Chicago with kids: Nonstop fun

Let’s pretend we’re penguins!

My husband and I have a serious travel bug, but we’ve been grounded since having kids. For either cost or reasons lacking courage, we haven’t had it in us to go anywhere far with twins.

But we just got back from Chicago, and I’m so glad we went. The kids had a blast. We had a great time. It was amazing.

We started by driving to New Buffalo, Michigan, then taking an hour-long train ride into the city. The kids thought this was amazing and we thought it was economical and relaxing. For all four of us to take the train round-trip, it was $120. We’d have to pay $50 a day to park in Chicago.

girl at Adler Planetarium exhibit

Mission control at Adler Planetarium

After a short cab ride (another thrill for the kids) to our Airbnb, we set out to explore. My husband did great research and found a reasonably affordable place to stay that was central to what we wanted to see and do, as well as close to public transport. Luckily, the kids are just 5, so they ride for free on city buses and trains. Do your research, though. I thought we’d Uber around with them, but in Illinois, Uber has to abide by car seat laws, which means we’d have to tote their boosters around or pay an additional $10 per seat through Uber. Public transportation such as taxis and buses are considered commercial, so boosters aren’t necessary.

Our first stop was the Field Museum. I was warned that the museum was outdated, stuffy and not too kid-friendly. I found it the exact opposite. Just as we passed through the admission area, a dinosaur walked out — and not a Barney type, either. This guy was impressive! The museum was awesome with lots to look at, touch and do. But take this little bit of advice: Pack your own food. We had a small snack from the café there of three bags of chips, a water and two chocolate milks. Our total was $18.

boy watching two dolphins

Dolphin watching at Shedd Aquarium

The next day, we went to the Shedd Aquarium. It was a blast. From climbing rocks dressed like penguins to seeing the dolphin show and even watching a 4D SpongeBob movie, we all had a great time.

Finally, we headed to the Adler Planetarium. We didn’t spend a ton of time here, but what time we did spend was fun. It was definitely my least favorite of the three; it had a great play area for kids, but the rest of the museum went way over my 5-year-old’s head.

All in all, it was a great trip. I wish we’d been able to experience more of the cuisine, but time for that wasn’t in our favor. I guess we’ll have to go back again!

– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer enjoying her newly enhanced mom status and past Parenting Program participant.

Holiday travel tips for parents

Family with luggage at train station

Cropped image. Sigfrid Lundberg, Flickr. CC license.

Traveling during the holiday season can sometimes be scary: traffic jams, winter weather, delayed flights, and crowded airports are a few of the concerns. When you add squirming kids into the equation, you may be tempted to simply stay home. Nevertheless, millions of Americans will hit the road, looking forward to visiting relatives, reconnecting with old friends, or even taking a long-awaited vacation to a warm and sunny family resort. Exploring with your family creates wonderful memories for the future. So don’t be afraid; go and enjoy your time away!

General Travel Tips

  • Pack only what you need for the trip. Diapers, wipes, etc. can be purchased once you’re at your destination. Some equipment like strollers, pack & plays, and feeding chairs can often be rented. One site to check out for baby equipment rental is Traveling Baby Co.
  • Dress baby in comfortable clothes.
  • Keep a spare set of clothes and/or shirt packed and easily accessible in case of spills and spit ups.
  • Keep your baby’s routine the same whenever possible.
  • Be mindful of little travelers’ limits. They need to have time to rest and be quiet.
  • Provide opportunities for kids to just be kids. Do not overschedule activities.
  • Be prepared for last minute adjustments.
  • Use bottles with disposable liners so that you have less bottle washing.
  • Purchase a special gift/gifts (do not need to be expensive) to help entertain your child.
  • It’s OK to relax some of your guidelines, such as treats and screen time, when traveling long distances.

Plane Travel Tips

  • Take early morning flights whenever possible as planes tend to be more on time in the morning and flight crews are refreshed.
  • Allow for extra time at the airport.
  • If possible, book your flights during non-peak travel times, Mondays–Wednesdays. Try to book non-stop flights whenever possible.
  • Check as much luggage as possible at the front ticketing counter. Walking or running through an airport is much easier without luggage. Keep stroller to push baby and simply check it at the gate.
  • Board the airplane last so as not to have extra time sitting on the airplane. If two adults are traveling, have one board with the luggage to get it stowed in advance and have the other wait in the terminal with the baby.
  • If traveling alone with baby/child, book a window and aisle seat and hope that the middle seat will remain vacant. If it becomes occupied, the passenger will always switch with you for the aisle or window.
  • Don’t feel strapped to your seat for the entire flight, it’s OK to get up and walk around when the “fasten seat belt” light is off.
  • Consider sitting in the back of the airplane where the engines are a little noisier. It provides white noise to calm baby if baby is crying.
  • If baby is sleeping on takeoff and landing, let them sleep. If not, try feeding. Have older children chew gum or drink beverages.
  • Log on to your airline’s website to receive notifications about flight delays.
  • Websites to visit prior to flying include:

Car Travel Tips

  • Travel at night or during nap times when babies are most likely to sleep.
  • Stop and stretch every few hours. Plan for the trip to take more time than when you traveled without children.
  • Avoid rush hour in big cities.
  • Try to keep kids entertained by playing games, reading books, etc.
  • Never leave baby in car unattended.

– Lori Polakowski is an IFS coordinator for the Parenting Program. This former flight attendant traveled extensively with her children.

A vacation miracle has occurred

Rear view of a little boy looking at a butterfly

My son got up-close with a butterfly at the Butterfly House on Mackinac Island. There seemed to be way more butterflies there than at the zoo. You even get a handy picture guide when you walk in to help you identify the butterflies.

Before we had kids, my husband and I were travel enthusiasts. We went to Europe three times, Hawaii, California, did a Route 66 road trip, and a number of other adventures. We thought we’d be the couple that continued to travel with kids. They’d be cultured, well-traveled people.


Traveling with kids is hard, not fun and, frankly, horrible. Schedules get messed up, environments are different, and nothing is kid proofed. But just last month, we had a breakthrough. We took the kids to Mackinaw City and actually enjoyed ourselves. All of us.

It was nothing short of a miracle.

People looking out at the water with an American flag

My daughter and husband made it to the top of Castle Rock in St. Ignace, Mich. When we got to the top, the kids didn’t care about the view they had climbed 170 steps to see. They just wanted to get dinner.

The kids were excited to go. We were excited to show them things that we did as kids and — here’s the important thing — we had zero expectations for a good time. Much to our surprise, we had age on our side. The kids are 4.5 now, so they understanding more and have longer endurance. They were fascinated with exploring Mackinac Island and thought climbing Castle Rock was a hoot. The boat ride to the island was a first for them as was their first trip across the Mackinac Bridge; they were seeing everything with fresh eyes and a sense of wonder.

It was actually fun.

Traveling was a huge part of who we were as a couple. It had been so long since either of us had the chance to enjoy being anywhere, it was a huge relief that we enjoyed ourselves, even if we have been to Mackinac a million times. I was starting to worry that my frequent flyer miles were just going to sit and rot in my account; that I’d never again enjoy the smell of a hotel; or get the pre-vacation excited butterflies.

Now I have hope.

I’m realistic, though. I know we’re not going on any long-haul flights or staying anywhere exotic anytime soon. But “someday” doesn’t feel so far away anymore, and it also doesn’t seem like a pipedream.

No one really talks about all the parts of you that fall away when you become a parent. Many of the things that made up your life before kids just don’t fit anymore and, like losing a friend, you miss those things. For me, it’s traveling. For you, it’s different.

But I’m here to tell you, I’m holding on to the dream that one day I can share Paris, my favorite place so far, with my kids. I want to go to a patisserie with them and share a warm baguette on a park bench. I want to wander old streets and get lost and have adventures. I may not be able to do this tomorrow, but I will. Some day.

– Rebecca Calappi is a Publications Coordinator at Beaumont Health and adoptive parent of multiples.

Are we there yet?

Little girl looking out a train window

Unaltered image. Stuart Richards, Flickr. CC license.

Summer is a great time to disconnect from the family routine and hit the road! In our family, the summer months always provide an opportunity to travel. Recently we took our kids on a road trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and I found myself relying on some of the same “travel tools” we’ve used since our first child was born 13 years ago. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Pack a “car bag” to keep in the front of the car. Include garbage bags, wipes, hand sanitizer, water, and easy-to-eat-and-dole-out snacks — things like cereal (Apple Jacks are a favorite!), bagels, dried fruit, apples, lollipops. We also always pack plastic cups because they’re a great way to pass out snacks that aren’t packed individually and they can be reused for later snacks (plus, you can manage the portions). This is a great idea for plane or train rides, too!
  • Clean out the car at every stop. It makes the arrival so much easier in terms of getting rid of trash and it keeps your car clean along the way.
  • Pack headphones for each child. It allows the adults to listen to what they want to hear on the radio.
  • Each child in our family gets their own small duffel bag that gets packed in the back of the car. I use the bag like a set of drawers once we are at our destination. It makes finding things super easy for each kid and it keeps each child’s clothes separated and organized.
  • If any of your children have a special blanket, I suggest packing one in their duffel bag and keeping an extra one in the car so they can access it easily anytime you’re in the car.
  • For the toddlers in our family, I always pack a small “surprise” backpack that I fill beforehand with dollar items from Target: a coloring book, crayons, a book or two, stickers, Play-Doh®, Slinky®, bag of plastic animals … anything cheap that I would be willing to throw out at the end of the trip and that will keep them interested and busy in the car and at our destination. These are also great to bring along to restaurants to keep the little ones seated and busy!
  • Travel with cash. You never know when you’ll find a cool spot to stop at that doesn’t take debit/credit cards.
  • Time your gas stops with an opportunity for everyone to use the bathroom, stretch their legs, and perhaps buy a treat snack at the convenience store. This often motivates our kids to push on for one more hour on long trips.

Over the years, I’ve learned not to focus too much on just getting there. Some of our best memories were made on an unexpected pit stop or during a car game that produced a funny chant that we still sing today. And while the destination certainly provides its own share of memories, try to remember to enjoy the ride too!

– Andree Palmgren is a parent volunteer with the Beaumont Parenting Program and mom of four kids ages 13, 11, 8 and 4.

Are you ready for Child Passenger Safety Week?

As parents and caregivers, we try to do everything within our power to protect our children. We take them to the doctor for check-ups. We make them hold our hand in a parking lot, and look both ways before they cross the street.

September 13 – 19 is Child Passenger Safety Week. It’s when we focus on protecting our children from the leading cause of death for infants and children under the age of 13: car accidents. It’s time to focus on the proper way to restrain child passengers in our vehicles. And before you click the next item in your digital life, assuming that you know all you need to about the proper use of car seats, take a look at this:

Know if your child is in the right seat


Most estimates say that 80 to 90 percent of people are doing something with their car seat that they shouldn’t be, or not doing something that they should be. So in case you’re not one of the people in the top ring, Child Passenger Safety Week is a great time to have your child’s car seat checked. Safe Kids Macomb County is having the following check-up events, with no appointment necessary.

  • September 12; 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Walter Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills
  • September 19; 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Babies R Us on Hall Road in Sterling Heights

In addition, many AAA offices, as well as the Macomb and Oakland County Health Departments offer car seat safety checks by appointment. Call your local offices for more information.

There is no substitute for having a complete car seat safety inspection by a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician. However here a few quick reminders to help you keep the child passengers in your life safe until you can get to a check-up event.

1. Never use a car seat that is recalled, expired or was involved in a car accident. Those seats are unsafe and should be destroyed. If you aren’t the original owner of your car seat, and you don’t know its history, don’t use the seat.

2. Do not use extra add-on products in, on or around your car seat. Mirrors, toys, strap covers and other products haven’t been crash safety tested, and take away from the safety of the seat.

3. Always use the proper seat for your child’s height, weight and developmental level. Check the manufacturer’s height and weight limits on the seat for specifics. Use the infographic below for guidance.

Chart showing which seat is right for each age


4. Install your car seat using either lower anchors or a seat belt, but never both. To determine which method is best for your seat and vehicle, always read both your car seat and vehicle manuals.

5. As colder weather approaches, remember to avoid placing your child in a coat or snowsuit in their car seat. Car seat straps should always fit snugly, without excess material between the child and the seat, or the child and the straps. Younger children can stay warm with a blanket over their harness once they’re secured, and older children can wear their jackets backward over their harness or seat belt.

On behalf of the Beaumont Parenting Program, I want to wish you a Happy Child Passenger Safety Week, and wish you safe travels.

– Nicole Capozello, Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST), Beaumont Parenting Program, Beaumont Children’s Hospital

Road Trips are Memory Makers

Lady holding a young girl with 3 older girls in front standing in front of a rock.

One of many stops along the way with my mom, my sisters and our friend.

Road trips were a tradition for my family growing up. Each summer, my parents chose a destination, grabbed an atlas, and tuned up our 1979 motor home to hit the open road. We traveled from Michigan all across the U.S.—from New York to Washington state and everywhere in between. I loved the unobstructed view from my perch in the bunk over the driver’s cab. It was so fun and super safe, I’m sure. 😉

Man holding map.

My dad plotting the course pre-GPS.

However, my best memories from these vacations aren’t seeing the Statue of Liberty or Mount Rushmore but what we did while we were getting there! Something magical seemed to happen when there was nothing else to do; we talked, laughed and connected. We chatted about everything: weather, music, our itinerary, our hopes and our dreams. Sure we played the License Plate game a thousand times and argued over who got to sit in the front seat while Dad drove (again, I think that was safe for an 8 year old in 1986!). We even created our own game, called 35, to encourage each other to follow Michigan’s freshly inked seat belt law of 1985 and avoid the $35 citation that would be issued should we be caught without our seat belts fastened. We must’ve played the Bruce Springsteen and Cyndi Lauper cassettes more than anyone ever. And while the music played, we joked, talked and wondered aloud all the things that kids wonder.

Girl holding child by monument sign

On our trips, there was always room for one more person! I’m holding our family friend at the World’s Largest Buffalo monument in Jamestown, North Dakota.

It’s so easy to bring our technology along with us on trips today. Screens are everywhere and accessible in places that the 1980s never could have imagined! I think we all can appreciate a well-timed animated classic on a long car trip. But when you head out on the road this summer, I encourage you to take some time away from the cell phones and tablets to engage with your kids about the things that boredom stimulates in our brains. Even our little toddler travelers have something to share and are usually quite quotable while doing so. Not every conversation will be a memory-maker, but the feeling it evokes just might be!

– Nichole Enerson, MA, LLPC, CPST

Road Trips Are Not For the Weak

When our twins were 6 months old, friends from out of state came to visit their parents in Kalamazoo. We thought it would be great to see our friends and their 10-month-old daughter, so we packed everything we owned and headed out to K-zoo overnight.

We vaguely resembled the Beverly Hillbillies—you know where Granny is sitting on top of a pile of stuff in her rocking chair strapped to a pickup truck. We had the double stroller, two rock-n-plays, a pack-n-play, diapers, formula, dish soap, more diapers and formula, wipes, white noise machines, blankets, toys, clothes, all the bibs we owned, diapers…

We left home just before bedtime. The kids were in their PJs and we figured that with the three-hour drive across the state, they’d be out and we’d just set up their beds and lay them down. Oh, how we were optimistic.

After a relatively uneventful ride there, we pulled into the hotel lot just after 10:30 p.m. The plan was for my husband to check-in and get the room all set up for the kids to go to sleep while I drove in circles around the parking lot. Bottles would be waiting for their dream feed. All we had to do was get them from the car into the hotel without waking them up.

Everything was fine until we shared the elevator with a bachelorette party. The ladies, who had imbibed in several adult beverages, were talking at the decibel level most drunk people use. Then they saw our sleeping babies and decided that whisper-yelling how cute they were would be more helpful. They whisper-yelled the rest of the elevator ride (it was only three floors up, but it felt like eternity) only to find they were on our floor, too.

In our room, the kids were no longer being lulled by the car ride and were beginning to stir. It was after 11 p.m. now and my husband and I were beat. We hurried to give the kids their final bottle of the night hoping that it would send them off to a quiet, restful sleep.

Alas, it only worked for half of our little duo. Our son took his bottle and drifted off. Our daughter, however, took her bottle and stared at me. Just stared. I put her in her rock-n-play next to my side of the bed and laid down, gently rocking her. I drifted off for a few minutes and when I woke up, she was still staring. It wasn’t a blank stare, it was more of a, “Well, now what?” kind of stare. I figured she was safe, fed, diapered and happy, so I let myself doze, waking throughout the night to see how she was doing. Thankfully, she drifted off eventually.

A little bleary-eyed the next morning, we met up with our friends and had a great time.

Our trip home was more exciting. Our son cried and screamed the entire way. At one point we pulled into a rest stop to see if we could do anything. He wasn’t hungry or uncomfortable. He was just royally ticked to be in the car.

Eh. Can’t win ’em all. I’m glad we did it though. An overnighter was good practice for our other small trips. And I’ve noticed that as the kids get older, it’s getting a little better in the car.

One day, we might even be brave enough to take them on an airplane.

– Rebecca Calappi, Publications Coordinator at Beaumont Health System and adoptive parent of multiples