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Trip to Windy City provides kids with life lessons

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I took our kids on a vacation to Chicago.

At first I was a bit apprehensive about going at all because I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to afford a vacation this year, but in the end I was glad we went. It turned out to be a family adventure we’ll always remember, as well as a teaching opportunity.

I began to wonder if it was going to be a Clark Griswold "National Lampoon’s Vacation"-type adventure when, while searching for a Noodles and Company near Janesville, Wis., that the blue sign on the side of Interstate 90 said was off the next exit, I saw the long-tailed rodent waddling across the road in front of me.


Traveling, as I was, about 50 miles an hour, I made the split second decision to straddle the critter rather than swerve to avoid it. It was the wrong decision for the critter, and all my passengers let me hear about it once they heard the sickening thud from beneath the car.


We never did find the Noodles and Company, but I’m happy to report the dead rodent didn’t turn out to be a harbinger of things to come, because the rest of our vacation was an absolute pleasure.

I was eager to show our kids the bustling excitement of downtown Chicago, because my kids had never experienced anything like it, our past vacations having been to beaches, water parks, Disney World and northern Minnesota.


Using the centrally located and renowned Palmer House Hotel as our base of operations, we toured the observation deck of the former Sears Tower, now called the Willis Tower; the Shedd Aquarium; Grant Park; saw a wonderful off Broadway production of Peter Pan at the 360 Theatre; and were allowed in the dressing room of the Palmer’s Empire Room, where everybody from Eartha Kit to Sinatra played back in the golden era of stage and screen.


But the true adventure, and the learning moment for our kids, happened on our way to the Museum of Science and Industry.

My son wanted to experience all the different modes of public transportation available to Chicagoans, so we obliged him, taking the subway from our hotel to the bus we were told to pick up for the remainder of the trip.

That bus took us straight into a slummy area of south Chicago, and it wasn’t long before my son was pointing out to his mother that we were a minority on the bus. When we got off at our stop, and a man sitting in a door well pointed out that we looked lost, I began to feel like the Griswolds again, but it was my wife who was channeling Clark.


While I was concerned for our lives, she, while power walking toward our next bus stop, was pointing out all the good things about our kids seeing life outside of our Austin bubble — that not everybody has things as good as we do. "Are you noticing all the plight, kids?"

Add that experience to the knife fight we saw a block from our hotel and the panhandler with the "Why lie? I need a drink" sign two blocks away, and I think the whole experience was an eye-opener for our kids. You could often see them thinking about what they were seeing and trying to make sense of it.


We didn’t have all the answers for their questions, but we knew the experiences had left an impression on our kids, and our hope is that they’ll remember what they saw the next time they say they’re starving or think they can’t live without the latest electronic device.

In the end, one dead rodent and a week’s worth of memories later, our family truckster got us home, and it sure was nice to get back to our Austin bubble.

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