The 16th or 17th of August is celebrated annually as the anniversary of a road trip I took with my maternal Grandpa back in 1983. This year Lisa and I planned a trip to Chicago for that day, as a last hurrah to summer before the kids went back to school.
"Chicago" is a bit too general; our destination was the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, since I was armed with a family pass generously provided by a co-worker. With four kids a road trip is always a crapshoot, but the kids were good on the way down. We stopped at the Lake Forrest Oasis for lunch, which helped. Aside from the food, the atmosphere of that rest stop always seems to put them in a good mood.
On the way into Chicago itself we could see planes from the Air show, which kept the youngin's entertained through the traffic, and I did a good deed, paying for the car behind us at the toll booth.
We parked near Solider Field, the home of the hated Chicago Bears, but the area itself is beautiful and moving.
We stopped to read the quote from JFK's inaugural address ("Let every nation know . . . ") that's inscribed on the memorial, and I recited it in a passable Kennedy brogue that brought praise from Lisa.
Then it was into the Shedd itself, and thanks to our pass we completely skipped a line that seemed to stretch the horizon. Haha suckers!
As for the aquarium itself, well, there were a lot of neat things to see, as you'll notice as this post goes on. But all in all, I don't think it was all that much more impressive then the aquarium at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Hey, don't shoot the messenger.
At first the kids were a little moody as we moved through the exhibits, but they eventually worked that out among themselves (if 'among themselves' means with massive parental intervention).
Two things that were super cool: the shark tank and the tube worms I'm probably remembering the name of the tube things wrong, but whatever; either way they were neat.
Now around the time of the shark tank we came across a stingray exhibit that allowed you to walk above them, like on a glass bottomed boat. Smiley flipped out and was clearly afraid, and in the wake of that reaction he started to bully Ginger. It was obvious that the panic and fear had humiliated him, and to restore the status quo he felt the need to lash out. As he inherited the anxiety from me, I recognized the action and checked it, taking the time to explain to him why he felt the way he did. I think - but obviously there's no way to know in the here and now - I think that was a pivotal moment in him coming to recognize and master his anxiety.
Here are some cool pictures we took as we toured the aquarium.
As a kid I remember wondering what an island looked like below water - was it just floating there like a bar of soap in the tub? So I especially liked this exhibit, a model of what an island looks like above and below sea level
There was a small kids area set up like a campground, and the kids spent some time playing there. Ginger, I remember, 'cooked' me bacon and eggs on the camp stove.
In the main lobby of the Shedd there's a very large free standing water tank, and while we waited to see the aquatic show we passed the time there, with the lil' ones glued to the tank and YaYa sitting and enjoying some popcorn with Mom.
Soon enough we headed for the show, first stopping to check out the travelling jellyfish exhibit on display.
I'll tell you what impressed me about the aquatic show; the sheer size of the venue. It’s an indoor amphitheater with the ‘stage’ being a large pool with a few ‘rock’ outcroppings. Behind this is an enormous array of ceiling to floor windows overlooking Lake Michigan. Once the show begins a curtain descends covering all the windows – an ENORMOUS area – and that curtain becomes a video screen for the show itself. Wow.
The show was less wow. The kids loved it and the crowd soaked it up, but I thought it was ho-hum. The falconry portions may amaze the hicks, but again, our zoo is pretty wicked and we’ve seen it before. Ditto the dolphin stuff, although we saw that on our trip to the Bahamas. Part of me – and I’ll never admit this out loud – was a little put off by the hypocrisy of training these dolphins to perform like pet monkeys while at the same time lauding their intelligence. It wasn’t my cup of tea.
After the show we briefly ventured out to the patio to gaze at the skyline. Here I performed my second good deed of the day, carrying a stroller down a steep flight of stairs for a Mom with her hands full.
How’s this for a group shot of my kids? Gorgeous!
Then we left the Shedd (stopping to point and say ‘haha!’ at the folks stuck in the long line outside,
and went across the street to a small play area. Lisa left to go get the car alone, but got turned around and lost after she left the parking garage, leaving me and the kids with a heck of a lot of free time on our hands.
Neat little tidbit: once we reconnected with Lisa, we drove by three African American hookers straight out of a bad ‘70’s movie, leading to a lot of interesting questions on the drive out of Chicago!
The original plan was this: Go to the Shedd, grab a hotel room, then spend the following day at the Bristol Rennasaasance Faire. Our original aim was to find a hotel midway between Chicago and Milwaukee, namely in Gurnee. We had no luck. Some hotels were booked. Some had no working whirlpool. All were overpriced. So we scrapped that idea and decided to just eat out instead, spend the night at home, then go to the Ren Faire in the morning. So we ate at Golden Corral in Kenosha, spending a lot more money than it was worth.
I was very upset about the hotel situation, and, I admit, indecisive. At the last moment, when we were already back in the city of Milwaukee itself, I pulled into a hotel and went in alone to discuss room rates. I soon texted Lisa a “Bring ‘em in” which, I’m told, let to a rousing and heartfelt cheer from the kids! More than anything, the success of the trip and heck, even the summer, seemed to ride on staying overnight at a hotel. Silly, IMHO, but there ya have it.
The kids swam with Lisa until the pool closed, and then we crashed for the night. In the morning we dined at the free continental breakfast, then Lisa read by the pool while I swam with the kids.
And then it was on to home (well, onto an estate sale we passed on the way, where we bought a new dark wood end table for $10).
A great trip with a great family, and a great anniversary of Grandpa’s Day!