Family times, lovingly planned for and anticipated, don’t always turn out as we hoped.
At the end of April my husband and I visited our son, daughter-in-law and grandson in Chicago, something we do three times a year. This time we were accompanied by our daughter and her two small sons. Though we knew it would be a hectic visit, corralling the two California boys, plus the little boy in Chicago, we were eager to make memories with most of our immediate family (our son-in-law, a high school chemistry teacher, was not able to join us). We made memories for sure, just not in the way we’d hoped.
The first sign of impending challenges was the head cold I felt coming on during the flight to the Windy City, which consisted of a dry throat and an earache. Of course I’d forgotten to arm myself with zinc tablets before leaving home, so the cold had uninhibited freedom to blossom during the four hour flight.
The second sign was the cold, wet, windy, umbrella-wrecking weather that greeted us as we left the airport, and which would continue during the entire week we spent in Chicago. We weren’t prepared for this. The weather forecast showed showers, but these were going to be mild little spring showers, we thought. We didn’t know we should have packed full winter gear.
The third sign was the airbnb the five of us rented two blocks away from our son and daughter-in-law’s apartment. Most of the dwellings in this part of Chicago are old, and in various stages of updating, done with varying degrees of skill and attention to building codes. As we walked up the dark, dusty stairs to our second floor apartment, we were greeted by the unmistakable smell of ancient buildings, a fact pointed out by the four-year-old every time we went up or down. Something about a stinky old building.
The airbnb had clean beds, but I hesitated to walk around barefoot, because the floors had not been mopped in recent history. The bathroom had the only mirror in the apartment, topped by non-working light bulbs. You couldn’t dry your hair or shave in there, because the only outlet was on the wall next to the toilet. The kitchen had a particularly creative setup. A power strip hung in midair between two adjacent counter tops. The microwave was plugged into one end of it; an extension cord attached to the short coffee maker cord was plugged into the other end. We noticed right away that the apartment had no smoke detector, which made me awfully glad I always travel with my own.
All of this was manageable, because we were so delighted to be in Chicago, with everyone together. Although the weather kept us from taking those energetic little boys to parks (and Chicago has many lovely parks), we did visit a couple of stellar museums that had a lot of kid stuff for the four-year-old and the 2 ½ year old. The 20-month old was content to tag along with whatever we did, and was even mesmerized for an entire thirty minute string concert in the entrance hall of the Field Museum.
Because we had all these kids, and not enough car seats, we traveled in Chicago by bus and train, which involved a lot of standing around in the icy, windy rain, waiting for the next train or bus, dressed in all the clothes we had brought. A note of humor was injected into this scenario when a young man at a bus stop declared that my husband looks like Robin Williams. Trust me, he doesn’t look like Robin Williams.
But our greatest test of endurance was still to come, in the form of the flu striking the 20-month-old. He announced this by throwing up on the bus on the way home from the Museum of Science and Industry. My daughter and I were up with him all that night, using every towel in the apartment to clean up indescribable messes, then having to borrow more towels from my son and daughter-in-law. Up to this point I was surviving pretty well with my cold, although not at the top of my game. But in the middle of that fluey night, I succumbed to the flu virus myself, and spent the entire next day in bed, part of it with the poor little 20-month-old asleep in my arms.
He and I both returned home kind of wrecked. It took him several more days to recover fully. I left the flu behind, but continued with the cold, or maybe it was a new cold. Who knows? But I lost my voice on the plane ride home, and had laryngitis for three days.
If you’re waiting for some kind of philosophical, spiritual thoughts about this trip, I actually don’t have any. I went to see my kids, and I will go again. Especially since grandson #4 will arrive in Chicago in midsummer. My desire to stay connected is stronger than the reality of miserable weather, germs, and risky accommodations.
I’ll just say that Chicago owes me one.