Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Family's Guide to Thriving in Chicago

I LOVE living in Chicago. My kids LOVE living in Chicago. My husband LOVES living in Chicago.

I know of several people who have had a hard time adjusting to living in Chicago as a family. Following are the things we did to make this city come alive for us.

1. Purchase and read: The Newcomer's Guide to Chicago
- Do not borrow this book from the library or a friend. You will refer to it for month's so it's worth the nominal investment.
- This book outlines neighborhoods, where to go for your City Sticker, car tag, who to call to turn on your utilities, and much, much more vital information in 1 place.

2. Get a Chicago Public Library card
- It opens up a world of options for you.

3. Visit Museums for Free
- With your library card showing you are a city resident, you can borrow a pass for any one of about 10 museums. It will get a family of 4 into the museums for free.
- Each museum has free museum days. Some are weekly, like the Art Institute, or certain times per year, like the Museum of Science and Industry. Going Places magazine often has information on this. Or just call the museum and ask.
- Almost all the museums have discounts for Chicago residents.

4. Chicago DVDs
- Chicago has a rich history and amazing treasures. Each library has a collection of DVDs that will educate you on this amazing city. Borrow them from the library for free and watch them. You will fall in love with this city.

5. Millennium Park to Grant Park
- Walk through Millennium Park. Every inch of it. Head over to the Pritzker Amphitheater, Cloud Gate ("The Bean"), the walkways, art, Art Institute bridge, Grant Park. Walk it all. Do it in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, when it's dark. This place is a magical gift to Chicago and to the world. When you start feeling like you can't make it in Chicago, go for a walk here. Winter, spring, summer, fall. Magical.

6. Order your Five Buck Movie Card
- This will get you in to 3 Kerasotes movie theaters to view 1st run movies for only $5 per person. You sign up for an e-mail notice each week which tells you what movies you can see and the show times. These are first run movies that have only been out in theaters for 2 weeks.
- Movies can run a lot of money in the big city.

7. Join a Babysitting Co-op
- If you don't have family in town, this is a must.
- Families exchange babysitting with each other at no cost.

8. Join a Hobby/Sports Group
- Are you in to knitting or crochet? Join a local Stitch 'n Bitch. You can find a group at your local yarn store on at
- Are you a writer? There are lots of writing groups that meet throughout Chicago. Just Google them or go to your local bookstore and ask or look at the postings board.
- If you are a runner, cyclist, volleyball player, whatever sport, there are people in Chicago who will work out with you. Check you local sports speciality store.

9. Volunteer
- To make a big city small, get out and volunteer for a cause you love/enjoy. It will help others, make you feel better, and you will meet people with like minds.

10. Find a Church
- There are lots of churches in this city. Whatever your faith, you can find a place to worship.
- And when you find your church, get involved!! Take a class, volunteer, get plugged in. The only way to make a large church small is to get to know people. Soon, you will recognize faces and not be alone walking down the hallways.

11. Playgrounds are Gold
- Moms are at the playgrounds and are a wealth of knowledge. Just ASK. Ask who babysits their kids. Ask what school their kids go to. Ask where they take their kids to the doctor or dentists. Ask where they shop for food. Ask where they buy their kids clothes. Ask, ask, ask.

12. Ask Questions
- See #11. Just ask people questions. Don't be shy or ashamed. The only way to figure this stuff out, is to ask questions. Lots of them. All the time.

13. Chicago Moms Meetup
- Moms can meet other moms based on age of children and neighborhood. Google it.

14. Chicago Moms Blog
- Moms with lots of different perspectives share their lives on this blog. Enjoy.

15. Study the School Options
- Schooling your children is a whole different beast in Chicago. If your child does not get in to a great public school by kindergarten, he/she may not get in until middle school. You MUST get your child into a great middle school because 7th grade is critical for getting into a selective enrollment high school.
- If you don't apply to a public school by the first week in December, you are screwed unless you live in a neighborhood that has an amazing public neighborhood school.
- The libraries in some neighborhoods hold information meetings throughout the year to educate parents. Attend the meetings and take notes.
- There are lots of great private schools in Chicago. They range from about $4,000/yr to $24,000+/year.

16. Ride the 'El
- Just get on and ride the El trains. Sit by the doors where they have route maps. Look out the windows. Learn the city.

17. Drive
- Drive the city. Just drive around. Look at the street signs and flags or banners. They will tell you what neighborhood you are in.
- Mostly, just drive around to learn where everything is.
- There is something beautiful and unique on every street. Look around and enjoy
- Drive under the El tracks on Lake Street

18. Michigan Ave
- Walk up and down Michigan Ave from The Drake Hotel to Roosevelt Rd. It's a long walk. Walk up one side of the street and back the other. Look at everything!!

19. Look at Everything
- Buildings, flowers, medians, sidewalk grates, tree grates, the people, the bridges, the El tracks, the River. Look at everything. This is a beautiful city.

20. Parks
- There are lots and lots and lots of green spaces. Take the kids to a neighborhood park for fun.

21. Chicago Park District
- Amazing resource for families. You can get a gym membership for about $15-20/month!! Kids can learn to swim for free. Your kids can be involved in tumbling, gymnastics, soccer, baseball, etc. for next to nothing. Go online and check them out.

22. Be Selective of Your Friends
- Find a group of people who LOVE living in Chicago and are committed to living in the city with their children. People itching to move to the burbs are not going to encourage you as much.

23. Walk
- Walk, walk, walk this city. Walk wherever you can.

24. Eat
- You can sample authentic food from every part of the world. Experience other cultures through their food.

25. Free Activities
- There is so much to do in Chicago for little or no money. Pick up a copy of the Chicago Reader and learn all the great things happening in the city - paid and free.

26. Invest in a Stroller
- Toss out your Graco stroller. Invest in a stroller with large, rugged tires that will traverse cracked pavement and playgrounds with ease. Trust me, we went through 2 regular strollers our first 4 months in the city. Everyone has a Quinny or McLaren. There is a reason for why we pay $300 for an umbrella stroller. I can't stress enough it is not about the money. It is about the wear and tear you will put on a stroller.

27. Condo Requirements
- Elevator, on-site parking, in-unit washer/dryer, central heat/air. These were non-negotiables for us as a family with 2 young children. I saw a beautiful 3-story walkup. But can you imagine carrying a sleeping child, diaper bag, purse, backpack and bags of groceries up 3 flights of stairs? And what about walking up and down stairs with laundry - or loading up the vehicle with laundry and sitting at a laundromat. With kids. Or driving around and around in the winter with snow on the ground and finally finding a parking spot 2 blocks away and your kid has fallen asleep and you have the aforementioned to lug 2 blocks then up the stairs...

28. Deal With It or Move
- Look, no city is perfect. There will be hardships. But Chicago is so incredibly amazing and wonderful, it is worth the hassles you encounter every now and then to make it. Commit to the city and do what you can to experience life to the fullest. If you sit at home whining about how you don't like living here and don't do the things I have suggested, deal with it. Or move.

29. Learn the Neighborhoods
- Read the Newcomer's Guide to Chicago, drive the streets, look at a map of the city. Get to know where each neighborhood is and what the flavor of the neighborhood is. We are a neighborhood city. Where you live says a lot about you. Get plugged into to your neighborhood.

30. Purge
- Get used to smaller spaces. People don't have as much extraneous junk in the city. You will be amazed at how little you really need. Minimize. Simplify.

31. Go Green
- Reduce, reuse, recycle. Like I said, purge your extra stuff. Reuse shopping bags. Recycle. It's better for the environment and you get to use such cute bags!!

32. Create New Family Holiday Traditions
- No family in town? Create your own family holiday memories. If you don't already, learn to make favorite family dishes. Find special ways to celebrate the holidays with your immediate family in Chicago. We love our little family holidays together.
- Invite new friends to join you. We've found, in the city, those who stay here often get together for family holidays. Several times, we have either had people over, or gone to friends' homes. Always a good time!

33. Buy Yearly Museum Passes
- We go to the museums so often with our kids, it made sense to buy passes to a few of them. In our first visit we saved so much money, the pass paid for itself.

34. Chicago on the Cheap
- Sign up for daily Groupon e-mails for great deals in Chicago. You can even get popular attractions at 1/2 price!!

I'm sure there is a whole lot more I can say but that is all I got right now. Chicago is one of the most incredible cities in the world. This is a doable, livable city for families. We did it. You can do it too!!


Heather Kay said...

Wow! Although I have no intention of living in Chicago, I could not stop reading this. What a great source of information!

Serenity said...

Awesome post! I can see why a magazine wants this. You and J always make Chicago sound amazing, and I'm inspired by anyone who loves their city that much. What a great way to live.

Shan said...

Fantastic post!!