Bright Lights, Big City

27 08 2011

Theo waking up to the Windy City on his sixth birthday. Photo by Amy Rauch Neilson.

Theo woke up on the morning of his sixth birthday, August 22, 2011, threw open the heavy room darkening curtains and the whisper light sheers behind them, and peered out the window in awe and amazement.

Twenty-three floors below, the city of Chicago was wide awake and had been for hours. Tourists and city dwellers alike were bustling to and from their destinations. As for us, we, too, had things to do, places to go, and yes — even people  to see!

Our plans for Theo’s birthday were to find an awesome breakfast spot, hop on a water taxi and spend the day at the Navy Pier. Check, check and CHECK! We learned of a breakfast place just a few blocks from our hotel called The Yolk. I LOVED it — from the bright, mustard-colored decor to the outside terrace where we were seated, and yes, of course, the MENU! Think cinnamon roll french toast with a side of fresh blackberries, blueberries and strawberries. I also had the best glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice of my life — so good I ordered a second! And I’m not even a big fan of orange juice.

Pure heaven.

Next, it was off to the riverfront a few blocks away to catch the water taxi. How cool that in Chicago, you can travel by foot, car, traditional taxi, or water taxi!  Theo wanted to sit on the top deck of the boat, where the summer breeze rippled through our hair and the sun warmed our faces.

We got off at the first stop and began wandering the Navy Pier. There’s the famous Ferris Wheel — which I happily rode by myself, as both Don and Theo are wary of heights. A miniature golf course on which each of us had a hole-in-one! The Children’s Museum and Store, where Theo spent his birthday money.

Though I have had the privilege of traveling across a good part of the globe, Don and Theo are newbies. Neither of them had ever been to Chicago. For Don, the biggest city he’d ever seen was L.A., many years ago, when he was there on business, not pleasure. He spent most of his time in buildings, rather than outside, taking in their enormity and majesty. So, truly, they were both new to Big City Life.

But why the quest to share places near and far with my family? Couldn’t we accomplish many of the same goals closer to home?

Yes. And no.

Yes, because we live in a beautiful place where opportunities to embark on an adventure and enjoy family time together abound. And we consciously take advantage of that on a regular basis, be it a trip to the Cider Mill, a boat ride, a board game on the family room floor.

No, because there’s nothing like being away from home and the daily responsibilities and distractions of dishes, laundry, pet care, and discovering, together, all this wondrous planet has to offer. That’s how I grew up, and it’s what I want to share with both Don and Theo.

Some of the best memories are the times I traveled with my family when I was growing up — my parents and my sisters, Julie and Lisa. We saw the Grand Canyon, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (I still have a piece of black lava from that trip), New York’s Central Park from a horse-drawn carriage, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

But perhaps just as important as the what we saw is the why we saw it.

My Mom was first diagnosed with breast cancer in May 1973, when I was four years old. My Dad, who, along with two of his brothers, owned Rauch Brothers Paving Co., often worked long hours in his quest to make our family’s life easier than the one he’d experienced alongside 11 brothers and sisters in the years following the Great Depression.

There was nothing more important in the world to my Dad than his family. And so, when my Mom was diagnosed, he took a serious look at the long hours of work he put in to build his company. Then, one day, he sat us down and told us this: No matter what,  from this day forward, we are going to take at least one family vacation a year, every year, no exceptions.

And we did.

That’s been my philosophy and my intention for my own family, even before my first breast cancer diagnosis of Stage 1 in March 2006. After that diagnosis, it became even more imperative to me. And I’m sure I don’t need to point out how the news of my recurrence this past January accelerated my desire.

I have the desire to share the wonders of the world with my family, sans the panic of doing it just because I’m currently undergoing breast cancer treatment. I believe from the very core of my being that God has work for me to do on this planet, that I’m going to go into remission, and that I’m going to be here for a long time to come.

Still. Time passes quickly, and if we don’t set intentional goals for ourselves, too often, we look back and see the missed opportunities. Our goals for ourselves, for our families, have to be intentional and conscious.

When Theo was born, Don and I decided that every year, at the very least, we would plan a family get-away. Now that he is in school, our tradition is to plan at least three nights away together as a family in the weeks before the first school bell rings.

Some of the people in our lives asked us why we would do such a crazy thing — travel to Chicago the day after Theo’s big birthday bash — with my cancer diagnosis and tough chemo regimen. I think it’s also safe to say that though others may not have articulated it, it was on their mind. Why now? Is it safe for Amy’s health? Isn’t it just going to wear her out? Can you really afford to be off galavanting in another city, with the financial responsibilities of medical bills on top of Amy’s reduced ability to work?

The real question is: Can we afford not to?

My Dad, although a good steward of our family’s finances, also used to say that you can always make more money. But time spent and experiences together — those are priceless.

Indeed.

Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson

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9 responses

27 08 2011
Alison

Lovely to hear about the fabulous time you had with your family…….you all deserve it

27 08 2011
amy youngblood

amen to galavanting!!! try 2 eat at roy’s hawaiian fusion while you are in chicago…..they have the coolest kid menu for being such modern kind of fancy place–they put just as much time/creativity in the kids dishes as they do the adults!!

27 08 2011
Scott Orwig

Good for you all, Amy! So glad to hear you had fun. Time does pass quickly — cancer or no cancer — and it’s inspiring to see someone making a priority of the truly important parts of life.

27 08 2011
Sandy Sherman-Sarlund

I love that you are caring forward traditions that you enjoyed as a child. It is important to take the time & make wonderful memories that will last a lifetime. Though my family is blessed to have an amazing place like Torch Lake to visit all year long, I long to travel with my family to places that I went as a child too. As always Amy, you inspire me! I am glad that the three of you keep making “happy” squares with your calendar 🙂

27 08 2011
Sharon L-S

I love exploring Chicago, with a child it is priceless. Theo will enjoy the Shedd Aquarium – check out the Beluga Whales. There is always something to see or eat in Chicago. Enjoy the trip. Happy belated birthday Theo!

I too brought back some lava (Pele’s tears) but sent it back after a quick series of incidences. The Hawaii Volcanos National Park Service gets thousands of packages a year from people returning the lava.

27 08 2011
Marnie

I’m so glad ChicaGO was a go! Funny you mentioned Yolks because that is one of my favorite two breakfast spots. Can’t wait to hear more about this adventure…and what the next vacation plans might hold!

27 08 2011
Debbie Loumakis

Great post girl and I so agree with you!! Now, get some rest and start thinking about your next destination..
xoxo

27 08 2011
kiapet51

Memories trumps money any day of the week. I am so very happy that you had a wonderful time in Chicago. (minus the long train ride home) My family also did at least one summer trip every year. It may have been traveling to another state to see something of interest, or just traveling in the wonderful state of MI. The important thing is that I can remember each trip and the fun we had as a family. Now that school is about to start, you and Don need to start making plans for next years adventure. Take care. Give Theo a belated birthday hug from me.

31 08 2011
Sarah Zowada

You and your Dad are very wise. Blessings to your family.

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