Choose to Be Impressed

I took my kids to an outdoor sculpture park on Labor Day. My big takeaway from the day – besides the general thought that there really ought to be more weird sculptures in the world – was that one should always choose to be impressed.

Now, it might seem like something you wouldn’t have a lot of control over – being impressed by something or not – but I actually think that you do. We can choose the path of wonder. We need only to follow our children’s lead.

We’d never been to the sculpture park before and I was a bit dubious as we drove in. Gravel driveway, small hand-mounted signs, brightly painted but decidedly ramshackle buildings. My kids, however, were the first to catch sight of the giant silver tree and their little minds were blown. They tore out of the van, barely allowing me to get it into park, and dove head-first into adventure.

Everything they saw delighted them. My oldest daughter carefully read the signs at each piece, announcing the materials used to construct them and whether or not visitors were allowed to climb on them. When given the green light, all three kiddos scaled the pieces like monkeys. Many of the sculptures were pretty rusty from being exposed to the elements, so I meanwhile took deep breaths and reminded myself that we’re all current on tetanus shots. Such practical considerations never crossed their minds, of course. They just saw a funky jungle gym.

There was a bright blue bench shaped like a butterfly and a large stone arch with a piece of blue glass wedged inside. There was a multi-level structure adorned with dozens of birdhouses and a series of metal rings that immediately reminded my kids of Harry Pottery: my son’s bouncy ball stood in for a quaffle in a quick impromptu game of Quidditch. One piece featured a profusion of rubber-encased timbers that sprouted from the ground in all directions. We tried to guess how many recycled tires went into its creation but I’m pretty sure we were nowhere close.

The artwork is sprinkled across several acres, with the pieces set with just the right distance between them to constantly lead you onward. The next amazing thing is just around the bend and my kids moved from one area to the next at a dead run. Each new discovery brought shouts of joy.

The only dark moment of the trip was when my son kicked his soccer ball directly into a thicket of poison ivy, lurking just off the official path. To his horror, I declared the ball lost and refused to allow him or anyone else to try to retrieve it. That may seem extreme, but trust me it was not. I have never seen a profusion of poison ivy that robust or that ominous in my life. And there was his poor turquoise blue soccer ball, planted smack in the middle. We abandoned it, our own small addition to the art-scape around us. Perhaps it will look intentional.

We stayed at the park for a couple and my kids spent the entire ride home discussing the pieces and debating which was the coolest. The moral of the story is this: embrace the rose-colored glasses through which children see the world. My kids were utterly unperturbed by the mismatched lawn furniture at the snack spot. They didn’t need high-quality laminated maps with strong, creative brand standards. They came ready for magic, and they found it; their delight in turn ignited my own. A fallen tree wrapped in aluminum foil can do that for you, if you let it.

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