Thursday, July 30, 2009

Learning to be a Travel Companion

I've been in Chicago for nearly a week. Although it's not my first trip, it is for my children. They are almost thirteen and nine, and, as time goes on, they teach me more than I teach them. I've learned as much about myself this visit as I have about the wonderful city we're experiencing.

We started off in Evanston, seeing a dear friend of mine who was my housemate in university some two decades ago. She and her husband and two young daughters have made a lovely life in that beautiful town on the North Shore. We have been here during the most perfect week of the summer--Chamber of Commerce weather, my friend's neighbor called it--and spent our first days on the beach and having dinner outside. The kids also went to an (indoor) swimming lesson and later, ice-skating of all things. It was my younger child's first experience, and he says he's not sure about it, although he had fun.

We got to the city and arrived at an apartment in Wicker Park, generously loaned to us through a connection from my parents. It's a perfect spot in what I think of as an ideal urban neighborhood. We've travelled to the Magnificent Mile and to Lincoln Park and made a quick trip to Hyde Park to the Museum of Science and Industry.

What have I determined from our few days? First, watching my kids and my long-time friends interact is even better than I imagined. My friend adores my children, and they feel the same for her. I love watching her daughters, though they are younger and so a little more shy with me than mine are with her. But they love playing with my kids, and hearing their laughter drift through the kitchen screen door was delightful.

I've also seen how my travel style isn't for everyone. I like to think I roll pretty well when I am on trips, but now I see I tend to cram in more than the average person might enjoy. As I said to my son, "When you grow up in a series of boring small towns, a place like Chicago is more thrilling for you than for other people." My kids live in a perfectly nice town of about a million people, and they have grown up knowing good grocery stores and great works of art around the corner, so they don't feel the push I do to make the most of every visit to a major metropolis. Consequently, they also don't understand my enjoyment of walking for six or more hours a day to Enjoy the City. I've spent a little more than expected on cabs as a result.

When I relax, good surprises happen. Today we wanted to get to the museum in Hyde Park and then had to make it back for an architectural boat tour I'd paid $84 in tickets for, and then were supposed to meet a former colleague for dinner afterwards. We didn't get up particularly early, then got turned around on the way to breakfast. I am still not that confident navigating public transit here, so we ran even later, but then found our bus stop just fine.

We waited about ten minutes as a few different buses passed, and finally ours arrived. As I turned back to tell the kids to follow me to the rear seats, I saw my daughter hugging a girl about her age. Turns out one of my daughter's soccer teammates was on the bus with her dad. She has spent the summer with him in New Mexico, and they are taking a similar trip. The kids had a great time, and then after our boat tour (which I highly recommend) we met them for dinner, my colleague having cancelled via email while we were on the boat. We had a huge, if expensive, Italian dinner on Rush Street, and rode the bus home happy and full.

Today we are packing up and heading back to Evanston for a short visit before we fly home to Fort Worth tomorrow. I am doing my best to fend off thoughts about the work that awaits at the office and at home. I want to enjoy our last bit of time here. So today and tomorrow morning, I'll be sitting in the kitchen of an 1897 Victorian three blocks from the lake, talking to an old friend and listening to our child laugh together. The office will be there on Monday.

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