Tuesday I published “All Aboard,” an account of our family trip to Chicago, despite a nagging feeling that our thoughts should be in Boston. I wanted to offer something lighter. I wanted life to go on. Then I read my own post and phrases like “8-year-old,” “marathon traffic,” and “at the wrong time” jumped off the page in an accidental manner. I tried to write something new but so much had already been said about terror and tragedy and heroism. So I’m re-posting “All Aboard” because it might just be about what matters: we enjoyed our friends and family. We made memories. We reflected on our past, we reveled in the present. And today, we are fortunate to have a future on this earth, despite all that is rotten and for the love of all that is good…
The love of trains has run resolutely in my family for generations; my husband’s too. People have said my 8-year-old’s deep love of trains will be a phase, but I have no doubt his love will abide. He is the nephew and grand-nephew of electric train collectors, the great grandson of a Milwaukee Road engineer, the great grandson of a Great Northern clerk and the great great-grandson of the Great Northern Rail Road Band Director. When my grandmother graduated from high school, her father, the Band Director, bought her and her mother round trip tickets from St. Paul to San Francisco; quite an enterprise for a 17-year-old girl and a mother of 9 in 1924.
True to our legacy, we often travel by rail. This weekend we took the Amtrak to Chicago. When we disembarked at Union Station and walked the kids in tightly grasped hands between the massive Amtrak and Metra, we were all entranced. The platform was pulsing with the energy of throngs of passengers and thundering engines standing silver and blue and nearly two stories tall. The loudspeaker was vibrating with “Amtrakakakakak, trackackackackack 88888,” just like my dad recounted in his bedtime stories. Train travel is legendary; like a magic carpet ride that works. I’m not surprised trains were selected by authors to bring wizards to Hogwarts and believers to the North Pole. Trains are a source of wonder and an engineering marvel. Train rides can be cathartic, like the time spent in motion, the hum of the rails, and the mingling with strangers somehow routes us from here to there via dreamland. Mind you, dreamland has icky bathrooms and poor ventilation. Nevertheless, taking the train back and forth practically guaranteed our trip to Chicago would be a memorable journey.
The pinnacle of our time in Chicago was cavorting about the city with our 3 boys, our friends, and their 2 boys (who we have claimed as cousins by marriage of my Uncle to their grandmother). They were a wrestling, jumping, bumping, boxing, climbing team of urban explorers. Other adventures included a downtown tour on a double-decker bus, a sunny walk along the pier, dim sum in China Town, the Lego store on Magnificent Mile, the bean sculpture in Millennium Park, and the model of Chicago at the Museum of Science and Industry. The low point was most definitely getting stuck on city bus 6 in Shamrock Shuffle-induced gridlock traffic for 1.5 hours with no escape. After we had drained the last of our phone batteries and ate the last Altoid, we kept busy with rock paper scissors tournaments, multigenerational thumb wars, conversations with young art students, cuddling, tickling, resting and snuggling. Nothing paints a more vivid picture of our decline into claustrophobia than Wilder near the end. At some point I absolutely drenched him while “helping” him drink water on our lurching bus. He took off his shirt. His pants were too big. He cuddled up into a half-naked ball with a plumber’s butt in his seat where he hummed and moaned for the next thirty minutes. By the time we stopped, he arose with pink cheeks and a blond fro, wrapped from neck to descending pants in my coral scarf, wailing, “go, go, go, mama, door!”
The funny thing about low points, however, is how quickly they become high points. Between adults, there was some analysis of whether or not we should have taken the 10 rather than waiting for the late 6, or whether a cab or train would have been prudent. For the kids, the only discussion warranted was the “adventure” of being “trapped” on a bus for “hours” while the “insanely crowded” bus waded through “epic” traffic just like “we were the soldiers under water on the U—505 submersible in WWII” that we saw at the Museum. In other words, it was stupendous; in retrospect.
I am now writing from my quiet sleeper car on the way home from our trip. I’m sipping complimentary champagne. This is a lovely finale. Our 8 year-old is playing chess with his cousin in the observation car, our 5 year-old is on a tour with the conductor, and our 2 year-old is struggling to stay awake. One cannot craft the perfect trip. Sometimes you just have to wander onto the bus at the wrong time and see what challenge bears the sweet, memorable fruit of overcoming an obstacle. By the time we arrive in St. Paul, I anticipate our other memories will be similarly transformed. Every misbehavior on my children’s part and every miscalculation on our part will be converted to golden memories impossible halcyon.
Although the bus trap is likely what my children will remember most about the trip, here is my list:
- Lazing in a cozy white-sheeted bed watching the first thunderstorm of the season come up over Lake Michigan.
- Walking the city with 5 little precocious boys, 2 of whom trekked by jump rope–see photo.
- Leaving our collective kids with a family friend while we adults enjoyed margaritas and mole and discussed the raising of boys by candlelight.
- Eating Giordano’s pizza.
- Seeing the glow on Tenny’s face as we headed underground for his first ride on the subway.
- Helping Wilder discovering the answer to his question, “what is a Chicago?”
- Snuggling Wesley right now, while the pink sun glows over the tawny fields of Wisconsin spring and the clickety clack carries him home via dreamland.