Henry is Five (way back in May)

Henry turned five in May – he’s a whole hand old now! And since he starts Kindergarten on Monday (tomorrow, eep!), I figured I needed to add in his fifth birthday adventures to the blog before I do his first day of school post.

At his five-year checkup he had excellent vision, weighed 44 lbs (68th percentile or so), and stood 43.5 inches tall (62nd percentile maybe). It’s been a while since the appointment so I don’t remember the exact percentiles. He’s super healthy and energetic for life.

He runs like the wind, dances crazily, wrestles Elliot, and jumps and tumbles on everything. He’s reading short books; we do hooked on phonics lessons daily, but he’s reading “real” books, too. It’s pretty amazing. He considers himself an artist who takes coloring completely seriously. He also draws, traces, and creates 3D art projects with his Oma. He builds complex Legos all by himself, with occasional outbursts that he can’t do it and needs help. But by the time I get to him to help he has already finished and moved on to the next step.

He feels emotions deeply so if someone is sad he is usually the first to comfort them. He gets angry like the Hulk and it takes a while for him to settle down from his anger. No one can help him with it (in fact, we make it worse when we help), so he’s trying different strategies to calm himself. He continues to love people and makes friends easily. It’s pretty impossible not to have a fun time when Henry’s around.

We celebrated his birthday with Elliot’s at Lake Seminole Park with family and friends. Henry had 6 or so friends come, and Elliot had 2 or 3. Plus, we had both sets of grandparents, aunts and uncles, and the oh so important cousins – Grayson and Finley – come to the party. The LEGO themed (of course) bash was a smash, at least the chili pepper piñata was totally smashed after all the kids had multiple turns. The kids ran like maniacs on the playground and ate their weight in delicious goodies. We opened presents at home so there could be more playtime. It was a totally awesome party!

The Yearly Birthday Survey:

How old are you? Five.

What is your favorite color? Turquoise and Purple.

What do you want to be when you grow up? A ninja.

What is your favorite animal? Manatees and monkeys.

What is your favorite food? Chicken and scrambled eggs.

What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast? Blueberry muffin.

What is your favorite thing to eat for lunch? Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or scrambled eggs.

What is your favorite thing to eat for dinner? Mac and cheese.

What is your favorite thing to drink? Apple juice

Who is your best friend? Samuel.

What is your favorite toy? The toys I like are actually Legos.

What is your favorite TV show? LEGO Guardians of the Galaxy

What is your favorite movie? LEGO Ninjago

What is your favorite book? Chewie and the Porgs.

What is your favorite thing to do? Play Legos and with Porgie.

What is your favorite thing to do with your family? Going to splash pads.

What is your favorite holiday? Christmas and Halloween.

What is your favorite thing to wear? My Sonic shirt!

Independence Day with the Littles

Our holiday has been pretty poppin’:

  • We went to the YMCA today, decked out in our red, white, and blue, and I practiced yoga this morning.
  • We swam with Uncle Brent and friends during our regularly scheduled naptime resulting in too-late naps for everyone except Keith.
  • We ate hot dogs, tater tots, and applesauce for dinner.
  • We threw poppers on the ground, making tiny explosions with the force of our throws.
  • We lit sparklers, creating designs in the air.
  • We ate popsicles because it’s July in Florida and it’s too dang hot even with the evening’s (relatively) cool breeze.
  • I heard the fireworks outside celebrating our Nation’s birthday, and watched my boys’ smiles as they glimpsed them over the treetops. They raced Keith to see the smaller ones in our neighborhood, first on bikes and later on foot. Amazement shined brighter on their faces than the fireworks themselves.

We lived our best lives of freedom and happiness today, yet when I think about life, liberty, and happiness* in the United States today, I come up short. How can I reconcile the conflict in my head that comes with having a pretty great day with my family while knowing many people living in the United States do not have these guaranteed freedoms?

I can’t right now. Not with families forcibly separated from their children by our government. Not with the criminal justice system imposing harsher sentences on those with darker skin tones. Not with public education being attacked by our leaders under the guise of test scores and grades. Not with the people in power continuing their destruction of health care protections, including preexisting conditions. And on and on it goes.

I’m trying not to let the political actions of our government get me down. I’m a dreamer and a fighter. So I’m combining my hope for a better world with personal action by making my resistance known. Because as the ELCA’s Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton emphatically stayed at the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston, “God’s resistance is love…And [I am] God’s resistance.” *Footnote for anyone who wants to reread my favorite part of the Declaration of Independence, as written by Thomas Jefferson.“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Loving Our Immigrant Neighbor

For my birthday, Keith got me an ancestry.com DNA test because I’ve always been interested in seeing where my family originated from. My dad’s side of the family has been in the United States since before the Revolution, and so has some of my mom’s (my mom and grandma are big into genealogy and have looked into this.) But I wanted something more concrete, and there’s nothing as definite as DNA, right?

It turns out, my mom’s theory that we had a Native American relative could possibly still be true, but it did not show up in the testing. I’m not going to be on any television shows about surprise DNA discoveries – I’m as white as they come. My people hail from Western Europe, Scandinavia, and Great Britain for the most part, with a sprinkling of a few other European areas.

At some point, my people were immigrants. Across the board, my dad’s family were Mennonites seeking a place to practice their faith without persecution. My mom’s family were farmers and who knows what else, but they were still searching for a better life when they made the trip to America. I’m unaware of a pre-Revolutionary immigration system in the Colonies, so they didn’t violate any man-made laws to come here.

This country has a history of being unkind to immigrants. One of our very first laws were the Alien and Sedition Acts, which made it harder to become a citizen and allowed the imprisonment and deportation of those the President deemed dangerous. We have repeatedly demonstrated our ill-will towards those coming to this country – unwanted groups have included the Irish, Germans, Chinese, Japanese, and Mexicans. We have continuously persecuted blacks first in the form of slavery, then with Jim Crow laws that kept life separate but incredibly unequal, and now with the prison industrial complex and many other ways.

White America others people of color because it is afraid of becoming the other. The Trump Administration’s policy has mandated the separation of parents from their children.

I think about my own young kids being forcibly separated from me and placed in a tender age shelter where they are not permitted to be touched by an adult. I picture Henry having to change Elliot’s diaper because a caregiver cannot do it. I hear their cries for mama and daddy when I hear the devastated screams of the kids currently being detained alone.

Our immigration system has been in need of a vast overhaul for years, but this is my breaking point. This is not okay. This is not Christian.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions forgot to include the most important part of Romans 13 when he used the text to justify the separation policy – Romans 13:10, “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Love is what life is all about. God’s love for us and our love for others are vital to serving God’s will. Anything else is insufficient.

Micah 6:8 is probably my favorite verse…so much so that we named our firstborn Henry Micah because of it. It states, What does the Lord require of you? To do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Our government is wrong on immigration; they are acting in direct contradiction to the latter parts of this verse as well has God’s commandment to love.

We must demand they stop this atrocious practice. Donate to organizations actively helping the least fortunate – the ACLU, RAICES, and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service are great ones to consider. Contact your Representatives and Senators and demand change. Ask what they are actively doing to stop this practice. Ask follow up questions. Tell them you will continue to follow up on their action plans. Tell them these people matter because we love.

Because most of our ancestors were immigrants looking for a new and better life.

Because it is our duty to love our neighbor, no matter what.

Because we are commanded to treat them as if they are our loved one.

Because God loves us, no matter what.

My Mother’s Day Morning

Mother’s Day morning is…

Getting woken up by a newly turned 2 year old with a giant hug, followed by snuggles with a 5 year old.

Those two boys demanding breakfast for themselves because they are sooo hungry before I put my contacts in my eyes.

Forgetting to make a birthday cake the night before (because one little is TWO) and throwing a boxed brownie mix in the oven the day of the birthday.

Trying to sit down and eat my own breakfast and having my littlest ask for bites.

Breaking up a zombie chase that ends in one brother getting a gigantic bump on his head after crashing into his high chair.

Getting up from breakfast every one to two minutes because someone needs something immediately.

Watching my boys play Legos together for several minutes in a row, allowing me to finish my breakfast even though it’s cold.

Buttoning 12 tiny buttons that small hands cannot yet do for themselves.

Putting on “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” and “Wild Kratts” so I can shower in peace by myself and get ready for church.

Chugging most of my coffee on our car ride to church.

Being late to church.

Sitting with the kids at Children’s Time and watching them love on their Dad and friends.

Chasing a toddler around church and ending up in the nursery for the readings and message.

Wishing to worship as an adult without being responsible for two littles who are all consuming in everything.

Walking up for communion and having E dip his fingers in the baptismal font and do the sign of the cross on his forehead then mine.

Taking communion and asking forgiveness for being quick to anger and frustrated so often at things I cannot control.

Supervising a instrumental dance party to “I have the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart!”

Baptizing Fisher Price figures in Jesus’ name with the toddlers at Faithworks.

Taking a moment to breathe after Faithworks ends and I’m alone in the sanctuary.

Knowing that one day, when they are older, I will want to have my kids with me all day, but now I just want space.

Dreaming about how I can possibly spend the rest of my day alone, reading a book or napping.

Realizing that my boys love me too much to let that happen so I’ll have to settle for only a bit of solo time.

Needing all the hugs I can get from my boys because I love them entirely too much, no matter what.

Being a mama is complicated and exhausting, but my love for them is steadfast. Always.

Why I Go To Church, Even When Haters Gonna Hate

Today I had my first overtly negative, specifically addressed to me, response to my kids being in worship at church.

Congregations say they want kids in worship. That we need more families in the pews because they are the future of the church. Right? That’s the line I continually hear, especially from older parishioners. But when kids are actually present in a Sunday morning worship service are they actually welcomed? Are the parents?

As the pastor’s family, my kids feel like the church – the building and the people who come together as Christ’s Family – belongs to them. They are quintessential pastor’s kids (PKs) who have tons of energy and love for the church.

They’ve been known to run laps around the altar and play hide-and-seek in the pews (usually after worship, but not always).

My almost 5-year-old has been especially inquisitive lately about Jesus – specifically how he lived (“tell me more about the cave and the big stone”) and why he gets to live forever when everyone else just dies.

My almost 2-year-old invaded the Palm Sunday processional because he heard his jam begin on the piano (“All Glory Laud and Honor”) and he needed to get closer to where the music is happening so he can get down. A loving choir member took his hand to help.

They love the teens (and have already attended more youth group meetings than I can count) and get so excited to see their friends both in worship and at Faithworks (our version of Sunday School).

They hug and high five their honorary grandparents each week during the passing of the peace (when we make it to that point in the service without fleeing to the nursery for a break).

They dip their fingers in the baptismal font and then do crosses on their foreheads (mine, too) on their way up to communion, which they aren’t quite old enough to take.

They are usually the last ones out of the building on a Sunday afternoon, and are there multiple times during the week to see their Daddy. And his office’s toys – because he always has some scattered throughout his office.

We three are there together, practically every week, to hear the Good News and worship with our chosen faith community. The majority of my time is spent wrangling the littles – trying to keep them in a pew, or sitting quietly on the ground near the pew, eating all the snacks and coloring all the pictures. But they are little. And like to run. And play with their friends. So it can be rowdy. When it gets to be too much, we head down to the nursery (the area, as Henry calls it), and play there until Communion or for the remainder of the service. It’s a nice break for all of us.

Even on the Sundays where I am frustrated or overwhelmed, generous people in our congregation come up to me and thank me for bringing the boys to church. They tell me tales of how they raised boys and totally understand my life, and that it will get easier. They tell me I’m doing it right.And I take comfort in their kind words.

Until today.

After service, a woman decided it was important to tell me that my children were rude and distracting from the reverent atmosphere that is church on a Sunday morning. She told me that she had kids, so she knows all about that, but that I needed to do something about my kids’ behavior in worship. She mentioned that she was a visitor, and that she couldn’t hear my soft-spoken husband over my kids. I said some kind of apology I didn’t really feel about how I was sorry they bothered her worship today, and she cut me off to say that it happens every week. It seemed like she was going to continue indefinitely, so I turned around and walked away.

What. The. Shit.

Never mind her emotional baggage that made her feel it was her duty to inform me about my kids’ behavior, which I already knew about. In fact, I thought they were mostly fine at church this morning (there was some airplane throwing and palm frond sword fighting that got quickly shut down). Better than a lot of Sundays, that’s for sure. Keith only noticed when Elliot grabbed a maraca and shook it like a salt shaker, so I’ll take it.

I cried in the Sacristy. I cried outside Keith’s office while talking to one of my favorite people. I cried inside Keith’s office. My tears came from a place of embarrassment, exhaustion, and anger because each week I already internally feel all those words she said to me. I’m doing my best, but it’s just so damn hard. But I don’t give up. I continue to bring my boys to worship because it matters to me that they are worshiping with their community. Not separate from it.

As I calmed down, I read the comforting words Pope Francis spoke as his Palm Sunday sermon. Children should shout out loud and be like those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem instead of those who yelled to crucify him.

I find my sons’ joy in the Lord and for their family and friends to be an all-encompassing love, and I refuse to silence it. Their presence at church matters. So does mine.

A couple of readings for today seem especially on point (even though I’m only reading and reflecting on them now, since I was a bit preoccupied when they were first read); here they are, in part:

  • Isaiah 50: 7-9a. The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?
  • Psalm 31: 14 and 16. But as for me, I have trusted in you, O LORD. I have said, “You are my God.” Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.

The Word comforts, but I remain incensed. My kids will not be invisible at church. They continue to be a vital part of the community. I love them, and trust in God as I seek peace over the whole thing.

Coping with the Low Valleys of Being a Mama

Right now, I am one weary mama. My Fitbit tells me exactly how much sleep I’m not getting at night. And then it tells me I should sleep more. I want to sleep more than 6-7 hours, but my body will not let me. And I love sleep, especially naps, so this hurts me.

My allergies and asthma work together in concert to exhaust my lungs and body systems. This year’s pollen crop keeps up its attack without ceasing. My usually black car now has a yellowish-green tint to it. Going outside to play with my kids for an hour sets me back at least a day in terms of system recovery. And my boys live to play outside and run around. So we coop ourselves up in our house or indoor play areas, but they just aren’t the same as playing at a park.

My asthma got so bad this week, I breached proper theatre etiquette and walked out, mid-song, of The Color Purple, a musical I’ve been waiting all year to see. All because I couldn’t stop coughing and I knew it would be worse for those around me if I stayed. So I interrupted 16 people to escape the theatre, and didn’t go back inside due to fear of the same thing happening again.

I can’t exercise the way I want; I have to take breathing breaks because I’m sucking wind. Or I can’t even muster up the energy to take my regular classes because moving my body seems impossible.

These are all my coping mechanisms to deal with anxiety and life that make me a better mama to my boys. And I can’t do them right now. So we are all suffering.

I get angry over little things (and big ones, too). The house is more of a disaster than usual because we are in it more and I can’t stop coughing enough to fully clean it. I cry easily, and feel like I’m letting everyone down. I am not at peace with myself, and am struggling.

I tell myself it’s all right; it’s going to be all right. I pray and ask God to help me feel better. But it’s so hard when I can’t even breathe. I’m being carried away and cannot ground myself.

So I ask for help. I hate it; I want to do it myself, be strong and persevere. But I can’t. My husband is pretty fantastic at supporting me when I get like this. He’s positive, and affirming, and full of hugs. It’s difficult to float away when you are receiving a hug. My boys give full-body snuggles, too. Their empathy is outstanding and a great comfort to me. I feel like I don’t deserve it, but I’m working at accepting it. I am loved, and enough.

Life Moves Pretty Fast – Do Better

Confession: one week into this year’s Lenten season, I have done absolutely nothing regarding my spiritual practice. For those of you who attend churches that do not recognize Lent, it is a liturgical season of the church and begins on Ash Wednesday and continues until Easter Sunday. It’s a time of soul-searching and preparation for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I had a plan. I had an intention to practice living in the moment, the way Ferris Beuller summed things up in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off. “Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

You may be thinking, how can one of the greatest 80s movies (or really, one of the best movies of all time) be the tentpole for a spiritual practice? Like many people, I am usually attached to my iPhone or iPad. It’s so hard to put these items down, not because I may miss something uber important on the interwebs (although that’s part of it), but mostly because I feel addicted to knowing things. Quickly. And it’s not necessary. So the plan was to strive to capture Ferris’ joie de vivre.

I had concrete steps to take to execute this plan.

  • Daily meditation.
  • Looking at my phone at set intervals.
  • Practicing more yoga.
  • Doing things I enjoy with the people I love.
  • Reading my way through a Lenten bible study.

Then, everything went to shit on Ash Wednesday.

The day started off lovely, Valentine’s Day and its hype made my four-and-a-half year old super loving and full of hearts and hugs for the world. We found out that same 4.5yo had been accepted into two Pinellas County Schools lottery programs – Perkins Center for the Arts and International Studies and Mildred Helms, an IB Primary Years Program. Today, we accepted the invitation to Perkins, and we couldn’t be happier to have him attend this wonderful school where he will have Spanish every day plus art, music (including instruments like violin and keyboarding as he progresses through the school), theatre, and dance as part of the excellent academic curriculum. Life was sunshine and rainbows.

And my heart broke as I scrolled though my Facebook news feed and one friend after another in the Coral Springs area were posting about the school shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas in Parkland. At the beginning, the news reports were inconclusive since it was a developing story. I ran through a list of names of kids I know who attend Douglas, and checked with their parents to see if they were all right. And the ones I know are physically safe. Psychologically, however, I can’t imagine they are okay. Seventeen people at their school are dead because of a school shooter who used a semi-automatic weapon to kill his former classmates.

This is not okay. Schools should be safe spaces for kids. They should be able to learn and thrive, and grow into the people they will become. That’s my hope for my kids. And it is the reason I’m taking action to ensure they become safe spaces once again. I should have done better after Newtown, CT, but I’m here now and I demand action.

Our elected leaders must develop legislation limiting the sale and ownership of weapons that can fire multiple rounds without reloading ammo. To me, these seem to be used only to kill people, and the majority of us have zero need to kill others on the regular. Our elected leaders should look into placing limitations on ammunition, through taxes or quantities available to purchase. Our elected leaders should make it more difficult to buy a gun (and ammunition for that gun) than getting a driver’s license or obtaining a prescription. Our elected leaders should stop cutting funding to mental health care services, and instead provide services covered by insurance to all who need it.

Do better Mr. President, members of Congress, and the Senate. Do better Governor Scott and members of the Florida House and Senate. It is your job to protect the people of the United States, not serve the NRA. If you won’t, we the people will, starting with voting you out of office when your term is up.

Doing better is now added to my Lenten practice plan. I’m holding myself accountable to action, and you too.

Love Is What It’s All About

My word for 2018 is LOVE. I want to love myself, love my neighbor, love my friends, and love my enemies.

I don’t know how I’m going to accomplish this. But here’s what I know so far:

I’m working on self-care. I’m discovering my favorite new things, and relearning old favorites. Reading a great book. Sweating so hard at the gym I can’t think about anything else. Catching up with a friend. Drinking all the coffee. Learning to be more like Jesus through his biblical teachings. Stepping outside my comfort zone into new challenges. Practicing loving myself, because I often don’t think I’m worthy (although it’s been much better lately, I have work to do.)

I’m searching for ways to be kind to my neighbors, not just the people in my neighborhood, you know the people that you meet when you’re walking down the street (shout out to Sesame Street). I’m talking about all humans being my neighbor. I know I have biases and prejudices, but I’m learning to see and understand the world from others’ points of view. And it’s hard. And sometimes I don’t want to do it. But like Glendon Doyle Wambach says, “We can do hard things.” And I’m stepping up.

I’m telling family and close friends, everyone in my world whom I love, that I love them. I don’t care if they find it awkward or weird, I want them to know they are loved. And I love them. We don’t tell the people who are most significantly in our lives how much they mean to us, and I’m stopping this failure to communicate now. If I say these words to you, I mean it. No need to say it back (although it feels wonderful to be told I am loved).

Finally, I’m trying to figure out how to love my enemies. The people who simply don’t care about me and my clan. The ones whose thought processes are entirely foreign to my own. How did Jesus love those who persecuted and hated him? Clearly, it’s because he’s of God, as his son. But humans are made in God’s image so we can love our enemies, too. Right? Someone tell me the secret of how to do this. I can’t figure it out. But I’m going to try.

There’s too much hate and nastiness in the world right now, so I’m going to focus on my love. I cannot control other people, I can only control myself. And I hope that’s enough.

Keep Awake

Yesterday I witnessed a beautiful sunrise over the marsh as I drove south to reconnect with best friends who I don’t get to see as often as I like. The sky turned from dark purple to light grey to a sudden burst of light with pink, orange, and bright blue hues. The morning fog swirled around trees felled by Hurricane Irma or maybe just strong summertime storms. I had Christmas music blaring on the radio and I felt it: peace. The stillness within the chaos of everything happening in my world these days. I’ve been working at noticing the happy and beautiful things in my life, and was able to be in, and appreciate, that moment. And it felt wonderful.

That moment was fleeting, however, as my mind drifted away from peace toward events occurring over the past week that have been troubling me. Tax reform that only benefits the wealthy and corporations and harms the poor and middle class. Provisions in this tax bill harming Puerto Ricans by applying a 20% excise tax to payments made by companies on the mainland to their subsidiary businesses in PR. The movement to destroy net neutrality and change the way information is disseminated. Climate change that is definitely happening and leaving polar bears without ice for their homes. A lack of moral leadership in Washington on both sides of the aisle (Presidents Trump and Clinton, Senator Franken, and more).

And then I worshiped at my parents’ church this Sunday morning, the first Sunday of Advent, hoping to hear the good news found in this period of waiting for Jesus’ birth.

The Gospel lesson from Mark 13: 24-37 tells us to keep awake, and not to lose hope. Even in the midst of an apocalyptic, bleak-looking world with great loss and suffering, we know that God brings new things out of the old. It’s the story of the Resurrection. He brings light out of the darkness and a new hope with it. We simply have to watch and keep awake.

But it seems so damn hard these days to stay awake. The disciples had issues staying awake for only an hour when Jesus asked them, and they knew Jesus in real life! We are living in a world with a loss of values and perversion of power, and I feel full of rage and despair often. I’m not alone in feeling this way, but that doesn’t make the world better. And the world, especially the United States that I love, needs to do better.

Pastor Goyer repeatedly told us that the end times aren’t here quite yet. In reality, it is the old order of power and politics (white male hegemony) that is on the way out in favor of our whole community sharing power. Everyone. I love the sound of that. It needs to be our reality.

In the meantime, the dark time, I still need to look for the signs of Jesus turning out the old and reforming it into something entirely new. I need to be fully alert and watching for the billions of ways he comes into my life. I’m awake, and doing my best not to lose hope. The light is coming. It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine?

Not yet, but I’m keeping watch and staying awake so I can. I hope.

What We Did On Our Summer Vacation – Chicago Edition, Part 1

I may never catch up on my writing, but maybe I’ll finish the summer by the end of the year!

We traveled to Chicago for a family wedding this past June, but since it’s such a big deal to fly with littles we extended our trip for a fun (not restful) family vacation. Henry was great on the flight up: he colored, played quietly, and then watched movies or gamed for the duration of the flight. He also got hopped up on juice and skipped his nap, but that wasn’t too bad. Elliot, however, did not like to be contained since at one, he could finally move on his own and could not understand that he needed to sit still for the flight. It wasn’t the easiest, but still it went fairly smoothly since there were two of us to one of him. And as adults, we are bigger and stronger than him so we prevailed.

Keith’s cousin, Donna, graciously picked us up from Midway and drove us downtown to our hotel in rush hour traffic the week of her son’s wedding so we didn’t have to worry about figuring out how to get all our gear and the boys downtown. She even packed us a cooler with snacks and drinks for our stay – she is the best! The boys napped during the commute, and our hotel (Wyndham Grand Chicago Riverfront) turned out to be fantastically situated on the Chicago River. We especially lucked out and got a corner riverfront view – we had giant windows on two of our walls! We could people watch, boat spy, and check out all the cars, trucks, and buses to our heart’s content! In other words, it was a preschooler and toddler’s dream, spoiling us making all other hotel rooms pale in comparison.
 


After unloading our gear, we had two priorities on our first day: (1) eat and (2) find Maggie Daley Park. We decided to combine the two and get carry-out Chicago-style pizza for a park picnic, before running wild at the playground. The three of us determined that deep dish pizza is not our favorite, but Maggie Daley Park definitely is. This Park is a wonderful garden oasis with several playground areas for all kids. If you want to climb a rock wall – there is a giant one available. If you adore miniature golf, play your heart out on its course. If you want peace and quiet, there are plenty of nooks scattered throughout where you can have alone-time.
 
The Play Garden is 3 acres of amazingness for kids. It encourages imaginative play with trails meandering to hidden treasures, gigantic playground structures, and water fountains. Henry spent the majority of his time in the Slide Crater, dashing across the Tower Bridge, climbing the towers, and speeding down the slides. He had a blast running up and down the hills and playing tag with new friends. Elliot strolled with me through the Enchanted Forest, balanced himself across the tree beams, and tried his best to jump into fountains (despite it being chilly for us Floridians!)
 

Every day of our trip Henry asked to return to this park. It may be his favorite one ever! He still asks us when we will be returning. Unfortunately, it rained a ton while we were downtown, so we only made it back one additional time, in the rain. Still, totally worth it, and it wasn’t crowded when it was raining! This time we first focused on a couple of Play Garden areas we missed the first time around – the Sea and the Harbor – before returning to the Slide Crater for madness.


Located about a 10-15 minute walk from our hotel, we returned from Maggie Daley through Millennium Park and Pritzker Pavilion by way of the Bean. This area of town is truly a gem, and we will be returning for more fun on our next visit!