I spend so much time discussing the initial progress my son Spencer Hahn made at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis that I love having this opportunity to tell you about how much progress he continues to make and how “his” museum has grown with him over the years.
But before we can go forward, we must go back. Spencer was born on December 7, 2005. When he was about four months old, I started to notice that he wasn’t moving the right side of his body. I pinched him one day, and he didn’t make a sound. I fought doctors saying that he was just “developmentally delayed” for months and finally, when he was around nine months old, the results of an MRI came back and confirmed my worst nightmare was true. He had suffered a massive stroke in utero, and over two-thirds of the left side of his brain had never developed. He was, as I suspected, paralyzed on his right side. The doctors called it cerebral palsy. Later they would add grand mal seizures, autism, mitochondrial disorder, and Factor V blood clotting, which was the cause of the stroke, to his diagnosis. They went on to say that he would never walk or talk. He has proven them wrong. His first steps were at “his” museum. His first word was at “his” museum. He fought and worked so hard. I used every inch of that museum to teach him.
That is the beginning of our story. As Spencer has grown older, he has naturally become more inquisitive. First words led to first “why” questions as he began to question the world around him: “Why is the sky blue? Why does the sun go down? How does an airplane fly? What is gravity? Why does my boat go around the rock I put in its path in ScienceWorks?” And this OCD mom’s favorite: “How do you make a volcano?”
Just as a safe place to fall created a safe place to walk, fostering curiosity led to bigger thinking. Understanding the role you play in the environment leads to smarter choices for our planet and better global citizens. Learning about space exploration—whether by watching Sesame Street’s Elmo in a planetarium show or hearing the museum’s Extraordinary-Scientist-in-Residence David Wolf speak about his experiences in the International Space Station—helps you understand that there is no limit to your imagination and no such thing as a final frontier. Gazing at the moon or a beautiful pond in nature because you have seen the facilitated “pond” session at the museum umpteen times lends itself to living in the moment and taking time to reflect. Learning why flowers have a smell in a Saturday class at the museum reminds us to take time to stop and smell them.
If you visit National Geographic Sacred Journeys, one of the newest exhibitions at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, you can watch one of the actor interpreters do a program about Walking a Labyrinth. In short, it’s about getting lost in the steps you take as you wind around the labyrinth, thereby losing yourself and in the end finding clarity. That defines the children’s museum’s End of the Day parades from my perspective. What started out as a creative way to encourage museum guests to exit at closing time is for me and Spencer a reminder of all the things he has accomplished. On December 8, 2015, the day after his 10th birthday, Spencer completed his 200th End of the Day parade at the museum. It takes 230 steps from the top of the parade route to the bottom. That’s 46,000 steps he was never supposed to take. Just like walking a labyrinth, with each step I see him grow stronger and more self-confident. With each step I am reminded of our journey. Life is tough at times, and it is very easy to get caught in the negatives, the “nevers.” Parades teach us both that regardless of the day’s struggles, we should never stop putting one foot in front of the other!
My son will continue to grow, develop, and defy those “nevers” because of “his” museum. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is a place where you learn something new every time you go. Take that from someone who visits two times a week for eight hours at a time and has done so for almost a decade. I leave the museum more informed. We are past the initial stages. Spencer can now walk and talk but where he will walk (the moon, a dinosaur dig site, another country) depends only upon his imagination, facilitated by what the museum has taught him. What he will say when he opens his mouth will be more informed, curious, and detailed because of what the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis continues to teach him. Each time we visit, we grow, and for that I’m eternally grateful!
—Erica Hahn, Indianapolis
Video courtesy RTV6