Do you ever find yourself saying something out loud, only to immediately wish you could rewind time for the sole purpose of taking back what you just said? I had one of those moments not all that long ago. Upon returning home from my travels to Minnesota and Casa de Fifty Below Zero, I made the following suggestion to my oldest child, "I saw the American Girl store in the Mall of America. Did you know there's one in Chicago? We should go there someday, maybe for your birthday!". Some of the neurons and synapses in my brain must not have been communicating appropriately in that moment because I'm not sure I know any mother in their right mind who would willing suggest to take her six year old daughter into the third largest city in our fine country to go shopping for an overpriced doll.
But alas, the offer was thrown out there and my steel-trap for a memory daughter reminded me quite often as we approached her sixth birthday that all she wanted was an American Girl doll. She researched all of her options daily, logging into the American Girl website to play games and learn more about each doll. We started checking out the American Girl books from the library and discussed friends and family members who also had an American Girl of their own. Knowing that The General would choose a root canal over driving into the city for this event, we invited my mom to join us for this special day. Similarly, I would take a root canal over driving into the city with my mom as a co-pilot, so it was quickly decided that the three generations would take the train as our primary mode of transportation.
After a quick snack a short wait at the Joliet station, we boarded our train bound for Chicago. Shortcake marveled at the sites throughout the hour long ride and as we entered the city limits and the buildings grew in size, I heard Shortcake utter the phrase, "Oh cool!" over and over again.
She's been to Chicago before, but this was the first time Shortcake's actually been downtown right among the skyscrapers. Throughout the day I found myself wondering what was going through her mind; the noise, the people, and the traffic alone must be an overwhelming attack to the senses for a six year old. I took advantage of the fact that she's generally happy-go-lucky when it comes to walking long distances so long as there's a purpose and exciting destination at the end. We walked from Union Station to the art museum where we ate a fantastically delicious meal at Bennigan's on Michigan Avenue. Shortcake was so over our walking by the time we reached the restaurant, complaining of tired feet and a rumbling stomach. She spent a good part of our meal with her head on the table, claiming leg pain, or declaring that her stomach hurt. Gramma came to the rescue with a fancy story about her macaroni & cheese being divided by the Chicago River (aka french fries) and in order to get to the other side where her doll was waiting she had to eat one side of the food. It was a bit more elaborate than any tactic I would have implemented, but it worked.
Following our meal, we started our trek north on Michigan Avenue toward our destination of Water Tower Place. Having never been to Millenium Park, however, we took a very short detour in order to take some very touristy pictures with The Bean. Shortcake seemed interested in the structure (or at least her own reflection), so much so that she completely forgot she was wearing a dress and flashed a good portion of Chicago a peek at her Little Pet Shop underwear.
From there we promised Shortcake that there would be no more stopping at unscheduled locations until we reached the American Girl store. We pointed out famous landmarks as we walked along the Miracle Mile, and she was heard saying at one point as a cool gust of air washed over us, "I love that lake breeze".
I could sense she was starting to get discouraged with all the walking, but once we were able to locate Water Tower Place in the skyline she perked up a bit. It wasn't long after that when she spotted with her eagle eye other young girls walking with American Girl bags. With each additional sighting her steps became faster, her determination growing.
And then finally, we were there. The smile on her face was priceless.
Shortcake had a game plan all mapped out the night before we left for our trip. She wasn't sure yet which doll she was going to pick, and as she explained it to me her idea was to look at all the dolls and the clothes and accessories that each one came with before making her final decision. Once inside the store, she executed her plan exactly as planned. She carefully examined each display case of the historical dolls, commented on their accessories, glanced at the books, ooohed and ahhed over the Bitty Babies, and then headed upstairs to investigate her choices of My American Girl dolls and Lanie (the 2010 doll of the year) before declaring that the doll she wanted was downstairs. After arriving back on the first floor, Shortcake turned to me and stated, "I'm going to walk around, and the doll that I stop at is the one that I want". It took about three minutes of slow strolling before she suddenly turned and sprinted toward her choice.
Shortcake and Kit Kittredge. It was an exciting moment for everyone.
Although Kit was her birthday present from The General and me, Shortcake knew full well going into this trip that any other purchases for her doll would have to be made by her. She was allowed to use her birthday money to buy clothes for her doll, and she (and, admittedly, I) had fun picking out four adorable outfits. Gramma came through and purchased Grace, Kit's basset hound, for the birthday girl, and I caved and bought the display stand and an American Girl t-shirt to commemorate the day. I swear that they must pump some kind of purchasing elixir through the air vents in that store because as much as I had prepared myself for a torturous experience I found myself quickly getting swept up in the excitement. I wasn't fully duped though for when Shortcake turned to me with puppy dog eyes and said she thought Kit might be lonely so we should probably also buy her best friend, Lilly, I knew enough to pull the plug.
Shortcake's love for Kit was instant, and from the moment the cashier took Kit out of the box it wasn't but for more than a minute at a time that Shortcake wasn't lovingly cradling her new doll in her arms.
Flying high and rejuvenated, the three of us set out for more sight seeing. The weather on Monday was picture perfect for enjoying the sights of Chicago by foot, and we were all a little surprised when we realized that we had walked almost all the way to Navy Pier. We strolled along the River Walk and were able to take in sights that just aren't manageable when inside a vehicle.
Originally we had wanted to try to get to the lake front but following a bathroom mishap in which Shortcake nearly had to have her elbow extracted from a handicap hand rail with the use of power tools, we instead turned back toward Union Square. Fufilling yet another promise I had made to Shortcake, she was able to enjoy her very first cab ride on the way back to Union Station. I mean, seriously, how many exciting events could we possibly pack into one day's time?!
Can you tell by looking at the following pictures what kind of mood Shortcake was in by the time we arrived back to the historic station?
At this point in the day all Shortcake was interested in was playing with her doll and snacking on some Garrett's cheese popcorn. Thanks to an hour long delay in our departure, there was certainly plenty of time for that.
It was smooth sailing from Chicago to Joliet, and after carefully buckling Kit into the spare car seat in Gramma's car we were finally on the last leg of our journey home. My exhausted girl dozed heavily on the way, finally getting some well earned rest after her big day before arriving home to introduce her exciting gift to The General and a still awake Punkin.
For all of the fears I had about this trip, it was honestly the best day I have ever experienced in Chicago. Maybe it was the beautiful weather, or spending some rare time with my mom and oldest daughter, or seeing the joy on Shortcake's face when we reached the store, or just getting caught up in all the excitement a large city seems to offer. Whatever it was that made it such a perfect day, it's one I will cherish forever.