5. Hot and sunny day: This one is a no brainer, but of course you’ve got to hit the beach! I grew up in Michigan, so I’m no stranger to days at the lake. It’s lovely to get to share this slice of my rural childhood with my city kid. We usually frequent the beaches at Foster (cheap and easy parking, bathrooms) and Osterman (sometimes called Hollywood, no parking which means less people) and find them to be lovely. If you go in the late afternoon and evening, you can expect some teachable moments about adult language. Because I’m sure you’re the kind of parent who never accidentally says “fuck” in front of your toddler. How nice for you. And most memorable in Ida’s and my recent experience, swimming too close to some amorous teenagers putting that hot tub myth to a more naturally aquatic test. You know what? This is part of living in the city, and I find it best to laugh it off, have a conversation, and embrace it. And now that Ida’s older, there’s always the ring-a-ding of the ice cream cart rolling by if I need a quick out from an urban living fracas.
4. Rainy day: The Museum of Science and Industry. This is my favorite museum to visit with Ida. Everything is hands-on and there are a variety of exhibits designed to engage curious brains of all ages. Though you might be drawn to save some cash and hit up free day, dear reader, RESIST! Especially if you’re visiting MSI with a little one in tow, your experience will be much more enjoyable without the crowds that free day draws (it’s an awesome, important initiative, but it’s also a day when it can be challenging for small folks to get their hands on the fun stuff, so if you’ve got the cash to spare, the ticket is worth it). Or you can do what I do and become a participant in the Chicago improv scene, thus making everyday a potential free day because the MSI is crawling with improvisers who can get you in for free (and give your kid a remote that will turn on special gadgets in the giant airplane exhibit, so if anyone ever tells you your improv classes won’t get you anywhere…).
3. Chill day – Neighborhood meander: For a more everyday Chicago experience, pick a neighborhood and plan to spend a couple hours on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon wandering around. Lincoln Square is great, but the neighborhood that holds my heart for this sort of afternoon is my own ‘hood, Andersonville. Check out the puppet bike (usually parked at the corner of Berwyn and Clark, get some frozen yogurt at Forever Yogurt or ice cream at George’s, people watch and climb around on the micro-park called The People Spot on Clark, peruse one man’s trash that could be your treasure at The Brown Elephant Resale, and browse (read: manhandle with no fussing from store clerks) the great toys at Toys Etc., poke around in Women and Children First (what? Does your neighborhood not have a feminist bookstore with a rocking children’s section?). Finish your afternoon with dinner on the sidewalk at whatever restaurant strikes your fancy, or hit Huey’s for Chicago style hot dogs, fries, and foosball.
2. Not too hot, not too sunny day: The Lincoln Park Zoo. I hear tell that the Brookfield Zoo is even more fabulous, but we’ve never been. We enjoy a morning trip to the Lincoln Park Zoo (I avoid afternoon visits to the Zoo or any other popular destination in the same way that I avoid piles of hot garbage upon exiting the L) and usually stay for 2 or 3 hours just wandering around. We never miss the farm area, where Ida loves to climb on the tractor. If you happen to be free on a Wednesday morning and have ambitious ants in your freshly pressed pants, you could also peruse the Green City Market, where there is the usual farmers market fare as well as music and stories for kids and tasty treats for all.
1. Even before my daughter was born, my absolute favorite thing about Chicago in the summer was enjoying a picnic during a free concert at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. It was a very happy day when, amid many other cherished activities that suddenly required a babysitter, I realized that it would be entirely possible to share these concerts (fine, eating cheese and drinking wine out of a plastic cup in the grass) as a family. And kind of like you start noticing that every-freaking-body is pregnant when you’re pregnant, at the first concert we brought Ida to, Nate and I looked at each other and realized “holy crap. There are a ton of kids here!” It’s an especially easy spot to manage your little one, as everyone is generally pretty relaxed about noise and movement, especially if you set up your spot toward the back. Now that Ida is a 3, she usually finds an older kid with a ball and becomes her/his shadow. For a brief hour or two, it kind of feels like all of the parents on the scene have agreed silently to the idea that we’ll all just kind-of corral each other’s kids together and chill the ef out. It takes a slightly tipsy, classical musically-chilled village.