When we were planning our trip, Ryan and I thought it would be fun to visit Chicago while we were in the area. It would add about three hours of driving time to the trip home, but when you're already driving for nineteen hours WHAT'S THREE MORE? When Amy suggested we stay at her place, it was a done deal.
We will get in on Friday night and see what we can of the city in the morning BEFORE LUNCH, we said. We will not leave one second after twelve PM, we swore to each other, lest we get stuck somewhere in Oklahoma Sunday night with a vanful of screaming children and no hope of getting Ryan back to work in Texas on Monday.
Ultimately, I was glad we'd made the decision because we'd had such a great time in Madison and I was really not ready to head back home.
My phone died somewhere west of the city and then we got stuck in traffic, so when we arrived at Amy's house it was completely unannounced and with hungry children in tow. She quickly made some PB&Js and set them up in the dining room then went over the evening's plans with us.
A babysitter will get here at nine, she told me, and then we can go out.
Since nine is usually about the time I find myself comatose on the couch, I was a little confused, but Ryan and I had been managing the kids for seven full days by this point and going out without them sounded like heaven.
They took us to a martini lounge in the city and despite not being dressed from head to toe in black like everyone else there (Ryan said "I felt very bright in there". I felt acutely suburban), they immediately put us at ease. Amy and Josh are FUN. They ordered us a feast of dinner options and we all had a drink. The music was perfect, it was almost completely dark, and it was completely kid-unfriendly. It was a great night.
The next morning they took us on a tour of the city, including their local Starbucks, the "El", the Crown Fountain, the Bean, and Chicago style pizza.
Unsurprisingly, twelve o'clock came and went and we were nowhere near getting on the road. We got back to their house at one, put James down for a nap at one thirty, and at two left with Charlie and Wes to go watch the Blue Angels fly in the Chicago Air Show from a parking garage near their house. There is no way to describe how amazing the Blue Angels are so if you ever get the opportunity to go see them TAKE IT. Even if it means a sixteen hour travel day the next day. SO WORTH IT.
We finally left a little after four o'clock and made it to the other side of St. Louis before the kids started melting down and we stopped for the night at a Best WEStern. It was not as far as I was hoping to get, but we were all exhausted and the kids wouldn't stop screaming until we let them out of the car, so it had to be done.
The next morning we left around nine and drove and drove and drove through Missouri and Oklahoma and finally, FINALLY, we were back in the Lone Star State. We stopped at various times for donuts and lunch and potty and Redbox and playground, then had dinner with Ryan's parents and our nephews in Dallas around eight o'clock before getting back on the road and AT LAST pulling into our garage around twelve thirty Monday morning.
It was a much longer last day than we had planned--more than fifteen hours! But it was no problem. We pulled out all the stops for the last day. As many movies and lollypops and Goldfish as you want! Every time we stopped everyone got out to stretch and jump and run. The kids were AWESOME and it could not have gone better. I was so worried about the drive being awful with the kids, but they had fun AND we had fun. There were lots of new things to see outside the windows, they listened to books on CD, they watched some movies, and don't forget the morale-boosting power of a good livestock joke (Why did the cow wear his seatbelt? Because the car was MOOOOVING). When things got really dicey potty humor was a winner every time.
It was the perfect way to cap off the summer. Our hosts in Kansas City, Madison, and Chicago took great care of us and made us feel so welcome--planning special dinners, thinking of activities for us all to do together, staying up late with us talking and watching movies and catching up. That was my favorite part of all.
And now we still have a week to regroup and prepare for, you know, the thing that happens a week from today. Let's just say that if not for a single minded determination to get James home for naptime, there might have been an embarrassing ugly cry moment in the lunchbox aisle of the grocery store. Excuse me, there's something in my eye, I better go.