The Best Kind of Bells and Whistles

Yesterday, I took the boys to the Chicago Botanic Gardens (instead of cleaning, working, or prepping for their birthday party.)

Yes, that made me anxious, but it was a beautiful day and they needed to get out of the house.

We went to the Model Railway Garden, described here on the official website:

The 7,500-square-foot Model Railroad Garden features 17 garden-scale (G-scale)  trains on 1,600 feet of track. The garden-scale trains are 1/29th the size of  life-sized trains. Train and garden enthusiasts, young and old, return year after year for the delightful sights and sounds of the miniature trains traversing high and low through tunnels, across bridges, and around buildings — all intricately handcrafted with natural materials, including twigs, bark, leaves, acorns, and pebbles. More than 5,000 tiny trees, shrubs, roundcovers, and flowering plants of close to 300 varieties re-create the topographical landscape of America. Vignettes of tiny people and animals give the exhibit a storybook feel, while sound effects and a working geyser capture visitors’ imaginations.

It is hard to imagine landscapes and vingnettes of tiny people bringing a whole hell of a lot of enjoyment to kids, but I’ve got to admit that model trains have an allure, that whistle an XY siren song.  My boys were enraptured, not just by the model Thomas the Tank Engine, but all the models, the wooden toys, the bridges, the landscapes.

Three things made me quickly forget my “I have thousands of other things to do” anxiety and let me exhale and enjoy four solid hours out there with my boys.  First were the retired old men acting as “engineers” and “conductors” in the gardens. These men are there to assist, answer questions, and fix the trains as needed. The only other times I’ve seen men in their 70s and 80s look as fulfilled were when I was privileged to see older people in jazz/dixieland bands.  Which makes me wonder about any extra “grass” in the train repair hut.

Second was, of course, my boys’ utter joy.

Third was that my kid wore this hat with no trace of self-consciousness:



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