On Friday, Watson and I picked up the kids from school a little early and drove the three hours to Chicago in the not-quite-freezing rain in a car that was packed with sleeping bags, pillows, backpacks, and flashlights.
For those of you who haven’t heard of or been to the Chicago Field Museum . . . you’re missing out. And if you haven’t thought of sleeping there overnight . . . do.
It’s a blast.
My MIL had opted for the premium package, which included a tour of part of the Zoology Section in the lower level of the Collections Resource Center, the place where ninety percent of the collections are kept and the scientists do their things—the Field Museum is an active research facility, emphasis on active.
About fifteen of us, kids and adults, piled into an enormous elevator with our Museum guide and our scientist, Kevin the “Fish Guy”, to visit the underground Fish Lab.
It immediately became clear that ichthyologists have a sense of humor:
I looked, but Nemo’s mugshot wasn’t there—probably because they already had him in a jar, carefully arranged by his geography and Latin name. Somewhere:
I’m pretty sure that Kevin, our ichthyologist, picked up a clownfish jar to show the kids, but I was too busy looking around at the other residents.
There were old fish, like this one, which dates back to 1934. I forgot to write down the name, but Sunny told me this morning that it’s a Gulper fish:
There were flat fish, like this sting ray, whom I could identify without help, thank you:
There were gorgeous blue and silver fish, which didn’t photograph as brilliantly as I’d hoped—this one is a Goby, or so Sunny says:
There were evil-looking fish, like this angler and her parasitic little husband on the tray. We had quite the discussion about their sex life, in term scientific enough to earn a general audience rating.
There were skeletal fish, too, like this piranha, which had been stripped down by the Museum’s own collection of flesh-eating beetles, that most of us were glad were housed in another part of the CRC:
And there were brains in boxes. I didn’t ask why—at that point, my own brain was stuffed so full of fish facts, I had to depend on my kids to carry on as I nodded and snapped pictures (or asked Jane to do it, to cut down on the number of thumbs and blurs).
Luckily, Sunny was on the case. In fact, you couldn’t take a picture of Kevin without getting a curly-headed, six-year-old pre-ichthyologist somewhere in frame, spouting random facts about every single fish on the table.
By the end of the tour, I wasn’t sure whether I should research an ichthyology program at a University that offered after-class day care, or send in an application to Junior Jeopardy. One of the parents suggested we send her on Jeopardy to pay for college. That works.
Her older sister was the only one who wasn’t impressed: “She’s getting all this from Octonauts, you know.”
But Jane had her moment, when she asked to see a Humuhumunukunukuapuaʻa—which she’d heard about last year while her class was studying the pacific states—and completely stumped Kevin, whose expertise was in colder waters. He had her repeat it several times, and even called over a colleague, who had heard of the thing, but wasn’t sure where its jar would be at that time of night.
Jane was very proud.
Kevin managed to stump us, though, or at least knock us back, with the ugliest fish we’ve ever seen. It’s a rock fish—thanks, Sunny—kept in an old-fashioned brain jar, which I thought was fitting, since that’s what the front end looked like to me:
The back end of this thing looked a lot like a turkey. It jiggled when Kevin shook the jar. UGH.
There was also a blowfish lurking on a shelf, newly returned from a display upstairs. It was puffed up, but did not seem much impressed with us.
The tour was over way too soon, at least for us visitors, though Kevin, who was an engaging tour guide with unlimited patience, seemed to be having a good time, too . . . at least until Sunny’s parting shot: “Thank you! When I come back, I’m taking your job!”*
Watson said he seemed more puzzled than insulted, so she could probably risk an internship application in sixteen years time.
After that, we crawled all over the public areas of the museum, looking at a little bit of everything. Including a saber-toothed deer:
Sure, the sign said it was a musk deer, but who are they trying to kid?
Another highlight was the ladies room—no, really—which won an award in 2011. It was a very nice ladies room, with a special set of low sinks and commodes for the younger visitors and murals on the ceiling so everyone had something lovely to stare at during the process, as it were. Sunny especially loved the
hairdryers hand dryers.
Jane found a scientific artist, who asked her if she would like to try her hand at drawing a clam.
She would, for a solid hour.
After a flashlight journey through the Egyptian tomb, which was amazing for three of us—Sunny wasn’t pleased with the dark, the mummies, or the boys who were more interested in flashlight fun and screaming than history—we wandered through a few more exhibits and called it
very sore feet a day about eleven thirty.
We brushed our teeth, changed into our jammies, claimed a patch of carpeted undersea ground in the Cretaceous period, and rolled out our sleeping bags.
It would have been a peaceful spot, if it hadn’t been for the Parasaurolophus, also known as the trumpeting dinosaur, who, as we all known from Dinosaur Train, hooted through his headpiece.
The museum helpfully provided an interactive version, not fifteen feet away from where Sunny and I were trying to sleep.
This thing was irresistible to every single male human who came into the room, and so delighted were they with this example of bioengineering, that they could not stop at one Hroot!if they’d tried. And you know they didn’t.
Hroot! Hroot! Hroot! Hroot! “Hey, Jamie, come try this!” Hroot! Hroot! Hroot! Hroot!
At one point, an exhausted Sunny rolled over and said, “Mommy? Why are boys so mean?”
But the lights went out at midnight and—after the requisite screams and flashlight fun—everyone settled in for a comfortable night’s sleep. Except for me, because I am not built for sleeping on hard floors without more padding than even Mother Nature, a ground pad, and a thick L.L. Bean comforter provided. Also, Sunny stole all the covers and the pillow within the first ten minutes.
I ended up dozing upright for a few hours, leaning against the wall with Sunny’s head in my lap and the pillow cushioning my back. It was peaceful . . . but not particularly REMful.
The next morning, after we were all packed and I’d had an early breakfast of Advil, we adopted two dinosaurs, Hot Dog (who is not a Brontosaurus, Mommy, possibly for the same reason Pluto isn’t a planet anymore) and Fluffy (who is still a T-Rex, because no one’s would dare mess with those bad boys). I don’t have photos of them because I was too tired to find the camera.
But as I was paying their nominal adoption fee, I suggested to the staff that renting out air mattresses would be a great additional fundraiser for the Museum on these overnights—I myself would have paid anything they asked around 2am, and I know we weren’t the only ones who hadn’t bothered to bring ours.
We then headed out for breakfast and an outlet for my phone, which had died around 1:48 am. Ask me how I know.**
Recharged in more ways than one, we then headed downtown to Water Tower Place.
First stop: the American Girl Store—Sunny, who had never been to this Mecca of Historically Based Consumerism before, had been promised a Christmas doll and I’d also promised Jane that her beloved Penelope could have a
good cleaning and de-thatching spa treatment:
Penelope is in the chair, Jane is sporting the purple pack, Sunny is holding her own mini-me, and that shopping bag is holding more AG stuff than I had originally anticipated, because I am a sucker.
We also did the LEGO store for Watson, Godiva—to pick up something for my MIL, as a thank you—and Teavana, where I sort of overbought, because tea.
My only regret is that I didn’t plan my vacation for the week after this trip, instead of the week before. And that I hopped on my new exercise bike Sunday morning, thus turning what was left of my lower body into jello-filled manicotti.
Next time—and there will be one—I’ll be ready.
I’ll have a car charger, an air mattress, noise-cancelling headphones, an eye mask . . . and an Out of Order sign for You-Know-Hroot.
Let’s get a group together! Who’s with me?
*One of the older kids, who lives in Chicago and clearly knew his stuff from sources other than cartoons, was given some information about volunteering at the Museum. Jane grabbed my arm and said, “MOM. WE HAVE TO MOVE.”
**As Watson later said, “See? I knew we should’ve bunked down under the Giant Tree Sloth—there’s an outlet in there.”