A Squared: Experiencing Chicago with a Toddler

Monday, June 3, 2013

Experiencing Chicago with a Toddler

First off, happy birthday to my sister-in-law (and loyal reader) Danielle!

Auntie Anne and my not so little niece Maeve
Coincidentally, Danielle and her family were in Chicago this weekend and are the subject of today's post. Danielle was participating in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer and she brought my brother, their daughter Maeve, and their two dogs along for the weekend. I haven't seen Maeve since January and she seems so much older now-- she's 18 months old and has a lot of personality. She's such a funny little person!

I love entertaining guests in Chicago. It's a great excuse to take them to some of my favorite places and to see all of the sights that I take for granted living here. This visit was little different though as I have never planned a weekend for a visitor under the age of 11, let alone a toddler like Maeve. I put my thinking cap on though and I think she (and her parents) had a fun weekend!

You all know that dining out is one of my life's great pleasures, but planning dinners for Alex and me is easy. I choose a restaurant and he shows up. I have never had to think about whether a restaurant has kids menus or high chairs though!

Alex and Tim enjoy an enormous pizza at Scoozi

Danielle requested pasta for her pre-Walk dinner on Friday so I came up with a few options, but we ended up at our favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant Scoozi! It's a great option for dining with kids since the restaurant is loud and laidback with kid-friendly menus (and paper tablecloths with crayons!) in addition to delicious pasta dishes and an extensive wine list for adults. I had a great seasonal risotto with fresh vegetables and Maeve enjoyed some cheese ravioli.

Maeve was a real trooper since she had been in the car all day and dinner was definitely past her bedtime.

Playing a little game with dad in the booth
Tim and Maeve at the Soldier Field Veterans Memorial

Maeve is a big animal lover, so on Saturday when the weather looked a little dicey we decided to forgo a trip to the zoo and we took her to visit Shedd Aquarium.

She was mesmerized by all of the big aquarium tanks and at each one of them she parked herself on the floor and made herself at home. It was hysterical.

Here are some other takeaways from our visit to the Shedd:
  • We were pretty intimidated by the enormous line outside to get in, but if you're there with a child in a stroller (like we were) there is an accessible entrance on the east side of the building with no stairs and much shorter lines. We still waited, but not nearly as long as the folks on the stairs out front (sorry!). 
  • They also offer very generous military discounts and kids under 3 get in free, so our visit was surprising affordable. 
  • Also, we bought the standard Shedd Passes which allow you access to all exhibits and one "special" event-- we chose Jellies, which was perfect for Maeve. It's short and sweet and she loved the vibrant colors and movement of the jellyfish.

Her favorite part of our visit was the lower level of the Polar Play Zone. She loved watching the penguins, otters, belugas, and especially the dolphins under water. There was a baby in both the beluga and the dolphin tanks and she was calling them all "doggies." Maeve was prepared to stay all day watching them swim by.

We kept Maeve at the aquarium way past lunchtime and naptime, so we needed to come up with something quick and easy post-aquarium visit. We ended up at my old standby-- the New Line Tavern. It's a quiet neighborhood pub and we snagged a table outside while the weather was still good. Here's a revelation: they have high chairs! Maeve ordered the chicken finger appetizer and enjoyed them, but not half as much as she enjoyed dipping them in ketchup.

Sunday was a busy day for our guests since they were checking out of their hotel and Danielle was finishing up the Avon Walk that afternoon. The weather was also gross-- chilly and drizzly-- not ideal for our originally planned trip to Lincoln Park Zoo. We decided to forgo the zoo (we'll go on your next trip, Maeve!) and opted to hang out at our place and go out for a lazy brunch instead.

We dined at Brunch, another loud, laidback, family-friendly restaurant in River North. It's also one of my favorite restaurants for entertaining visitors since there's something for everything on the menu and it's always good. Tim ordered chocolate chip pancakes to share with Maeve, but she was totally content with a stack of wheat toast and a side of butter. The kid is easy to please.

Maeve's visit gave us a bit of a reality check as to how baby ready our home is not. She's very well behaved, but I forgot how many breakable items I have stashed at her level. We also have very few items to entertain someone her age. Luckily, she loves a TV remote and also "reading" anything-- including my large collection of catalogs!

Reading the Stella & Dot catalog to Uncle Alex

We capped off our visit with Tim's family with some celebratory deep dish pizza after Danielle completed her Walk. We love to eat at Giordano's when we have visitors (as this is usually the only time Chicagoans eat deep dish), but if you have ever dined at one of Chicago's famous pizza joints you know it's quite the time commitment. There is usually a long wait for a table and then an even longer wait for them to bake a deep dish pizza. That's a lot of waiting for a little one (or for her poor mom that just completed a 39-mile walk), so we made a smart decision to order Giordano's delivery to eat at home. I highly recommend this option if you're entertaining visitors and want a more low key experience after a long day of touristy Chicago fun.

We had such a fun visit with Tim, Danielle, and Maeve. Maeve was a great sport all weekend and an easy guest-- especially for being a toddler!  We can't wait to see them in Michigan in August!

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