A Gift for William: Chicago Presents

Gifts

Last weekend, as I was changing 2 ½-year-old William's diaper (when do they become potty trained?), he said “I want to go to Chicago.” He was visiting from Oak Park and that didn't make any sense to me, and I said, “You are in Chicago.” He looked at me puzzled, seemingly contemplating what I said, but neither one of us, at least at that moment, understood the other. I began to get it though when later the same day my daughter and her husband came to pick him up early to take him back to Oak Park. The weather people had forecasted icy roads, and our day with William ended before we could fulfill my promise to visit the Notebaert Nature Museum. And William was angry with me — as he left our condo strapped into the car seat, he turned his head away from me, refusing to look at the person who promised “Chicago,” and then took it away.

Lincoln Park
Lincoln Park. Photo credit: Amy Rudberg

William had been with us the previous weekend when we visited the Notebaert Nature Museum near the Lincoln Park Zoo. We didn't have enough time to visit all the exhibits on that day, and resolved to return at a later date. William had insisted on going back to the butterfly room a second time, lingered at the cage of the huge python, fruitlessly waiting for it to move, and watched the snapping turtle being fed. The latter must have been especially memorable for William. When asked later by his mother what he did during the day, he said “I saw turtle, yucky, the turtle bite the mouse head,” likely remembering the snapping turtle's piecemeal engorgement of the mouse at feeding time. Fleeing from the feeding episode, we went to the first floor of the museum where they had constructed an elaborate model of waterways, complete with miniature waterwheels, locks and dams, and other typical waterworks. Both William and I were in heaven: I had spent my career working as a water resources engineer, and William had a water system much bigger than the bathtub in which to captain a small plastic boat. However, all too soon, we had to leave.

Snapping Turtle

So last weekend we had intended to go back to the museum but prudence in response to threatening weather prevented us from doing so. Reversals in life often have the effect, of course, of causing us to think harder about a subject than we otherwise would. Although I wouldn't call William's disdain of me upon his departure as necessarily a reversal — after all he is not even 3 years old — I couldn't help but think a little harder about his request to go to “Chicago.” I concluded that even at his young age, he recognized all that we have to offer in our city. This includes not only the Nature Museum but also the other children's attractions that the city has in abundance. Since we live near the Lincoln Park Zoo, that facility has already been a major part of his young life. Chicago is dotted with small parks, well endowed with play equipment, and we frequent one of those closest to us.

Butterfly

When he says Chicago, he's actually equating it with fun experiences he has had, and they have registered in his young mind, leading me to the explanation of the title of this piece “Chicago Presents.” My pondering of the meaning of “Chicago” has been incredibly useful in finding the perfect gift for William. What better than to follow up the visit to the Nature Museum with a gift that enlarges on the experience. Perhaps I am deluding myself — a 2 ½-year-old curious about nature — but if so, I at least am enjoying the illusion. So my gift will be a children's book on butterflies and another on turtles. One describes the amazing feat of a caterpillar turning into a beautiful butterfly. For the other, I couldn't find a children's book on snapping turtles, but did find a book describing the life cycle of a non-snapper. The story-line concludes with a boy much like William helping the turtle across the roadway to reach his birth home, and thereby enabling a renewal of the life cycle.

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