My first mistake was thinking it would be easy.
A long weekend in Chicago- how tough could that be? Yes, we'd be traveling with 2 kids under age 3, but this is Chicago we're talking about! We've taken them across international waters. Surely we can take them round the corner of Lake Michigan. Chicago is familiar territory- home (well, Evanston anyway) to my alma mater Northwestern University, not to mention home to my brother and his family. Chicago is close! Chicago is fun! Chicago is my kind of town.
And we'd be taking the train! A dream come true for my sweet little boy, who counts Thomas (and Percy and Edward and Henry and James et al.) among his nearest and dearest friends. His first train ride! We talked about it for weeks; how he'd hear the engine's whistle, feel the rattle of the rails. How not only would he be riding on a bona fide, actual train, he'd be riding it with his grandparents! My mom and dad would be joining us for the trip, as my little boy frequently told anyone who would listen. He had it all planned out: he'd sit on Gido's (translation: Grandpa's) lap and Teta (my mom) would read him stories. What fun!
Except that my parents missed the train.
Never mind, time to regroup, dry one disappointed little boy's eyes and move on. My parents promised they'd find a way to make it to Chicago, and we were still on a train- a TRAIN! What fun! My little Choo Choo was hot with excitement. A little too hot. Like feverish. And maybe just a tiny bit stuffy...
Time for travel triage. From the depths of the diaper bag we dug out the Children's Tylenol and the digital thermometer (yes, I travel with one) and prayed for the best.
By Kalamazoo his temperature hit triple digits.
The Indiana state line brought us to 104. It's a nice number if Willard Scott is wishing you happy birthday, but a very ugly one when it comes off your child's forehead. I held him tight and prayed for cool.
And so the child who never sits still and is obsessed with trains spent his very first train ride dozing in and out of a fitful sleep, fever raging inside.
We arrived in Chicago, did not pass go, and went directly to Urgent Care. 4 hours later ("Urgent" is apparently a relative term) we had a not surprising but comforting diagnosis: a bad cold. And thanks to the miraculous healing power of the waiting room (and a dose of Motrin) he was already feeling a bit better. Back to our regularly scheduled family visit! Time to introduce Noah and his sister to their cousin! Family bonding time! What fun!
Except that it turns out my son is terrified of dogs. Namely my brother's sweet, docile, slightly dopey French bulldog. To Noah she was Terror Wrapped In Fur. He shrieked like a madman the minute she approached and didn't stop until.... well, he just didn't stop.
Surely he'd feel better in the morning. A nice warm bath, comfy jammies and bed would do the trick. I'd tuck him in with his beloved Thomas the Tank Engine blanket and his stuffed bunnies and pray for morning.
Except that I forgot to pack his bunnies.
And when he raised his hot little head off the mattress to ask for them, he wasn't the only one with tears in his eyes.
We were both exhausted and I had failed. Failed to expect the unexpected, failed to prepare for the worst, failed to provide the security and comfort he needed.
I made up a story about the bunnies watching over our house, offered a stuffed penguin as a surrogate, skulked out of the room and prayed for forgiveness.
The weekend definitely improved after that; the fever broke, we all enjoyed our together, Noah and the dog negotiated a temporary truce.
Traveling with little ones will never be easy, but it is almost always worth the effort. Even a quick trip reminds us and teaches our kids that the world is bigger than the small circle we tend to travel in, that our way of life isn't the only one. My kids got their first glimpse at a big city, played with cousins they'd never met, brought smiles to grandparents, uncles and aunts.
We got back on the train, weary from the experience and glad to be homeward bound. Just an easy ride and we'd be there. I kissed my little boy as he gazed wide-eyed out the window, calling "Toot Toot" each time the engine whistled, finally feeling the rattle of the rails. For the first time in 3 days I felt myself relax, and dared to exhale as I held my baby girl in my lap.
A baby who felt a little warm, and maybe just a tiny bit stuffy....