Sponsored Post: Exploration Station

We were invited last week to tour and play at Exploration Station in Ponca City, in exchange for pizza and sharing about our adventures on the blog.  We thought that sounded like a great trade!  Our family was glad to volunteer for the very difficult job at playing in a brand new children’s museum!

Here’s a quote from their website:

We take a whole-child approach to children’s education and have a hands on philosophy. We believe in allowing kids to actively play with their environments leading them to learn how things work! Kids should have fun while learning new things. Educational play in a safe and fun environment is our goal!

To clarify, our children were dressed up fancy for pictures.  Obviously play clothes would be better, and that’s what we will wear next time – because we are definitely going back!  But we had just finished recording our audiobook and needed a long drive to listen for final edits, so we decided to make a whole day of it: traveling to the temple, and taking pictures, and driving up to Ponca City to test out this new play place.  That’s why they were so spiffed up, just for the context of our day, not because it’s a requirement for Exploration Station.

In fact, there is only one rule at Exploration Station:  PLAY.

It’s amazing!  Noise is okay, and messes are acceptable.  The whole building is free play, where fantasy and imagination and hands on experiences are all encouraged.  It was so great for our children!

For those who don’t know, and to explain why we think we are so great at reviewing a place like this, is because of the variety of issues and ages our family has… We have six children adopted from foster care: two eight year olds, one of whom is Deaf, and one of whom is Autistic; one seven year old, who has cerebral palsy; one four year old with fetal alcohol syndrome, and another with reactive attachment, plus a one year old who is on a feeding tube and often has oxygen on top of that.  They all have trauma issues, developmental issues, and stimulation issues.  That’s who we are, and you can read more of our story in the book, Keeping Kyrie.  We were thrilled to be the opening test run for Exploration Station!

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Because this is who we are, there are a lot of special challenges we have.  Play places need to have accessibility issues for each of them: activities my girls can enjoy without hearing, activities my son can participate in without using his left side (or better yet, activities that are possible for him but still challenge him to use his left side more), and sensory activities that stimulate my other boys without overwhelming them.  They all need ways or places to calm back down, and boundaries enough they can play both safely and without being destructive (to themselves or others or property).

Besides all that, they have some pretty basic anxieties about getting very basic needs met, like bathrooms and food and water fountains.  Anber and Barrett were very glad to see these from the start!

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The biggest area at Exploration Station is a giant room about the size of a gym, but it is set up like a little town!  There are roads painted on the floor, a courtyard to play in, and then tiny child-sized buildings with real store fronts and offices themed like actual places in a real town.  Murals in each one add depth to the little rooms, and it really allowed their imaginations to soar!

There was a little bakery cafe shop:

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And a post office:

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City Hall, A Grocery Store, a Dentist Office, a Doctor Office, and a Nursery!  Plus a barn!  And a sound booth!

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My children have a little kitchen with tons of kitchen toys, and it’s one of their favorite things to play.  They could have spent hours in this little shop, and I think it was their favorite.

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Naturally, Kyrie found the nursery right away!  She sniffed out those baby dolls like a hound dog on the chase!  It was so funny!

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She also spent a lot of time in the doctor’s office, which I thought was so interesting since she has spent more than half her life in hospitals.  I think she felt some empowerment, being the one in charge there, and we talked a lot about what everything was and why it’s there and how it works.  The measuring stick is real, and the scale really works, and the kids loved the skeleton and matching their bones to the names!  It was like science heaven in that room!  I wish we had known about this place when we were homeschooling from the hospital last winter, but I am sure glad to know about it now!

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Anber and Mary played the most in the dental office, which included a real dentist chair and light for playing!

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The other favorite was the grocery store, which includes a conveyor belt, a produce section, and scales to weigh things.  They played here a lot, and loved going back and forth between the grocery store and the bakery for ingredients!

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Barrett and Alex loved the barn.  They could drive into and park things, or hide and jump out and scare people!  There is also a ball toss kind of game next to it, where after you get the balls in the hole, they role into the barn.  The boys thought that was hilarious!

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Even Kyrie loved the sound booth!  I think they recognized the equipment from some of Papa’s theater shows.  I loved seeing them play theater and dance and all kinds of things even in this space!

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There is a good place to stop for a picnic lunch and eat, and adjoining rooms that can be rented for private parties or gatherings.  You can rent just the party room, or the whole building for your event.  Kyrie just picked all the pineapple off her pizza, but at least she ate something!

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I think they would have played in the big room forever if I had let them!  But there was more to see.  Most kids just run in and run around and discover it on their own, but we were pretty structured in how we toured the place, because I wanted to be sure and see everything and how they interacted and where they got overstimulated.  Next time we go, we will be able to just let them loose.

While Kyrie was not impressed with the noodle room we walked through, the sensory impact of it was very good for Alex and Barrett!

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She did love this spot, though, and kept crawling behind it to hug the lights and just lay there.  I think she could have napped there if she weren’t so excited about everything!

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This was a life-sized Light Bright, where they could make any designs they wanted just like the one at home!

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The next room was full of tables and areas of different kinds of blocks!

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Mary moved the pipes around the wall to make a path for her ball to get through the maze all the way to the other end.

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There was also a whole train room!  I was glad they played in here so long, as we have some trains, and someone gave us more that we have saved to add to the collection this Christmas.  I was glad it was a hit, even with Kyrie!

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The other favorite room, where all the kids went nuts, was the music room.  It’s a large room full of musical instruments, sound making things, and even a karaoke machine.  They loved it!  It was too much for Mama to hang out in, especially since the kids were even in charge of volume levels, but they had fun!

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To balance things out, there is a little toddler room, with all kinds of activities for the smaller children like Kyrie.  She could have played in here all day, too!

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She was mad at me in this picture because I said it was time to go!

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This was in the toddler room, but it was excellent occupational therapy for my eight year olds, too.  It was a wall of hinges and latches and locks and keys you had to match!

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My personal favorite part was this quiet room, where I took Alex twice and Kyrie slept for a little while.  It’s a little library room, away from the noise of the other rooms.  The big chairs were so comfy!

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There was also an art room, which we did not invade because of stimulation levels and time of day, but it looked pretty amazing and we will definitely try it out next time.

You can purchase individual day passes, or yearly family passes. They have several party room options, including a very large room, a princess room that includes thrones, a hero room that includes a Star Wars mural, and a large party room with a chalk board wall.  It’s so fun!   CLICK HERE to see room rental options.

It took us less than an hour and a half to get there from where we live in Tulsa, and it was super easy to find using their address in our GPS.  It’s also right around the corner from Braum’s, so that was an easy treat afterward!  The kids wanted to be sure I pointed that out as a perk!

You can contact them HERE for more information, or follow them on Facebook to get updates!

They officially opened this week, with more additions coming soon, so go try them out!  It was the perfect holiday outing for us, and an easy Saturday trip we will be taking again.  The children loved having a large space to run and play creatively, and it was so good for them.  This is an excellent experience for any child, whether they are ready to be let loose to explore entirely on their own, or whether they need a little more structure going room by room.

 

Thanksgivingness

We had several adventures this weekend.  There were Thanksgiving celebrations to miss, and the annual blog maintenance putting posting and email subscriptions on hold, and the latest stomach bug the preschoolers brought home to the second graders because they are getting really good at sharing.

There were other highlights, too, like Mary doing well enough on her bike that she got to go with me to the river the other day.  It was so lovely!  I was so proud of her!

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She always finds such treasures on the ground, I knew she would love this leaf when I found it while I was running.  I brought it to her, and she took it home and decorated it with jewels.  She’s so creative!

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Mary and Kirk and Kyrie went with Nathan to eat Thanksgiving dinner with his parents, and they really enjoyed it!

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I sent our turkey up there, and the children ate everything, so Alex and Anber and I missed out!  We will cook extra yummy-ness for Christmas, then, I am sure of it!  Alex and Anber had fun playing in the leaves at home, though, and I enjoyed finally having a day completely off and getting some much needed rest.  I got a lot of rest this holiday weekend, actually, and I am really grateful.

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I needed that rest while I could get it, as I will be starting a second job in the next few weeks, so will have some very long days while I finish my chaplaincy residency.  I was glad I got some rest before starting this new season.

We held visits for the bio families of our children as well, one in Bartlesville and one in Tulsa.  Mary’s mother did not come, but Kirk and Barrett’s mother showed up with their new baby sister.  They had a great time!

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In Tulsa, Anber and Kyrie’s grandparents and aunts all cancelled on their mother’s side, and Kyrie’s father’s family who still have never seen her did not show up.  But Alex’s parents showed up with a surprise: his sister and her children, who are his niece and nephew!  Mary helped with the photography.

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Mary also took this picture of our pumpkin from my visiting teachers:

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The children helped me pull all the seeds out yesterday:

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We stirred them in melted butter and salt, just to make them extra yummy, and mostly to give everyone a turn at stirring, which we are practicing a lot at our house:

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Then we roasted the seeds, and had a fun snack yesterday!

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The kids also spent time re-watching all of their old videos.  We have done a lot of songs!  We are working on some playlists, because we get a lot of request for just adoption videos, or just parody song videos, or just this child or that, etc., and that will make it easier for their families, as well.  We will share the links when those are finished!

In the meantime, they really like watching themselves on television, like a silly version of old home movies, right?

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We took their Christmas pictures, with me trying hard to respect their individuality and growing up kind of independence, so not fussing at Anber’s white t-shirt instead of an undershirt, and not correcting Mary’s bright socks.  I love that they are becoming real people who are individuals!  We worked so hard to bond them together as siblings through matching clothes and lots of attachment exercises these several years, so it’s fun to come full circle.  We see them more and more being good siblings with healthy attachments, but also starting to blossom their individuality.  They are so amazing!

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Angels and Miracles

Sometimes you do your best, and it’s not enough.

Sometimes your have six children with a million needs, and make sacrifices to get the most needs met as best you can.

Sometimes it’s not enough.

I can’t take away autism.

I can’t undo cerebral palsy.

I can’t make Mary stop breaking her implant processors over and over, or make Barrett speak in a big boy voice, or erase the drug exposure they all had before they were born.

But I can love them.

I can love them, and I can try.

Sometimes everything we try feels wrong, in a no-good very-bad day kind of way.

Like when you have to take off work so much for the baby, that the company finally lets you go.

Or when you have two weeks to find a new house before school starts if you want your children to have sign language exposure.

Or when you are playing ninja with your boys and break a bone in your foot, and no one can really do anything about it.

Or when you are changing the baby and trip on the electric blanket and throw her onto a pillow so she is safe but you crack the bone in your wrist on your way down.

Or when your daughter says she is scared at night because she saw a spider, so you cuddle with her so she can go back to sleep, except there is a spider and it bites you instead.

Or when you leave your toddler’s feeding tube out for a few days because it feels so good and normal, and she seems to be eating, but it turns out she wasn’t getting enough liquids and so it’s the worst mom fail ever, and you have to hold her down crying to put the tube back in again.

Or those mornings you are awakened startled because the baby isn’t breathing and alarms are going off, and you might have a heart attack from the jolt it gives you, and you could swear you literally flew from your bed to hers.

Or when you spend the drive home on the phone with palliative care for one child while realizing the doctor visit meant missing the Thanksgiving program with another.

Those are hard days.

But it doesn’t mean they aren’t full of miracles.

Chaplaincy residency gives me opportunity to serve others the way so many have served me, as well as hours of group supervision to process the vicarious trauma we have endured the last year or two or five.

That’s why I cry when a nurse is kind to us.  That’s why I cry when a doctor takes time to teach and advise.  That’s why I cry when a doctor’s office returns a message.  That’s why I cry when a school teacher stops by the car after long hours to be sure I am in the loop with my child.  Thats why I cry when busy SoonerStart ladies let me stop by so my little one can show off her progress.  That’s why I cry every time I leave a visit at DHS with the people who worked so hard for my children for so long.  That’s why I cry when so many people work so hard caring and loving the children I promised to keep well and healthy and safe. 

Because I am not enough.

It takes all of us.

I cry because it matters, those small moments.  I cry because for our family, it’s the difference between life and death, between functioning or not, between health and medical crisis.

I cry because these good people are everything to us, and there is never a way we can pay them back or thank them for all they have done or show gratitude for the miracles we have experienced as a family.

Even our friends, or friends of friends who don’t even know us, have raised a third of our goal for our list of medical supplies.  They have passed on clothes and toys and even a turkey.  Other special needs moms have encouraged me, while others have helped with rides or babysitting or gift cards to try and balance the stress.

Tomorrow we even get to go to a children’s museum for free, our whole family, because they will let us come if I write a review like a sponsored post on the blog.

How cool is that?

It’s so much love!

It’s people who aren’t just good at the jobs, but people whose hearts are golden and spirits bright.

That’s what I am thankful for this holiday season: love, and the kind of love that gives life.

Once, our doctor said to pay attention when Kyrie tells stories about times she has nearly died, or even did die but was resuscitated.  She is young, so these stories come in pieces and words tricky to interpret sometimes.  But we have shared so many of these experiences ourselves as witnesses with her, some of them have been very sacred the things we have seen and heard.

Crazy as all get out, if you didn’t believe that kind of thing.

But I remembered what the doctor said when Kyrie started playing CPR on her dolls.

Her teachers saw we do it, and SoonerStart saw her do it, and I saw her do it.

She is not exactly cognizant when we have had to do rescue breaths on her, so how would she know about that?

She was doing it today as she ran to the doctor’s playroom as we left today, so I finally just asked her about it.



What are you doing, Kyrie?

Breathing my baby air!

Why?

Because Kee-yay no air ouch scare me ouch and dark and up up up Jesus Grandma Neen Grandpa James up up up we watch mommy. Breathe baby! Breathe baby! Mommy breathing Kee-yay air.  Grandma Neen Grandpa James no hug. Say bye bye Kee-yay! Love you later bye bye! Kee-yay down down down with mommy air.

Then off she toddles, as if nothing happened, as if she didn’t just spew profound pearls all over the floor.

What do you do when your one year old tells you that, and then shows you how to do CPR on her baby doll?

(Grandma Neen and Grandpa James are my parents, by the way, both deceased, and no doubt as in love with Kyrie as the rest of the world is.)

And so sometimes, even on the hardest days, miracles com.

And often, they come in the from of a people.

Angels.

The doctor who gives you a hug when it’s been years since you had a mother.  The nurse that sacrifices her very life energy to care well for your child.  The teachers and therapists and speech path that give your child a chance in the world.  

The children themselves, who have endured so much but smile so brightly.

It makes me cry sometimes, how hard life is… but not because it is so impossible. 

I cry because we are not alone, and because of miracles, and because of angels that walk among us.

That’s what life and love are, and that’s what I am grateful for even today.

Tithing Settlement

At the end of the year, every family in our church meets with the bishop to declare their tithes.


Our family tithes when we earn money and get paid, but today the children had one last payment to make from money they earned from autographs.  They were so excited to pay their tithes to the bishop!


We packed our lunch to have a picnic while we waited, and that was a grand adventure in itself!


We had peanut butter and banana sandwiches, with bread given us by Panera and Peanut Butter given us from the storehouse and jam that Nathan made.  We had apples given from the storehouse and goldfish crackers left from the baptist treats that the Bayles family brought.  We had juice boxes left from a temple trip, and skittles also left from the baptism reception.  We will remember that tithing is a blessing!  And delicious!

Selfies

Kyrie was good and still during church today, but so loud that I had to take her out.  Anber was extra gassey for some reason, so I pulled her out, too.  She ended up stealing my phone while I was chasing Kyrie, and here are the pictures I took.















Faith in God and Friends

Mary finished her first Faith in God project by speaking at the Social Justice Symposium at Langston!

Here is her report:


Alex will get his book today at his baptism!

Today he got a letter from his friend Dakota from our ward in Bartlesville.  It was so sweet!  Now they are pen pals.


Not wanting to be outdone, and trying so hard to not bother the little ones who need naps before the baptism, Kirk decided to write a book report about Keeping Kyrie:


My babies are growing up!

Special Gifts

I worked the overnight shift last night, plus had two job interviews for second and third jobs, so I was very glad to finally make it home this morning!  I had two boys very excited and waiting for me.


We had been gifted a lunch at a new pizza place!  We took Barrett on a date, and he even got to play with pizza dough.  We made a B, counted pepperonis and slices of pizza, and found circles and triangles.


Then we picked up Kyrie from school, and too her to get her first hearing aid mold made!  It will be ready to pick up in a few weeks, they think.  She was mostly not impressed so far!


Then all the children and I had t gather to pick up Papa for another date, this one a family culture night sponsored by our friend Sara.  First, we went to the theater and watched the movie Kubo and the Two Strings, and then we looked at Japanese art.


Then we got to eat at Shoguns, which was crazy fun for our group of little ones who love fire!


We got to sing Happy Birthday to Alex, and even Kyrie got banana ice cream!


The kids had a blast, and Alex loved a dinner and movie night date for his birthday.  We were home right at 8, and the kids were asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillow!

Tomorrow Alex will get his present from us: new scriptures with his name on them for his baptism.

James Mission, a group that takes care of foster and adoptive youth, gave our family all new bikes this summer, and we have saved them for their birthdays this year.  Alex will get his next week, and I am glad we waited so that Mary conquered riding a bike in her own right before it was Alex’s turn to take over…

And seriously, the question remains, do we really want Alex on wheels?  Is the world ready for that?  He is so ready for this new freedom!  My little ones are growing up!