Ally

No Graduation Day For You…

She’s no beauty school drop out, that is for sure. No shade to those who might be, we all find our own path in our own time. But I think the biggest struggle of the loss of the last quarter of her Senior year is that she always knew exactly where her path would lead.

Ally came to the U.S. proclaiming “I will go to University” in her proper Ghanaian accent. At first, which University was unclear. That didn’t take very long for her to choose either though. As her little sisters entered our family, three from China, and one from Colombia, her path was chosen. She wanted to stay close and attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Those sisters helped her choose her path to a major as well. She will enter the School of Education with a focus in Elementary Education. She is waiting to decide on Special Education versus Regular Ed, but I know that no matter which program she ends up choosing, her understanding of what it is like to have to fight for a child with a disability will guide the way she teaches.

Ally entered the PEOPLE Program her Sophomore year of high school. She began spending every summer on campus in some pretty intensive programming to help support her in understanding the expectations of a large university. She took to the setting beautifully. In fact, she fell in love with Bascom Hill. She will be the 5th generation of Badger women to graduate from UW Madison from my side of the family. 5 generations of women, and the first woman to graduate college in her family of birth. Roots and wings. Ally’s birth mom wanted this for her. This opportunity was part of the reason she made the choice she did.

That drive to “go to University” was born of the woman who gave birth to her, one who was denied an education in part because of her gender and in part because of poverty. Ally took that and carried that with her as she focused on her goals with precision almost no high schoolers have.

We were devastated to learn that her Senior year would be cut short, and that her traditional graduation would be cancelled. One can be simultaneously grateful and devastated, it is possible. Right now, that is where we are living.

We committed to celebrating all that Ally has accomplished though, in a major way. If you would like to celebrate Ally, a wonderful friend is holding a virtual graduation party for her. All donations go directly to her college fund. She did receive a tuition scholarship that will cover four years, but she has other expenses. And, she is looking forward to decorating a dorm room in the fall, if this virus ever goes away.

We would also love to collect messages for Ally here. Please post a comment if you’d like to join in our celebration!

AJ, Ally, Bowen, Brady, Bread and Butter, Cam, Cate, Deafness, FPD, FPM, Gigi, Isabel, Jax, Juliana, Megafamily

Quarantine Chronicles

Here we all are, staying home (you are, right? Please tell me you are). This was the view from where I am. Well, it was a few days ago. Spring has sprung on what was supposed to be an uneventful, exciting school year.

Ally and I returned from Paris, and we all went back to school. FPD and I work in the same elementary school now. He is a Bilingual Resource Specialist (BRS), bringing his Spanish language skills to our school’s front office. He’s there half days and then goes to pick up the kids from their various schools. Well, he did, right up until mid-March, when life ground to a halt that even I, as the School Nurse, didn’t predict.

Now, here we are, all of us, at home. The other half of both of our jobs, his hospital interpreting gig, and my early childhood centers, no longer able to pay us, are at risk. We are hanging on, but we are in a space, yet again, where I could never have imagined this stress for our family. We have had life-changing, stressful moments before for sure. This is one for the record books too. We are a family of 14, 4 of us in the category defined as ‘high risk’, all staying at home as much as humanly possible.

Food has been hard to come by. All the supply chains are stressed in our area, and all others, I’m sure. Toilet paper was an issue. We figured it out, but for the first time, we had to access our local food pantries. We have had to do this more because we couldn’t buy enough food to feed the kids. Limits in our local grocery stores made this impossible without going store to store and exposing ourselves multiple times, and possibly bringing home the virus to Tess, Gigi, and Isabel.

As we transitioned to virtual learning, we all struggled. Joe and I are supporting the elementary school we serve while also supporting our own 12 children. The older 7 are relatively independent in their learning, but their mental health is a concern. We have had children who have struggled significantly with PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety. Everything is heightened right now. We had to transition to virtual therapy sessions, some as many as 3 times/week to keep kids out of the hospital for mental health crises. The younger 5 all have a varied level of independence, from being able to do it on their own, to needing monitoring to make sure they don’t wander onto YouTube, to needing someone right beside them to navigate the learning platforms. We have two kids who are Deaf. That presents an extra barrier to access that requires a ton of creativity and a whole lot of advocacy.

When school closed, there was a three week transition before virtual learning officially began. We didn’t miss a day, not because I am that concerned about their academics, but because the routine is vital. They needed a schedule. That has saved us.

These most basic of needs, food and routine, were made possible by our village. So many people rallied for us. Toilet paper got dropped off on our front porch. People sent gift cards. Other parents and co-workers texted us locations that had milk in stock. Friends of friends reached out to people they knew who are working in the grocery supply chain so that we could order food above the limits. Farmers who were dumping their milk are delivering it to our house now. Friends and co-workers emptied their chest freezers and dropped off ham, jarred food, and other frozen goodies they had stored away.

The teachers that teach our kids, and those we just know through work, helped us keep our littles entertained and distracted with awesome learning tools that were dropped off on our porch, or with online resources that were shared with us. I wouldn’t have made it through those three weeks without you. Working and educating the kids all while staying home is no joke. It has caused so much stress for Joe and I.

As our local school district launched virtual learning, and we are now three weeks into that, there is a new routine, and I have the capacity to plan some fun things for the kids again. Tess requested ‘Fun Friday.’ We end school a little early each Friday and do something together as a family. This week we had a popcorn party.

Saturdays are now themed. We launched this with Disney Day, last Saturday. I can’t wait to upload pictures of that to the blog. Today, we are having ‘Maker Day.’ Gigi and Isa have ‘Fab Lab’ at their school. It is a space filled with every day objects that the kids can re-purpose into their very own creations. They miss ‘Fab Lab’. So, today is all about bringing Fab Lab to us. I will make sure to document this as well.

I hope you all are home, healthy and staying safe. As always, if you are a parent in crisis, and in need of mental health resources, or just someone to talk to, please reach out. We are all in this together.

Ally, FPM

One More Day in Paris

Today was our last day in Paris. We made the very most of it by walking 9.5 miles around the city.

Yes, 9.5 miles.

We made a choice not to use the subway today. We wanted to wander, and wander we did, straight up to Sacré-Coeur.

And back down again.

We bought gifts for everyone at home, scoped out the stop we’ll catch our bus to the airport, and stopped for a coffee where James Baldwin used to sip coffee and write.

I drank my last glass of wine as I looked out over the Eiffel Tower.

Paris, you have been amazing to us.

–FullPlateMom, who can’t believe it’s done, but can’t wait to see her babies!

Ally, FPM

Sainte-Chapelle and Senior Photos

Today we went to Saint-Chapelle and waited in precisely zero lines to get inside. The Paris Pass is totally worth it.

We moved from there to Senior photos. By October, Ally has to submit her Senior photos for her last year of high school. We have spoken forever about taking these in Paris.

After much discussion, we decided to head back to the Pyramides at the Louvre. I had originally said no to this because of the crowds. But, Ally really had her heart set on it. And, when she has her heart set on something, I try to make it happen.

We made it happen. I may have had to use small orange cones to block off this space, indicating that we were some sort of professional photo shoot.

Aren’t we?

–FullPlateMom, who is sorry, not sorry.

Ally, FPM

Palaces and Paris at Night

Ally and I were super brave and rode the Metro and then the BUS (I KNOW! THE BUS!) to Versailles. We’re actually not super brave to anyone but the Concierge at our hotel and I think she’s just messing with us now because we refuse to use the car service from the hotel, accept taxi help, or buy a tour.

We arrived at Versailles as it was opening and the lines for the main house were queing up.

No thanks. It was a sunny, gorgeous day. We headed straight for the gardens.

We made the correct choice. It was a GORGEOUS, sunny day. We loved every second of it.

After that, we headed to Marie Antoinette’s Palace.

**This might be the only pic of me on the entire trip. Ally prefers to shoot landscapes rather than people**

There are only so much furniture one can look at though, so we stuck to the out of doors.

We headed back to the hotel, ate and went right back out again for our river cruise! When we boarded the boat the Eiffel Tower looked like this…

As the boat docked…

Oh my gosh. This city is amazing.

And, just because we can’t have a day without a story, we had our first odd Metro experience. We now look like we know what we’re doing (I said LOOK like, because I still can’t find the subway stop a good 50% of the time) when we’re riding. We run down the stairs, glance for the number and the direction the line is headed and sprint off to our destination. The Metro here is amazing. We love it.

While waiting for our train, a man came up to us and asked us a question, only it wasn’t in English, or Spanish, or ASL. So, I’m out of luck. Those are my only language skills. I told him “Sorry, English only.” He replied something about “Brazil” and then “Portugués?” So, I told him, in Spanish, that I only speak Spanish, and not Portuguese, at all.

He proceeded to insist that I was Brazilian and that I spoke Portuguese. Sir, I promise you, I do not. I speak only as much as Spanish and Portuguese overlap. He kept telling me I was Brazilian. I kept pointing at myself and saying “No, no soy Brasileña. Soy Americana. Lo siento!”

He was not having it.

So, I gave him directions, off the map on the wall, solely in Spanish. At the end, he thanked me, in Portuguese.

Y’all, I can’t make this stuff up. Ally and I have started saying “Yeah, that’s so Paris 2019.”

–FullPlateMom, who is a magnet for this stuff.

Ally, FPM

Less About the Louvre, and more about the Hair.

Today was our day to visit the Louvre. I hear this is what most people go to Paris for. Well, not us, I guess.

We started our morning thrift shopping in the Le Marais. The hotel Concierge, who is always slightly appalled by the questions I ask her, was more than slightly appalled when I asked her about where to buy the best used clothing. “You want USED clothes?” “Yes, we really of do.”

We got this for Brady, for USD $5.59, and he was quite impressed.

We got a lot more than that. We bought our clothes by the kilogram. For real. After checking out though, it began to rain. So, we ate an ice cream and waited for the rain to slow. This ice cream was special. I had eaten the same flavor, out of the same type of cone, from the same shop, when I was 16 years old and went to Paris on my high school trip. Ally found that amusing. “That makes this flavor really old.” Hush your mouth, and hope this rain stops soon, young lady. We need to go!

It stopped and we rushed back to the hotel to drop off our kilos of clothes and head off for our “preferred access tickets” for the Louvre.

Y’all, that place is nuts.

That’s the line to see Mona Lisa. No.thank.you. I have seen her and Ally has ZERO interest in her. So, off we went to see some other cool stuff. Alas, we are not art aficionados. So, what we classified as “cool stuff” amounted to us being like “HEY! WE FOUND CATE!”

Yes, that is a statue of a naked child wrestling a…goose? We laughed endlessly about how our Goose would TOTALLY do that, took a pic with it, and moved on.

There was other cool stuff, but I likely won’t remember a whole lot of it.

Because, other stuff was the coolest. Today, Ally was brave enough to sit in an African salon and have her hair braided. That might not sound brave, but when you are forced to leave your homeland at a young age, leaving everything you know behind, it is VERY hard to confront those memories again. Today, she did.

For those of you who follow me on Facebook, she was brave enough to take you along with her in a way she felt safe with. That is a huge honor. She wants to do that for other families who have younger children living through what she has lived through. Ally has been living with us, in the U.S., for ten years now. For ten years she has lived as a Ghanaian-American with forced (by me) cultural connections.

Today, I walked behind her, saying nothing, texting her dad, and praying she would take the lead. She did. In a small, but VERY large to me, gesture, she decided to navigate the process of having her hair done in a African salon.

She is so beautiful, inside and out.

–FullPlateMom, who is so lucky to be along for the ride.

Ally, FPM

Up the Tower

This morning we started at the Centre Pompidou.

We have joked on Facebook that macaroons aren’t Ally’s thing. Well, modern art isn’t either. But, the view really couldn’t be beat.

Or, so we thought.

After we left the Centre Pompidou, we hopped the subway, and promptly got lost. We would have been fine except several lines are closed for maintenance.

Eventually, we figured it out though, much to the chagrin of our hotel concierge, who tried with everything she had to talk us OUT of riding the Metro and into using the hotel car service. Hard pass. We’re Metro girls, with 6 days worth of pre-purchased rides.

We made it to the Eiffel Tower in plenty of time for our tour. We took the extra time to walk through some residential neighborhoods near by. We fell in love, and sat in a tiny square eating some crosswinds and cheese. Perfection.

We skipped the hours long line at the tower and headed up.

The view from the top did NOT disappoint. So worth it.

And, in true Full Plate Mom fashion, there is a story to share. The second floor of the Eiffel Tower is topped with what looks like square shaped fencing. You can climb a half level and look from an unchanged view, but from the actual second floor, tempting squares of metal. These squares are, apparently, the perfect size to stick your head through.

A child next to us did it, Ally and I gasped, but thankfully, he promptly pulled his head out. Phew. The kid about 10 feet away who decided to emulate the behavior, but with a slightly larger cranium, not so lucky. Totally stuck. I watched in horror as he became panicked, his head locked into the fencing that surrounds the second floor of one of the world’s most famous monuments.

I watched for a moment, then as he began to panic and cry, I stepped over, trying to look as calm as possible, since he didn’t speak English, I simply told his wide-eyed, I’m assuming here, sister “Go get mama!” She understood, because a panicked “mama!” is practically universal. Mama came and there were exclamations between her and her adult travel companion that I couldn’t understand. There was no way to help except to offer my hand lotion. I handed it to them and they nodded. Then, I fled. I am not staying for the aftermath of an Eiffel Tower head greasing. Mostly, because it could have been me.

I could have TOTALLY been greasing my small child’s head to get them unstuck from the Eiffel Tower fencing. It could happen to any mom. Truly.

–FullPlateMom, who might still have to grease a head yet in her parenting career, one never knows.