Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Suburban Man: Field Trip Friday

By Rick Kaempfer

(Photos by Tommy Kaempfer)

Last summer we experimented with the concept of doing field trips every week to enjoy the culture of Chicago. It didn’t work out.

This year I scaled back the plans. No more museums (unless all three boys want to go), and no more full-day excursions (dad isn’t getting any younger).

So, with those new rules in mind, we dipped our toes back into the summer field trip waters.

The train

The boys were shocked when I agreed to take the train into the city. I always prefer driving because of the additional flexibility, but I could see they really wanted to do it, so I relented.

Unfortunately the train was packed, so we all had to sit in one double seat—and I feared this was a sign of things to come. Each boy wanted to sit by the window, and the whining had already commenced, when Tommy shocked me.

“Why don’t we take turns?” he suggested. “Each of us can have the seat for two train stops at a time, and then we rotate.”

Of course, Tommy had already looked at the train schedule, and figured out the number of stops. If he went first, he knew he would get the window twice, and the other two would only get it once. He looked at me, waiting for me to make it completely fair.

I didn’t drop a dime on him, and the other two never noticed.

Millennium Park

Our first stop was free—the beautiful Millennium Park along Lake Michigan. Sean (age 4) loved the big Crown fountain spewing water at unsuspecting tourists. He pranced and splashed in the water with a huge smile on his face. Tommy (age 11) loved it too. He snapped pictures and enjoyed the mist in the air taking the edge off a hot summer day.

Johnny (age 9) wasn’t impressed. He expected a park…with slides and monkey bars and see-saws. As soon as we arrived he started demanding that we explore the rest of the park, looking for the playground. I knew that Millennium Park didn’t have one, so I directed us toward the next best thing…the gigantic mirrored bean. It was a huge hit. We probably stayed there for thirty minutes, looking at it from every angle, taking pictures, and looking at the strange reflections. We would still be there if Sean’s tummy didn’t start talking to him.

“I’m hungry, Dad, I’m hungry.”


We had walked by a McDonald’s on our way from the train station to Millennium Park, so the boys all wanted to eat lunch there. Normally, I just say no to that question out of reflex. Not today…today we ingested the grease and liked it.

In the middle of lunch two construction workers sat down at the table next to us. They took off their helmets to expose their bandana-covered heads. Sean nearly leapt out of his seat with excitement.

“Dad!” he yelped. “LOOK! PIRATES!”

Sears Tower

Despite having lived in Chicago for most of my life, I don’t think I had ever been to the Observation Deck at the Sears Tower. So, when Johnny suggested we go there, and I could see that it was just few blocks away, I shocked all three boys with my answer.

“Sure,” I said. “What the heck.”

I gulped when I saw the prices ($9.50 for kids, $12 for adults), but I had already said yes, so I bit my tongue and shelled out the $40+. Tommy looked at my facial expression while I was paying and said: “Dad, you won’t regret this. It will be worth it, I promise.”

I began to agree with him when they showed us a movie about the history of the Sears Tower, and all three boys were captivated. And I definitely agreed with him when I saw all three boys bounding toward the windows of the observation deck, mouths agape. Granted, my heart almost stopped when Sean smashed into the window, but those windows proved to be 4-year-old-proof.

Tommy even took this amazing photo of our first stop of the day: Millennium Park.

Back Home Again

When we returned home around 3:30, after another crowded train ride, something truly amazing happened.

Each of them, one by one, thanked me for taking them on such a wonderful field trip. Nobody had prompted or nagged them to do it either.

I guess you know what that means.

Field Trip Friday is here to stay.