School ended the first week of June and for the first time since I have kids, there were no summer camps, babysitting, rushing to find people to help me watch the kids, nothing at all.
Mixed feelings : I loved saving the hundreds of dollars in overpriced camps that desperate parents pay so they can go to work. I knew our trip to the Midwest would come soon and I wanted to save as much as possible. On the other hand, realizing my kids were old enough to stay home alone and not burn the house down was one more little stone added to my heavy bag of feeling older lately. Liberating and yet it hit reality.
My son says the 2 days a week I leave them home to work are his “favorite days of the week”. He confessed this with a smile trying not to hurt my feelings. He explained those are his “break” days, where no one makes him eat fruit or eggs and he has total freedom, no questions asked. My daughter truly hates those days. She feels lonely and bored. Every now and then I pay our 15 year old neighbor to come for a few hours and be with her. They bake together, make things out of clay or play board games.
The World Cup (Soccer) started soon after school ended; I tried watching the games. This is the real football of Mexico (…and Latin America and Asia and Australia and most of Europe!) so I grew up watching games occasionally with my Dad on TV or with friends at the Stadium. I know the rules of the game better than I will ever know or understand American Football or Basketball or Baseball (yawn) and I am no expert. Anyway, I do not watch Soccer year round, but the World Cup is THE WORLD CUP, so I watched some of the games on the weekends with my husband. I believe he actually enjoyed it :).
Mexico did not make it to the quarter finals, but I felt proud watching the team play as well as the huge fan base cheering loud; I got goosebumps when I heard the crowd loud and clear singing “Cielito Lindo ” live from the Russian Stadium.
On July 13th we left California to visit my In Laws in the Midwest. We had planned to see Chicago too, since most of them live within a few hours of driving from there.
It had been a year since our last Family Vacation so some changes were evident: I had to purchase 2 seats on row 1 of the plane so that my 6’4″ husband and 6″ son could sit comfortably during the 4 hour flight. My daughter and I sat in the back but it made me think that soon I would probably be sitting by myself in the back …alone? I am 5′ 8″ and I will be the “shorty” one soon. Kind if strange since I am the tallest of my side of the family. I swear airlines keep crowding seats together- closer and closer as they are financially more strangled. I feel like a sardine in a can in there. I already wrote once about the unpleasantries of travelling: it is very stressful and frustrating. The only playlist I have downloaded in my phone to have available offline is my New Age and Meditation list. Because that is what I need to cope with the crying babies or the snoring guy or the non stop talking girl behind me or the movie being played by a toddler on his tablet at full volume with no headphones (is he travelling alone I wonder?)
Another evident change: when renting a car, we need to make sure it has leg room for all tall people. So we chose an SUV that was decent, not great, but decent. With knee caps an inch away from the dashboard, my husband drove us around for 6 days through the endless cornfields of Illinois.
One more change, our music selection for the ride all week was more scrutinized, criticized and judged by….all of us. My son usually has one ear plugged to his Iphone and the other one open for discussion and listening to us. I told him I wanted him absolutely unplugged. We had several hours of driving ahead of us those days and I wanted him “both ears in”. So, after pairing my phone to the little Mitsubishi SUV (which my daughter initially called Mistu-bishi (would this be the end of her cute grammatical mistakes?), we took turns queuing up songs to listen to. So we would have something like Johny Cash, Duran Duran, The Cure, Arianna Grande, Neil Diamond, ABBA, Pet Shop Boys, John Denver, Eminem, and just for fun, I would throw in songs from their childhood like the Backyardigans Soundtrack and the awesome song “The Dissapointing Pancake” by Lisa Loeb- which is a silly kids’ song and a metaphor about how we are all good for something, not for everything but we all have our positive side and strong suit.
Again, my google account algorithm tries hard to guess my music taste but every time we have family shuffling it gets very confused. So every now and then I get a notification “Hey! There is a new song by Kanye West you might enjoy!” And I am thinking – Not really, but thanks for offering.
We first drove first to Gurnee, Illinois, where we visited a brand new indoor Water Park . The Great Wolf Lodge. 8 water slides, a lazy river and a wave pool. Fun for all with no sunburn and lots of humidity in the air. At first it felt like I walked into a huge bathroom where someone had just taken a shower , after a while I forgot about it and went on several slides with my husband and kids and had some fun. There was also a pretty cool ropes course that my daughter went through that made my dizzy just to look at.
The next day we went to the Chicago Botanic Gardens. Notes here:
It was so green, my pictures look like I put a filter on them, but I did not. The place is beautiful and peaceful. There are bikes for rent and a nice bike path, so the grounds and trails can be covered more easily that way. It was raining a bit so we bought overpriced umbrellas at a mall close by and just walked the beautiful area.
My mom used to love gardens so this place made me think a lot of her. Now that I travel without her, I can’t help but look for the blue familiar sign, the parking spaces, the ramps, the over sized bathroom stalls, and I sometimes find myself taking the ramp instead of the steps. I miss her, a lot.
Twice I heard bells announcing the time, a clock tower from a distance on the 30 minute and the 45 minute mark, finding it very odd to hear this at a garden -with no church in sight. Later we came across a tower with all the bells exposed. It immediately took me back 40 years to my grandparents house in Chihuahua where every 15 minutes it would produce the exact same notes I was listening to, which I knew by heart.
At the gardens, we attempted to walk a little bit through a dense , lush trail and I was immediately reminded of 2 things:
1, the Midwest is infested with mosquitoes in the summer and 2, I have a blood type that apparently is irresistibly delicious to mosquitoes. So 2 minutes into the walk in this thick path, and I could hear them by the dozen around my ears and I started feeling the bites on my neck and arms and legs. It gave me chills it was so bad. Six mosquito bites later I sprinted away from there and managed to get a couple of good pictures of this intensely green area.
After this, we headed to our next destination: Moline, Illinois. There we stopped for a night and visited with my brother in law, his wife and 5 children -ages 4 to 12. They treated us to a delicious breakfast that reminded me of how good and proud they all are of making their own bread from scratch.
We had waffles , biscuits with gravy , fresh fruit, and a peach crisp (like a cobbler) that I could not get enough of. Five kids and my sister in law baking from scratch.
Sitting in the passenger seat during this leg of the trip (Chicago > Moline ) made me realize what a huge difference it makes to live in an area where it rains, a lot. Everywhere we looked it was green and thriving. While here in California, any patch of green you spot, means there is irrigation paid by someone. This area of Illinois is beautiful. Flowers bloom and fill every planter you see, trees grow big in different shades of green. And you don’t have to count the seconds while running a faucet or rush through your shower because water is almost a delicacy in California.
Our next stop was Nauvoo, Illinois. Nauvoo is a small town founded in the early 1800s, after going through several name changes, it was named Nauvoo in 1840 by Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism who lived here before moving to Utah along with his followers. Despite the very small population of this town, it has great historical importance. And even though the majority of its population today is Catholic, the fact that the founder of the LSD Church lived here and that a beautiful temple was built here attracts many tourists interested in the Latter Saint Day History. Many historic buildings remain open and different guided tours are available that provide an insight on how life was in those early years.
My kids went to a couple of demonstrations on masonry, blacksmiths and rope making. Very educational and informative!
The Mormon temple sits on top of a hill overlooking the Mississippi, it is so grand and majestic, it overshadows the Catholic Church of Sts. Peter and Paul a block away, which is also beautiful but looks tiny next to it.
One of the afternoons we were there, I ventured and dared to take the rented SUV and go to Nauvoo’s main Street on my own (also referred to as “town”). It was a 10 minute drive from my in laws. I needed to walk around, to explore, take pictures, be alone for a while. Before leaving the house, I marked it on my Cell Phone Map so I would know how to get back. I knew cell phone reception was a bit spotty there and I did not want to take chances. So I drove through the huge grids of cornfields, where every block is a mile long, the roads are numbered, so 800, 900, 1000 going North to South. And the roads going form East to West also! 1100, 1200, 1300. So yes, a true grid. It reminded me of elementary school graphs and the x and y axis. All the roads there look exactly the same, the corners? Exactly the same. The barns and silos? Exactly the same. So if you miss a turn, you will never know.
I got to town no problem. Parked my car and took pictures of the temple. Then I found a coffee shop and bakery (The Apron) which I thought would be empty because to my knowledge, Mormons don’t drink coffee, right? Wrong! The place was packed with tourists. I stood in line and took a good look at the delicious pastries, then I spotted an old Coffeemaker machine with an almost empty carafe- its contents probably cold. It was like an antique piece displayed in a museum, but not proudly displayed, more like forsaken and neglected. I walked up to the cashier who greeted me all bubbly and smiley and all I could think of was…if I order coffee, every single person in here will know I am not Mormon. It is an actual statement. The mug is the statement. How silly was that? The truth is, I felt like a fish out of water, I really did.
I ordered my coffee and a piece of banana bread. The lady looked at the ancient coffeemaker, pitiful as it was and said to me “Of course, I will brew a new pot for you”.
Happy with the WiFi code provided by the same lady, I sat down to check my 24 hour old messages. Ten minutes later she came with a steaming hot cup of coffee and my bread. I sipped it slowly and enjoyed looking around at all the families that were having sandwiches, pies and shakes. Breakfast for Dinner was featured, so half the people were having Omelettes and Waffles. It was a totally happy place. The lady came with the carafe and offered to top me off, and I said “Yes, thanks” -thinking…if she doesn’t serve it to me, she will probably end up tossing it away , because who in this town drinks coffee? She asked if I liked it, because it was the first time ever she made coffee– no kidding! It was actually pretty good. I am just still wondering why the place is called a Coffee Shop.
When the sun started setting I immediately got nervous thinking of the 800, 900, 1000 grid with no street lights at night and spotty cell phone coverage. So off I went, back to the house, relying solely on the Google Maps Navigation lady. This lady does not have a clue on which of these roads are paved and which ones are pure gravel, so I drove on 100% gravel roads all the way home with the SUV fishtailing on me. I tried to change roads to get on pavement more than once, but I started loosing track of the grid numbers and I got really nervous, because this is what all the roads look like:
I made it back fine – of course. Took me 25 minutes instead of ten. But it was worth it.
After loosing both my parents in the last couple of years, it was really nice to see my kids spending good quality time with their grandparents as well as their cousins, who they only see every couple of years. I don’t want them to grow up without the sense of belonging, the feeling of being part of a big family that loves them and cares for them. I don’t want them to feel isolated in California. During this trip in particular I felt sad when it was time to say good bye. I noticed how my father in law specially has gotten slower and more tired, with more aches and pains and I almost didn’t want to leave. The night before we left Nauvoo, I could not stop crying that night, it was sudden and uncontrollable. It just hit too close to home. My son too was sad, I could hear it in his voice and see it his eyes that refused to shed tears. I suppose it is not “cool” for a 13 year old to cry about it, at least not in front of me.
The morning we left I gave my father in law a hug that was tight and needy, a hug that was asking to be hugged. I was already weeping inside and had a headache that was splitting my head: tears held back, I thought.
After visiting family, we made our U turn to head back to Chicago, were we planned to stay 4 night. And that, -was a completely different adventure! To be continued…
Too see more pictures of this trip click here.
Links for the curious…