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Detroit: A Kid's Paradise

A long trip away from home had my family needing some quality time together. So we packed up the crew and headed – where else? – straight to Detroit.

The city is a great place for kids. It's big. It's loud. It's colorful. It's the kind of place that leaves your tot with some great visual memories.

Saturday was Belle Isle to see the Ice Tree and hit the playground. Sunday took us to the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, where there was a family-day event. The best part was we had not yet been to either site (Ice Tree or MOCAD) so even Mom and Dad were happy to get out of the house.

The Ice Tree is everything people have described and more. We have lived on the East side for nearly 10 years now, and we had yet to see this legendary site: a lone pine tree covered in layers of ice. (Kudos again to Detroit Moxie for introducing us to the chilly attraction.)

My son was in awe of this strange mountain, topped with a few evergreen branches and a pipe continuously spitting water. He and other visiting kids ran themselves silly, trying to climb up the structure, slip around its base or peek inside its blue veins.

With the warmer weather, the Ice Tree was pretty drippy on the afternoon we saw it. It was about 18 feet or so right now, but it has to be about 15 feet wide. People came and went as we sat back to watch the kids slide about. They took pictures, like it was a local celebrity or something. My son wallowed in the bright sun, relatively warm air and the freedom that comes with the great outdoors.

Belle Isle is a kid's paradise. There is the model boat pond. You can fish. You can feed deer at the Nature Zoo. There are picnic shelters all around. There's a beach and a huge water slide. There are playgrounds everywhere, including the giant acre-wide one inside the island. There's even a lighthouse. My kid loves the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, too. Now, he has the Ice Tree. We had to drag him away.

To find the tree, check out the drive-by guide by Belle Isle Home, which gives a great description of how to find it and what to do to prepare (wish we had stopped at Tim Hortons!)

MOCAD was another hit. The 22,000-square-foot building, a former auto dealership, feels raw, open and impossible to damage – just right for two bouncy kids. They sprinted through the rooms, gaped at the sculptures and giggled at the one picture they recognized: a portrait of Patrick Star from “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

Admission was free, as were the family-themed activities. There were dozens of people there, making collages and chatting. One project involved taking bits of stuffed animals and making your own creature – kind of like Build-a-Bear for the cool kids.

Pretty amazing. We drove home Sunday down Woodward Avenue, visually stuffed.

"The decadence of Belle Isle contribut­ed to our gloomy reappraisal. We remembered the delicate fig-​shaped island, stranded between the American Empire and peaceful Canada, as it had been years ago, with its welcoming red­-white-​and-​blue flag-​shaped flower bed, splashing fountains, European casino, and horse paths leading through woods where Indians had bent trees into giant bows. Now grass grew in patches down to the littered beach where children fished with pop tops tied to string. Paint flaked from once-​bright gazebos. Drinking fountains rose from mud puddles laid with broken brick stepping stones. Along the road the granite face of the Civil War Hero had been spray-​painted black."

-from The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

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