My sister and I gathered up the niece and nephew, and took them to Navy Pier. Our main goal was Build-a-Bear, for the children's interactive Christmas presents. My mom was kind enough to drive us all there, so we didn't have to worry about public transportation or parking or anything.
Build-a-Bear was crowded, but nowhere nearly as bad as I'd feared. Will, the almost-five-year-old, loved the experience. He's the perfect age for it. I explained ahead of time what he could expect. He'd been hoping to make a tiger, but they didn't have any. Instead he settled on a handsome pink leopard. He's named it Mr. Leopard.
It's amusing and refreshing to see his lack of gender stereotypes -- or at least his strange mixture. He kept changing his mind about whether it was male or female -- I personally have decided Mr. Leopard is a metrosexual. The outfit Will selected for him is a pair of pink leather boots with pom-poms, black jeans, a rugby shirt, a yellow construction helmet, and a denim purse.
Will said, "Oh maybe his name should be Mrs. Leopard since he has a purse." I suggested that the pronoun should change too if he was going to go with "Mrs". But it was really too late, because we'd already entered the "Mr" into the birth certificate database. Right now the pronouns have been switching randomly back and forth, or sometimes he just calls him/her "my baby".
It's all very sweet, and when we took him back to his mom he was raving excitedly about the whole thing. It's great to be able to give him something he enjoyed so much. (Especially since I was worried about having another Bad Idea!)
Tilly, two years old, had a bit of trouble to begin with. The way it works is thus: you look at a shelf with example stuffed animals, pick the one you want, and then you take the selected empty animal shell out of a bin below. The next step is too stuff your own new friend with the big fancy stuffing machine. Tilly looked over the examples and selected a waggly dog.
However she was very upset when I tried to give her an empty dog skin. "No no no NO!", she started to yell, stamping her feet and teetering precariously close to a temper tantrum. She kept pointing at the example on the shelf. She wanted the stuffed doggie; she didn't want some weird empty dog skin. I tried to explain in a few different ways that she was going to stuff her very own special doggie, but she was having none of it. Really I can't say I blame her. She probably thought we were trying to fool her, giving her a dead skin when there was obviously a perfectly good stuffed dog right on that shelf.
After trying several times, I gave up and let her hold the stuffed one, while I carried the un-stuffed one. She and I watched Will stuff his leopard, and then I handed over her doggie skin to be stuffed. While she was busy with that, I discretely returned the example dog she had relinquished back to the shelf where it belonged.
After that brief complication, the rest of the build-a-doggie experience went well for her. She did the "heart magic" (my term for giving the animal its heart), and happily gave it a bath. She selected a purple tank top for it, a denim purse, and a yellow construction helmet. She named the doggie Panda Bear.
Will was the one who originally saw the construction helmets and, after my explaining what they were for, decided he had to have one. Tilly then wanted one too. When Till saw the purses and picked one for Panda Bear, Will insisted that Mr. Leopard needed one too. My sister later wrote each animal's name on its construction hat.
The stuffed animals are put in their own cardboard houses when the experience is through, and both children carried theirs through the store and the mall when we were done. Will was at least able to pick his up and carry it normally, but Tilly had to drag hers behind her (the box was too big for her to raise off the floor). She refused all offers of help though -- it was her doggie and she certainly wasn't going to let anybody try to take it a away from her!