I debated how best to get Ada and I to our dentist appointments in the Loop downtown Chicago for my annual checkup and her first cleaning. After weighing the pros and cons of all of our options (bus, El train, taxi, walk, drive) I decided an adventure on the El train would be the most fun for her, least hassle for me and least expensive. She rides the El for free and an adult ticket is just over two dollars. Parking could cost around twenty dollars if you don't do your research -- and I hadn't done my research.
Our appointment was for ten forty-five so I started getting Ada dressed and ready to go an hour prior. The nanny was here to watch Iain but Ada was still in her pajamas and wasn't moving very quickly. I'm not sure when we actually left the house, but I'm guessing it was a quarter after ten since we had to pack a diaper and wipes, bundle up in our winter clothes, and drag the stroller out the vestibule doors and down the stairs. We were already running later than I had hoped, but I was optimistic that we would still be within ten minutes of our original appointment time.
The first challenge we encountered was pushing the stroller four blocks on semi-snow covered sidewalks. I, sometimes audibly, cursed each homeowner who's sidewalk wasn't shoveled from the previous snowfall making our trip way more difficult than it needed to be. Adding to the degree of difficulty of our walk was the lack of air in the stroller tires. They were riding low and in desperate need of being re-inflated.
Once we reached the newly remodeled Wellington Brown Line El stop, our train passed overhead. That meant we'd have to wait ten minutes for the next one. Oh well. So much for being on time. Now we'd surely be cutting into the ten minute grace period I had invented for us, assuming that was all the dental office would tolerate without making us reschedule. Luckily, the remodeled station was equipped with a handicap accessible turnstile door to get the stroller into the station. The elevator was working and took us up to the platform where we waited for our train. Normally, I'd be annoyed and impatient while I waited for the train. With Ada, I was excited to see her get excited about all of the oncoming trains as they passed us or stopped across the tracks to load and unload passengers. She was amazed by it all.
Our train eventually pulled into the station and accommodated us nicely. The traffic was light so we easily got a seat and took up space by the door so that I didn't even take Ada out of the stroller. I should have taken her out to let her look out the windows but I didn't realize that until we were crossing the river downtown and she couldn't see it. Once we got into the Loop, I doubled checked which stop we needed on the overhead map and noticed the little handicap accessible icon indicated that there were only three stations in the Loop with elevators and the one we were going to didn't have one. Of course I figured that out right as the doors closed at our alternate stop with an elevator and we had missed our chance to get off. We were already five minutes late so we didn't really even have an option but to keep going.
Just before our planned stop, I removed Ada from the stroller and collapsed it. It wasn't easy folding up a stroller while on a moving train trying to supervise a three-year old. Ada sat on a chair while I folded it and shimmied closer to the door. When we got close to our stop, I asked her to get down from the seat and come over to me, which she did without falling to my amazement. They announced our stop and I grabbed Ada's hand with a tight grip as if to say, "No screwing around now. We're in The City." We got off the train without incident and I let all of the commuters go ahead of us so that we'd have more room. Some woman was trying to come up the steps we were going down and I tried to make room as best I could but part of me just wanted to say, "Hello lady. Do you see that I'm trying to get down the steps with a child and a twenty pound stroller? Could you maybe wait for us or use the stair right behind you?" But I didn't.
I continued my death grip on Ada's hand while instructing her to hold onto the railing. She was doing well until we got about halfway down the stairs and she fell. I was standing two steps below her just in case and it was a good thing I was. I blocked her further descent with my left leg while trying to pin the stroller against the railing with my right. Somehow I managed to set her upright as she screamed. She was a bit dirty but otherwise unharmed so we regrouped and continued down the stairs. Then we had to shimmy through the exit that is a full height, thin revolving door. I'm not sure how obese folks ride the El because I didn't have more than an inch of space to spare with myself and the stroller inside this tiny turning metal monster. I had to push Ada into the revolving space in front of me as I prayed that we didn't get stuck, or that I didn't get stuck with the stroller while she roamed free on the platform accessing the rest of downtown. Luckily we made it.
By this time, we were about eight minutes late and I was trying to hustle but really not even caring anymore because life with a small child is just hard and people need to give me a break. So there. We were going to be a little late and they were just going to have to deal with it as best they could.
We crossed the walkway to the west side of the street and then lined up to go down the second flight of stairs. Ada was again holding the railing as commuters were coming up while we were going down. This time I just ignored them and they moved to the other side of the stairway. At least this stairway was wider than the previous one. No one offer to help us get down with the stroller and by the time we were five steps from the ground Ada's hand was so cold from touching the metal railing without her gloves on that she started an urgent campaign to be carried. At that point, did it really matter that I was adding a forty pound kid to my load? I was already carrying a twenty pound, cumbersome stroller and dragging the kid behind me. Into my arms she went as we descended the last five steps.
At the base of the stairs, I unfolded the stroller and set Ada back into it. We didn't get five steps before a woman, clearly not familiar with the city, started asking me for directions on how to get to "a building". She didn't know what the address was or where it was or who had given her directions or anything about it really. Just that someone had told her to go one block somewhere to find it. After about a minute of my precious dental appointment time, she finally remember it was 1 North State. I pointed her in the right direction and jogged to our destination. Of course, the entry to our destination was clogged with a woman in a wheelchair in between the inner and outer vestibule doors waiting for the outer doors to close before opening the inner doors so as to avoid the annoying wind tunnel effect created when both doors are open at the same time. I attempted to pull the automatic outer door shut to speed things along but it didn't really help. And then we didn't fit in the elevator with the wheelchair so we opted for the elevator next to it. At least they had multiple elevators servicing the building.
We arrived. Late, but with enough time for them to get us taken care of. With any other child, we might have been in trouble. Since this was Ada's first visit to the dentist, we weren't sure what to expect. I had brought along her toy dentist's mirror from her doctor's kit at home and used that to coerce her to go with the other hygienist to see what a real one looked like. Luckily for us all, Ada was all too excited to see what the hygienist had in store for her and was done with her cleaning and exam well before I was. And thankfully, we both have great teeth so there wasn't much cleaning or examining to be done. We were in and out within forty-five minutes. I was amazed. And I was shocked to learn that we could have driven, parked a block away and had our parking validated for three or four dollars. At least I know that for next time since that would have saved us time, money, and drama.
Back outside, we started our trek back up to the El platform. An elderly man coming down the stairs offered to carry the stroller up for us and I politely declined. It didn't feel right having a seventy-five-year-old man lugging my stroller up a flight of stairs. It was a very kind offer though and gave me hope that chivalry is not dead... it's just aging.
At the top of the stairs, we saw a CTA employee. I was temporarily relieved into thinking he would see me and Ada and the stroller and offer to help us up to the platform, or at least through the turnstile. Nope. He didn't unlock the wheelchair door for us. He just told me to have Ada duck under the turnstile and for me to lift the stroller over it as I shimmied through. Nice. Thanks dude. We finally made it up the second flight of stairs, onto the platform, onto our train and on our way home. I let Ada sit up on the seat this time so she could see better but it was a seat that faced into the train instead of out toward the windows and the city so it didn't do much good. Not that it mattered since she fell asleep four stops later. She curled up next to me for a little cat nap until just before our stop when I moved her back into the stroller. She continued her nap as we rode the elevator back down and walked the rest of the way home. Somehow, she slept through me dragging the stroller up the steps to our building, through the two vestibule doors, and into the hallway, where I left her since the stroller wheels were covered in snow, for the following forty-five minutes. It was great.
Moral of the story: The world isn't completely designed for wheelchairs or strollers yet. Be sure to plan accordingly and allow for extra time to reach your destination.