Favorite Places: The Missouri Botanical Garden, Plus A Discussion on Schooling and Civility


One of our favorite summertime destinations is the Missouri Botanical Garden. On Wednesday and Saturday mornings, admission is free for St. Louis City and County residents, so I usually take the boys on Wednesdays. And even though it it pretty crowded on these days, the garden is so vast that we barely notice the extra people.


I used to be really intimidated by the thought of looking after all three boys by myself here, but last Wednesday’s visit really boosted my confidence. Milo and Oliver were so well-behaved and did not dart off ahead. They stayed close to me and showed a lot of interest in the current exhibit featuring silk and steel structures to celebrate the Chinese Year of the Dragon. The Lantern Festival is also going on at dusk, but that is not the best time for us to venture out, as the boys are usually pretty exhausted come 7pm.



There is so much to see and do, but once inside, I refrain from directing the boys from one thing to the next. I think it is really important for them to discover and enjoy at their own pace. They lead the way and race on, or sit and gaze into the water for what seems like hours. Really, it makes no difference to me. We can come back again to see something new next week!




I find that these are the most enjoyable moments for me as a parent. When I can let go and not push. Time slows down and stress evaporates. These are the moments I feel like I am the luckiest mama in the world.

These are also the moments when Oliver perfects his role as little brother:DSC_0031



And I marvel at Milo’s patience with both Oliver and Emil. He is becoming such an amazing  big brother in his advanced age of four and three quarters (he is not four and a half). They are good for each other, these boys.


Oliver found a young settler friend… or his shadow?



Emil, not impressed…



… then impressed…


… then nearly asleep.







And I am so proud of these guys. I shared the following story with my mom the other day about what happened here, in the sandbox inside the Children’s Garden:

Oliver was contently playing with the hourglass-shaped funnel pictured above, when a boy who looked to be about 10 years old came over and snatched it right out of Oliver’s hands, then walked over to another part of the sandbox and started playing with it. Oliver stood up, walked over to the boy, and leaned down to get on eye level with him. He actually said these words, my not-yet-three-year-old:

Excuse me, I was playing with that. May I have that back now?

The boy just ignored him while my heart exploded into a billion pieces. But I hung back to see what would unfold. I was sure Oliver would try to take the toy back or throw sand in this kid’s face or something slightly barbaric (I kind of wanted to shake the kid myself- he was nearly as tall as me!) but instead, he turned and walked over to me with a really concerned look on his face and informed me that the boy had taken his toy away. I went over and suggested to the big boy that if he would like a turn with the toy, we would be sure to give him one as soon as Oliver was finished playing with it, but that it was not cool to take a toy away from someone so much smaller than him, yada, yada, yada.

The big boy just ignored me too and then gave me a what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it look, so I gave up and pulled Oliver aside and explained to him that sometimes things happen that are unfair and that it is still important for him to try to be fair to others because of how icky it feels when someone treats you that way. Oliver went and found another toy and was totally fine. I, on the other hand, was kind of pissed off that this kid’s mom was nowhere to be found, but really, that is my problem.

It freaks me out how completely uncivilized people can be! We are making such an effort to teach our boys to be good people, fair people, kind people. But I’ve had enough doors slammed in my face (while carrying a bag, pushing a stroller, and balancing a baby on one hip) recently that I’m starting to feel jaded. WTF? Are people not teaching their kids to be good anymore? Is it too much to ask for people to instill some basic decency in their offspring?

Moving on.DSC_0092

I found Milo crouched in the corner of the play area weeding. Nope, not climbing and jumping and actin’ a fool. Just quietly, calmly pulling weeds. He found this beauty and showed us the baby tree that had sprouted from a seed still attached! What a great find. After finding the mama tree towering above us, we had a pretty cool discussion about the tree’s life cycle. Then he felt bad and tried to replant the sapling.


My heart explodes with love for them. And at the same time, I dread the day when some other kid teases the tenderness out of my boys. Or at least makes them ashamed of it. I never understood the appeal of homeschooling (or the newest extreme schooling trend, unschooling) until now. The thought of the “cool kids” making fun of an active imagination or a Little Mermaid tattoo or gentleness toward plants and animals (one neighborhood girl has already made fun of Milo for crying after she smashed a caterpillar he was playing with- “My Mom says bugs are disgusting”- SPLAT). If I could be sure I would be any good at it and Milo wouldn’t surpass my own intelligence at the age of 9 and I would not loose my freaking mind, I would consider it myself.

So let’s hear it, how do you feel about homeschooling, or the more extreme version, “unschooling?” (Check out this story, or listen to the 5-minute version here). Whoa. Interesting stuff, no?

In unrelated news, Father’s Day is a week from tomorrow, so I will be posting a Father’s Day gift guide on Monday. Also, a Happy Birthday shout-out to my sister-in-law Annie today!

Enjoy your weekend!

20 thoughts on “Favorite Places: The Missouri Botanical Garden, Plus A Discussion on Schooling and Civility”
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  1. I feel like I could have written the last part of this post … I, too, am so worried that someone is going to come along and make my son feel ashamed for being the sweet, caring, little guy that he is. Sure, he can be a total “boy” at times, too, but I’d hate for him to feel weird about giving out hugs, or snuggling with me or his baby sister.

    There is actually another school option that is very similar to homeschooling that you did not mention … e-schooling. I currently work for a virtual school in Ohio (through the “K12” charter) as a Biology teacher and I love it. This model of schooling allows students to work from home, but there are licensed teachers guiding them along their way (adults at home act as “learning coaches”). I’d imagine that Missouri has its own “K12” school, as well … Maybe something worth looking into?? And I echo your sentiments about “unschooling.” Whoa, indeed.

  2. Dang. Lots to think about with this post. I’m proud of Oliver’s maturity and Milo’s contentiousness. I find that picture of Emil nearly asleep with his oh-so-bitable neck exposed irresistible. I also find my ability to spell without the help of a computer dwindling in my advancing years. I feel your anxiety about protecting your boys from social harm…I haven’t figured out what to about it either. I guess they have already proven they’re on the right track and with your guidance and wisdom, hopefully that will be enough.

  3. Wow. This thought crosses my mind so often too. How do I keep my child emotionally whole and self confident? It’s a hard question. Sadly, I see it all the time too. Jackson is very sensitive and caring especially when it comes to other children younger or his own age, but he really loves to play with the bigger kids. It truly breaks my heart when he tries to talk to kids or engage in play on the play ground and they exclude him or make a snotty comment about him being too little or (with the girls) a boy. We went round and round trying to decide if we should send Jack to preschool next year at 3 and a half. I feel that Intellectually he is more than ready, but I am not ready for the behaviors that I have heard other parents talking about that they bring home. We have a great situation now with a baby sitter a couple of days a week and the kids there are like his brothers and sisters now. It is such a calm, caring environment and the kids all love each other and their amazing caregiver. We have decided to hold off until 4 now, and not send him in September (to school), but it is so hard, there is SO MUCH social pressure. I am so torn and of course I want to make the best choice for my child. Thank you for bringing this up, you are inspiring!

  4. We have similar experiences at playgrounds, bouncy-houses and all manner of places where kids run wild. Kaspar is a super-gentle and mellow, always has been, and other children (bigger kids in general) tend to plow right over him. I am always torn when it comes to how involved I should be in that — since he’s only two I tend to get in there, after a bit, as you did, and remind the kids in question that there’s a little one to be aware of. It doesn’t always work. In fact, some kids his age are just much more wild and aggressive, and I often feel badly for those moms in that their job doesn’t look like much fun, most of the time. I see them looking really exasperated as they try to steer their own kids. But, sometimes they don;t. We recently played in a sandbox into which a bigger, total terror of a kid tore around and ruined another child’s sand castle (which he’d been working diligently on for as long as Kaspar’d been in there). The wild kid’s mom was running after him and barking at him to stop, etc., but when the castle kid discovered his project to have been ruined, he looked around and said “What happened? Who stomped on my sandcastle?” (the wild kid was off in a trail of dust, and his mom was still standing in the sandbox). This child looked right at that mom and asked that question, and she flat-out ignored him. I’m sure she felt torn and at a loss, but… I dunno. I thought, “Really?” She was uncivil to this other child, and was unable to really address what was going on with her own, and Kaspar looked on with a look of confusion. I said something to the other child like “Another little boy accidentally stepped on your castle, but HEY the beauty of sand is we can all make new stuff! Let’s do it!” (positive spin?).

    I love my boy’s gentleness, especially since I know it’s part of him and not just due to his age (though there’s some of that, for sure). He’s so joyful. He loves it when people around him are happy. He’s in a mode of continual celebration. I also fear he’ll be hardened somehow by the world, and its expectations of men. By bullies or whatever. I’m not ready for all that. I;d love to wrap him in a bubble, and I think we all do that to some extent as parents (that’s the whole deal with parenting); that being said, I have very mixed feelings about homeschooling. It’s not something I feel drawn to do at all, especially since Kaspar’s completely thriving in a Montessori preschool at present. Alternative schooling like this, though, does feel, for us, like a very viable route, all the way through; there are tons of options, and many of them really resonate with our approach toward living, a big element of which is nurturing the whole human being, and cultivating attributes like civility. There are Montessori (and Waldorf, etc.) schools, locally, that carry kids all the way through middle school, and then connect with progressive high schools and the like… though who knows where we’ll be by high school!… and honestly I feel like these give us the best of both worlds. Of course looking ahead to many, many more years of tuitions gives me heart palpitations, but, we take it one decision at a time.

    There are of course many sides to even the alternative schooling choice, however. I wrote about some of these here: http://www.parenting.com/blogs/natural-parenting/taylor-newman/alternative-educational-really-progressive

    Looking forward to reading along as you continue to parse the options and find the path that works for your boys.

  5. First, I LOVE Milo’s shirt. Second, people have just lost their kindness. I’ve got two stories from the past two weeks of people just walking past me while I struggled with Gus and a broken door at the market/a million stairs on a bridge I needed to cross. It was nuts!! And then finally, homeschool is something we’ve been considering since Gus was born. I have my concerns about being the one to teach Gus and then I have my concerns about sending him to school. For me I think it’s just going to depend on a combination of where we end up settling down and what seems to be the best fit for Gus’s learning style/personality. We shall see! It’s all very intimidating to think about though. 🙂 Way to raise awesome, kind kids!!

  6. Your boys seem so kind all the ways you describe them and like such wonderful people to grow and contribute what they have to the world. I agree it would be a shame for others to cause them to lose any of that, as so often happens. Our first baby is due in September and we have already discussed home schooling for similar reasons. The city and the world provide such a vast array of learning experiences and socializing that can replace what is found in a typical classroom, and while I think it takes a lot of learning on the parents part, as well as the children’s, I think it is worth considering. We have thought about other options like waldorf or montessori schools, but the costs for such places is more than we can imagine ever being able to afford. Whatever you decide, your boys will be continue in their beauty, I only wish more people would teach their children to have the same compassion and kindness.

  7. My mom is a teacher at a really excellent public school, so I’ve always grown up with that pro public school bias. But I can’t deny that the people I know who were homeschooled (sample size: 2) turned out to be likeable, upstanding citizens.

    Not only are your boys kind, they’re also fun, smart, cute and cool. I predict them to be leaders in their classes (isn’t Milo already?) Maybe their kindness will be contagious and their manners will rub off on their classmates.

  8. Oh, Lauren. I have the same problem here. I actually had to take a hair clip out of Oren’s hair on the way to school today because I didn’t want him to have to hear it from the gender police (a.k.a. the other kids in his class.) Oren loves pink and wants to wear red nail polish and Shawn and I encourage him to be who he is. He is to young to have to deal with any of that. It’s hard sometimes knowing that he may get knocked down by other children who are raised differently. I have already heard Iris say, “this is for girls because it’s pink!” Ahhhhhhh!!!!!
    It kills me and I have gone so far as to read several books on homeschooling and unschooling. I love the idea but at the same time, I do think that we all have to live in this world and learn to handle what comes with it. Even though I’d like to keep my children protected as long as possible, I know that it’s not totally realistic. Which sounds harsh- I just have to realize that I can’t protect them forever. I don’t know if it is that things have changed since we were little or that we notice more because we are on the other end now. At the same time, there are a lot of assholes out there and they are breeding.
    I’m lucky to have a husband who feels the same way I do and lets his son be who he is without comment. I think children are a product of their environment. You are already making such an impact.
    But it breaks my heart every day.

  9. I homeschool my kids for a variety of reasons, but one of the best benefits is that my kids get to keep a little bit more of their true selves intact than if they faced constant social pressure in a full time school.
    As far as unschooling, when we first started homeschooling I thought that was completely bogus. But I find my style leans more and more in that direction as time goes by. Am I an unschooler? No, but we’re definitely relaxed homeschoolers.
    If you would like to homeschool, but don’t consider yourself quite up to it, in my state there are partial homeschool/partial e-schooling options. Many of my friends send their children to a charter school twice a week, then keep them home the rest of the week doing their work on computers. These options in many places, possibly even in St. Louis.
    Best of luck to you. This parenting is tough stuff.

  10. Your boys really are too cute. I definately relate to these worries… Even at 18 months we’ve had some sandbox bullies (giant kids that may be too old for the sandbox taking over). It’s a big worry that there are so many mean people and school can be rough…

    … Still I doubt that I’ll homeschool. I do see the appeal but I also feel that I got a lot of value from the structure of school, the classroom environment, learning from different teachers with varying interests, perspectives, and teaching styles.

    I very much believe that every family should do what is right and works for them and I try not to judge- but from that article at least I’m skeptical about unschooling. The idea that children are encouraged to pursue whatever interests they develop naturally makes sense, but leaving basic reading, understanding of history, and math up to a child’s self motivation… I just don’t get that. There’s so much value in things I learned in school that weren’t my favorite topic and didn’t have real life application… to miss out on that would be a shame.

    Fun topic!!

  11. Wow, thanks for all the discussion! You guys have given me so much to think about! I too think “unschooling” is a little extreme and I would not feel comfortable with it for my own family. And I do also see the value in the structure of school. But I am so deeply worried about the state of the typical American school system and cutting physical education, art, and music from the curriculum. It freaks me out but I think when I put it all in perspective, we’ll make something work and our boys will be fine.

  12. It’s me, the mama with kids w/the same names 🙂 I didn’t realize that you lived in St. Louis! That is crazy- I’m moving to Kansas City next week – where I’m from. Just knowing there is another family with boys almost the exact same ages and names in the same state is so mind blowing!

    But, to answer your questions about homeschooling- I have always been drawn to it. And now that I see how much I LOVE being around my sweet boys, and seeing their eyes light up when they learn something new, and feeling the exact same way that you wrote about, wanting to protect their sweet, innocent spirits for as long as possible, I have decided to start our own home “Pre-k” and Preschool for the two big boys this fall. I haven’t told myself that I WILL homeschool until they finish high school- I just plan on taking it year by year, day by day…I can always adjust to meet our needs. It also will depend upon where we move, and what school systems are close and all of that. But I read a book a few years ago called ” A Thomas Jefferson Education” that was really awesome, and I should re-read it, actually- it gave me confidence in myself, even though I am not a teacher, that I could actually teach my children and they would thrive.

    The more we go to parks and playgrounds, the more I realize that a lot of kids are mean and nasty… It makes me want to create a park in my backyard, but going out to a real park is where they learn to interact with new people…I’m amazed at how often we go, and there is usually one wild kid or mean kid, and their parents are nowhere to be found. It’s so frustrating.

  13. I have given this topic so, so much thought. We moved to North Carolina from Los Angeles because we didn’t want Julian growing up in a place where the public schools were so rough, and the private schools were so absurdly expensive that nobody normal could afford them. So when we got here and learned that there are great elementary and high schools, but that middle schools are all pretty rough in our town, I was very seriously considering homeschooling. Except that the homeschoolers here tend to all be on the very very very religious side, and I tend to be on the very not. Before I start sounding like a total jerk who discriminates, I should say that I have no problem with the religion thing. But I have had a few experiences so far with very religious people not letting their kids hang out with Julian because we aren’t church-goers. (Way to go, people! I’m sure Jesus would love the shit out of that!)

    Anyway, I was all set to figure out our own cool homeschooling system when we got the most fantastic news ever that Julian’s most amazing arts based charter elementary school is expanding to include grades 6-8. And then I let out the sigh of relief heard round the world.

    About people having no manners anymore, I really am sad about that one. I see it too often. People with no regard for others. No “please” or “thank you” or just generally being kind to another person when it isn’t even that much work. When we still lived in L.A., we were on a playground and a little girl called Julian stupid and ugly, and he started to cry. So I walked over to the mom who was sitting on a bench on the other side of the playground and let her know what happened, and asked (really nicely) if she could please get her daughter to apologize to Julian because it just isn’t cool to treat people that way. And the mom looked at me and was all, “So what? Toughen up.” WTF!!! No wonder her daughter acted that way. So I talked (within earshot of the woman) to Julian about how sometimes people say really mean things, and sometimes they won’t apologize, but that it’s important not to behave like them. OH, SNAP! PLAYGROUND SNAP.

  14. It breaks my heart when I think about other kids being mean to Rho, too. He isn’t the most outgoing kid and is super sweet, and I feel like some mean bully is going to break his spirit. We’ll seriously consider homeschooling if he ends up hating school like his father did (ironic, no?) I like the concept of unschooling, although that article is a bit extreme. Not teaching your kid to read until age 10 is just a bad idea developmentally… there are critical windows of learning that you’ve missed by that age, and the child will *never* catch up. Good food for thought entry!

  15. So. I love this post, and the way you tell the story. For very similar reasons, the idea of homeschooling has crossed my mind, then left it. But then I remember what a wise mama of 4 exceptional kids (she’s my age, for heavens sake, I bow to her) said when I was wondering about how to deal with schools teaching things you don’t agree with. She told me that you have to teach them all you can at home, teach them to think, to question, and to wonder. Teach them to be confident and sure. The school will do some other cool stuff, like get them to try things they’d never dream of with you or allow them to be part of a group that brings out another element of them. And then you do everything you can to add to that and build on it. Which, of course, is what you’re doing.

  16. LOVE this post!!! I wish I could shelter my kids for forever from the “bad” in the world. And every day I go to work at my school it just makes me worry even more because of what I see. You are doing such a great job of raising them though! The other day Cam told me he wanted to go for a motorcycle ride with a stranger because his bike was “tool” (aka cool) …which then proceeded into a VERY long conversation with him and Max about strangers and why we can’t go with strangers blah blah blah. It broke my heart when Max asked if some strangers are bad and I had to say “yes”. I just wish life could be simple for them for forever! You’re kids are too cute by the way! And you’re just gorgeous, envious I am!!

  17. Gorgeous pictures! I love that you let the boys take it all in at their own pace. I find that doing that (even though I’m only dealing with a 6 month old) really does make for the most peaceful days as a mom. Sometimes I try to do things on my own schedule and it’s just super hectic. When we follow their little leads, things are SO much more fun and relaxing!

    We’ve got a while on the schooling thing, but since I was a teenager I have loved the idea of homeschooling (ESPECIALLY unschooling – been reading about that for years! Though it sounds like some parents take that to the extreme of laziness… I just like the idea of letting the kids pick the curriculum they’re interested in). My husband didn’t like it, though, because he thought it wouldn’t be the right sort of preparation for college. But I think he’s recently come around to the idea after doing a lot more reading. And of course, I changed my mind because getting some free time to myself (while the little one’s in school) sounds dreamy.

    I’m not sure what we’ll do, but I think we’ll start with public school (with a healthy dose of learning at home, too!) and then see what Audrey wants to do. If she hates school, I will totally be willing to do everything I can to homeschool her! I think it sounds like a lot of fun, and for the areas that I’m not strong in (math, math, math), there are always private tutors, etc.!

  18. I LOVE your blog, your kids, your way of describing things and the pictures! You are a blessed woman, with blessed kids! Congratulations! Read your posts is just a pleasure. A warm hug!

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