In rather a last-minute fashion, Ted and I decided to head to Chicago with the kids for March break. Ted had been there last May for work, and he came home raving about the city and about how wonderful a job the city planners had done in keeping the waterfront out of the hands of developers. There are miles of public parks and pathways all along the lake, and we took full advantage. Even in March. I am not afraid of winter, so a sunny destination was not a requirement for our holiday. Our requirements were: a hotel with a swimming pool, a city, and something within driving distance of Toronto (it took nine hours, half the time it takes to get to Nova Scotia, which is where we drive each summer).
What a great decision Chicago was! We began our visit as consumers, and headed straight for the Lego Store. This provided the kids with instant shopping gratification, AND bright, shiny new toys to play with in the hotel room for the week. Friends took us out for dinner with a view of the outdoor skating rink on Michigan Avenue, and we ended the night with a game of tag at Anish Kapoor’s glorious Cloud Gate. (Photographed here the next day.)
Monday we met up with our friends and spent the day at the Field Museum, which is free on Mondays, and could easily have filled more than a day. With five boys aged 9, 8, 6, 5, and 2, the approach here was divide and conquer. There are exhibits to interest all age levels, but not necessarily all at the same time. Rowan was itching to explore ancient Egypt, Griffin was intrigued by the Ancient Americas and the Northwest Pacific and Arctic Peoples, and Gavin’s love was the Play Lab, where he got to harvest and store cobs of corn in a pueblo.
Tuesday was an architectural boat tour on the Chicago River (dyed bright green with 40 lbs of vegetable dye for St. Patrick’s Day!) and the Children’s Museum at Navy Pier. It was a cold day for a boat tour, but this turned out to be very much in our favour. Instead of running around the boat, as they have been known to do in the past, the kids all sat huddled on our laps for the entire hour of the trip (Gavin even dozed off on my lap), so Ted and I could actually hear and listen to the tour guide and soak in the history of the city’s buildings.
At the Children’s Museum, we got our first taste of the privileges of membership. We have memberships to the Royal Ontario Museum and the Ontario Science Centre, and because they have reciprocal membership arrangements, we got into the Children’s Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Planetarium for free. For a family of five, this was a lovely savings, and I urge you to explore your local museums’ membership agreements, too.
One of the things that we learned on our boat tour is that because of the amount of pollution being dumped into Lake Michigan, city planners reversed the flow of the Chicago river (into which the sewage system flows). It now flows away from the lake instead of emptying into it. At the Children’s Museum, the kids can make this happen themselves with enormous water tables that allow them to divert water, create dams and alter the elevation of the water so that it reverses the flow of the museum river. Great fun to be able to put into practice the feat we’d just heard described that morning.
On Wednesday, we spent all day at the Shedd Aquarium, where it was not necessary to split up because each of the exhibits had universal appeal. I have to confess at being a bit underwhelmed by the shows, but as the trainers were careful to point out, they no longer train the animals to perform in ways they would not perform in the wild. No jumping through hoops for silly humans to watch.
Thursday morning, Ted took the kids to the Museum of Science and Industry while I toured Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, then we spent the afternoon at the Adler Planetarium. Oh, how I love the Planetarium! Neither Rowan nor Gavin are old enough to appreciate the scale of our tiny little places in the universe that is so wonderfully illustrated by the planetarium sky show, but I think Griffin was able to grasp the mind-boggling enormity of space as the film zoomed us in and out of our own galaxy.
Griffin asked the inevitable question about the market value of art after seeing Jackson Pollock’s “Greyed Rainbow.” But at nine o’clock at night, after a full day of feeding my soul with Frank Lloyd Wright’s genius and contemplating the cosmos, I pled exhaustion in my failure to explain the logic of the art market.
And that was our glorious trip. Each day filled to the brim with discovery and learning and fun.