I felt like gripping Jeremiah by the shoulders, staring him in the eyes, and declaring “THIS is why I’m the way I am. See? I’m NOT weird. For my family, this is NORMAL.”
Jeremiah and I are from the same town. I could have seen his family home across the river if the trees weren’t so thick. We’re both Americans, similar socio-economic class, each with two parents playing basically traditional roles in the household. Yet sometimes my “normal” seems so different from his “normal” that I wonder how cross-cultural marriages ever survive. The family of origin sets our expectation of how a spouse is “supposed” to act and react. And there’s nothing like a family vacation to pull that into focus.
Our parents and siblings used to all live in upstate NY, and visiting the families was relatively straight-forward. But now that the kids have grown, both our parents have gotten rid of the big family houses. Jeremiah’s folks have moved up to a cabin in the Adirondack mountains, and mine have moved to a little two bedroom in Chicago near my mom’s parents. Our siblings are scattered hither and yon. This family get-together was going to take more effort than in previous years.
We opted to try and create a “hub” for each family, and have the remaining family members come to us. The first two weeks of our trip we spent with the Harro family. We started out in a suburb of Chicago with my parents, then went to a lake house in Michigan that my parent had rented for a week, where my sisters living in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts came to meet us. Hub Harro.
Chicago is a big city. The greater metropolitan area has 9.5 million people,the third largest city in the USA. That’s more than twice the population of whole of New Zealand. My parents live an hour train ride from the downtown area, and one of the first evenings after we arrived, my sister Rebecca, Jeremiah and I took the train down town to a food festival called Taste of Chicago. We hit the city right at pedestrian rush hour. The gleaming sky scrapers towering over the hurrying suits and ties certainly reminded me that we weren’t in friendly little NZ anymore.
At Taste of Chicago we promptly lost (or had stolen off us) a strip of food tickets, but we did enjoy the best people watching of the whole trip. Inner city folks are just so colorful, and my plain jane brown hair with unfashionable shorts and sandals don’t hold a candle to the creative decor the locals flaunt. I was too scared to ask anyone to actually pose for us, so unfortunately I haven’t got photo examples of what I mean.
I did, however, get a portrait of these two dudes, who were casually hanging out in the park eyeing up the crowds. I even had the nerve ask them who the heck they were, and why they were carrying all the military gear. Apparently they’re part of the Chicago police force, just there in case any terrorist decides to try something. “If you see us running, you just run the opposite way,” they advised us. Yes sir.
The food festival was set up in a park on the Lake Michigan shore, with big impressive buildings being engulfed by big impressive clouds. Also a novelty, the summer evening stayed warm. I had told kiwi friends before we left that I was looking forward to being WARM, and the Chicago summer didn’t let me down.
This is my mother’s garden, with their cozy house beyond. They live around the corner from my grandparents, and visit them daily.
Naomi admired the garden, and so did dozens of folks that came through on a garden tour. My mom has kept a pretty flower garden for as long as I can remember, and my dad appreciates it as well. It’s not the English formal garden style that many Kiwis favor, more the whimsical cottage garden that I grew up loving. And with the heat of a Chicago summer, stuff was growing FAST.
We were back in Chicago for a couple days after the Michigan lake house, and spent another day in the city, this time with the kids. Lucky chicky, getting a ride from Abi.
Maggie Daley park in down town Chicago is similar to Margaret Mahey playground in Christchurch, but bigger. I was glad we had a high adult-to-child ratio here, seems like it would be an easy place to lose a kid in all the fantastic tunnels and towers and slides.
Trump Tower. It’s real. It’s gleaming. And it’s sitting proudly along the picturesque Chicago Sanitary Canal that was so polluted that its direction of flow was reversed so that it no longer enters Lake Michigan. Hum. Neither of our families talk much about politics, so we actually heard far less about Trump and his tweetings while in America than we do while in New Zealand. It was a refreshing break.
Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream for all. Do you know that they don’t sell kiddy cones or even single scoops? If I had been smart I would have paid for a double but asked for just a single for the kids. But maybe the realization that one CAN have too much ice cream to eat is a healthy thing for kids.
Back in suburbia we went to spray parks (Aunt Becky loves spray parks).
And we went to playgrounds (Aunt Becky loves playgrounds too).
Aunt Kelsey baked with the chillens.
And bought them cool sunnies.
We ate family dinners (those are Harro-sized portions, most definitely).
And generally enjoyed being a family unit. Grandparents rock.