My youngest daughter's 10th birthday wish this year was to see her old friends and the neighborhood where she grew up (for at least the first 7 years). Her siblings wouldn't be left behind but their father is still not ready to go back. "Too many memories," he says. Since I was the one who really wanted to move away from Chicago in the first place, I didn't feel the emotional conflict as my husband does or the longing to see it again as my kids do. I did feel however that it was important for me to make peace with the place where I spent some of the most important memories of my life yet somehow grew to detest over the years.
My first impression when the airplane broke out of the clouds was how monotone and depressing the general area looked. No snow. No grass. No colors. "Winter," I said under my breath, "I remember." My next impressions were far more mixed. The decor of Midway airport... how many times had we walked by the gates? Nuts on Clark... a good memory. Stepping out into the cold... a bad memory. Driving on I-55 with traffic... a bad memory. Portillo's for lunch... lots of good memories. And so the trip went. Every store, every restaurant, every road... all full of memories. Probably most fun for me was hearing what the kids did and did not remember with Emily as the oldest remembering far more than her brother and sister.
The hardest thing for me to see was my in-law's old house and our old house. So many conversations, celebrations, holiday's, and meals took place in those homes. I must admit a part of me wanted to go back to the way it was. I wanted to walk in and see things exactly as I remembered them. You can go back to the structures and look at them, but without the people they are just buildings. I was happy to remember all the good times yet sad they are in the past and things will never again be as they were. I spent my thirties in those homes, added a daughter to our family, and raised three kids during some of the hardest yet most joyful times of parenting.
Catching up with old friends and neighbors remains the highlight of the trip. My dear friend Kathy and I chatted as if we were never apart. The kids got to see their old friends and they too seemed to fall right back into their friendships as if they had never left. This of course made me happy at first but then upon thinking about it, it made me sad that I was the one who insisted we move away. They would never have left their friends if it wasn't for me.
Sunday morning arrived and brought with it what Chicago is most famous for.... bitter weather. Due to an unfortunate food poisoning incident I had had the night before, we were unable to attend church that morning or the roller skating party Kat was so looking forward to that afternoon. There would be no more eating out at favorite restaurants or drives by familiar places like the cousins' old house in Wheaton. We were all physically and emotionally exhausted from lack of sleep and fear that it might be the stomach flu after all. (Thankfully it was not and no one else got sick.) We did manage a small birthday party for Kat later that evening and then tearfully said goodbye to those around us. On the way back to the hotel I stopped to get gas. The temperature outside was 17 degrees which felt like 2 degrees with windchill. As I stood outside waiting for the tank to fill I uttered, "Geez it's so cold, how does anyone live here?" And with that I remembered at least one of the reasons I'm happy not to live in Chicago anymore.
Our trip down memory lane was a good one. I thought it was important for our kids to have some perspective. I didn't want them to idealize the place where they grew up any more than I wanted them to dislike it. I wanted them to see it with more mature eyes noticing both the good and the bad. Of course that puts them in the position of liking some things better there and some things better here. I grew up in the same house through my childhood and still return to it when visiting my parents. In some ways I feel sorry for my kids that they will never have that kind of experience. On the other hand, they will have their own kind of experience that I hope they will grow to appreciate over the years. Who knows, maybe one day they will be glad they spent their teen years in Florida. Only time will tell. But one thing's for sure, time will keep marching on no matter where we live.