What's in your trunk? With four children ages 4 to 16 mine is packed. Besides the obvious items like sports gear, kleenex and wipes mine is tricked out with two miniature folding chairs and a blanket, swimsuits and goggles, a bag of toys, books and chachkies. A deck of cards in the glove compartment comes in handy in waiting rooms or parking lots.
My girls spend a lot of time at high school sporting events (mainly wrestling meets and football games). We're easy to find, either in the corner of the gym or stands encamped like tourists, complete with backpacks, iPods and survival skills that would earn us a few merit badges.
My teenagers graduated from the weekend adventure stage some time ago, now they are on auto pilot as I nurture two young girls. What I've learned through the years is the importance of trying to see the world through the eyes of a child.
For one thing, your fantasy is not their reality. I remember when I was six my mother took me and my sister on the El to see Cinderella at the Chicago Theater. I don't remember the show. Instead I remember my first subway ride, staring at blank faces in a tunnel of noise.
Years ago I took my twins to Lincoln Park Zoo for the first time thinking they would be thrilled seeing lions and bears. They fixated instead on a squirrel stopped in our path. Kids are impulsive and unpredictable. For a child the mundane is amazing, whether its trips to the hardware store or run ins with a squirrel. Somehow we outgrow that before adulthood.
Recently I had a full summer Saturday to plan a pocket adventure with my daughters, ages 7 and 4. My kids (all four of them) have always loved trains; we often hop on the el and ride it back and forth. Talk about a cheap thrill - where else can see an entire city for $2.25? On this day we boarded a bus and took it to the brown line. From the Kimball brown line station we rode downtown to Quincy. Along the way they each had their notebooks to talk and write about what they saw.
How to make it work? Three tips:
1) Make everything a game. On the train, how many trees do you see? When walking the city, let's look for buildings to explore. From there we made a brief stop at McDonalds (what we refer to as the carrot) and explored the Loop.
2) Be flexible. All I planned on was riding the CTA...my low budget roller coaster. The rest was up to the kiddos. As we walked by the Field Building my four year old said, "Let's go in here" so we did, wandering the lobby before squatting in a bookstore for an hour or so. From there we walked back to the JW Marriott for escalator rides and a bathroom break before wandering over to Millennium Park (another carrot). Keep things simple and pick your teachable moments. This time, in answer to the question "Why is that man sleeping on the sidewalk?" my answer was a calm "Because he's tired."
3) Plan your crescendo but don't tell them. Otherwise you'll never hear the end of it. On this day it was an ice cream cone by the red line station (big ol' bag of carrots) only a rookie parent would make the reveal too early. Why get ice cream when you have a good half mile walk back to the train?
How do you keep the kids occupied? I would enjoy hearing from you in the comments section.
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