The Hubs has been traveling a bit for work again. But when he said he was going to Birmingham, Ala., next, I said there was no way in hell that he was going without me, you are not leaving me home alone with your kids again the kids and I would love to come with him.
I have heard so many good things about Birmingham, and even though it was going to be a very short trip, I was excited to go. I reviewed a lot of things close to our hotel that were kid friendly. We do zoos and science museums a lot already, and I loathe amusement parks and water parks. So I decided we should do something completely different. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens looked like the perfect spot to get some sunshine, stretch our legs and see truly vibrant gardens. The botanical gardens there are essentially a living museum with more than 12,000 different plants on 67 acres and in 27 unique gardens. Meemaw gave the kids cameras this year, and this seemed like a brilliant opportunity to use them!
What I did not anticipate about Birmingham though, was that is a lot like Houston. Only so much worse. It was 100 degrees by 10 a.m. and so humid, we could not breathe. People. My sweat was sweating. So our first stop had to be the new Super Target, an immense air-conditioned slice of heaven, filled with sunscreen and floppy, wide-brimmed hats. Bodacious even found a pearl-studded baseball cap that she said made her look “awesome.” I thought she looked like a tiny old woman, but what the heck! We were on a mini break and I intended to go with the flow.
So, $80 later we were back on the road again. Ish. Because now we needed to stop and eat some lunch. But it was so hot inside the sandwich shop, we actually took our food outside to eat in the car. When we left, I took a wrong turn onto the freeway and it took me another 10 minutes to get turned back around. It’s amazing we got there at all, really. I can’t read a map and I couldn’t hear the mapping directions on my phone over the movie and video games that were cranked up in the car.
But success! I am parking the car in the last shady spot available. It is now 2 p.m. and I am starting to look … wilted. In my mind, I was channeling Julia Roberts in the polo scene from Pretty Woman, but I suspect that I actually looked a little crazy. I had on my orthopedic tennies, a black and white striped skirt and light brown t-shirt, plus the biggest coral straw hat you have ever seen. Make-up running down my face ala a sobbing Tammy Faye Bakker. And we haven’t even started trekking yet. Sixty seven acres. What was I thinking?
Our first stop was the Dunn Formal Rose Gardens, and it was breathtaking. In addition to the hundreds of roses, there was an amazing bronze abstract sculpture and an iron topiary that Bodacious thought made a perfect princess playhouse. Whenever a rose hedge ended, she thought she had discovered a secret trail into more roses. Everyone could hear her commanding us with a cheerful, “follow me!”
Next we meandered into the Ireland Iris Garden. I love Irises, especially the light purple ones. But this garden had white ones, maroon ones and even mustard yellow ones. Gorgeous. As we climbed our way up the stone stairs, Parksalot was almost vibrating with anticipation. He was so excited to see the lily pond and Bodacious was running amok amongst the ground cover plots and “follow me” -ing at the top of her lungs.
Y’all. The sun is relentless in Alabama, and I am thrilled to see a bench in the shade. I swear, I have really been trying to up my cardio, but this heat is getting me down. My head is starting to throb. Like one of those dull too-much-cheap-red-wine headaches. Bodacious is now fanning me with magnolia leaves the size of a man’s hand. Man. Vegetation is huge here. Meanwhile, Parksalot has barely broken a sweat and has offered to carry the back pack. I silently thank God for blessing me with the world’s tallest and strongest six-year-old. And I shove the pack onto his arms.
We find the Japanese gardens, and Little Son loves the reflective quality they have. He is taking picture after picture of the ponds and statues, enjoying the dark bamboo leaves and Japanese maples. I am just shuffling along wearing my best melted game face. I just want to sit down and cool off. But I love watching them. They are having the most amazing time. Snapping photo after photo. Wrapped up in their own thoughts and visions, walking and talking to themselves. They are enchanted by tadpoles in a pond and another statue makes Bodacious wonder whether mermaids exist. She has decided to take it up with her brother, her most trusted source of information.
He, however, has not really decided either. “They’re a lot like fairies,” he explains somberly. “They are in a lot of stories, but I have never seen one and they might be fake. Not like Santa. He’s real. But I’m not sure about his elves. How would anything so small really help make toys?”
And on goes their discussion until we get to the Alabama Woodlands garden. I am throwing words like “ice cream” and “gift shop” around in hopes of getting them to cut this garden off our route. I can see the indoor exhibit hall from here and an ice-cold Diet Coke is calling my name. But no. My kiddos are pretty sure if they are going to see a fairy, it will be here, in these seven acre woods. There are supposed to be 400 different trees, shrubs, vines and perennial and annual wildflowers. And mosquito fish. But all I can see is green. Green leaves, green trees, green moss on bark. And flying bugs. And sweat is stinging my eyes. That’s it, I am ready to go. But then he sees it – an enormous old tree upended on the trail. Twisty roots and rock-hard dirt. He is snapping photo after photo, and then he decides to shoot his first ever documentary-style video. I leave him to it and we wander about the trails for another 10 minutes or so, searching for the pond. We don’t find it. Bodacious has decided she could go for an ice cream now, so we turn back. A few minutes later, we are walking toward the land of fountain drinks when Little Son reaches for my hand. He tells me he loves it here and that this has been one of his “best days ever.”
And I was sure, in that instant, that my heart was going to explode. Now, I couldn’t tell if it was from love or impending heat stroke, but all I could say in return was that I agreed.