, , , ,

My time working from home has come to an end. Looking back, I lived like a bear for a year. Venturing out only to forage for food, growing a protective layer of fat to keep warm, and hibernating with my little family for months.

With the nearing spring come warmer temps, a new job and more reasons to leave my snuggly cave. I think it’s also a matter of motivation; I think I’m shedding my bear skin for something new.

I love experiencing Mama/Baby days with my little girl, and there’s no better excuse to leave the house. We haven’t done a ton–a visit to Cosley Park Zoo and Downtown Glen Ellyn last spring, a trip to Grounds for Sculpture in Trenton while we were living in New Jersey. But they are always special to me. And when she’s older, she’ll remember, and they’ll be special to her, too.

In the seven years we’ve lived here, we’ve never made the 90-minute drive to Milwaukee. I’d always wanted to go, and Elena hadn’t been to Wisconsin yet, so I planned a Mama/Baby day last week to venture north to America’s Dairyland.

I feel kinda guilty for this because there are plenty of things to do in Chicago and the suburbs without driving 80 miles. But I wanted something new. So, I planned a day for us to visit a couple kid-friendly places that exist in practically every city: a children’s museum and the public market.

She loved the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum. It was amazing to watch her clap and stomp in excitement after sliding on the toddler playground, steer the delivery truck with confidence, and tentatively interact with other kids. I was worried she’d be too young to enjoy, at 22 months, but it was perfect. We discovered an area reserved for toddlers and spent most of our time there, but we also managed to explore the entire place.

Somehow, we clocked more than two hours there, and nap time was at hand. I had worried over how she would react to leaving. And she definitely didn’t agree with me about it being quitting time.

I had to be the worst mom ever, picking her up the exact moment she was at her happiest, and carrying her out of the toddler room, away from opportunities for distraction and delay. She forgave me quickly enough, and fell asleep in the car the moment we left the parking garage. So much for the Milwaukee Public Market: I know by now not to interrupt a good nap. There’s always next time.

On I-94, thirty miles from town, my stomach started rumbling, and I started searching for a pair of golden arches. She woke up the moment I pulled up to the drive-thru.

Facing the reality of eating a cheeseburger and fries, giving her something equally unhealthy to eat in her car-seat, and attempting to help her–one hand on the wheel–every time she dropped her food, I realized there were better alternatives. So, I apologized to the voice in the speaker, left the lot, and went off in search of a Cracker Barrel that, according to a recent billboard, was less than 15 miles away.

This is how I figured: If we couldn’t do all the Milwaukee things I had planned, we might as well do something we couldn’t do at home. And Cracker Barrel seemed fitting for our trip to Wisconsin. A stop at the Mars Cheese Castle would have probably been more apt, but not for a toddler.

She jettisoned the high chair and ate lunch sitting on my lap, my hungry bear cub, eating a grilled cheese and apple slices, not stopping till she finished my hash browns, too. Then back, back, back. Back in the car, back to Illinois, back home. Filled with food and joy and hopes of more adventures to come.