Summer is quickly drawing to a close for some of us. My grandsons, Bryce and Tyler, begin their first day of fourth grade next week. For kids, summer vacation starts the second week of June and ends mid-August. Summer is short for kids.
I look forward to their summer break. During the school year, I only have the boys one day a week for a few hours after school. During the summer, that stretches to a long, luxurious 12 hours together.
We make the most of it.
The first week we took Metra to Oak Park, where the boys and I have many cherished memories, which we happily relive — dragging out the entertainments from the recesses of my closets and bringing them back to life for nostalgia play, followed by lunch at George’s in the big corner booth, trying out the reinvented playground at Rehm Park, then crossing the street to the Conservatory to rouse George the parrot from his somnolent roost so he can say “Hello!” to us multiple times. The boys recently “adopted” him, using the proceeds from a successful lemonade stand to donate to George’s upkeep. We had just enough time to get to Petersen’s for the first ice cream of summer.
The second week, we headed to Urban Air, a climbing/trampoline/zipline emporium, where they exercised their alter egos as mountain goats, jumping frogs and cormorants, diving deep into the plastic ball pit. Afterward we had just enough time for ice cream at Kimmer’s in Wheaton.
The third week we explored a depleted Brookfield Zoo with the Plainfield branch of my family, including Charlotte, my still-new granddaughter. The butterfly tent was closed, the dolphins were all in Minnesota while the oceanarium was scrubbed and refinished, the penguins couldn’t swim because they were in their burrows moulting, and the primates’ hangar is under construction, but we made the best of it, watching seals swim past their windows with grace and precision before our admiring eyes. We also explored the Swamp House, which I overlooked for years, because studying turtles was high on Bryce’s list. I asked him what other critters topped his list and he rattled off, “platypus, fox, German shepherd, parrot, chicken, elephant.” Quite the menagerie. Maybe that’s why his favorite zoo exhibit is the gift shop.
Week four, the boys were on the road with Mom, their cousins, and Grandpa Jim in Orlando, Florida touring The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. That gave me time to catch up on my assigned Hogwarts reading, now that the boys have finished all seven books.
Week five, they ran through the maze and hiked through the spruce tree cathedral at Morton Arboretum, with Dad and their stepbrother Trevor. We also perused the newest sculptural attraction, Of the Earth, consisting mostly of sticks, which they loved because boys are all about sticks. Afterward, we had just enough time for ice cream at an old-fashioned Dairy Queen in Lombard.
Week six, we went bowling, using inflated bumpers, turning gutters from a deflating hazard into a billiard-style opportunity. Eventually they got the hang of going directly down the middle instead of zigzagging their way to the pins. The results were gratifying, but it made them even more competitive (and argumentative). To settle them down, we spent time in a Lego shop in Wheaton called “Bricks & Minifigs” (short for mini-figures). We had just enough time after for Culver’s, where the ice cream special flavor changes daily.
Week seven, my friend Margaret from Los Angeles came into town with her two granddaughters, Abby and Mallory. We met at the Museum of Science & Industry, essentially a children’s museum on steroids, with more buttons to push per square yard than a warehouse full of remote control devices, plus planes, trains and submarine — and a floor-to-ceiling tornado. Traffic was heavy on the way home, which gave us time for conversation. When they aren’t antagonizing each other in their backseat torture chamber, their discussions are imaginative and informative. Tyler mentioned that all of Mt. Everest would fit inside the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. Where do they come across this stuff?
Week eight, with their buddy Serafina and her Grandpa Ray, we visited Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Col. McCormick’s once-upon-a-time abode and now a memorial to military history. The kids clambered over the tanks outside before heading into the museum, which took us from recreated World War I trenches to the Normandy beaches, which Bryce found fascinating. Tyler was having a bad day, having just learned his best friend, Titus, was transferring to another school. Childhood has its share of battles, too.
Week nine found us back in Chicago at Millennium Park, where we reflected on The Bean, splashed through the face-tower fountain, listened to an orchestra rehearsal in the Pritzker Pavilion, played a round of mini-golf on 18 holes inspired by Chicago tourist attractions, and checked out the many playgrounds at Maggie Daley Park, crossing the shining-steel serpentine bridge to get there. We stopped at Brown Cow in Forest Park after to pick up some ice cream to fortify us for the drive home.
Which brings us to week 10. Not sure what we’ll do for our final summer day together. It might involve bikes. Very likely water balloons. But you can be sure of two things:
We will make the most of it.
And there will be ice cream.