Windy City

I adore Chicago.

I had an amazing weekend there in 2009, when I saw Arabian Nights at Lookingglass (one of the best pieces of theater I have ever seen), walked the whole string of parks that run along the lakeshore, visited the Museum of Science and Industry, and marveled at ALL the public art, in every corner of that city.

Last year, I had an incredible week there for Directors Lab Chicago, seeing shows, going to great restaurants, riding the train all over.

And last month, I finally took my family there. When we’re in Grand Rapids, Chicago is only another couple of hours. Petra has been asking to go to the Field Museum for a year. Silas likes … things. So we got an Air BnB for the weekend and set out. My dad flew in to hang out with us for a bit of that time, too! I didn’t get many pictures of him, for some reason, but some of these photos are his.

We definitely are going to start incorporating a Chicago weekend into our trips to the upper midwest. We had such a great time. Our kids were awesome–they got tired, sure, but not super terrible. They were thoughtful and observant. They had fun! My one regret was that we didn’t get to see a show, but after walking all over the city, none of us were up for much of anything by evening.

The first day, we went to Maggie Daley Park, which is the biggest playground I have ever seen. It just…kept going. We thought we had seen all of it and then there was more. The place was incredible. It had climbing structures, water play features, gardens, a castle structure, slides, “nest swings,” a maze, a boat…Silas even made a friend!

After that, we went exploring and found the neatest little place where people were sitting and cooling their feet off. It was clearly designed for that purpose, which was kind of weird and brilliant.

We met Dad at the Bean. It seemed like a pretty good landmark; it’s hard to miss. This was one of the kids’ favorite spots. They were sort of entranced by it.

We went to the Chicago Cultural Center after that–it was nearby, and free, so…why not?

They had a great exhibit of these massive paintings by Alexis Rockman, all paintings related to the Great Lakes. Both kids were pretty interested in them. Silas loves beautiful composition and bright colors; he is interested in lots of different kinds of art. Petra is generally only interested in representational art, especially images that include animals. These paintings were perfect for both of them. They told a strong story, but they also had a lot of attention to detail when it came to depicting the many animals and plants of the region. They even had a card that identified the different animals in each piece. Petra enjoyed trying to find them all (and she’s now reading well enough that she could do this more or less independently).

The next day was the core purpose of our trip–a pilgrimage to the Field Museum, to see Sue the T-Rex. I thought Petra’s head was going to explode.

We walked in, and the first thing she saw was Maximo, the Titanosaur. Volunteers in the foyer showed the kids a saber tooth tiger skull (very amused that P knew that it’s also called the “smilodon”), real fossils, casts of t-rex claws, footprints…And then we went upstairs to the prehistoric lifeforms exhibit. It started with the very earliest origins of life and moved forward through the various mass extinctions. Both kids impressed me by looking carefully at all of the information, watching the short videos attentively, identifying fossils they recognized (“Look at that big brachiopod!”). In the part with actual dinosaur skeletons, Petra was excited, but in a deep way. I’m not sure how to describe it. She moved slowly and carefully through the exhibit, looking at each skeleton from every possible angle. She seemed less interested than I would have expected in the items that were clearly designed to appeal to little kids. I had to ask her several times to stand in a dinosaur footprint for a picture. Silas was playing, but Petra was…I don’t even know how to describe it. She’s my baby clone, so I can only say that the look I saw on her face was one I recognized from the handful of photos people have taken of me when I’m deep in the work of directing. Some intense, singular focus in the eyes, her whole affect moving forward into the work of observation. Watching her experience this museum was one of the most profoundly moving things that has ever happened to me as a parent.

I was concerned that we were not going to see the famous Sue, because I’d heard that she was taken apart for cleaning and remounting, and that they were building a new exhibit for her. I had prepared Petra for the possibility that we would not get to see her this time. But lucky for us (!) the museum had set up a thing where you could get a glimpse of her through a window. Petra was … enthralled. So worth everything.

The museum also had a great collection of Egyptian artifacts. Petra even got to help with a demonstration mummification.

There were so many other things to see and do in Chicago–but we only had so much time. We’ll be back, though!

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