The following is a tale of epic proportions – the accounting of a brave couple for which they made the intentional decision to pack their 4-year-old and 7-year-old into a minivan and travel millions of miles (OK… hundreds… but it didn’t feel that way) to visit family in a mysterious land far, far away… Oklahoma.

It cannot be said for certain if this story is true or the creative ranting of a man trying to make sense of reality through the practice of fictitious storytelling, but perhaps you will find your own truth in the text that follows… the truth is out there…. (Fox, don’t sue me…)

OkieEpicTrip

Theatrics aside, the trip overall was wonderful. I had not seen my family in over 3 years and never met my newest nephew, already 1 year old. We moseyed down through Illinois and Missouri, stopping in Joplin for a night’s rest. We then continued on to Elk City, Oklahoma, where my brother and sister-in-law, father and new nephew lived. It was a great stay and we really got to know our new nephew and sister-in-law more in-depth.

After a couple of days in “oil town OK” we drove down to Lake Murray in southern Oklahoma. My mom and stepdad reserved all the siblings rooms at a lake lodge and rented a cabin where the family would hang out and commune. It was border-line camping as the little cabin was mainly for bathroom breaks and the kitchen. It was a great time around fires, renting boats on the lake and just hanging out with family that have not seen each other in a long while.

We then traveled to Edmond, Oklahoma, to see more family and meet a friend of Kelli’s. Following one last night in Oklahoma we journey back the way we came and after a stop in Rolla, Missouri, for an evening’s rest we found our way home the following afternoon.

The Great Hotel Experiment

Settling in for our first hotel stay.

Settling in for our first hotel stay.

One of the biggest concerns about this trip was how the girls would take to living in hotel rooms for a week. Specifically, how would Melanie sleep? We didn’t worry about Michaela – she’s slept in rooms with us before. Melanie, however, was used to having a room to herself. She also is accustom to falling asleep on her own terms, often playing in her room until she wears herself out and falls into a self-induced child coma.

We planned the setup as follows: Michaela would always take the in-room couch or rollaway and Melanie would sleep between Kelli and I in the king-sized bed. I was careful to always reserve a room that included those accommodations so we could maintain the routine throughout the trip.

The first night was rough. We kept them up later than normal, but not by much. Michaela fell right asleep, as predicted. Melanie, however, would  not present such an easy task. She got up, jumped on the bed, tried to have conversations, threw a fit if we tried to lay her back down… in short, it was not looking to be a restful evening. Then, all of a sudden, it got quiet. She just fell asleep – no warning. Later that night at about 2am her “witching hour” kicked in – she was up and at it once again. Then about 45 minutes later, back asleep.

The next night we decided to change tactics: keep her awake until she drops. Remarkably, it worked. She even managed to fall asleep on the bed! No witching hour; asleep until 7am; parents happy. And that was the sleep routine for the rest of the trip.

The Tour of the Playgrounds

Long trips also present a need to let the kids stretch their legs and run off some energy. This trip quickly became the tour of the playgrounds. Almost every day provided some time for Melanie and Michaela to explore a playground. In all we visited six different play areas across Missouri, Illinois and Oklahoma. There was one park, however, that shined above them all: the Children’s Playground on the east side of Lake Hefner in Oklahoma City.

Melanie and the memorial

Melanie standing next to the memorial remembering the children that died in the Oklahoma City Bombing.

We happened upon the park quite accidentally. As a child, mom and/or grandma would take us to Stars and Stripes park on the south side of Lake Hefner. We decided to stop by and let the girls stretch. However, it turns out I directed us to a different and special park on the same lake: an accessibility park. Smooth surfaces, ramps for wheel chairs, sensory toys – all the features to make a park suitable for children with special needs. It was wonderful. And the emotional cherry-on-the-top of this remarkable and pleasant discovery: it was a park dedicated to the children lost in the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. It was beautiful.

Meeting Miguel

Miguel and Uncle Chris

Miguel and Uncle Chris…. his favorite uncle, I might add…

A highlight of this trip for me was meeting our new nephew, Miguel. He’s the firstborn to my brother Michael and the cutest baby you’ve ever met – rarely cried and was all smiles. Evidently I made a good impression on him as he didn’t usually take to strangers but I quickly became a fun uncle to hang around. (At least, that’s how I choose to remember my time with him!) Michael’s wife and my newest sister-in-law Marisol also had a 4-year-old, Dante, who was also cute as a button. Michaela and Dante loved playing with each other – ransacking the back room of my dad’s house. It was a cute and welcome sight to see Michaela and Melanie welcome two new nephews to our family!

The Lake Murray Adventure

My mom and stepdad rented a cabin and rooms at the Lake Murray lodge, just south of Ardmore, Oklahoma. It was bribery, pure and simple, in order to compel all the “kids” to come together. Well played, mom… well played.

Dinnertime for the herd!

Dinnertime for the herd!

It was wonderful to have all the kids together. It’s been three years since I’ve seen my siblings and their families and this is the first time in a long while that we were all gathered in the same spot. The cousins played joyfully in vast wilderness around the little cabin. Mom made some of our favorite recipes as a kids: potato salad, “pink stuff,” (I’ll try to explain in a later post…) Rice Krispy treats, smores – comfort food! Admittedly, the campfire was a bit stressful for Kelli and I as Melanie kept wanting to get to closer. Otherwise, it was a great time.

One of the highlights of the lake adventure was the boat trip. Rick rented a pontoon boat and the kids enjoyed some time tooling around the lake. It was a bit chilly but fun to watch the kids’ excitement. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should check out the video of Michaela giving gramps a lesson on how to drive the boat. Hilarious.

The Edmond Stopover

Catching up with my Uncle Don and Aunt Gayla

Catching up with my Uncle Don and Aunt Gayla

After a final breakfast with the family at the Lodge, we hugged, said our goodbyes and proceeded to drive to Edmond, Oklahoma, to stay the night. After checking in to the hotel and enjoying some quiet time, we met up with some Internet friends at a local park for a play-date. Later that night we met up with my brother and his wife to have dinner with my Uncle Don and Aunt Gayla, for whom I had not seen in many years. They had also never met Michaela and Melanie so this was, indeed, a special time for me. We had an exquisite dinner at a wonderful place called Rococo’s and caught up on our lives and happenings.

Reentry: the Journey Home

The next day we met Patrick for lunch at a local Mexican place that we love and then started the journey home. On the way we discovered our power inverter (the thingy that lets you use devices in the car) bombed out on us. This meant no movies, no nebulizer (for Melanie’s asthma treatments,) no cell phone or iPad charging… nothing. This made the trip a bit boring for the girls and limited our use of the iPad. We managed to struggle through the “medieval” conditions of travel and found ways to entertain ourselves using the old school methods of “I Spy” and the alphabet game.

We arrived at our driveway around 4pm and quickly unpacked and relaxed. Later that night I retrieved a very-happy-to-see-me Keena from friends who graciously took her in for the week. (Thank you Alecia, Russ and family!) That night we relaxed, did a little laundry and then settled back into our own beds and enjoyed a night’s sleep – a restful slumber… without a 4 year old flopping all over the place.