Gigi Outside: A Make A Wish Story

In late October, we learned that Gigi would need another heart surgery. It was so disappointing. Immediately, I requested a referral to Make A Wish. There was zero question about what she would ask for. Gigi is an outdoors girl, she is always requesting to go outside. Virtual school ends and she is signing “Gigi outside.” She usually takes Goose (Cate) with her. When they’re in the yard, they’re swinging on the tree branch swing or hunting for bugs. Gigi just loves being outside.

Then, she read a book about camping and it was all over for us. She demanded to try it, but this started in October. The winter months in Wisconsin are no time to go camping, so we improvised. Indoor, weekend camp outs became the thing at our house. I get up on Saturday mornings and find this…

Children lying in sleeping bags all over the floor of the living room. Isabel has one eye open and is peeking at me while I take the picture. In the middle of the room is a large, pink striped, A-frame tent.

It has become part of my Saturday routine to cook camp breakfasts. I love this new tradition. Ultimately, Gigi would like to camp for real, but we weren’t sure when she would need her surgery, or what her recovery will be like. So, for awhile, there will be lots of backyard camping and tent camping close to home. Also complicating factors is what Gigi asked for from her wish granters at Make A Wish.

Gigi read this book, and she fell in love.

She asked for a camper. Make A Wish has ordered this one for her. Alas, campers have also been impacted by COVID-19. Components are scarce. Build-outs are taking a long time. We don’t know when the camper will come. We are making the best of it though. We started an Amazon wish list for her and I linked it on social media. We only included the fun stuff, the stuff she associated with camping, as opposed to all the boring stuff we would need to safely tow the camper. No kid cares about that stuff.

Our village rose up for Gigi, and the list was emptied in approximately 15 minutes. We kept adding things for her. She is so excited, and we are so grateful!

–FullPlateMom, who can’t wait to camp with Gigi.

Track Stars

Cam, AJ and Jax are now all fully vaccinated and have joined the high school track team. Cam is so relieved to get to run again since this is his Senior year. AJ dominates in Cross Country, but fall was full of COVID, so he is ready to rejoin the distance runners. Jax shocked us when he joined up. This is his Freshmen year. He hasn’t met anyone on the team outside of his brothers. He was very, very brave to choose to become a thrower.

Cam, a Black man wearing a mask over his mouth and nose, is wearing a 'Madison Memorial, track singlet as he runs. He is looking very determined as a teammate hands the baton to him.
Jax, a Black boy, with a black hoodie under his track singlet is throwing a shot put. His teammates and coaches surround him watching.
Jax, a Black boy, with a black hoodie under his track singlet is throwing a shot put. His teammates and coaches surround him watching.

–FullPlateMom, who is so proud of all these young men.

Letting Go & Creating Boundaries

Life has changed a little around here since we returned home from the beach. Things between Joe and Brady went well while we were away. The mental health professionals in our life right now recommended a break apart from each other to help Brady. I fought that idea, explaining that I have never seen that actually help. But, the choice was made without me. Life fell apart in a rather dramatic way when we returned.

Police were called to our house by my own kid, which put my other kids in danger and was traumatic for them. Brady’s therapy team made a choice that I disagree with on a fundamental level on the handling of that incident. For that reason, I am letting go of that team of practitioners. I am creating some boundaries for my other children. The therapy team doesn’t understand that and told Joe so. “You can’t just divorce your child.” That statement is proof of how little understanding they have of our family. When you’re here, you’re here forever. Family is forever. Therapists aren’t. I am divorcing that team of providers. I find their care lacking and not culturally responsive to the fabric of our family and our trauma history.

Brady has decided this is the best care team for him. So, he will need to continue to do the work he feels he needs to do. For now, any chance of family therapy is over. With legal adulthood looming in the next three months, I don’t see a path back to family therapy for us. I am absolutely gutted by that loss. Trust is broken, and my relationship with my child is changed in a way that I never imagined.

The process of letting go of that team of therapists and creating new boundaries within our home is something we are doing in order for there to be a relationship for Brady to return to when he decides to return. We are trying to preserve whatever is left of our relationship before things are said or done that can’t be unsaid or undone. Forgiveness comes easily to parents, it comes less easily for siblings.

Sibling relationships in our home have changed in painful ways. Now my goal is to protect the relationships from total catastrophic ruin. Our other children have helped create new boundaries about who can be in our home and when, what to do when behaviors escalate in a way they aren’t comfortable with, and how to communicate that discomfort.

We brought even more new therapists into our lives to help our other kids cope with what the police presence in their home did to us as a family. I am back in therapy now working on my anger and brokenness about the entire situation. Joe is struggling in ways I have never seen him struggle. I wish there were more I could do about that. I wish we had more time to really unpack the toll this has taken on our marriage, because there is a cost to loving someone this much who is struggling this deeply. Right now, our marriage is paying that price.

I am parenting six adolescents and a 20-year-old, along with six other kids thrown in there who are trying to survive. We are all living through a global pandemic. This is absolutely kicking my ass.

–FullPlateMom, who is headed off to meet her own new therapist.

Gigi turns 9: A Golden Birthday

We’re celebrating a golden birthday in the house. Gigi turns 9 today!!!

She loves Legos and the Dogman series, so that is what she got. So many Legos and so many Dogman books.

She made some beautiful art of her greatest “wish”, more news on that coming soon!

The day ended with a thunderstorm followed by a beautiful rainbow. That felt pretty perfect for this girl.

She needed that rainbow. We have received news that her broken heart is failing. She will need another heart surgery in the not so distant future to try to correct that failure. She is aware of the upcoming surgery. She isn’t very happy about it. But, this is pretty much how she lives her life, searching for the rainbows and smiling really, really big when they come.

–FullPlateMom, who is taking it one day at a time.

Spring break 2021: A Different Sort of Break

We just spent a week in the gulf Shores of Alabama for Spring Break 2021. After the year we’ve had, we figured we were due for a break and we planned to make it as COVID safe as possible. I rented a house right across the street from the beach and we planned on doing what we do at home, isolating very carefully, but in a more warm and sunny location.

But, the week before we were set to leave, Brady began to really struggle with his mental health, and he refused to come with us. What do we do now? He is 17-years-old, not yet a legal adult, and he is struggling. We’ve never been in this situation before. So, we did the best we could, and one of us chose to stay with him. As you can imagine, this caused a lot of pain and confusion for the other kids. That’s where we’re at, in a whole lot of pain and pretty confused by what is happening in our home.

I have spoken to a few wise people who have lived through this with their kids though, and the best choice was to re-distribute some of the load so that I didn’t become a martyr and to carry on with the fun. So, that’s what I did. I am really grateful to Ally, Cam and AJ. They became my ride or die road crew as I drove all the kids south for 14 hours. It’s pretty amazing how one of the worst moments of your life can change some of the relationships you have for the better. This would be an example of that. I saw what these three are capable of, and damn if it isn’t some amazing things.

FPM, Becky, a white woman, sitting on the stairs with her eldest children, all Black. Ally is a Black woman in a pink hoodie with her hair in twists. Cam is a Black man with short hair in a red hoodie. AJ is a Black man with his hair in short twists. He is wearing a black tee.

They helped with our usual roadside picnic lunches, making sandwiches, shuttling kids to the bathrooms, making sure everyone’s hands were sanitized at all points.

A family gathered around a picnic table under a shelter at a highway rest stop. The family is eating lunch of sandwiches and potato chips.

We pulled up to the beach house late in the day on the second day of driving. I was pretty proud of me too. I have never driven this far on my own. And, I did it, with no major disasters.

11 children standing on the outdoor decks of a beach house. They are positioned on two decks, one lower and one upper. They are looking at the camera, smiling or waving.

We hit the beach for a walk pretty much right after we unpacked. I made it super low key. Come if you want to, stay at the house and nap if you don’t want to. Whenever you want to spend time with us is great. That felt good, and once they settled in at the beach, they pretty much decided to live there.

A selfie of FPM, Becky, on the beach. Behind her are all here children making funny faces and holding up peace signs.
Tess, a small Asian girl, sitting on the beach playing with sand toys. She is sitting on a colorful mat in the sand. She is wearing a brightly colored life vest and swim suit.

We did some other things too though. A lot of them involved seafood, which Gigi has found a new love for. Ally helped with all the cooking.

A pan full of peeled shrimp sautéing in butter.
Gigi, a small Asian girl, wearing a khaki cap with a pink hoodie pulled up over it, smiles for the camera. She smiling widely over a plate of shrimp and waffle fries with ketchup.

AJ and Cam helped the little kids go fishing nearly every day. We caught nothing, but oh my gosh, she was in her happy place. Being Deaf makes her totally comfortable just sitting in silence, so that is what she did, as she waited for the fish to bite.

Gigi, a small Asian girl, wearing a khaki cap with a blue hoodie pulled over it sits on a dock holding a fishing pole. AJ, a Black teenager, stands next to her. He is wearing a gray hoodie, sweatpants and slides.

Cate BEGGED for family game night, because that is something she is used to on any family beach vacation. Cam honored that and helped lead a rousing game of left/right/center. That is not silent at all. There is so much yelling involved in this game. Candy is at stake. They take it very seriously. Well, all except Isa, who can be seen here eating her game pieces.

A family is gathered around a long table, they are playing a game with dice, each person has a few small pieces of candy in front of them.

These three middle children hung out together nearly every day and stepped in where they could, emptying the dishwasher and sweeping up when it came time to help clean up. I appreciate seeing them go from middle to big as their older siblings begin to move on and build their own lives outside our home. I also love the friendship I see forming here.

A selfie of three children, all Black. They are smiling into the camera as they stand close together.

These two went to bed exhausted every night, and because they both communicate in the same native language, they have been forced into friendship. That forced friendship has become innate now. They fight like cats and dogs still, but that’s sisters for you, and that is what they have become. Sisters.

Two small girls, one Asian and one Black, are tucked together into a bed with white linens. They are sound asleep and cuddling.

Even though it wasn’t the Spring Break 2021 we pictured, it was the one we got, and it turned out to be the one we needed. FPD did alright too. Before we left, I reached out to my amazing village on social media and organized a meal train. FPD was well fed and he spent the week doing what he loves, running crazy amounts of miles. He connected with and supported Brady in a way that still feels all kinds of wrong to us as parents, but it is what Brady says he needs, so we’re going to try to trust that he knows himself.

–FullPlate Mom, who spent Spring Break 2021 planning Spring Break 2022, when FPD will join us again.