the drama began.

Less than an hour after they'd gone magically to sleep in separate beds in the same room, the girls were awake, and they were not happy.  Turns out Jemma was yelling/squealing/crying in her sleep, which woke Annie up, which made Annie feel justified in sitting up in bed and yelling at Jemma to Stop It!  Jason went in to settle it down, and came back out to watch the movie again.  Ten minutes later, same thing, only this time, Jemma was crying hysterically and demanding that I sleep with her in her bed for the rest of the night.  I got her back to sleep, went out to try to figure out what was going on in the movie, and the same thing happened all over again fifteen minutes later, at which point I gave up, climbed into bed with Jemma, and hoped this would do the trick.  

It was the worst night of sleep I have had since the girls were newborns.  Jemma continued to cry out in her sleep, off and on, most of the night, and when she wasn't keeping me awake with her voice, she was lying perpendicularly in the bed and kicking my stomach.  At one point, she was making so much noise that I brought her into the bathroom to try to settle her down, which only further enraged her until she was hysterically repeating, "I can't help it!"over and over.  Annie had two coughing fits in the middle of the night and then woke up for the day at 5:55 a.m. and began asking when she was allowed to get up.  On top of all that, there was some sort of party going on in the room above ours, and it was so loud that I could hear it sporadically through the night even though the sound machine was turned up to its loudest volume.

By Saturday morning, I was a wreck, as was Jemma, who now wanted to be carried everywhere because she was so tired.  We went down to eat the free breakfast and I sat like a zombie with my coffee, reaffirming again that our decision to stop the baby-making at two was the right one for us.  I was so desperate for the promise of actual sleep (and so terrified of what Saturday night would bring) that I even lobbied Jason to drive us home later that day, just so we could all sleep in our own beds.  Ever the optimist, he promised that the next night would be better and we forged on with our plans.

We took the El to Lincoln Park after breakfast to see Emerald City Theater's production of "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!" which was super-fun to watch.  The girls have all the pigeon books and have them mostly memorized, and they loved when lines from the book were spoken aloud verbatim, plus there was audience participation and the chance to make a paper hot dog and get the duckling's autograph afterwards.  It was a hit.

We cabbed it towards the zoo after that, stopping part way to grab lunch.  My first choice, Toast, had too long of a wait, so we wandered the general area before finding a place called Nookie, where the wait was only 15 minutes.  We took our beeper to the one store I wanted to hit that was in sight:  Lululemon.  I was trying to scope out the sale rack while Annie and Jemma started acting like they'd never been inside a store before, starting up an inappropriate game of Loud Chase With Screaming.  Additionally, Annie kept picking Jemma up.

"Put Jemma down, please," I said.

Annie put her down.  Two seconds later, Annie was picking Jemma up from behind.

"Annie!  Don't pick Jemma up.  It's not safe."

Annie put her down.  Two seconds later, Annie was picking Jemma up again, and just as my face morphed into the "I can't believe you're doing this again" look and I opened my mouth, Annie fell down on top of Jemma and they lay, crying, in a pile on the wood floor.  

I sighed.  "Please say sorry to your sister."

"You hate me!" Annie yelled.

(See "Abort!  Abort!" above.)

We made it through lunch, with Jemma having little fits left and right about how "starving" she was (a term we specifically don't allow) and then we carried her the rest of the way to the zoo, where mercifully it was peaceful, snowy, and quiet.

We saw (very-up-close) lions, hilarious monkeys, sea lions, camels, a leopard, and many interesting things in the reptile house.  There was virtually nobody else there, the houses were warm inside, and it was the perfect amount of time to spend at the zoo.  Mid-afternoon, we took a cab/subway combination back to the hotel.

We went in the pool and hot tub for a bit before heading back out, this time to Millennium Park with our skates for dinner and ice-skating.  The buildings were lit up, music was playing, and Jason and I took turns following Annie as she shot around the rink and holding Jemma's hand as she trudged on with determination.  Both girls had huge smiles on their faces the whole time, and so did we. 

(See above re:  "TOTALLY WORTH IT/magical")

On the cab ride home, there was only cozy silence and a misty rain beginning to fall on the windows.  We tucked the girls into bed and braced ourselves for drama that never came.  I think between the play, the zoo, the swimming, the skating, and the walking, we actually tired them out so much that we didn't hear a peep from them until 7:00 a.m. Sunday morning.  THANK GOODNESS.

(We did, however, hear the same party room start up around 7:30 p.m. and, when it was clear that we were going to hear their hooting, yelling, and full conversations as though they were in the room with us, we tried to be proactive.  I called the front desk, then went down to talk to security, who basically told me there wasn't much the hotel could do until after midnight.  We downloaded a white noise app on my iPhone since the sound machine in the girls' room wasn't enough to drown out the sound completely in there, much less on our pull-out couch in the living room.  Hands down, that Embassy Suites was the loudest hotel I've ever stayed in, and we're bummed to say that we wouldn't go back, because we definitely need a suite if people are going to sleep at all.)

Sunday morning, we ate breakfast, hit the pool again, and then ventured out for some last-minute shopping (caramel corn at Garrett's, two-buck Chuck Cabernet from Trader Joe's) and wandering before piling in the car and heading home - exhausted, happy, and looking forward to our return trip later this spring, sans kids.


  1. You look very cute (and young) in the last picture. Love the recap. AND - I have been trying to watch Social Network for about 6 months. Can we rent it Sunday night and drink wine together??!!

  2. Wow, you had a packed weekend! I can see how traversing a city with little ones could be quite the, ahem, adventure. They definitely made some good memories, although you will too when you return as just a couple. :)