The Magic of Chicago – the first girl’s trip
When the Girl Awesome was 4 years old, I stumbled across a great deal on travel. For $19 (that really was the cost), we could travel via train from Minneapolis to Chicago – ROUND TRIP. I called a friend and asked if she and her daughter, age 7 at the time, would like to join us on the journey. They did, and my friend found an incredible deal on a hotel. Both little girls were the only daughters in families with boys; thus, the whole point of the trip was to visit little girl mecca – The American Girl Doll flagship store. Living vicariously through our daughters, I think we were more excited than they were.
So that August found us waiting for the beautiful cry of “All Aboard”. We packed extra snacks and lunches, lots of activities AND a huge sense of adventure to keep two little girls occupied on the eight hour trip. The first thing that caught their attention was the fact that the car directly behind ours was carrying the United States Postal Service mail. Eyes wide, they never realized trains might be one of the ways that letters made it to their house.
The trip was pretty uneventful (which I know is a huge disappointment to fans of this blog since EVENTS seem to have a way of finding me). Okay, there was the incident when we attended church on Sunday morning where the poor lady (who hadn’t seen God’s blessings in a while) came in screaming about how she needed help and the church wouldn’t help her. After a scuffle with the ushers, our little girls didn’t know what to think of all that. Truth be told, neither did we – other than to pray for her and the guy at Dunkin’ Donuts who kept asking for money.
We really wanted to stay on our budget; so, we planned to eat out once to indulge in Chicago-style pizza and once more at the American Girl Doll restaurant. We were hoping to find a little grocery store and luckily, there was a bodega across the street from the hotel. Immediately upon arriving, our girls were chomping at the bit ready to head down the Magnificent Mile (what divas!) to pick up their dollies. N was dreaming of purchasing a Molly doll, while Erin was planning to get the Bitty Twins. Having older brothers at this point in her life, she never wanted to be called by her given name and preferred to be called “Kyle” which is the name of one of her older cousins. I am fairly certain the allure of the Bitty Twins was that one was a boy.
We marched our way down that street, taking in all the sights and noises. Girl Awesome was enamored with the horse drawn carriages, mostly because the horses wore blinders. When we arrived at the store, we simply took time to soak it all in – it was everything we had dreamed it would be and more. Finally, we chose our dolls (and accoutrement) which let me tell you people could cost as much as your first semester of college tuition. My little girl chose the whole package (dolls, double stroller, and souvenir t-shirts for dolls and girl). I left looking like a bag lady, while shoulders back and head up with a beaming smile, my spunky four year old proudly sashayed with her babies down North Michigan Avenue. While waiting for the crosswalk, we all asked what the twins were going to be named. After a few thoughts, she narrowed it down to Daniel and Kandy (pretty proud momma moment there).
She, of course, wanted to push those babies everywhere the next two days. It was cute at first, but after schlepping that stroller which has absolutely no turn radius, the cuteness more than wore off on me – especially when I had to pick it up and carry it all.
Our little prairie raised girls got a whole education on interesting behavior on that trip. Our arranged AND reserved lunch (which if you ever are going to take your daughter to one of these stores is personally my favorite) had amazing food (think four stars), impeccable staff, and incredible attention to details (chairs and dishes for the dolls). We had an assigned time but arrived early as requested and then proceeded to try to make our way through all the people who did not have reservations. Eventually I had to cover Erin’s ears because mothers were shouting at the maître d’ words that I think would cause sailors to blush. Past that chaos, our time in the restaurant was amazing and magical and everything a little girl would dream.
My family annually purchased memberships to zoos and science museums which we were able to use the reciprocity agreements while in Chicago, mostly for free. Using the free trolley for transportation also saved a ton of money; otherwise, we mostly walked and pushed babies. We attended the Museum of Natural History (long enough to see a dinosaur named Sue for our boys), Lincoln Park Zoo and the Chicago Children’s Museum. One afternoon, we stayed back at the hotel while my friend and her daughter (who was old enough) attended the play that was once a part of the American Girl Chicago experience. While they were gone, we went to the park and watched street performers and fed pigeons. In the evenings, we visited Navy Pier and took in the fireworks offered there, but from the amazing viewpoint of the former Hancock Tower.
On our final day, we voted on how to spend our time. The Shedd Aquarium won, even though it was a little more than our original budget. Eating sandwiches for supper was a worthy sacrifice, because the Shedd was worth every penny! But for this day, I decided that the dolls needed a break which was momma-ese for “I am not taking that ridiculous stroller or any baby I did not give birth to on that trolley one more time!” The room was in shambles, and we left “Molly”, who was clearly older, in charge of the sleeping Daniel and Kandy. Throughout the day, the older N kept teasing my little girl that she was going to be up all night if her babies slept the whole time we were away. This chiding continued off and on to the point, where the Girl Awesome was about to use up all her goodness and mercy.
Since this is something to fight over, it turned out it was N’s turn to use the key to unlock the door when we arrived back at the hotel room. I really wish that I captured her face when we walked in. The room was spotless, everything in its place, the babies were up and playing, and Molly was looking a little tired after a hard day of work. Astonished doesn’t even begin to describe it. N was awed by her dolly, such an amazing babysitter who not only watched little ones, but also cleaned the whole room.
Even as early as preschool, our kiddos were pretty seasoned travelers. My little girl knew exactly who did all that work, but for the sake of her friend, she didn’t . . . spoil the magic of Chicago!
May some little piece of childhood magic touch your heart today!