Are we there yet?
Monday, August 13
We went to the Museum of Science and Industry because Time Out recommended it and, by this stage we had realised that we were going to inspect all the museums in Chicago and it was next on the list. It was out past Soldier Field which, uniquely, in my experience, combines a monument to dead soldiers with a large sporting stadium. They’re nice those Americans, but different from us.
The science museum was, despite it’s unenticing name, fantastic. There was something for everyone. It was entertaining and fascinating. There was the Burlington Zephyr which was a beautifully restored train from the 1930s. Trains have lost out to cars in a big way in America and I found it somewhat distressing that this train had to be brought to the museum by a lorry instead of by rail. Ah, sic transit and all that (no pun intended but kind of funny, no?). All five of us spent about half an hour mesmerised by the “Swiss Jolly Ball” which was, essentially, a giant pinball machine used by the Swiss tourist board to promote Switzerland. It was made from random junk by an English man living in Switzerland. I suspect he was not married.
There was the “ideas factory” which allowed you to get wet and tossed balls in the wind (sounds dull but, you have to trust me here, it wasn’t). There was a walk through heart and an opportunity to take your own blood pressure. There was a room of miniature circuses (a tenuous link to science and industry, I would have thought, but frankly, who cares?)
And then, what with all the excitement, it was lunch time and time for the boys’ nap. Mr. Waffle nobly said “I’ll take them home and you two stay here and look at more things”. “No, no”, I said “you stay, after all, my sister is the one collecting us”. “OK” he said. I nearly cried. It was only a token offer and I wanted to stay there all day. In retrospect, I really regret that we didn’t go back there another day. It gets my vote for the best all round family attraction in Chicago.
We had a good afternoon in that the Princess helped us search Millenium Park and we found Daniel’s lost shoe but a bad afternoon in that she insisted on removing her clothes while doing so.
Tuesday, August 14
In our continuing round of Chicago museums, we dutifully tackled the Adler Planetarium. It was at this point that we realised that we could probably have saved quite a bit of money by buying combined entry to a number of museums. Never mind, onwards and upwards.
In deference to the younger members of the family we saw “Zula Patrol” in the Planetarium. Frankly, I felt Zula Patrol (a cartoon about the weather) didn’t really get full value from the planetarium but it was still pretty spectacular. A couple of times, the Princess grabbed on to me and asked “Mummy, are we moving?” We then spent a great deal of time in the children’s section which was magnificently tedious for the adults but the kids seemed to like it.
In the afternoon, my sister and the children and I went to Lincoln Park Zoo again and met a friend of my sister’s and her four year old daughter. This child was absolutely lovely and beautifully behaved. Where oh where were the badly behaved American children that I had been promised? My daughter was charmed by the polite little American and all was well until the Princess saw a fountain that other children were running through. She wanted to go too. I should have just folded early but I could see that the polite little American girl’s mother didn’t like the idea so I attempted to exert my feeble control over my daughter. I was defeated on all points and looked on as she soaked herself to the skin and then put on the polite little American girl’s spare clothes which her mama had prudently packed. I have never met a better behaved child and she and her mother were lovely but I had a moment of longing for a child who would not show mine up and despite her mother saying “we’ve all been there”, I couldn’t help feeling that she hadn’t been there quite as comprehensively as I had.
That night I swam alone in the swimming pool looking at the Chicago skyline which felt very decadent. In fact every night, before going to bed, I turned off the lights and looked out at the extraordinary and very foreign view.
Wednesday, August 15
We went to the Field Museum in the morning. My sister got us in free as she is a member and it was just as well. It didn’t really work for us and somewhere around plants of the world we despaired of ever finding the wretched dinosaurs and decided to go for a cup of tea.
The only cafe in the Field Museum is a McDonald’s and it is deeply depressing. I certainly went to McDonald’s when I was in school; I remember the excitement when one opened in Cork. It was the 1980s we took glamour where we could find it. But, I haven’t really been back since and it took me a long time to get the hang of the menu and I was a bit flustered and I couldn’t remember what American’s called chips (do they call them crisps?) and by way of further torture all their bills are the same colour and their 10 cent piece is smaller than 5 cents. It was all a bit fraught. I was not really aware of the happy meal concept and the woman after me got two happy meals and my daughter expressed vocal interest. The lovely, lovely Americans behind the till took it in their stride and gave me a free box and toy and I think maybe an extra packet of chips. The whole thing for the five of us cost 10 dollars and the kids ate it all up. “Chicken” my daughter informed me severely as she gulped down her deep fried nuggets “is very healthy”. I don’t think we’ll be going back all the same because the chief paying officers in this operation were distinctly less keen on the food and grim decor. We shook the dust of the Field Museum from our feet.
Later, the Princess and I went swimming and then we had cake. The Princess asked for chocolate cake and she got the largest slice I have ever seen. It was the size of those triangular battenburg cakes we used to have when we were little. I cut off a slice and the waitress put the rest in a box to take away (those polite Americans, that service industry, it’s a constant source of astonishment). Then we went to the “American Girl Place“; I had seen everyone with the bags and I was curious. It was terrifying. It sells the most expensive dolls and ludicrously expensive outfits and accessories for them. There was a queue for doll hairdressing. The place was full of little girls wearing the same outfits as their dolls. There was a doll theatre, doll DVDs, doll and owner afternoon tea. I swear that I am not making this up. Hilariously, every item in the all-American girl place seemed to have been made in China. Feeling very middle-class and superior, I approached an older shop assistant who seemed sensible and said laughingly “This little girl want something but her mean mother won’t pay more than 20 dollars for anything, can you recommend something?” Edna was not on my wavelength; “No,” she snapped, in the one and only example of poor service I encountered in America “the cheapest thing we have is 24 dollars for the basic outfit”. “OK”, I said “we’ll get one of those then.” “Have you got the doll?” Edna asked crossly. “No” I said. “Well, there’s no point in buying the clothes then because they won’t fit”. Dear Lord. I was trying, quite unsuccessfully, to persuade the Princess that we could probably get something cheaper and nicer in Baby Gap, when we came across Elizabeth. A lot of the dolls are done by period, so, for example, there’s plucky little Molly on the home front. Elizabeth is the side kick of main character Felicity. Let me give you a little background on Felicity:
“Felicity Merriman is a girl who’s as spirited and independent as the American colonies she lives in.
Felicity believes the colonies should be free, not ruled by a king who lives far away. But in 1774, just before the American Revolution, her belief isn’t shared by everyone. She knows that her grandfather and her best friend, Elizabeth, support the king’s rule.
Torn between what she believes and those she cares for, Felicity must find a way to hold both love and loyalty in her heart.”
Need I say more? Well, all of the dolls have little dolls dressed identically, so we were able to pick up an Elizabeth doll doll for 20 dollars and flee. I had to carry the Princess all the way back home, but it was worth it.
Really, it was probably time to leave the big city. I would always have my memories of the skyline by night, the children’s shoes lighting up in a pile inside the door (all with flashing soles and chucked there by their careless owners) and the boys leaping into their buggy in delight every morning at the prospect of more wonderful things to do. And, of course, Elizabeth.