November 13, 2011

Transracial Travel: Chicago Style!

When we became a transracial adoptive family, I expected a lot of things to change.  However, I never thought that our travel patterns would need to be shaken up a bit as well.  We tend to be beach vacationers when we get the opportunity to travel.  On our second to last trip to the beach, our brown son was just about the only minority that we saw the whole week we were in town.  We'd been traveling to the same beach destination for years and I had never realized how "white" it was until we brought a child that wasn't white   This last trip to the beach in Mexico (where my brown cutie was pulled out of my arms and made into a spectacle) made me realize that we need to choose some more diverse places to visit.  We racked our brain about the best places to travel where we could be intentional on giving our children the opportunity to be around people of all colors.  I believe that all children need this exposure to different races and cultures, no matter what race they are- but I think it's especially important for transracial families.

The husband and I traveled to Chicago when we were dating waaaay back in the stone age (it seems like that long ago that we were carefree childless travelers!)  I loved the feel of Chicago.  The energy of the city is electric- like a friendlier version of NYC.  And best of all, the diversity of Chicago and it's neighborhoods is incredible!  It was quickly decided that it would be the perfect destination for our weekend getaway.

Our children were so excited about going to the "big city".  When you come from a one stoplight town, any town with tall buildings is amazing- but Chicago!  Chicago is massive! We were surrounded by a sea of different cultures, different races, different languages, different architecture, and all sorts of new experiences.  My kids rode in a cab for the first time and they were floored.  We loved asking all of our taxi drivers how long they've been in Chicago and (if they weren't originally from Chicago) listening to the stories of how the came to live in the windy city.  Talk about diversity!  If you ever want to give your children a lesson in world cultures- talk to some Chicago cab drivers.  Most of the drivers we talked to were first generation immigrants to the US who traveled around and decided to call Chicago home.  They discovered long ago what we were learning over the course of the weekend- Chicago is accepting.

In a small town like ours, we can't leave the house without getting double takes.  People look at our son who's skin doesn't match ours and most of them smile- a few of them stop to ask questions, but all of them notice.  In Chicago, no one looked twice at us.  We were the norm.  We were a family of mixed up colors and no one cared at all. It was glorious!

Just as importantly as it is for an adoptive families to be around other adoptive families, I think it's also important for our minority children to not always be in the minority.  We need to give them opportunities to not always be the "odd man out" and that includes the way we travel.  We need to make sure we are visiting places that are not hostile to other races and that are inclusive. We found Chicago to be a perfect place to do this!

If you ever go, here are our top 5 favorite things to do in Chicago:

The Shedd Aquarium:  This was hands down the children's favorite place in the city.  We could have stayed there all day.  The habitats that the animals are in are beautiful.  There is a new jellyfish exhibit that is probably one of the neatest animal exhibits I've ever seen.  I had no idea that there were so many species of jellyfish- each one more beautiful than the last.  This exhibit was a little bit extra- but worth every single penny.   

The kids' favorite exhibit was the giant shark tank that is home to five different species of sharks.  The keeper's presentation was so fascinating, that we went back to hear it a second time!   As a parent, I love that the exhibits are from floor to ceiling, so that even our little ones could see everything without us having to hold them up.
That giant green eel behind Noah was every one's favorite animal.  That thing was enormous (and creepy)!

Learning all about sea creatures!
Architecture River Cruise:  My husband and I both agree that this was our very favorite thing we did.  We went on one of the Shoreline Sightseeing Cruises.  It was an hour long (which was the perfect length of time with the kids)  It was far and away the very best way to see as much of Chicago as we could.  With the children, there is only so much walking we could do and there are just so many things to see.  With this cruise, we got all the highlights and so much more.  I, who know absolutely nothing about architecture, LOVED hearing the stories behind all the buildings- why they got built where they did, why they were the style they were, and the cut-throat business behind creating the world's tallest buildings.  Our tour guide was phenomenal- brilliant and funny and entertaining.  He talked for an entire hour and I felt like I was hanging on his every word because his stories were just so fascinating.

Usually anything involving water throws my motion sickness into a tailspin, but the cruise never went above an idle speed.  I've seen Chicago from foot, by taxi, and from the top of a tall building, but seeing it from the river was truly the most unique (and most fun!) way to see the city.

Chicago Children's Museum: This museum was a mecca of fun for our kids.  The museum is fairly small- which I love because it is easier to keep up with everyone!  Unlike some of Chicago's other amazing museums like The Field and The Museum of Science and Industry, this one was all structured around play.  They hit every single major love that our children have- water, dinosaurs, heavy machinery and climbing.  Our intellectual 7 year old and our rambunctious 3 and 4 year olds were all equally enthralled and engaged with this museum.  Noah was over the moon about the dinosaur dig exhibit.  As a mom of a sensory seeker, I really appreciated how many different tactile experiences the designers packed into every exhibit.

Miles was very into how many huge pieces of equipment there were to climb on- including a backhoe and a fire truck!

All of the kids were into the super cool water exhibit.  What I loved about it is that most museums we go to that have water exhibits just have cups and toys to splash around in.  While that would be great for our littler kids, we also have one who wants to know more and think more while she's playing.  This exhibit was great for both ages.  There were pipes and pulleys and ways to manipulate the flow of the water that kept every one of them entertained and challenged for a loooooong time.

Adler PlanetariumThe Terry's had never been to a planetarium before, so we have nothing to compare it to, but we thought that the planetarium rocked!  They had a fantastic area just for kids that was all hands on space stuff.  My kids must have "blasted off" on the rocket simulator at least a million times.  Miles found that hooking up hoses on the space ship was one of the funnest things imaginable.  We all enjoyed the star show (Journey To The Stars- which is the planetarium's newest show).  We laid back in our cozy seats and learned so much about how stars, galaxies and planets form.  Our children were glued to their seats (which is no easy feat!)  The information was presented in a way that made sense to the children but was also deep enough to keep the adults interested as well.

The Navy Pier: If you ever need some excitement in your life, go to the Navy Pier.  It is such a giant conglomerate of fun and food and complete overstimulation. Truly- where else in the world can you walk down the street and see this?

We rented a giant bike on the Navy Pier and rode down by the river.  (Note to self: driving a giant bike when three of the people on the bike can not reach the pedals is HARD!)

Sadie shocked us all by riding on the big swings which she said was "the funnest thing ever!"

There are so many wonderful restaurants on the Navy Pier (Harry Carry's, Bubba Gump) and it's a great place to people watch.  It really did all go back to being able to look around us and see people of all colors and nationalities and feel right at home with our our multi-cultural family- which for us, is so refreshing!  

Our children can't wait to go back to Chicago soon.  And neither can I!  It was a wonderful place to go for our fall mini vacation.  We'd like to give a HUGE thanks to Chicago Tourism for helping us plan such an amazing trip!

visiting "Sue" the t-rex at The Field Museum

Checking out the animals at The Lincoln Park Zoo (which would have been one of our favorite things, I'm sure, if they hadn't closed down all the animal exhibits 20 minutes after we got there!)

*This post was written in conjunction with the Chicago Board of Tourism.

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