I got to have a daddy-daughter adventure day downtown yesterday. Another way to say it is I had to drag her to a meeting. We took the Blue Line and though we used to ride the Brown Line for fun when we lived in the city, she did not remember. As she kneeled on the seat, letting the CTA jerk her around, calling out every taxi and shaking with nervous excitement when an oncoming train passed, I tried to remind her of her roots: you were born there, we lived down there, we worked there, played there. I knew there was no city left in her four-year-old blood when, from across the churning tide of the Kennedy, she spotted a Metra train racing by, and said, “Look! There’s our train!”
If possession is nine-tenths of the law, then the possessive defines where you’re from. It’s still in my blood, which might be why I encouraged her to wear her Urlacher jersey. After we moved, whenever I would commute back to the suburbs, bound by a rigid Metra schedule, or use a sophisticated mapping system to avoid driving, I would feel deprived, deported from the convenience of the city. Two years removed, and with the kids more independent, that feeling has lost its edge.
Some winter days we used to ride our favorite seat in the first car opposite the conductor on the Brown Line, my boy pressed to the window like germs. Maria didn’t have the balance to stand on the seat and watch the metal tongue of the city swallow up the train. I had to hold her. I always coveted the idea of raising a city kid, the grit and the glamour, the worldliness and the weariness, especially since it cast such an imposing and alluring specter on my suburban youth. My son used to ask about the old place, the old haunts, to play with our old friends. He doesn’t ask anymore. Now that we’re fully ensconced in suburbia, raising a city kid seems like a lot more work, a lot more worry. The attention demanded from a child in the wild is that much more intense, more so downtown than the neighborhoods. There’s more of everything, which means more worry.
This is a worry you don’t process, I think, unless you’re on the outside looking in. We go adventuring downtown about once a month and, possibly because I work there, I caught myself, when answering her questions, conjuring up a memory that she didn’t have. I was talking to the city, as if we were still together. But the city doesn’t care. Never has, never will. And that fact made our daddy-daughter adventure that much better, because it was ours alone.