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The Ability to Discover: A Lost Art

Recently, we took a weekend away to a magical place, one of my favorite places to explore. Now, you might be expecting Disneyland, Yosemite, maybe the beach—nope, I’m talking about the City Museum in St. Louis.

If you have never had the pleasure, this modern-day playground is truly worth the visit. The labyrinthian building contains hidden rooms, tunnels, cubbyholes, doorways, passages, and slides all nestled away in an artistry of caves, water features, and climbing concoctions. If you look hard enough, you can even find the Snowflake lady who will help you make an impressive creation, all while detailing the famous ghost who haunts the building. Believe me, my brief description does NOT do this place justice. Living in Indianapolis, we try to steal a weekend away there at least once or twice each year. We have made the trek probably 8-10 times and I have discovered something new on EVERY. SINGLE. VISIT.

To take it one step further, most pieces in this cacophonous playhouse are pieced together using salvaged architectural and industrial pieces. It always seems to be a living, breathing display of art coupled with play.

But, I have to tell you one of my most favorite things about this place and the reason we go back time and time again. When I was a kid, museums were a place of preservation. You didn’t touch anything. Moreover, you had to be on your best behavior, hoarded into regimented lines, and you were strongly discouraged from leaving your place. The two times I have seen the Mona Lisa, I have been largely disappointed. You can only get close enough to see it from a distance and typically this is from a space packed tightly with people all twitching to get a peek.

Now, I understand the reasoning for such measures and respect that certain historic items would not have survived if not for this level of diligence. And, believe me, I am not here to debate the idea of a museum with you. Because, my appreciation for the City Museum comes not from it’s ability to preserve history (although, they do that as well). It comes from what I’ll call, the Ability to Discover.

On my most recent visit, I scaled a new exhibit, found a hidden room, and explored a new cave. I did all of this with my family in tow and no one shuffling me into a line while telling me I couldn’t touch, climb, or peek where I wanted. That wasn’t because there were a lack of employees milling around. Actually, a few of them checked in when my son began to cry and a couple others crawled into a hidden hallway with us. But my favorite thing of all is that we are free to explore and discover without ridiculous regulations. And I like that my kids have the same freedom. I spent my childhood exploring the woods and making Drop Dead Fred-style trouble for my parents. I can only hope my children will have the pleasure to annoy me in such a manner.

I know why rules are in place and why we go to such lengths to protect our children and ourselves. We love those around us and we want to protect them from all the terrible things in the world. The problem is that, often, we also protect them from the good things in the world. Our children would benefit from discovering things on their own, and learning that (shockingly) it’s okay to make mistakes. And yes, I’m sure you’ve seen the cheesy meme or inspirational poster, but remember, we often learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. Whether you agree or not, the City Museum should definitely be on your list of places to visit.

Mandi's Two Cents: I've never spent much time in St. Louis but this post makes me want to go and be a kid again! My favorite place when I was a child growing up in and around Chicago was The Shedd Aquarium. I'm so scared of water, and the things that lurk beneath, but I loved seeing it from a safe distance! Yes, I'm a weeny ... don't make too much fun of me!

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