After spending five fantastic years as
20-somethings living in Lakeview and working downtown in PR and
advertising, my husband Brad and I moved back to our native
Michigan for a great job opportunity. But even after six good years
of putting down roots in Detroit, I've always wondered what our
lives would look like had we stayed in Chicago.
With plans to attend a friend's wedding in the West Loop
in July, we decided it was time to introduce our 4-year-old son,
Julian, and his 20-month-old sister, Mirabelle, to the city we used
to call home. Although it would only be four days, we approached
the trip as a sort of mini-experiment to see how it would feel to
return to Chicago as city dwellers-this time with two tots in tow.
For a more authentic experience, we rented a two-bedroom apartment
in Old Town.
Driving up Lake Shore Drive that first day, I waited for
the familiar rush of excitement I get every time I see that
spectacular skyline next to Lake Michigan. Surprised the rush never
came, I realized I was waiting and watching to see how the city
would affect and inspire the two little people in my rearview
The kids were instantly enamored with our little
apartment. Watching them squeal in excitement as they explored
their urban surroundings, it occurred to me that square footage was
overrated. To be honest, I was a little giddy, too. What I thought
would be an annoying task-grabbing a few groceries at Treasure
Island-turned out to feel like a quick tryst with an old love. It
was one of those things I didn't even realize I missed until I was
With only four days to play this story out, I created an
ambitious to-do list that put us somewhere between tourist and
First up: The "L." Catching the Brown Line at Sedgwick, I
watched my wide-eyed son anxiously await our train from the
platform. On board, he must've looked like a baby giraffe trying to
find his legs, because a saintly woman and her son gave up their
seats to us. Actually, it should be noted here that Chicago's
unique brand of hospitality and friendly folk was alive and well,
and truly seemed to welcome us back with open arms.
We had a great time at Millennium Park, taking pictures of
our reflection in the Bean all while beautiful music drifted over
from the orchestra practicing for that evening's performance.
Standing beneath Frank Gehry's awe-inspiring pavilion, the scene of
my kids mingling with the lunch crowd throwing frisbees, reading
books and lazing in the sun reminded me why Chicago is a
world-class city. And for a minute, I really missed being part of
Julian embraced the whole city-kid thing with gusto. He
loved the exposed bricks on his bedroom walls. He loved riding the
"L" because of the maps overhead and the buildings whooshing by.
And then there was the cab ride. Laughing from their guts, Julian
and Mirabelle had full access to each other for the first time in a
moving vehicle and took to a tickle fight without
But then there's life with a 20-month-old-specifically
life with our feisty, fiercely independent, strong-willed curly-sue
who's stuffed to the gills with sugar and spice. Protesting my lap
on the "L" by squirming, screaming, then tossing her bag of
Goldfish to the ground made me break into a sweat. Then there was
the time she made me stealthily slide out of my booth at Dinotto
Ristorante to snag her spaghetti noodles from an unsuspecting
patron's purse straps hanging behind us. And how that gentleman at
the next table didn't feel the flying bread graze his graying coif,
I'll never know.
Giving in to her demands to be freed from the stroller on
North Avenue one evening, I was struck with fear and awe at how she
hit that sidewalk running. With a strut and a swagger, she swung
that little chubby arm with purpose as if to declare, "I own this
town." I realized then that she's simply using us for 18 years of
free rent until she finds the means to lease her own
What's funny is all the mental prep I wasted readying
myself with patience for the city's crowds, street parking and long
lines with kids. The A-ha moment of the trip came when I realized
that navigating the small annoyances of city life was a cakewalk
compared to the curve balls a toddler can throw at you during the
In the end, though, we did it all. So what if four,
sticky, 95-degree days left us feeling like someone had thrown a
wet diaper at us. We had tackled Shedd Aquarium, Millennium Park,
Lincoln Park Zoo and the Green City Market.
But it was the non-tourist events that truly brought us
home for four days in Chicago. Like dinner with good friends,
Saturday breakfast at Nookies and a rooftop wedding of friends from
back in the day.
Before heading home, Brad and I promised each other
breakfast at The Bagel on Broadway. The kids were especially happy,
hilarious and affectionate that morning, and over Lox and giant
omelets, we talked about how appreciative we were of our time spent
in Chicago-then and now.
There were a lot of reasons why it was hard to leave
Chicago again. But as we pulled into our neighborhood five hours
later, no lie, Crosby, Stills and Nash started singing "Our House."
It was the perfect reminder of all the reasons the grass around our
very fine house is a brilliant shade of green, too.
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