I am taking a rather unexpected trip to Chicago tomorrow. My oldest son is checking out a school, and we have an admissions appointment. I’m really excited for him to have finally found something, some course of action for his future, that excites him. I haven’t seen this level of enthusiasm in him in a very long time.
This will be our first mother/son trip. I realized that today. Isn’t that strange? The girls and I have often taken trips, both long and short, near and far. Our “Chick Trips” have become commonplace. We often discuss where and when our next trip will be. Likewise, T has taken the boys places, mostly camping and hiking. Tomorrow will be a first for Andrew and I. We are taking an official trip together – mother and son.
I have a love/hate relationship with Chicago. As a “downstater,” we often feel short-changed by the amount of tax dollars that are shifted to the city. On the other hand, I do appreciate the economic benefits we all reap from Chicago. Then there is the perception that if you tell anyone that you’re from Illinois, they assume you mean Chicago. That’s a far cry from my rural community of 1800 people. I’m proud to live in the country. I’m proud of my heritage and where I come from – farm country. I don’t want anybody to mistake me for a city slicker!
I have my own personal history with the city of Chicago. I had a fear of the “big city” not so very long ago. My travels brought me to the city often enough, and I made memories that were at among the very best in my life. That changed, though. Life has a way of peeling away the layers. Truths are revealed, and often (sadly) you come to realize that all the glitter and glitz, fun times, and excitement have an edge of ugliness. All is not as it once seemed. Those good memories became tainted.
The past is the past, though. Chicago has not been a place that I have been able to avoid. Several times each year, I must travel to the city for work. (I will be there again next month for four days.) Other times, I have traveled there with the girls. My innocence is gone. I once opened my heart to Chicago and loved her, but she proved to be a fickle friend. My trust of the city is no longer intact. Chicago has become something else to me now. I think of her as a beautiful, yet cold place. Part of her is callous, indifferent, and artificial, but there is another part of Chicago, too. There is history, beauty, art, and music. There are sights, smells, and tastes. There is dancing and romance. All of this is Chicago. It is all swirled together. Maybe some people can pick it out. They are able to take the good parts and discard the rest. I can’t. It all swirls around and around me when I am in the city. Layers of memory as fine as mist cling to me in Chicago. I can’t breathe deeply until I am on the train and heading back out into the open land. I trust the fields and the sky. Chicago, I can’t trust. Chicago is quicksand, and I must step quickly and carefully to avoid being sucked under.
Tomorrow, I will explore the places where old memories were once a reality. I will see sights that were once seen through different, more innocent and trusting eyes. This time, my grown up, yet young and tender son, will be by my side. Chicago, please be kind to my son. Treat him with respect. Keep on your good face. Educate him, enlighten him, but please don’t let him see what hides behind your shadows.