We arrived in Chicago to the tune of almost torrential rain drumming on the plane. You might think that I'm used to rain (living in Seattle as I do) but what I live with is a light but constant sprinkle. This was a downpour driven by Chicago's famous wind.
Weather isn't usually a big deal for adults on vacation. When it starts to get wet or uncomfortable, you do your best to find a taxi, or you wait it out in a coffee shop. With kids, the options aren't so simple. Before leaving home, I had printed out detailed maps showing exactly how to get from the airport to our hotel on the "El" (Google Maps is wonderful for this). We planned to use public transit for the trip, so we did not bring carseats. A taxi just wasn't an option, and the rain wasn't letting up any time soon. No problem, I thought, as I pulled the kids rain-jackets and rain-pants out of the suitcase, there was a 1 1/2 block walk on each end of our trip, and other than that, we'd be inside a train or a bus.
I'm lucky our babysitter was with me, with no kids to interrupt, she routinely gets a full night of sleep, and has a good eye for important signs. Thanks to her, we spotted hidden elevator signs where we would otherwise be stuck on the stairs, and found our way to the bus with a minimum of wrong turns. Still, the rain worked its way through every possible opening or zipper, even blowing itself up through the wrists of my own lightweight windbreaker. You can just imagine the impression we made as we walked into our four-star hotel. Two women with water literally dripping off of them, a hodgepodge of sopping baggage, a toddler in a stroller & another one in a sling. Luckily the kids weren't screaming. Their rain-gear kept them dry, so while they were frustrated that we carried them instead of allowing them the freedom of a toddler-paced crawl through the streets of Chicago, they were not uncomfortable.
The kids were absolutely delighted when I finally did let them out of their respective carriers, and thrilled to see my mom, who had already checked into our shared room. As they explored the hotel, I dried off and made a quick dinner plan. With no sign that the rain would let up, we walked 1 1/2 blocks to one of the best sandwich shops in the city. L'Appetito was a great find for a family with young kids. Not only is the food terrific, but there was a small (if pricy) Italian market with milk, cheese, and gourmet items to bring back to the room. The kids feasted on olives and pizza while I had a sandwich and a rice ball. For dessert we chose adorable bumble bee cookies from the pastry case.
After a full day of traveling, the kids needed to blow off some steam before returning to the hotel room, but the pouring rain made a playground or even a walk on the city streets out of the question. Luckily, the kids had no preconceived ideas about what their first evening in Chicago should hold for them (I have a thing or two to learn from them). We settled on a small mall, two blocks away, anchored by a Bloomingdale's department store. It seemed like the only nearby indoor space with enough room to move around. Every bone and my body told me it would be a mistake to take two sopping wet kids into an upscale department store, but with few other choices I did it anyway.
The wind drove the rain so hard that I had to pull the (rain-cover-less) stroller backwards to keep poor D from crying. E, who normally hates wind or rain, thought it was incredibly funny to lean into the driving wind and push his legs hard to make progress (honestly, I'm glad my mom was holding his hand! A big gust could have knocked him down). He laughed hysterically the whole way, which made me feel better about dragging the kids out in this mess! By the time we arrived at the mall, my clothes were dripping, and my lightweight jacked had soaked through. What an inauspicious start to a trip that I had planned as more of a vacation than our usual travels. I unloaded the kids, and we all sat down to have some delicious and warming hot chocolate at a coffee shop located in the mall's entrance.
As we sat, the water rolled off of my kids raingear (they were still warm and dry inside) and they laughed and giggled. We wandered into Bloomingdale's (once again we were quite a sight) and I headed towards the raincoat department. Not surprisingly, the kids were a bit rambunctious ... I managed to keep them from handling everything, but excited to have escaped the outdoors and the tyranny of seated meals, they were laughing, and giggling, and tickling eachother. Luckily, the bad weather kept most sane customers away, so instead of giving us (deserved) stern looks, the employees fawned over the kids and egged them on. Delighted with the attention, D managed her very first real jump, and then another, and another. She was quite a sight, with full rain gear (including the hood which she refused to lower), sandals, and a striped dress peaking out under her jacket.
I might have walked home without a new raincoat that night, but safely tucked away in my own (waterproof) memory is a very precious image of my daughter's first jumps in front of a laughing lineup of Bloomingdales employees.Related Links
City Guide: Chicago With Kids
Chicago With Four Kids: Tips and Making it Work
Flying With Kids