Thursday, January 28, 2010

MLK in Chicago

If you have never been to Chicago before let me offer this piece of unsolicited advice: don't go in January. Prior to a couple of weeks ago, the one and only time I had ever visited the Windy City was mid-way through an epic cross-country family vacation circa 1998. Yup, two parents, four adult children and one van. I don't think we have ever managed to hit that same degree of family togetherness since then. And we're all thankful for it. Except that Chicago was our first real destination on the epic journey that is now an integral part of my family's lore (just ask my brother and me to each tell our side of the Ben & Jerry's feud that started in Montreal, continued with a standoff at the B&J factory in Vermont and had a residual effect that exploded in Newport, Rhode Island).

[Except I should note for my mother's sake that our actual first stop was Nauvoo for some pioneer history lessons and an initially awkward trip to the hotel pool that made us all wonder why we used to love hotel pools when we were kids . . . then we remembered the stupid games we used to play and got over the fact that we were too old for them.]

But all of that is beside the point. The point being, previously, my one and only exposure to Chicago was a family vacation in that beloved decade (now twice removed!) - the '90s! I was weeks away from starting law school, had two siblings in college and one still in high school. No one was married. No one had kids. We each fell in love with Chicago in our own way. We loved the architecture - Nick brought along a text book leftover from some college course he had just completed and sent us on a wild goose chase hunting down some Frank Lloyd Wright works that I don't recall ever finding, we loved the Art Institute and, of course, we sampled the famous deep dish pizza.

This one brief visit made a much deeper impression on one of us more than any other - my youngest brother Jason. After spending two summers there during law school, he and his wife moved there for good last November. I don't think any of us ever foresaw the day when he would be living in the suburbs of Chicago with a wife and two kids but that is where he has landed. And bitter cold temperatures or not, I was willing to head to Chicago for a visit to meet my one and only nephew. Meet Michael:

One of the happiest babies I have ever met. He is just shy of the four month mark and already threatening to hit the 20 pound mark (when I was there he was only a pound shy!). Despite the raspy, gurgly, phlegmy remnants of a cold, this little chunk always had a smile at the ready. I could barely refrain from kissing those cheeks non-stop. I have to say, it was love at first sight.

Of course, my first sight of this little guy was not without a bit of drama. Drama provided by his ever charming older sister.

Michael was sleeping when I arrived and Regina happily took my hand and gave me a tour of her new digs. But for a little shyness to vocalize her tour information, she warmed up to me immediately and we were buddies again. This kids seriously melts my heart every time I see her. By the time her brother woke up from his nap, she was babbling excitedly about her various toys and books. But when I scooped up Michael for the first time her little face fell and her lower lip stuck out and she ran to hide her disappointment behind a chair. The poor thing thought I had come just for her and there I was cooing over the baby like everyone else. It took a couple of tries but eventually we coaxed her out from behind the chair and she let me give her a hug too. And just like that she was over any jealousy she may have felt.

She did not as readily recover from her curiosity of what other prizes might be hiding in my giant purse that produced a few new books for her and some bibs and socks for Michael.

The weekend was made even more enjoyable a couple of hours later when my sister's flight landed and Regina had two friends to boss around play with.

Although the Chicago weather did us a favor and warmed up to the 20s (which was the same thing I had been enduring in New York for most of January), we weren't too interested in doing much more than crawling around on the floor with Regina, reading to Regina, drawing with Regina, hiding the robotic gorilla from Regina and sneaking in some rest by sitting on actual chairs instead of the floor and taking turns holding Michael.

We also managed to eat lots of tasty food - most of it cooked by our gracious hostess Nadia, including some chocolate chip cookies that satisfied everyone's cravings! - including authentic Chicago deep dish pizza (which was delicious) and some of Chicago's famous Greek food (also delicious!).

With early bedtimes and naps, we also squeezed in several hours of conversation - the best of which centered around books: what we've read, what we want to read, what we're currently reading. But also a little bit of sisterly advice from a more experienced attorney to one buried in the early days of his career.

I learned that Regina and I share a very basic want - "I want a puppy" was a frequent statement of hers which I responded to with "I want a puppy too." Sadly, neither of us got a puppy that weekend. But we did spend a great deal of time with two hand puppet puppies that I almost regretted ever putting on. And which I definitely regretting giving irritating voices. While they may have been a good distraction at lunch at the Greek restaurant before the food arrived, I didn't realize I wouldn't be allowed to ever take them off (okay, so we eventually convinced her they needed to rest and eat on the other side of the table so my hands could be freed but she was pretty insistent and most of the time she wanted me to have both of them on at all times)!

Another highlight of the trip, when Regina took Erin and I downstairs to play with her easel. She instructed each of us to draw a mommy puppy, a daddy puppy and a baby puppy. And a dinosaur. Erin took the whiteboard side of the easel and proceeded to draw the cutest little dinosaur family you have ever seen. On the chalkboard side I managed to scrawl out a cartoonish version of a dog - the only thing I've ever really learned how to draw beyond a stick figure that actually resembles the intended object. Regina went back and forth inspecting our work and proclaimed my dog "funny!" Just two years old and she can spot the true artist from the fake. She also quickly noticed that I was missing a dinosaur and I did my best to draw a long knecked brontosaurus (although the Museum of Natural History has taught me they are now going by some new-fangled name) which mostly resembled . . . well, nothing. This made Regina laugh even harder as she called it a "silly dinosaur." Wow. Erin then erased my feeble offering and sketched out an adorable bull dog that delighted our audience.

All in all you can't beat a weekend with two siblings, a talented in the kitchen sister-in-law, a jolly 3-month old nephew and a charismatic 2-year old niece for a long holiday weekend getaway, even if it is bitterly cold outside. I enjoyed all of their company so much that I pushed my flight home back by a couple of hours and I'm looking forward to another Chicago trip - next time with warmer weather and maybe an actual trip into the city!


mickey said...

What a fun trip, you must be "aunt of the week" to pull off all of that palying and drawing. I LOVE your collage, you take some amazing pictures. I love the one of you holding Michael and Regina looking through your purse, super cute!

You really have an adorable niece and nephew.

Soul-Fusion said...

to be clear Mickey, Erin pulled off the drawing part (I was mocked by a 2 year old!). I just made myself hoarse with puppet voices.

Tiffany said...

I love the picture of you and the kids on the couch. So cute!

Kelly said...

That sounds really fun!

autumn said...

What darling kids and what a fun way to spend a few January days, even if it was freezing!

Nadia said...

Cute kids. They must have a really good looking parents. Glad you enjoyed your trip.

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