Last weekend I had the great pleasure of going on a 3 day getaway to St. Louis, MO, with my daughter and granddaughter. We only live a couple of hours from St. Louis, and the city has much to offer in the way of museums, shopping, art, and history.
We got to visit St. Louis Arch and marvel at its construction. Additionally we enjoyed the history museum beneath the arch, which has terrific exhibits on the St. Louis area being the gateway to westward expansion. The museum, run by the National Park Service, offered children study booklets to use in the exhibits that help them focus on important content. My granddaughter and her mother worked together to find the answers and fill out the book. Afterward, Jaycie was “sworn-in” as a Jr. National Park Service Ranger, which she took very seriously. Little did the ranger know that she adores animals and wild places and would love nothing better than to one day work for the National Park Service. After receiving her badge, she turned to me and said, “I really do promise to protect the parks and leave only footsteps, Grandma.” I could see it happening and felt my heart swell.
Next, we headed for The City Museum, another memorable and happy experience. The old 5 stories downtown building has been converted into a children’s museum that encourages play and imagination. The developers have cleverly and uniquely designed playscapes using rescued architectural elements and incorporated numerous hidden staircases, slides, tunnels, towers, caves, ramps, and more for visitors to explore. Fantasy faces of dragons, gargoyles, whales, lions, and mysterious creatures are found throughout the place. What tickled me the most here was seeing children crawling in and out of all sorts of holes. Anything goes here.
At one point, I sat awhile to rest while watching my daughter and granddaughter enter the mouth of a gigantic white whale. They disappeared into the belly of the whale and 15 minutes later came out in a part of the museum I wasn’t expecting to see them exit from. While I watched visitors walking by the whale, three small girls stood beside the whale, then got down on their tummies and wiggled into a very narrow space beneath the whale’s belly. Oh, no! They shouldn’t be in there. They’ll get hurt or lost, I thought. Then I saw two bigger boys do the same. And a few seconds later, a parent. Apparently, this was part of the plan, and everyone knew but me. If there was an opening, you were allowed to go in and explore. Eventually, everyone crawled back out, sweaty and smiling.
At The City Museum, kids are completely free to be kids. They can be wild, loud, climb, spin, run, crawl, touch and investigate. You don’t see staff or parents shooshing them or saying don’t touch, or no, you can’t do that. Here it was okay to be inquisitive and express yourself.
On the second day of our trip, we visited the new St. Louis Aquarium. There we had great fun touching starfish, sea anemones, stingrays, and little minnows that kissed our fingers. Schools of fish, rays, and sharks swam over our heads. Jellyfish danced inches from our faces. An octopus tried to hide by pressing itself into a corner. And little eel heads popped in and out of the sand.
Lastly, we went to the Missouri Botanical Garden, a place we’ve been visiting since my daughter was little. I love that both the girls enjoy walking through gardens, smelling every flower, and taking pictures. We enjoyed the tropical plants of the Climatron, likely the closest we will ever get to a rainforest. And our time in the Japanese Garden, feeding gigantic koi, Canada geese, and turtles, was also great fun.
These experiences, which were planned for my granddaughter, were just as enjoyable for her mother and me. We had the opportunity to explore things in ways that weren’t available when we were children. I was reminded of the importance of occasionally stepping out of adulthood to see things with new eyes and allow my imagination to carry me for a time. All these things – crawling through tunnels, spinning like a top, petting stingrays, and walking through miniature rainforests was invigorating. I came home feeling that my world had expanded. I also came back regretting all the times I said no to my daughter when it may not have been essential. Sometimes boundaries just have to be pushed, and curious things must be tested. It’s the only way to grow.
For an excellent laugh, check out this week’s recommended read, 17 THINGS I’M NOT ALLOWED TO DO ANYMORE, by Jenny Offill. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and completely captures the inquisitive nature of a child.