Thursday August 9
What is the point of a contemporaneous blog when you can have a day by day adventure with me on holiday?
At 3.30 am, the Princess was up and about and by 4.00 am all three of them were romping about. At 4.30, I acted decisively and put the boys back to bed where, mercifully, they quickly fell fast asleep leaving us only one child awake. Between 4.30 and 6.30 we slept fitfully while she prodded us and whined “I want to get up”. At 6.30 I rose and we sampled “Aunt Jemima’s pancakes” saving the excitement of “Graham Crackers” for a later moment.
When the menfolk woke up, we went off to Navy Pier which Time Out and my sister’s trendy friends were a bit sniffy about but which our children enjoyed even, if it was a little bland. Michael particularly enjoyed rocking our little boat as we sailed up in the Ferris Wheel. They all liked the merry-go-round but the Princess liked it best of all and wept bitter and, very loud tears when forced to leave. I like to think that it was because she had been up since 3.30 and at the rate of one meltdown per day, I was beginning to feel that the jet lag really didn’t suit her and we headed for home in pursuit of a nap.
On the way back to the apartment, the taxi driver asked where we were from and we said that we were Irish whereupon the Princess piped up “I’m not Irish, I’m Belgian, I live in Belgium”. She’s wrong there, mind you, it requires more than being born and living there all your life to make you a Belgian. After wrestling the Princess out of the taxi and taking everyone upstairs, the Princess demanded to be allowed to put shampoo in the toilet. Permission was denied. I am sure that they could hear her indignation on all 56 floors of the building. Would she nap? No she would not, she remained awake by sheer force of iron will. Were we all getting a little tired of her imperial crankiness? Oh yes, indeed.
In the afternoon when the boys had woken up and the Princess had stopped screaming, my noble sister and I gave Mr. Waffle a break and went to Lincoln Park zoo which was absolutely lovely although it did have a slightly psychotic pacing tiger. Alas, Lincoln Park zoo had a merry-go-round which brought back to the Princess fond memories of the morning. It was closed. She stood by the gate screaming for them to open it. Her brothers joined in. The noise. The mortification. The boys were lured away by the prospect of further animals a lion, a cow, a seal, pigs, the excitement was endless and they ran in opposite directions keeping us on our toes. As a reward for her atrocious behaviour, we lured my daughter from the merry-go-round gate with a packet of opal fruits. I can only hope that this will encourage her to behave equally badly in the future. I am the definition of lax parenting.
As a reward for our afternoon of toil, once dinner was over and the boys were in bed, Mr. Waffle stayed in and persuaded the Princess that maybe, conceivably she could be just a smidgen tired and my sister and I hit the shops where, weak dollar or no, I seem to have run up a not inconsiderable bill. I was amazed again by the service. As I wandered around Ann Tyler laden with clothes, this nice woman came up and asked whether she would create a room for me or words to that effect. I was baffled; was she propositioning me, offering me interior decorating advice or did she think that I needed somewhere to stay? Nope, she took the clothes from my arm and put them in the changing room for me. Untold luxury. And then in the Gap, I needed another size and I emerged tentatively from the changing room, a nice man ran up to ask, if he could help. I said I could get what I needed from the rack but he was outraged and when I finished and went to put the stuff back on the rail, he hurried to take it from me. I was amazed, in Belgium, they’re often a bit cross with you, if you don’t put things back on the rack.
When I got home, after I had tried on all my lovely clothes, I tried to get the hang of Chicago again. Americans are stronger on North and South than I am and the different parts of town are bafflingly named things like South near inner loop.
Friday, August 10
On Friday, I noticed that Americans don’t use mobile phones much and don’t seem to text at all. Frankly it endeared them further to me. And, if you ask me, they’re not all that fat either. As Chicago is in the mid-West, I expected that there would be lots of fat people but while there were some large people about, I wasn’t shocked and appalled. This may, of course, say something about how tubby the Irish have got in recent years.
Friday morning took us to the Shedd Aquarium which was fantastic. I never went to an aquarium before I had kids but now I feel something of a veteran but this was the first time I saw dolphins dancing to “Walking on Sunshine” and leaping in the air in batches of four once Enya was finally turned off. Many of us could sympathise with that. While the boys and I watched the dolphins, the Princess and her father went to see Sponge Bob Squarepants in 4D which she deeply disliked as the seats moved and shot water at her. You have to sympathise. She was entranced by the next performance of the dolphins though and after that, to her father’s eternal relief, the cafe was opened by the authorities and he was able to get a cup of tea.
I have forgotten or suppressed the memory of what precisely started the Princess screaming in the cafe. I think someone may have touched her hummus. The boys went out in sympathy and, as their father quivered with rage and I sat there mortified and trying to dole out punishment and comfort in appropriate doses to restore silence, a very nice woman smiled at me and said “twins, I have two boys as well, it gets better, you know”. The Americans of the mid-West get a cold star for courtesy and patience, I can tell you.
After a restorative lunch with my sister while Mr. Waffle guarded the children, she and I again let Mr. Waffle off the leash and took the children to the Children’s Museum. For my money, this is not fantastic, it’s not bad but I didn’t think it was spectacular. I had a problem that many patrons do not have in that both of my sons like to drive pretend cars and two were not available together. I spent most of the afternoon with my heart in my mouth haring round the place looking for Michael who, unlike his saintly brother, would not stay where he was put while his sibling was being hoisted into the fire engine. It was only late in the day that I discovered that there were very safe closed off areas for smaller children upstairs, alas. The Princess, meanwhile spent a happy afternoon climbing up and down a netting thing supervised by her long suffering aunt.
Despite all this, her highness was not happy to leave. The battle grounds shifted until somehow I found myself with a howling Princess outside the building screaming “water, water” and I kept replying with, I thought, admirable calm “not until you say please”. Due, however, to her iron will, I shortly found myself in the ludicrous position of standing on the street holding a bottle of water over the drain out of the reach of my hot, thirsty child who was panting “water, water” between sobs in the blazing Chicago heat. Not “water please”, you note. Not a good look for me either though, you must concede. Eventually when I started actually pouring the water down the drain she said bitterly “water plea” and that had to do.
As a reward for my labours in the afternoon I went to the cinema in the evening which was freezing. Why? Harry Potter, not bad either, rather embarrassingly.
Saturday, August 11
Daniel woke up with a slight temperature and rather than cart him out, he and Mr. Waffle stayed at home while the Princess, Michael and I went to the art institute. Given her less than stellar behaviour since our arrival, I was a little nervous. I needn’t have been. They were both as good as gold. They were interested in the pictures and dutifully did not touch. The Princess looked after her little brother, entertained him and held his hand keeping him safe from hazards (the arms room held a peculiar and slightly alarming fascination for him). She was wonderful and so was he. A security guard asked what was our favourite part and said that her’s was the dolls’ houses. I knew nothing of the dolls’ houses and would never have found them. I was so charmed by the woman’s kindness. The Americans, I think I’m in love. And the houses were absolutely the best bit. The Princess and I adored them and could have stayed for hours. Michael, unfortunately, was only interested in the ones with horses visible through the windows, so that limited our capacity to linger. Rarely have I found myself in such perfect harmony with my daughter – we could have stayed there all day but, at Michael’s insistence, we left, with a good grace. It was a perfect morning.
In the afternoon, as penance, Mr. Waffle took the Princess back to the fountain and my sister and I pushed the buggy through crowded shops while I vainly sought shoes. We were both hot and crabby when we reached Oak Street and the part of town where the rich people live. I thought it might be nice to see the beach but it was tantalisingly out of reach. You might think that the lakefront would be a park devoted to pedestrians. You would have completely forgotten the American love affair with the car then. Between us and the glittering lake there was a big fat impassable road, presenting to drivers a lovely view across the lake but making these pedestrians hot dusty and disgruntled. We reached a playground and stopped to let the boys play before exhaustedly hailing a taxi for home.
That evening, no sooner were the children in bed than a voice boomed into the apartment “this is the Chicago City Fire Department, this is not a drill, we have found a suspected fire in the building, go to a safe place and we will update you shortly”. Where might a safe place be? We were only moderately comforted by my sister telling us that when there is a fire in a tall building they only evacuate the floor that it’s on. I was considering whether we should wake the children and flee when my sister found lobby tv. One of the stations on our television was trained on the lobby and we were able to watch the firefighters running in and out. Well we would have been, if they hadn’t been standing around having cups of coffee. We decided it probably wasn’t a crisis, even though they did close State Street. I only really relaxed when they announced that firefighters had the blaze under control. I was mildly surprised that they didn’t describe themselves as Mayor Richard M. Daley firefighters as his name certainly seemed to be appended to pretty much any good news or even neutral news in Chicago.
We then left my sister and children in the burning building and went for lunch in the Cafe Grand Lux where we met some more nice mid-Westerners who told us about the building over the Jewel Osco being evacuated because of a fire; we were able to update them. This, and the fact that they gave us a pager to let us know when our table would be ready made it all very thrilling.
Sunday, August 12
This was the first day that the Princess slept later than 5 in the morning. Good day then. Hmm. We went to the beach. The Princess loves the beach. I love the beach. Mr Waffle hates the beach and, as far as the boys are concerned, the jury is out. It was a perfect day for it. The Princess waded out into the clear shallow water. And waded, and waded. It is shallow for miles. Would she come back when we called her? Go on, what do you think? So, boys up on hips and into the water we went. Under protest, she returned to land. We had a lot of that. Daniel did not like the sea and Michael was also a little in awe of the gentle lapping waves. The Princess and her father went to investigate food options but everything was closed except a sweet shop and there were words. We packed up but the Princess went running on her own to the sweet shop where she prostrated herself at the altar of sugar. There were further words. A kindly mother advised us that Nookies on Wells was a nice diner. After some difficulty flagging down a taxi, during which time everyone got increasingly rattier, we got there. Nookies on Wells did look nice and that may have been the reason why a long queue snaked out the door and around the side of the building. We took ourselves to Wells on Wells instead. Wells on Wells will not be getting repeat custom from us or, I suspect, anyone else but it was outdoors and water could be spilt with impunity and that, after all, was something.
The afternoon saw us exploring the swimming pool in our building which, alas was too deep for the Princess to stand in but she clung to her aunt and made progress with her noodle. Michael refused to come in and Daniel loved it, kicking his little legs out behind him like a pro. I did feel sorry for the students with their beer who had to suffer for an hour while Michael vocalised his objections to getting into the pool and howled in indignation when any of the grown-ups walked away which at any one time, two would do to save his siblings from drowning (I should explain that my sister was there too, we didn’t leave him howling alone at the edge of a deep pool).
Have you read “Cold Comfort Farm“? You will recall that Aunt Ada Doom does not like any of her family about she needs them all about her “Seth, Ezra, Harkaway..”, well that’s what our holiday was like. Michael, in particular, clung to me but didn’t like when any of us went out of sight. The Princess’s catch phrase became “How dare you go out without me?” and Daniel mistook an ethnic Chinese friend of my sister’s for our Filippina childminder and ran to her in delight only to collapse in tears on closer inspection. I suppose it was all a bit disorienting for them.
Later in the afternoon, I wanted to get the Princess out with the boys and my sister but she would not budge. “I’m buying ice cream” I said. “Off you go” she said. “If you don’t come, you won’t get any ice cream”, “OK” “What flavour ice cream will I buy your brothers?” Long meditative pause. Hah. Then she said thoughtfully “strawberry, I suggest”. Defeated I retired and in my absence she dressed herself in a nappy and the boys’ clothes, anyone attempting to psychoanalyse my daughter will be spoken to severely.
Braving my children’s disapproval I went out again to the Hancock centre which is very high indeed even by tall Chicago standards and from it our tall building looked alarmingly dumpy. Great view but, alas, the food was somewhat mediocre.
If I keep going like this we’ll never get to Vermont, will we?