The Secret Noguchi Sculptural Garden and a Lesson on “The Man”

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The kids and I have a goal this summer to have more “adventure days” when we go explore some new part of Orange County that we have never been to before. Two weeks ago we found a park called the Coastkeeper Natural Play Garden where the kids ran around and slid in the dirt and climbed trees (only in Orange County do you have to have a dedicated park to run around on tree stumps and rocks, and there is a city council vote coming up to build a new “unstructured nature playground” in Irvine…aren’t unstructured nature playgrounds like generally abandoned lots and things like that (Like how I used “like” in that sentence? I like, speak like a Californian again.) anyway, I’m getting sidetracked), and had a ton of fun and they learned about drought tolerant plants!

This week we checked our “50 Free Things for Kids to do in Orange County” article from the local newspaper, and decided to check out the Secret Noguchi Sculptural Garden. The article went on about how you should take unimaginative kids there, so they can play and be impressed with the sculptures, etc., etc.

Let me make a quick aside to mention that the kids were watching School of Rock the other day.

So we were driving around this business area of Costa Mesa trying to find this cool secret garden, but it was raining…drizzling really, but it wasn’t stopping, so we opted to go to Ikea for a bit. After Ikea the rain had stopped, so we thought since we were in Costa Mesa, we should try to find the secret garden. Finally, I figured out where to park, which was by a favorite cookie store, so we picked up some cookies. At this point I was realizing that our destination was less of a park and more of a courtyard between some office buildings. You know the kind of place where the office employees can take their lunch break and eat and enjoy the sculptures and *cough*pretend*cough, cough* nature.

Still the newspaper article had said it was for kids, and they were excited by the stream and rocks, so I sent them off to explore while I sat and fed Lydia and enjoyed a cookie. Not five minutes had passed when a man in a suit came up to me saying, “Ma’am, are those you kids? They aren’t allowed to play on that. Could you tell them to get off?” I should have told him to tell them, instead I yelled, “Hey guys! Come here!” across his pristine courtyard. I told the kids about not climbing on anything and they were up. in. arms. Choruses of “it’s not fair” and “why are there so many rules” and “I’m going to poke him in the eye” rang out. And Zana said, “The people who make all the rules, that’s called ‘the man’.”

I almost died laughing. She said she had learned it from School of Rock. Then the kids all explained about how the man means there are too many rules and not enough fun and how it’s all just mean. Inside I was cracking up; outside I was sympathetic to their frustrations. After we all enjoyed some cookies, I walked them around the rest of the garden telling them not to climb on anything. The sat down on the edge of the rock river you see above. Then this guy


came up behind me. Honestly, he even had glasses and the white thing in his ear. He said (in that tone where people are using kind words, but really they don’t mean them at all), “Um, unfortunately, they can’t put their feet in the water. Unfortunately. Sorry. They can’t. It’s a liability issue.” The kids didn’t actually have their feet in the water, but nothing was fun about that place, so we were leaving anyway.

As part of some schoolwork we are doing this summer, I’m trying to get Andrew to write a few sentences about what we do on “adventure day,” and the girls to draw a picture and give it a title or write one sentence. They haven’t been too enthusiastic about it, but Andrew immediately said he was going to write all about how mean the security was and how they shouldn’t have so many rules. I told them I could send their letter to the security people of those office buildings and they went off  thinking up idea to include in their letter. Andrew even busted out a paper and pen while we were still in the car. He wrote, “Security, you have no choice. You have to put me in charge and I will say that there are no rules, and that the only rule is that there is no security and the security guys just have to stand there and do nothing.” (I would include the misspellings, but I don’t have the original in front of me.) Zana said she would write about how it is not nice to make kids not do things they want to do, and Ellie said they should be allowed to do whatever they want at a park, and Miles said “Yeah” and “that so mean” a bunch of times.

I thought the whole thing was just so, so funny, and goodness it was such an amazingly well-taught life lesson. I called Scott as soon as we got home and I was just in tears laughing retelling the whole story. Zana: “that’s called ‘the man'” So. hilarious. I had to write down our experience, because the kids were so awesome in their rebelliousness and they were so motivated to write and take action. What do you think the security people will think when their letters arrive?

So, don’t go searching out the Secret Noguchi Sculptural Garden, and here’s to sticking it to the man!

2 Responses to “The Secret Noguchi Sculptural Garden and a Lesson on “The Man””

  1. Michele

    Thanks for linking to my site, Catherine. I’m sure the security guard at the sculpture garden LOVES that there was an article in the newspaper sending families to him! I love the photo depicting him, too.

    We had a very similar experience when we visited back in 2010 – but you have to read to see what I learned about Noguchi! There’s so much more to his story!

    Noguchi is also mentioned in this really interesting timeline about “The Politics of Playgrounds” under “The Demise of Visionary Playgrounds.”

  2. Brian

    So we drove home from CO yesterday and stopped at a rest stop. I encouraged Megan to climb up a giant pillar. 1 minute later an employee asked her to stop because it was a “liability issue.” Sign of the times, I guess.