Tweens are often the forgotten age group, and that is particularly true when it comes to finding activity suggestions, as parents looking for fun things to do with the tweens know all too well. Thankfully, author Melisa Wells has filled the void for families living in or visiting Chicagoland with her book, Chicken in the Car and the Car Won't Go: Nearly 200 Ways to Enjoy Chicagoland with Tweens and Teens.
If you are looking for summer fun in the Windy City with your tween and teen, Chicken in the Car and the Car Won't Go is for you. This book is perfect for both first-time visitors to the Windy City and long-time residents who might not know of the hidden gems Melisa and her family uncovered in both the city and the suburbs. One of my favorite parts of the book is the section on creating your own personalized family summer camp. I'm so looking forward to giving her suggestions a go this summer.
You can buy the book here.
Melisa was kind enough to do a Q&A with Tween Us and share her wisdom on both tween and teen fun in Chicago and on surviving the tween years with two boys.
Q. What inspired you to write this book?
A. Like most parents, I was always looking for things I could do with my kids in the Chicago area and I found all kinds of books about what to do with small children but nothing for tweens and teens. It occurred to me that this niche was very commonly overlooked, and I wanted to do something about that.
Also, I had worked full-time for the two years before and paid a ton of money to send my boys to four-week day camp during the summer, and I couldn't justify it that year because I was only working part-time. I thought, "Why don't we do the research for this book and create our OWN summer camp?" We ended up doing a full summer's worth (three months!) of activities for about the same cost as that four-week camp, only *I* was the one having fun with my kids!
What were your favorite activities to do with your boys when they were tweens?
A. Our favorites really changed depending on what we found. I guess I could generalize and say that we always had the most fun finding "different" (non-traditional, non-museum!) things to do. There's a store called "Uncle Fun" on Belmont that is a blast every time we go (even still, and my boys are 18 and almost 21!): it's full of quirky things, magic tricks, and even vintage stuff. The staff is hilarious. One of my older son's favorite things ever was touring the Frank Lloyd Home and Studio in Oak Park (we've done it several times!), and my younger son loves the Eli's Cheesecake World tour.
I think that tweens, no matter their personality or activity preferences, like to do things that they can talk about later. I love the museums of Chicago and absolutely recommend them because they're world-class, but you can only talk about a museum for a few minutes. Visiting places that are unique and have a story will keep the tweens talking for a long time to come.
A server at Ed Debevic's berated my older son *years ago* for getting the mustard out of the bottle with his knife, saying "WHAT ARE YOU, AN IDIOT???" and we still laugh about it (and do the impression of the server) today! With love, of course: he laughs, too!
Q. Did you find that outings with your boys had any unexpected benefits?
A. I wasn't necessarily going for the "Cool Mom" rep, but I think I got it.
Letting my kids lead when it came to choosing our summer activities meant a lot to them, and that first summer when we did the summer camp--we had a budget, a calendar, t-shirts, all of it--they learned so much and we had such a good time together. We made so many long-lasting memories and for that I'm grateful. Another happy by-product for me is that my boys love the Chicago area as much as I do!
Q. As a parent who has ushered two boys through the tween years, do you have any advice for making the most of this occasionally turbulent time?
A. What worked for us was to be very, very consistent in our parenting, and to continue having great conversations with them. My husband and I have always had great communication with our kids, not just about what's for dinner or if they did their homework, but REAL conversations about what they care about and what was going on with them and their friends.
That said, even doing that didn't prevent the disconnect that happens when they started to go through puberty: they were both downright surly and difficult to love many times when they turned 13/14 and I used to think our nice boys were gone forever, but eventually "they came back to us", and the clouds lifted, revealing two nice young men. The tween/teen ages are so hard because the kids are trying to establish some sense of independence and basically just figure certain things out for themselves, and parents have to realize that they have to provide some space for that. Even our second time through was difficult, and we knew what was going on and that it would pass! I have to say though, with that consistency and good communication, the reward at the end is beyond worth it. I'm so proud of my sons!
You can find more of Melisa's wisdom and adventures at Suburban Scrawl.
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