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Thursday, July 01, 2010

Worst Day Ever

To quote the words of the soaking-wet woman standing next to me in the airless alcove outside Park Grill in Millennium Park, Chicago, "Worst day ever."

Well maybe not quite, but close.

Last Wednesday Scott and I made the unfortunate decision to brave the sketchy-looking weather and head into Chicago for a picnic supper and free concert (Pink Martini) outside in the gorgeous Millennium Park. I packed everything we could possibly need for the afternoon and evening: Sam's swimsuit for splashing in the fountain, a big fluffy towel, a chair and blankets for the grass, two bags of food and yummy drinks, a massive golf umbrella in case it rained, (HA! IN CASE it rained! HA!), extra clothes, and gear for the baby.

Needless to say, the double Bob would be loaded down, with barely room to spare for the kids.

Back home, I checked radar at 3pm that afternoon, the steamy 90 degree forecast predicted rain at 6pm, and then at 9pm, but no big deal. We decided to go for it.

What followed should have absolutely nominated us for the Worst Parents of the Year award.

Driving in wasn't too bad, it took us the usual 45 minutes or so. After buying a lovely supper at one of my favorite spots, Fox and Obel, we headed south for the park. I made the extremely fortunate plea that we go ahead and pay for parking nearby, rather then circling the Loop and having to walk for blocks and blocks. We unload the kids, the food, the blankets, the chair and round the corner to the fountains where it began to spit big, fat, juicy raindrops on our heads.

The sky was grey, but at this point it didn't look too ominous. We changed Sam into his swimsuit so he could splash around with the other kids and I left Scott there with a towel and the golf umbrella, taking the baby in the stroller to find some cover from the rain.

I walked around in the drizzle, eyeing the heavy trees off to the side, and thought to myself, "Hmm, I probably better find a building or something to tuck under, just in case it gets worse."

A few yards ahead I spotted the small overhang for the entrance to Park Grill, a nice restaurant tucked underneath Millennium Park. Connected to it was an un-air conditioned tiny alcove where people could wait for the restaurant, the to-go cafe, or go down some stairs to yet another subterranean parking lot.

Suddenly it thundered. LOUD. I got a text from Scott asking me if I was ok, and texted him back that it was time to get Sam out of the water and under cover. Lightening. More lightening. Louder thunder. The rain turned from a steady flow to a downpour, soaking the half of the stroller that wasn't covered by the overhang. I took the baby out of the stroller and held her close, watching people flee in from the rain and join me.

Scott came sauntering up, towel slung over his shoulders, umbrella covering him. Sam is dancing and jumping and leaping along behind him, not scared in the least by the loud sounds of thunder crashing overhead. We, along with the 30 some people that are also watching from the windows of the alcove, laugh and chuckle at how well dressed he is for the occasion. His joy is near contagious, until the rain somehow manages to pour down even HARDER, and three particularly loud cracks of lightening and thunder send all four of us into the airless, hot, crowded alcove.

Scott is holding a wiggly Sam, trying to contain him in the small space. The baby is fussy, of course, poor thing, and our stuff outside is getting drenched. We look at each other and Scott decides to see if we can get to our car from the door off the back of the alcove. He disappears, taking Sam with him.

Not two minutes after he leaves, all hell breaks loose. Literally. The sky turns green. The wind tries to blow over the massive tent outside. Trees are bent sideways. Tornado sirens. Huge lightening and crazy thunder. Emergency personnel come to the door, "Everyone remain calm. We need to get you underground immediately."

People are running in from the streets, tourists off the double decker buses covered in big plastic bag ponchos, party attendees from a private event in that tent across the sidewalk, panic in their eyes and stricken on their faces.

And I wait in the corner, holding the baby, trying to figure out what to do. Scott and a no-longer-smiling Sam return, fighting the flow of people-traffic hurrying down the cement staircase to the parking garage below.

"We can't get to our car from here, but let's load the kids in the stroller and walk them down the steps. Can't use the elevator in case the power goes out."

Um, ok. Because that makes sense. Because our stroller and the precious bread from Fox and Obel matters. But neither of us was thinking rationally at this point. You are just panicked and horrified at yourself for even being in the situation.

So we brave the wind and wheel the stroller into the alcove, strap the kids in and get ready to lift it when suddenly, the sirens stop. Two minutes pass, people start to come up again from underground, security personnel escort party goers back to the tent. It's still raining, still lightening and thundering, but evidently the dire threat has passed.

We look at each other again, trying to figure out what to do. Scott thinks we should run for it, try to make it to our car where I can feed the baby, we all can dry off and then head home as soon as we are able. I am dubious but unsure of what the right course of action is. The baby is miserable, crying, and Sam is getting cold. I hand him a hunk of soggy baguette and he begs for the oatmeal raisin walnut cookie instead.

"Ok, let's do it," I say.

As we wheel the cumbersome stroller out the door, I hear an older woman mutter under her breath to her companion, "I wouldn't take MY children out into that for anything." I cannot even describe the shame and utter fear that swept over me in that moment. But we soldiered on.

Pulling the flaps down over the kids as low as they'll go, Scott attempted to keep the umbrella over them as we ran. I'm sprinting, trying to decide where the safest path lies as almost constant thunder and lightening play overhead. Do we weave our way through the line of metal sculptures? Hmm, no. Do we run by the block-long pool of water sandwiched by two towers? Hmm, no again. What are we doing?! The rain is like a waterfall, difficult to see in, drenching and heavy.

And then. AND THEN, just as we decide to run out to the street and race along Michigan to our parking lot entrance, the tornado sirens go off again.

If I had felt fear before, THIS was something else. They were unbelievably loud, echoing off the sky scrapers around us. I glanced around in a panic, we are the only people in sight. EVERYONE else is under shelter. "WHAT. ARE. WE. DOING?!?!?!?!?!!?" I scream at Scott in a mindless panic. We're about halfway to our car lot, do we turn around or keep going?

"You can do it, come on honey!" Scott shouts at me, and we sprint and sprint, running as fast as we can. I am regretting all the gear that I packed earlier in the day, to say the least. Breathless, I am regretting many things at this point.

We at last pull up to yet another alcove and there are 30 more people standing there watching us wheel our stroller in through the doorway. With trepidation I raise Sam's stroller covering, his feet are sitting in a deep pool of water. He beams out at us, causing a ripple of laughter to flow over the watching crowd. I raise the flap on my FOUR MONTH OLD BABY. Her face is a different story and will haunt me for a long time to come. Praise God she will have no memory of this, except for this blog post which I may end up deleting out of shame. Poor sweet thing.

We make our way down to the car, take a deep breath and regroup. I feed the baby. We change Sam into dry clothes. We eat some of our picnic. Or Scott and Sam eat, I can't swallow past the massive lump of guilt sitting in my throat. We decide it's ok to head home.

And then we sit. In traffic. For two and a half hours. Because we deserve it for being Worst Parents of the Year.

It was a horrible experience, but we learned from it. I can honestly say that was the first time I'd checked the weather and had the outcome be worse then what was predicted.

We were going on past experience. But I won't run that chance again with babies on my watch, that's for sure.


astapp said...

Wow, what an experience. I feel an urge to tell my Worst Parenting Moment but will refrain. I know you were so looking forward to this evening so I'm especially sorry that it did live up. Maybe we can talk today?

Kristin M. said...

Oh my, what a story! I can totally see myself getting caught in that situation...and I would have made a run for it too. You're not a bad parent for getting caught in that storm. The woman who judged you...well I bet her kids don't have half the fun in life that yours do. I do empathise about the look of terror on Charlotte's face though. I have seen it on Cora's, and the guilt lingers for a long time. You are a GREAT mother.

Jen said...

Aw thanks guys, this makes me want to cry! :) Thank goodness for good friends who won't let you wallow in your mistakes. Love you both.

astapp said...

Hi friend. One more thing... thank you for not being afraid to write about the highs and lows. Oh, and I know I would have done the same thing, convincing myself it would be an adventure. Love you.

Anita Johnson said...

I remember a few experiences with the kids that were SO frightening. They are part of life, and they happen to the best of parents... even the best plans can't prevent them. So you bravely rally the troops and head out again...a bit wiser, with God in control. Always.