As any dad will tell you, taking family trips anywhere, be it the carnival, amusement park, or somewhere in the great outdoors to set up camp, you will assuredly be put through the ringer. My trip to Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park was no different.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of fascination, it was the age of clumsiness, it was the epoch of laughter, it was the epoch of tears, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. In all fairness, the 95°F weather beating down on us didn’t help at all.
The wife and I like to get our kids outdoors as much as possible to experience all of God’s wonderful creation, get some much needed fresh air, and not least of all, prevent screen dependency. FMG&SP is home to one of the leading cultural destinations in Michigan, featuring 132 acres of indoor and outdoor gardens, the Midwest’s most significant outdoor sculpture collection, not to mention the Children’s Garden. A perfect match, no? So, we loaded up our minivan and made the two-hour trek. We could have made it in an hour and forty minutes, but my kids have this thing about peeing in every toilet at every rest area they see. Weird, I know.
Upon arriving, we all know we’re about to see something fantastic. Sculptures are scattered throughout the premises, including the driveway and parking lot. During the first half of our visit, we focused on taking photos of cacti and smelling gorgeous flowers. As you sojourn from the desert into the tropical jungle, you’ll notice the plant life is less aggressive. Yep, they have a few carnivorous plants inside. The jungle has a waterfall and indoor stream that passes under the bridge you’re standing on. If you keep a watchful eye, you just might spot a few exotic birds. Bump someone’s grandma into said stream and you’ll definitely see a bird.
Having two daughters, the unique flowers were quite a hit. My son, however, was a little ticked he couldn’t pick the flowers or get in the fountain. Thankfully, we made our way to the Children’s Garden before there were any casualties.
Entering through a “mouse hole,” the kids made their way to a delightfully interactive world made with young kids in mind. While there, they dug up fossils, solved a labyrinth, played with wooden toys in the old log cabin and topped it off by cooling down in the Great Lakes water feature. Grab a toy boat or jet ski, toss it in the water and watch it get sucked over the man-made waterfall, crash, and eventually sink – kinda like the automotive industry. Ironic, I know.
Lunchtime came, and I was sure the on-site, upscale cafe would have something for everyone, at a reasonable price, and all while providing us a much needed retreat from the son’s savage attack. I didn’t know it then, but this lunch would be one that I will never forget as long as I live.
I should have known that the Taste of the Garden’s Cafe wasn’t for parents with children under 10 when I saw the spectacular floral ceiling sculptures by Dale Chihuly. I didn’t, but knew it as soon as I couldn’t locate chicken nuggets on the kid’s menu. I should have turned us all around and headed to the nearest fast food joint, or better yet, I should have packed a cooler and kept it in the van. Hindsight is 20/20 and if I ever meet a dude named Hindsight, I swear I’ll punch him in the throat. Repeatedly. That may seem somewhat brutal, but it serves him right. I mean, c’mon, does he always have to show up late?
Back to lunchtime. The boy peed his pants. While my wife was carrying him. While she made her way to the van, I ordered a little of this and a little of that, hoping the kids wouldn’t start a mutiny when they didn’t see the nuggets. I got a fancy pork sandwich with a side salad, two PB&J’s with some raisins, a half of a turkey sandwich and side salad, a few chocolate milks and a couple of carbonated beverages for the Mrs. and I. Total: $32 and change. No, they were not magical peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made by fairies. My wife comes back with a dry kid. Three minutes elapse and he’s covered from the neck down in chocolate milk. Wife makes trip number two to the van, returns, and tries to eat praying it’s the end of catastrophes.
No such luck. Chocolate milk is my son’s Kryptonite. Defeated he is, once again.
Screw it. The kid’s pulling a Matthew McConaughey, taking of his shirt, and eating his five-dollar sandwich. Thankfully, none of the staff seemed to mind, nor did the other patrons. They probably knew that we had enough problems at that point. Complaining about the topless toddler would’ve only added insult to injury. We finished our food without any further incident then headed back outside to check out the 1930′s style farmhouse and 35-acre sculpture park.
If you start a sentence with “iPads,” do you capitalize the ‘i’ anyway? Either way, iPads, iPods, and Leapster Explorer‘s are great. But they didn’t exist in the ’30′s. Take a step back in time and visit the farmhouse and farm garden. After using the bathroom yet again, I showed my techies how to manually pump water, showed them where the livestock would be kept, and where their dinner would grow – but not before a Garden employee blasted me with the hose by mistake. She apologized, but I was still upset. It was reaching 100°F by that time. In hindsight, I should have thanked her. $%#@! Late again…
For a little extra coin, you can jump aboard the tram tour. With kids in tow, I advise you to take the children’s tram. We rode along, pausing to snap a few pics, and stopping completely so the munchkins could participate in the activities. After the lunch we had (and the tear-filled mini-battle to get hot, tired kids to walk from the 1930′s to present day) it was nice to smile again. The kids danced, ran, hopped, and sang their ABCs.
The sights at Frederick Meijer Garden’s & Sculpture Park were breathtaking. So much so, that a few dozen white chairs were being set up at the foot of an amazing waterfall for a wedding later that day. I even saw the bride in her private room after taking a wrong turn on the way out. If there’s a more beautiful place to get married in Michigan, it’s lost on me.
On the way home, I got to thinking about the groom. In a few years, he’ll turn into one of us – a noob dad. Maybe someday he’ll want to take his kids back to the place he married their mother. They won’t really care, and he’ll know it. But they’ll go anyway and take a lot of pictures, create memories that’ll last a lifetime, and at the end of the day, he’ll probably feel just as I did. The trip was memorable and mostly worth it. He’ll be glad he went and thankful that he survived. Normally hindsight would later tell him to bring an extra 2T shirt if he ever comes back. Guess I’ll have to tell him myself.