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Thankful for… a 504 Plan

Thankful for… a 504 Plan

When i entered Kindergarten I was already reading on a 2nd or 3rd grade level, could write, knew all my letters, could count pretty high and do basic addition. I was also socially awkward, clumsy, and super bored by the class. The kindergarten teacher took stock of the situation and decided I was developmentally delayed, and had me assigned to a special ed class. My mom found out over a year later, based on something I said. She went down to the school, raised hell, and had me actually tested, at which point they offered to skip me a grade or two based on my test results. This would have been pretty disastrous, actually, as I hadn’t actually learned anything in that year or so. She pulled me out of that school and enrolled me in a (private, religious) school at my grade level, where I was incredibly behind in math and remained so until Geometry class in high school, where for the first time I had a teacher who encouraged me and didn’t dismiss me as just a girl (literally, I got a lot of “well, of course you don’t get this, you’re a girl” and “oh well, you don’t really need to know this, you’re a girl.”). Skipping a grade or two with that level of math deficiency? Ugh. Horrible idea.

Nikola has asthma. It’s mild, and it’s cough variant, so he’s never had a classic wheezing panicked asthma attack. Instead, he gets this weird cough that to me is very distinctive but most people don’t notice it as unusual. He takes montelukast/singulair every night and uses a rescue inhaler a few times a year. For instance, we gave him a dose before bed tonight because he has a cold, so it was kind of a preventative thing. He may not have needed it, but you know. It might help him sleep better. His teacher is aware that he has asthma, and when he had his sinus infection, she called me to get him early one day because he had an asthmatic coughing fit in class. It wasn’t a big deal, and if I hadn’t told her I’d be near by and to call me, she probably wouldn’t have and just would have informed me of it at pick up.

She told me that because he has asthma he’s eligible for a 504 plan.

The term “504 plan” refers to a specific section of the Americans With Disabilities Act prohibiting discrimination of special needs students from federally funded schooling. It covers accommodations like peanut-free lunch rooms or tables, wheel chair ramps, ASL interpreters, special keyboards, and similar. Since he has asthma, which can require medication and can be triggered by specific things, he may need accommodation. So the school social worker, school nurse, his teacher, and I sat down at a meeting to discuss his needs.

I got a written notice and had to sign a form saying I consented to the meeting before the meeting was even scheduled. Once I signed the form, I was given an appointment date and some paper work about what a 504 plan is, and some confidentiality information. The meeting went well and everyone seemed on the same page about providing Niko with the best care they could. The school takes asthma really seriously and all teachers and staff have been trained in asthma care and on dispensing asthma medication from a variety of inhalers. I stressed that he had COUGH VARIANT asthma and so doesn’t have typical wheezing etc and everyone seemed to know what I was talking about. They talked about potential accommodations he’d get during the full day program next year, including when he’s in gym class (eg, be able to take a break from physical activity to catch his breath, being able to get water as needed).

While in the meeting, I brought up some concerns I had about his speech (he has trouble saying sh, ch, f, v, and some r sounds. For instance, he says “doll” and “girl” in very similar ways), and about some fine motor difficulties he has with his hands/fingers. His teacher said that upon me bringing it up, she remembered that he had some fine motor issues but since the kids are so young, they mainly focus on pincer-grasp motions which he’s great at (he is) and she was quick to reassure everyone that while he doesn’t consistently hold a pencil in the “correct” grip, he also doesn’t hold it in a fist. IE, it’s not super serious but they can look into it. So they arranged to have an informal session with the school’s speech therapist and occupational therapist to assess his speech and fine motor skills.

They were really responsive to my concerns and I feel like the meeting was a positive thing.

I know that a LOT of people have difficult and stressful 504 and IEP meetings, but I’m super happy at how ours went. Part of this, of course, is that his accommodations are super minor and, at least so far, don’t cost any money. But I got the feeling that the school he’s at is very concerned with extending educational opportunities to all students to the best of their abilities and meeting every need they can.

And, of course, the meeting made me think of my early education experience and the high handed way that a single teacher decided I had special needs and, without consulting or informing my parents, had me shunted into a classroom where I did nothing but pet bunnies and watch film strips. We weren’t even allowed to use safety scissors. Times have changed and there’s a lot more legal protection for kids and parents. But the more closely I look at Niko’s school the happier I am with it. It really feels like his teacher, the staff, have his best interests in mind.

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The Best Laid Plans

The Best Laid Plans

I was super excited on Friday because Niko and I were at the library (we accidentally wound up walking over a mile to get there and he fell down HARD twice, poor kid, once on the bus) and I saw they had a pass in for the Adler Planetarium. Chicago Public Libraries, like many other Library Systems, has local museum and zoo passes available at the branches that people can check out for 7 days. Adler is one of the passes that is CONSTANTLY checked out, so I snatched that sucker up and we made big plans to visit the Planetarium this weekend. Possibly on both days! We debated borrowing a car and driving up and paying to park versus taking public transit. We also talked about going both Saturday and Sunday, taking maximum advantage of the pass.

Then we wound up sleeping in until like 10:00 on Saturday and wound up just hanging around at home in our jammies all day. We decided we’d head out early on Sunday.

The thing about the Adler Planetarium is that it shares a parking lot with the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium… and Soldier Field.

The thing about Sunday is that, unknown to us, there was Bears/Vikings football game at Soldier Field at noon.

We drove past the main parking lot before 9:30 and it was already packed with football attendees grilling sausages. It smelled great, but where could we park? I remembered that there’s a tiny parking lot adjacent to the Planetarium, but when we tried to get there, we found the road leading to it was closed. We discussed parking in a lot in the City (which is expensive) and taking a bus or a cab (more money) but worried that would involve a lot of walking, which I’m still having trouble doing because of my injured knee.

We saw a sign for overflow parking for the museums/Soldier Field and tried to head for them, but there was a double line of cars headed in that direction so Nesko jerked the car out of that lane while I tried to talk with Niko in the back seat about being flexible and how we can’t always do what we planned to do. He was getting upset, when Nesko suggested we go to The Museum of Science and Industry instead.

The thing about MSI is that we have a membership to it, so don’t have to pay anything additional to go, and they have a private parking garage that we don’t have to pay for because of the membership.

It was like a flight of angels descended from heaven to sing heavenly songs about the glories of MSI. We headed over there.

The parking garage was pretty much deserted.

There were almost no lines anywhere.

We had a private tour of the Zephyr train (which I think Niko can recite by this point).

It was all around pretty great.

I’ve taken Niko to MSI in the middle of the week and had similar experiences. The one thing I don’t like about him being in a 5 day a week pre-k program is that we can’t head out and do fun stuff during the day, like spur of the moment trips to MSI or the library.

We had a specific plan for the weekend and it didn’t work out the way we intended at all. But we still had a really great time, and are going to keep an eye on the Bears football schedule and start hitting up MSI when they have home games because apparently the bulk of the city battens down and watches the game instead of going to museums.

I’m super glad we have a membership to MSI. It’s more than paid for itself by now, and it’s super great to be able to head over there whenever we feel like it… and part of having a membership is that we don’t feel as much pressure to “get our money’s worth” and stay until the museum closes, past the time when people (Niko) are getting tired, hungry, and cranky. So we’re able to leave on a high note instead of pushing our luck.

We are getting a membership to the Field Museum soon (and would have sooner if Nesko’s car hadn’t stopped being a car, resulting in thousands of dollars of parts/repair work), and might pick up a membership to the Shedd for Christmas or Niko’s birthday as well. Chicago has so many museums that we’re really spoiled for choice.

What are some of the museums and attractions where you are? What are some of your favorite ways to spend the day with your family?

Standing in front of the Zephyr.

Standing in front of the Zephyr.

Niko and Zeph, the donkey mascot of the Zephyr.

Niko and Zeph, the donkey mascot of the Zephyr.

Nesko and Niko in the Hall Of Trains

Nesko and Niko in the Hall Of Trains

Niko wore his train hat all day; it was his idea to put it atop the helmet.

Niko wore his train hat all day; it was his idea to put it atop the helmet.

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Making An Art with a Four Year Old

Making An Art with a Four Year Old

Have you seen this blog post about collaborating artistically with a four year old? Making art with a kid is super fun. Niko and I do something similar, except usually I’ll draw whatever dinosaur he dictates me to draw, and some background, and then he adds trees and colors everything in and adds “a big glop of poop comin’ outta dat dinosaur’s BUTT” or blood to their teeth or something I DO NOT EVEN KNOW. He’s pretty down with nature red in tooth and claw.

Today, while I sit in my chair and refuse to get up because my knee is filled with angry hornets and hate, I’ve been drawing for him. At his request, I drew a brown line train at the station. It’s only 3 cars long, which he claims is the perfect length (probably because we usually ride when it’s not the rush hour) and although I drew the Kedzie station he requested I add the buffers that are at the end of the line. Sorry train, you’re not going any further. There’s buffers in your way! I doodled it all out, including the cool little stools they have clustered on the platform, and handed it over. he proceeded to draw two other trains (sharing a track! DANGER ZONE!) and a buffer for them. I took a picture with my phone so it’s not the best, but here you go:

brown_line_001

Speaking of art he’s doing, he seems to have made a jump forward in his art production lately. Instead of sticking only to dinosaurs, trains, dinosaurs waiting for trains, and the occasional picture of his family, yesterday he drew a cement mixer. This was a very WHAT moment because he’s never been super interested in cement mixers in general or drawing trucks or any vehicles other than trains. And yet, cement mixers. He’s also been drawing himself lately, which is cool, except he has a certain technique for drawing dinosaurs that includes a big mouth full of teeth that is kind of creepy and he adds that giant mouth of teeth to himself. He also adds hair. Lots of hair. Today he drew a picture of himself and an HO model train in a house, complete with a roof and a chimney, but no smoke, because it’s OUR house and we have a decorative fireplace therefore no smoke.

Welp.

He’s also been drawing whales, carnivorous whales, fish, and “the dead part of the sea that’s got too much water so sharks can’t swim in it. I know because scientists who study dinosaurs said it. I looked it up on my phone!” Uh huh.

I’ve been meaning to pick up a sketchbook for myself for a project I’m working on, but I think I’ll pick up another one for the two of us to fill together. How cool is that? I’m nowhere near as good an artist as busymockingbird, but it’ll still be way fun.

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2nd Day of School and our Toy Experiment

2nd Day of School and our Toy Experiment

We successfully made it to the 2nd day of school.

Yesterday, the teacher said we had to go to Door Blah and the teacher’s aide would be there to take the kids inside, and we parents were to just drop our kids off and bolt. There were no adults or kids waiting outside (maybe we just missed them?) but there WERE a lot of parents bringing their 3 and 4 year olds inside so I took Niko inside. He had a hard time getting into the classroom because the doorway was thronged with adults just chillin’ so I helped him inside, got his bag put away and his name tag on, etc, gave him some kisses, and left. Some other kid was sobbing and screaming so hard he was gagging and sounded like he was about to barf. Poor kid! Poor parent! Niko was chill.

On the way home, I fretted about my knee and how it hurt and how I couldn’t wait for our insurance to start up in November so I could get an MRI done and see if there’s tiny chunks of bone floating around scraping shit up or what, because I’ve been dealing with knee pain for a LONG TIME, ever since we were rear ended in 2003 and my knee slammed into the dashboard of our car. I forgot to get it checked out at the ER, and it’s been bugging me ever since… for TEN YEARS. So I’m walking home, kind of limping a little because my left knee aches, and my right hip starts hurting because I’m walking funny, and I decide to take a short cut through the alley, and suddenly there’s a snap and searing pain in my knee.

HA HA FUNNNNNNNNN. I said a lot of cusses and general inarticulate NOISES and babies, if I had insurance, I’d be chillin’ in the ER right this very second. But I don’t have insurance, so I hobbled home with the aid of a fence post I found lying in the alley NO LIE and now I’m sitting on the couch with my leg up a bit. Our house mate has agreed to fetch Niko from school and I’m hoping I remembered to put him on the authorized adult pick up list. I’ll have to call and see.

If worst comes to worst, he can probably handle drop offs and pick ups for a while, so I’m glad I have someone I can rely on to be totally boss and helpful. But I’m super pissed at my knee. It’s been hurting more than usual since my mouth blew up, like having inflammation in my mouth was an excuse for the rest of my body to go to hell and act up and hurt and be shitty or something. I absolutely was not expecting this level of searing agony, however.

But whatever.

I was trying to get Niko to help me clean up his toys the other day and he basically refused and we had YET ANOTHER talk about how he needs to respect his toys and belongings and if he can’t do, if he can’t be responsible for his own things, maybe we should put them away. And he agreed to that. So we boxed up most of his toys over the weekend. He’s kept out his wooden trains and train tracks, his musical instruments, his puzzles, 4 stuffed animals (he has two garbage bags full of other stuffed animals) and coloring books and art stuff (most of which is kept in a cabinet out of his reach). It’s been a lot easier for him to keep this toys picked up, and at the end of the week we’ll see if he wants to cycle out something else. This is working very nicely so far and I’m not tripping over stuff as much or feeling as resentful about having to clean and reclean constantly. We set a timer for 5 minutes and anything he doesn’t get put away in that time goes into time out. We haven’t had to put anything in time out. It’s nice.

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First Day Of School (ever)

First Day Of School (ever)

Today isn’t just the first day of school in Chicago, it’s Niko’s first ever day of school. He’s starting preschool at our neighborhood school. Since Chicago is so big, there’s a bunch of little (and medium and large, his school is actually pretty large) school buildings and you default into a specific school based on your address. But there’s also Selective schools that, for higher grades, are Gifted or STEM or International Baccalaureate or various flavor of Charter or what have you. It’s incredibly hard to get into Selective schools in Chicago. Like, there’s literally hundreds more kids who qualify for and want to get into separate Gifted programs than there are available slots (Niko’s school has a Gifted track, but I don’t think all neighborhood schools do). We are going to have to do some serious thinking while Niko is in kindergarten about what kind of school we want him to go to for first grade and on, because generally speaking if you don’t get into your first choice school in first grade (or 6th or freshman year or whenever the school’s lowest grade is) you’re never going to get in. There’s just so much competition, so many students waiting to get in. Which means a lot of kids start really specific types of schooling (STEM, Classical, IB, a school with a fantastic music program, a school with an emphasis on physical education, etc) when they’re like 6… which is ridiculously early to make those kinds of decisions. So we might just go with the flow and keep him at his neighborhood school and supplement at home and with museum memberships and stuff. But then if he’s at a neighborhood school, will he get into a competitive high school and then college? I kind of resent that I’m feeling pressure NOW, when he’s FOUR, to do everything right so he has a successful adult academic career (which, I mean, that assumes he even WILL go to college and not just, like, become an auto mechanic or electrician or something else he’d go to a trade school and apprentice for).

I have an Anxiety Disorder and tend to spiral into alternate universes of WHAT IFs at the drop of a hat, so I’m trying really hard to just… Let Go and focus on the important thing right now, which is to shepherd Niko through preschool. The school is being less than helpful by waiting until super late to send out official notices (including school supply lists, nearly creating a financial issue for us), and not telling us ahead of time which door in a building the size of a full city block we should enter for his first day of school. I mean, if they’d just included the notice “Use door X which is on street Y” we wouldn’t have started the first day of school literally soaking with sweat and flushed from walking 4 additional blocks, quickly, in 90 degree heat. I’m also a little peeved that I signed him up for morning classes and they plunked him into afternoon, which take place riiiiight when he’s normally taking a nap. But there were too many kids signed up for AM so whatever.

But now we know what door to go to and what to do if he wants to eat lunch in the cafeteria first and we plan to have donuts or ice cream every Monday after school, and we know for sure which class he’s going to be in and which time, and that he’s going to have 3 field trips this year (the zoo, the Shedd Aquarium, Navy Pier). He’s got his own cubby and he’s met most of his class mates (and WOW there is a girl in his class who is a future Homecoming Queen/Lady President) and he’s gone on record as saying he won’t cry tomorrow when I drop him off and leave him there. So we’ll see how it goes.

School is a half mile away so unless I hang out up there (at the school? at Dunkin Donuts down the street?) I’ll be walking 2 miles a day to drop off/pick up. I’m not looking forward to doing that come winter. But we’ll survive.

Niko Dressed Himself

Niko Going To School

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Niko’s enrolled in school (finally!)

Niko’s enrolled in school (finally!)

After playing a bit of phone tag I finally managed to set up an appointment to come down to the school Niko will be attending this fall to enroll him. I had to bring his birth certificate and his medical card. If we didn’t have state insurance we would have had to bring other documents. The school wasn’t overly concerned with proving our address, I think, because it’s not a super great super desirable school. I’m not saying it’s a bad school, but some CPS neighborhood schools are HOT SHIT and people lie and scheme to get into them if they don’t live in the neighborhood.

The school’s 4 blocks (half a mile) away, which means I’ll be racking up 2 miles of walking a day once he starts, between drop offs and pick ups. We left early today to get to the appointment, because 4 year olds can be jerks on walks, and he kept insisting he was feeling pukey and needed to sit for a moment in the cool, cool shade under a tall, tall tree. Ha ha, what? Only he DOES barf when he gets over heated sometimes, only it usually involves 1) a car or 2) massive running around.

Despite our frequent stops, we got to the school early to enroll this boy.

It was interesting. The staff made 2 basic assumptions about our family, based largely on the neighborhood: 1) that we’re on state insurance (which is true, and we might continue to be on it (albeit paying for it) when Nesko’s eligible for insurance through work, we’ll see) and 2) that we don’t speak English at home (which would be true if my FIL had his way). Most kids coming into that school take a language fluency exam to determine which level of ESL classroom they’ll be in, but Niko’s really fluent in English (it’s his primary language) so he’ll just be in the English speaking class. School starts toward the end of August, there’s a class size of 22, and instead of buying supplies off a school supply list we outfit Niko with a book bag, give the school paper towels and tissues and hand soap, and pay a fee. That fee covers school supplies and a school-branded t-shirt they wear on field trips and for gym class. There’s two preschool classes, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and it lasts 2 1/2 hours. I signed him up for the morning class so he can come home and take a nap. I got a good vibe from the staff we met with. They seem very open, friendly, and caring. It sounded like they required Niko to be present (as opposed to “you can bring him if you need to” or whatever) but they didn’t really interact with him and instead he played with dinosaurs and then a really cool dollhouse while I filled out paperwork.

There was… a lot of paperwork.

I was kind of nervous or something… I’m dealing with some ~~ANXIETY~~ lately and being thrust into a new situation of enrolling my baby in school kind of ramped that up… and my hand writing was AWFUL. I was like “ahhh what am I dooooing I’m writing illegibly…. hand stop that. write nicely. hand! what the fuuuuuuck. I CAN PENMANSHIP I SWEAR IT!!!”

The regional gifted center is directly across the street and has a pretty nice (and completely unshaded and thus hot) playground. After all the boring paperwork I took Niko over there and he played with other kids and ran around for almost an hour.

My only concern with the enrollment process was that they asked some personal medical questions — which I understand the need for– but in a very public way. So you ask me, you know, is there any history of mental health issues in the family and I say yes… and I didn’t go into my own business because I was flustered but everyone around me (including other parents) heard what I said. And they asked why I had a C-Section. Some other medical stuff. Internets, you know I bloviate endlessly about the horrific mysteries of my gross body, but that’s somehow different from dropping info bombs in front of the parents of Niko’s future classmates. On the internet I discuss shitting my bed immediately after having a C-Section. In real life, I try to abstain from the grossity. Given the set up (a bunch of grown ass adults crouched on tiny chairs around circular tables in a class room) I don’t see how that could be prevented, though.

The teacher he will probably be having next year asked that we practice with him writing his own name. He’s gotten good at his nickname, but we’ll work on the whole name.

We need to get him a physical and dental visit and have the appropriate doctors fill out paperwork, but don’t need to do a vision or hearing screening (the school handles that), which is nice. They also offer flu vaccines.

Anyway, after the enrollment and playground playing we stopped at Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins for ice cream (which, as usual, turned into a donut) where I realized I didn’t have 1) my bank card or 2) my transit card. WIN! THIS IS WHAT WINNING LOOKS LIKE! Luckily I had a $5 Visa Gift Card that had enough of a balance on it to pay for our donuts, and when my emergency transit card turned out to be expired the driver just waved us through. Now Niko’s sitting around in the living room in his underpants, eating ice cream and playing with dinosaurs, and what I thought was a sunburn on his arms is pretty much faded, whew.

So.

Preschool in August.

Wow.

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Dinosaurs Alive! at Brookfield Zoo

Dinosaurs Alive! at Brookfield Zoo

My dad called me the other day and proposed that he and my mom would take us to Brookfield Zoo to see the Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit. They know Niko’s true and abiding love of dinosaurs, and thought he’d get a kick out of seeing some animatronic dinosaurs up close and personal. They were totally right!

Unlike Lincoln Park Zoo, which is free and closer to us, Brookfield Zoo has an admission fee and many exhibits have additional fees/admission costs as well. As such, we’ve taken Niko to Lincoln Park Zoo a few times, but neither Nesko nor I have been to Brookfield Zoo in at least twenty years. It was a little weird returning there, at least for me, since so much is the same as when I was a kid.

We parked in the North Lot, which cost $10, and met my parents. We went in together after my mom bought a family membership, which was cheaper than buying admission for 4 adults and a child and will let us come back many other times. As soon as we got in, my dad went to rent a wheelchair for my mom, who is having some hip pain, and I went to rent a wagon to haul our stuff. We’d brought a cooler of canned drinks and sandwiches, and a big bag that held swimming stuff, a towel, clean clothing, some chips, etc. There’s a splash pad we thought Niko might have fun at, but we wound up not hitting that side of the park. Brookfield Zoo has Electric Convenience Vehicles (scooters) for rent, but were out of them, so if you need one you probably need to get there super early OR call ahead to reserve one. The Wheelchair was $10.00 to rent it, but you need a credit card as a deposit; the wagon was $8.00 with an addition deposit of $10.00 which you get when you return the wagon and a barcode-printed piece of paper they give you. Niko wound up riding in the wagon for most of the visit, taking up half the space with the cooler in the other half.

Our first stop was the carousel.

Niko riding a camel on Brookfield Zoo's carousel.

Niko riding a camel on Brookfield Zoo’s carousel.

Niko’s never ridden a carousel before, and this huge and beautiful one was a great introduction. He wanted to ride the camel, which was stationary, so was a good choice for a first time rider. He held on super tightly at first, as instructed, but soon was comfortable enough to wave hello and good bye as we spun past Grandma, Tata, and Pop pop. We also found one of the limited edition dinosaur Mold-A-Rama machines near the carousel, the Trachodon.

We headed for the Dinosaurs Alive! area after that, and stumbled across two more Mold-A-Rama machines for T-Rex and Apatosaurus. Dinosaurs Alive! requires an additional ticket, and has presentations on various dinosaurs at different times. There’s big animatronics of various dinosaurs, some old favorites and some lesser known ones. Niko was excited to see T-Rex, Stegosaurus, Amargasaurus, Carnasaurus, Spinosaurus, and others he loves and was really interested in the new-to-him (some recently discovered) dinosaurs as well.

Dinosaurs Alive! at Brookfield Zoo

Some of the animatronics had control panels/buttons one can push to make the animatronics move or make noise. The buttons were pretty high up, though, so a little kid or someone in a wheelchair would have a hard time reaching them without assistance.

Niko makes an animatronic Triceratops roar.

Niko makes an animatronic Triceratops roar.

There was a “Feathers and Fossils” exhibit under a tent (which was pretty warm) with some hands on stuff kids could do, including “digging” for “fossils” (molded bones embedded in a matrix and covered in shredded rubber, which they can brush aside with brushes), reproductions of fossilized bones and eggs people can touch, articulated skeleton replicas, and animatronic dinosaurs that move and roar. There was information about recent dinosaur discoveries, like juvenile T-Rex being covered in feathers, and brief presentations about competing theories like whether dinos were cold blooded or warm blooded.

A juvenile T-Rex animatronic, covered in feathers, at Brookfield Zoo.

A juvenile T-Rex animatronic, covered in feathers, at Brookfield Zoo.

I was disappointed that the only exit from Dinosaurs Alive! involved walking through the gift shop. Predictably, Niko melted down because he wasn’t getting toys (other than the Mold-A-Ramas he was clutching in his hands at the time).

We broke for a picnic lunch after the Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit, settling in on some benches under some shade. I brought sandwiches and stuff from home, which my mom didn’t think would be allowed. I double checked the zoo’s website and didn’t see any rules about outside food and drinks, or even if glass containers were banned. My gut says skip the glass containers though as many venues in Chicago ban them because of the dangers of broken glass. (Lincoln Park Zoo has a ban on disposable straws which doesn’t seem to be in effect at Brookfield Zoo, interestingly.) If you don’t want to schlepp your own big cooler around, though, there are a LOT of places to buy hot dogs, pulled pork sandwiches, fresh popcorn, massive soft pretzels, ice cream, beer, frozen cokes, and more. As you might expect, they’re really expensive. Like, $10 for a glass of beer expensive.

We sauntered over to the Dolphin Show after lunch, but we’d missed the show by like a minute (NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO) and the next one wasn’t for 90 minutes. So we scoped out the dolphins under water, and found the (pink) Stegosaurus Mold-A-Rama next to the (blue) leaping dolphin Mold-A-Rama.

Niko watches dolphins at Brookfield Zoo.

Niko watches dolphins at Brookfield Zoo.

Niko was starting to get tired, even though he’d been hauled in his wagon chariot for 90% of the trip, and turned up his nose at seeing the seals underwater. He lobbied hard to go play at the park near the 7 Seas Exhibit and of course we gave in. My parents left for home around that time. The playground had a train theme, almost as if they’d designed it to Niko’s specifications, and he had a fun time running around and playing tag with other kids.

Niko sticks his head through a conductor cut out at Brookfield Zoo's playground.

Niko sticks his head through a conductor cut out at Brookfield Zoo’s playground.

We lured him back into the wagon with promises of ice cream, and saw some more animals (a sleeping tapir, some sleeping kangroos…. or wallabies maybe?… some bored looking emu), and found the last two Mold-A-Rama dinosaurs (Stegosaurus and Corythosaurus) near the Rhinos/Elephants.

We returned the wagon, to Niko’s dismay. He really did not want to WALK on his FEET using his LEGS and there were several melt downs on the way back to the car that included him wailing “I don’t WANT to WALK. I’m too SLEEPY to WALK. But I really want ICE CREAM. I’m NOT too sleepy to eat ICE CREAM so I am WALKING but I DO NOT WANT TO WALK.” A woman ahead of us, pushing a stroller, kept laughing at him because he was being so dramatic and ridiculous.

We loaded into the car and drove off, stopping at a Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins where Niko once again elected for a sprinkle donut over ice cream. Dude loves his carbs I guess. He sacked out on the way home and had a really long nap, his Mold-A-Rama dinosaurs keeping watch over him.

Brookfield Zoo was really accessible using a big bulky wagon. My dad pushed my mom in the wheelchair (if she were a longer term wheelchair user I expect she’d push herself… I don’t know that she’s used a wheelchair before) and neither the chair nor the wagon had problems getting anywhere we wanted to go. There’s a lot of ramps, some of them sliiiiightly steep, but not enough to give us problems. I saw a lot of people with strollers, wagons, manual wheel chairs, electric wheelchairs, and scooters and nobody seemed to have any problems getting around or into attractions. Contrast this with Lincoln Park Zoo where I had serious problems getting baby Niko into newly constructed buildings when he was in a stroller… lots of exhibits had heavy narrow doors without automatic open buttons, and lots of stairs with no ramp or elevator alternative. So Brookfield Zoo definitely wins on physical accessibility, although it’s more expensive and can be harder to get to.

We didn’t look at many animals today. Our main focus was the Dinosaurs Alive! exhibit. I’m hoping that we can visit once a month or so with my parents’ membership and get to see more of the animals, including the Dolphin show.

If you’re thinking of heading to Brookfield Zoo, I’d recommend you check out the different pricing options, bring your own lunch, and consider renting a wagon or bringing your own. The wagon made a huge difference with a four year old in tow. Check out the zoo’s map and Exhibit and Animal Guide as well as the Exhibit Updates to plan your visit. Don’t forget your sunscreen, and your water, and have a great time!

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Adler After Dark: Totally Awesome

Adler After Dark: Totally Awesome

Thanks to IZEA, I was able to snag a friend and go to Adler After Dark yesterday night. I can’t even remember the last time I put on eyeshadow and did a thing that didn’t involve a small child, so it was a VERY welcome break. I double checked my info right before leaving and was stunned and thrilled to find out that the event was a themed Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy event.

Did I bring my towel?

Of course I did.

And then I felt like a big doof because I was the only person lugging a towel around and what kind of dork hauls a towel around with them even if there IS a HGttG event going on? But then I saw these guys:

Two guys dressed as Arthur Dent (robe, towel) at Adler After Dark's Hichhiker's Guide To The Galaxy event.

Two guys dressed as Arthur Dent (robe, towel) at Adler After Dark’s Hichhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy event.

I have not seen that book in years. <3

And then later I saw a bunch more people with towels and felt better, and used the towel as a pad to cushion my butt while sitting on stairs so it DID come in handy, as towels always do.

We hung out on the patio a bit and took some photos of the skyline, like this one:

Chicago's Skyline, taken from the patio of the Adler Planetarium.

Chicago’s Skyline, taken from the patio of the Adler Planetarium.

Chicago is so freaking gorgeous.

We also checked out the big solar system models hanging from the ceiling, like this one:

Part of the Solar System exhibit at Adler Planetarium.

Part of the Solar System exhibit at Adler Planetarium.

And we investigated the Historic Atwood Sphere which is a year long astronomy display and discussion in ten minutes. It’s a big globe of really thin metal with holes punched through it, replicating a starry sky. Living in Chicago, with all the light pollution we have, we don’t see that many stars. I remember the first time Nesko took me to my parents’ home and saw the sky, all lit up. It was impressive, a flash back to his own childhood vacations in Wisconsin. This was a nice flash back. Also: some of the stars portrayed are no longer visible to us because they’ve died and their light no longer reaches us. HISTORY. The Sphere usually involves a special ticket that cost $6, I’m really glad we were able to see it.

One thing I thought was really cool was an Armillary that transforms into an Astrolabe. How cool is that? Very cool.

Armillary

Armillary

Astrolabe

Astrolabe

There was so much to see, and we didn’t manage to see it all. There were science talks and displays and shows, so much going on!

We also got to see a special sneak preview of Project 891 Theatre Company’s “Jim and Dave(‘s blood meets Jupiter),” a funny buddy comedy intergalactic road trip musical that will be premiering in… August? Maybe? I couldn’t find information about upcoming shows, but we have tentative plans to check it out. It shared a lot of effortless-seeming absurd comedy with HGttG.

I haven’t been to Adler in about five years, and forgot just how great it is. The 146 bus drops off at the front door, but there’s also a small parking lot close by (we paid $13 for night time parking, I think it’s a little more for day time parking). If you’re interested in visiting Adler, their admission information page is here and really clear to read, unlike some museums we’ve looked at recently. They have a lot of super fun looking special events. Niko’s big love right now is Dinosaurs, with Trains a close second, but outer space is not far behind at all. I foresee a membership to Adler in our future.

I really love Chicago, and a big part of that love is how many different awesome museums we have. Sometimes Niko watches “Sid the Science Kid” and the kids troop off to a “Science Center” and I feel a little bummed because we don’t have those in Chicago. But duh, we have That Adler Planetarium, The Museum of Science and Industry, The Field Museum, The Shedd Aquarium, and more.

I am super, super glad I got to attend an Adler After Dark event. I’m excited about upcoming ones, and would love to take Nesko to them as a recurring date night or something. OMG NERRRRRRRDS. They happen once a month, on the third Thursday. Admission is only $12 in advance ($9 for members) or $17 at the door ($12 for members) and includes access to all the exhibits (like the Historic Atwood Sphere, which usually is an additional $6 ticket) and sky shows AND if you have your act together and get there between 6:30 and 7:45 you can check out the Doane Observatory (if you are the type of person who’s late to things, though, you can reserve a space ahead of time).

If you’re in or near Chicago, check this out! It’s well worth a special trip. Just remember it’s 21 and up only, so leave any kids someplace else.

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Six and Three is Nine, Nine and Nine is Eighteen..

Six and Three is Nine, Nine and Nine is Eighteen..

One of Niko’s favorite books right now is this coffee-table like book that’s full of photos of Chicago. It’s about fifteen years old, so there’s some photos of Marshall Field’s, and the Carson Pirie Scott building isn’t a Target, etc. Niko likes to look at the buildings and Nesko and I talk to him about what buildings we’ve been in, and he likes to look at the skylines and try to find CTA trains and buses.

We drove down to visit my parents and their dogs yesterday, and on our way back we detoured through downtown Chicago. It was night and the buildings were all lit up, and Niko could pick out the John Hancock building and the Sears Tower (fuck you, “Willis”) and looked for the CNA building but couldn’t see it. He kept enthusing “Oh, oh! This is just like my Chicago book! This is just like being in my Chicago book!” so that was really cool. And now we have a list of places he wants to walk around and visit when it’s warmer, including the Buckingham Fountain and having a picnic on the green grounds outside of the Shedd Aquarium, and going on a boat tour on the river.

We had plans to go to the Aquarium or the Museum of Science and Industry today (some glorious angel gave us a family membership to it) but it’s cold as hell out, two of us are recovering from illness and one of us is tiptoeing in illnesses direction, etc so we’re staying in and spending some family time together instead.

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2012 Day Out With Thomas

2012 Day Out With Thomas

One of the things I like about our little family is the traditions we’re developing like going to Day Out With Thomas (2 years in a row) or to Wagner Farm every year for the Rotary Club fund raising (3 years in a row) or… uh. I guess that’s it, so far.

Anyway, we made the trek up to The Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Illinois for the 2012 Day Out With Thomas. It was great. It was fun last year, but it was rainy, and Niko was younger and cranky and nap disruptions made everything terrible (everything!). And even though he’s been a jerk about sleeping and napping lately, he’s old enough that he was able to hold his shit together allowing us to explore and do more things.

"Niko Posing With Thomas"

Nikola turns around long enough for a photo.

As they do, they had platforms set up for photo ops with Thomas. There were three platforms and of course the one in the middle was the most popular. There were professional photographers and you had the option to view and purchase a pro photo (perhaps in a fancy commemorative frame?) but we did not go that route because we are cheap assholes with our own (shitty) camera. How shitty? Let me just say that if you have an iPhone 4 your phone has a batter camera than my straight up camera. I discarded literally over half the photos I took because they were crap not because of anything I did but because it’s just a crap camera. Enough complaining! Niko was far more interested in checking out Thomas than turning around for his photo op, but he was very kind and patient with us and eventually turned around and consented to have his photo taken. Bless. We only backed the line up a LITTLE bit.

"Nikola checks out a hand car"

Nikola checks out a hand car.

There are many, many sheds with trains on display– engines, coaches, freight cars, CTA cars, cabooses, and more. Most of them have signs and are genteely roped off but apparently it’s ok to climb on this one. At least I hope it’s ok. Other people were doing so and there were no ropes or signs saying not to. Here’s Niko on a yellow hand car.

"Nikola sees a huge steam engine"

Nikola is stunned by the sheer immensity of a black steam engine.

And here he is checking out a huge black steam engine which, he was quick to tell us, looked just like Gordon. Well of course.

"Nikola and Nesko in front of a steam enginge"

Nikola and Nesko stand in front of a big steam engine.

I took, no exaggeration, about 50 photos of the awesome trains inside the sheds including the Nebraska Zephyr and some simply IMMENSE engines. None of them turned out. My camera, a point and shoot, has issues with its flash I guess. The photos in strong natural light, like this one, turned out much better. Steam engines are incredibly huge! And loud! And huge! I kind of have a thing for taking photos of people in front of GIANT TIRES and have done so both here and at Wagner Farm in front of a tractor’s giant tires.

"Niko on a caboose"

Niko also got to check out a caboose.

He also got to clamber around a caboose/brake van. It’s a cheerful red, as cabooses should be.

We went on a short street car ride but skipped the longer 19 mile ride because Niko was fading fast and while Nesko thought it’d be a chance for us all to relax including Niko, I was afraid Niko would get cranky and disrupt things. We checked out the Zephyr, which Niko’s been talking about for months, and also checked out the CTA train they’ve been restoring. We were also able to check out the museum’s gift shop and we bought a beautiful print for $5 of a pencil drawing of street car passing the Chicago theater.

This was a super great time and if we lived closer than an hour away we’d seriously consider buying a membership. A family membership costs $65, which is pretty cheap, and they have lots of events and it’d be super fun to just be able to look at the trains and ride them whenever we had a weekend to do so. We miiiiight look into hotels in the area and do a 3 day vacation out there, exploring the railway museum and also the Wild West Town and KOA campground and one room school house in the are. I AM A SUCKER FOR HISTORICAL REENACTMENTS, you have no idea.

Maybe you’re curious as to how accessible the museum is. There are designated handicap parking spaces on asphalt, but most of the parking is on grass, which may not be as much of an issue on NON Day Out With Thomas days. There are wide paved walkways throughout the grounds of the museum, but many of the sheds have a step to get in and some of them are not super well lit. They have paved walkways in the sheds. Some of the doorways are not very wide. I don’t think any of the trains are accessible. They are historic trains with narrow, steep, widely spaced steps. We all had problems boarding and disembarking. The museum has golf cart “courtesy shuttles” for Day Out With Thomas, but I don’t know if they have them at other times. The museum gift shop has a ramp leading up to it, but it’s narrow inside. I saw people at Day Out With Thomas using wheel chairs, motorized chairs, walkers, crutches, braces, and assistance dogs. So obviously some persons with disabilities are able to navigate the museum. There were also a lot of people using strollers and wagons along the pathways and over the grassy areas, although those weren’t allowed on the trains or in the gift store or in the museum’s diner. There were many portapotties, some of which were accessible, but I don’t know if those are a constant fixture or brought in specially for Day Out With Thomas. The diner has a big bathroom and the lady’s room had a handicapped stall but I don’t remember if the doorways were wide enough for a wheel chair user. It’s a newer building, though.

To sum up, “Day Out With Thomas” was a great time. I don’t think it’s possible for a more perfect day to have happened. We had a really good time and just as Niko talked about last year’s event all year I’m sure he’ll be talking about this year’s event for a long time as well. If you have the chance to attend “Day Out With Thomas,” or the Illinois Railway Museum, and you or someone you love is All About Trains, check it out. It’s well worth the money and the drive.

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