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.

AJ, Ally, Bowen, Brady, Cam, Cate, Deafness, Dessert, FPD, FPM, FullPlateBupa, Gigi, Isabel, Jax, Juliana, Megafamily, Sofia, Tess

Disney 2018: All the things I want to remember.

Hi Kids!  It’s mom here.  I’m writing to you at the tail end of our Disney 2018 adventure.  We haven’t been here since January of 2017.  We were supposed to come in January of 2018, but your sister’s impending arrival put a little crimp in those plans, so here we are, ten months later.  Isabel is with us, and we all agree the delay was so worth it.

I wanted to commit to memory some things about 2018’s trip.  Sometimes, years after we take these trips, when we’re back in the most magical place on earth, and your favorite place to be, I get flashes of memories and I think ‘I should write that down before I forget!’  So, here I sit, on the patio of our Grand Villa at Saratoga Springs, writing it down before I forget.

First and foremost, I want to remember what it felt like for all of us to be together.  This is Ally’s Junior year of high school.  It is a little bit of a question mark how long she will be able to come with us.  Although, she insists it is forever.  I want to remember that, because forever is a hard promise to keep.  I want to remember what this little girl looked like when she met her beloved Mickey Mouse.  This was her first visit, and it didn’t disappoint.  She RAN through the parks with reckless abandon, searching for that mouse.  We finally found him at a character breakfast.  A $900 character breakfast that Disney paid for because of a mistake they made with our reservation.  Let’s remember that too, not because of the mistake, that made me cry, because it was a doozy, but because sometimes mistakes are huge blessings in disguise.  

I also want to remember this face.  Gigi finally had the language to understand ALL of what was happening around her.  She marveled at the interpreted shows we saw.  Thank you Disney, for providing ASL interpreters, it means the world to this girl.  She has named all the characters, this one is ‘Carrot Nose.’  She was THRILLED to meet him.  She knows he is friends with ‘Princesses, Frozen’ and I interpreted as she asked him all about them, in ASL.  ‘Princesses, Frozen, where? You are friends! Tell them, COME!’  Carrot Nose, couldn’t make them appear, but she was cool with that too.  Hugs and onto the next thing!  She has grown so much in her time in our family.  What once would have caused a complete meltdown is now explained to her and she simply moves on.  Thank God for language.  

I want to remember how the Christmas decorations were just going up as we got here for this trip, how we’ve never seen that before, and how excited all of you were.  They appeared overnight and you all declared it ‘magic.’  I want to commit to memory how you all believe, so wholeheartedly, in magic.  

I want to remember that this was the year that Cate posed for photos with a sass that only she could pull off, and only at this moment in time.  I took about 1000 pictures of you, Cate, because of this moment in time.

I want to remember that this year, at the age of 8, was the year that Bowen FINALLY reached 40 inches tall and got to ride a rollercoaster.  I want to remember what that did for his self-confidence, and how he declared himself no longer little.  He is now ‘a middle’ in our family.

I want to remember our bigs.  I want to remember how Ally spent all day wrangling strollers, without ever being asked, she just did.I want to remember how Cam, Brady and AJ set down their phones, chose not to venture off on their own when offered, and spent all day in the Magic Kingdom riding all the little kid rides with their younger siblings, because they believe in magic too, just a different variety.

Kids, I want you to remember me at this moment too.  Because, the days are long, but the years go by so very fast.  I want you to remember how much fun this was for me too, even when I had to yell “WALK THIS DIRECTION!” in my drill sergeant voice to get us to the next ride.

I want you to remember that you all are my joy, my magic.  All 12 of you.
I also want you to remember that I can whip a tea cup better than ANY of you.–FullPlateMom, who got her teacup whipping ability from her dad, and who plans to keep passing that on to future generations.

AJ, Ally, Bowen, Brady, Cam, Cate, Dessert, FPD, FPM, Gigi, Isabel, Jax, Juliana, Tess

DC Day 2–Their History and Culture

Today was the day!  The kids finally got to see the African-American Museum of History and Culture!

We rode the Metro to get there.

Those four were quite excited.

Then we walked through one very famous mall to get to the museum.

The museum was amazing.

But the absolute best part is, none of it was for me.  Because, you see, when this was written, it was meant for me.  Well, not me exactly, because I’m not a man, but this was written for people who look like me.  This museum was devoted to the history and culture of people who don’t look like me.  I was their as a guest, to appreciate that history and culture, to learn about it, but not to belong to it.   It is good for me, as the majority, to be in a space that feels that way.

After the museum was over, we headed to China Town, where we ate in a tiny little restaurant with some great friends.  Photo credit on this one goes to Reece.  This might be the only family photo we have since Colombia!

–FullPlateMom, who is taking this babies into space tomorrow, thanks to the Smithsonian.  DC, we love your free museums!

 

Bowen, FPD

Have Sport, Will Travel. This Time.

FullPlateDad (FPD) and I have spent a parenting lifetime avoiding club sports, sometimes to the chagrin of our children. AJ, our 14-year-old son from Ghana, is very sad to never have participated in the highest level of soccer achievable. We put him on the mid-level, non-traveling team, on scholarship. When he asked why we wouldn’t apply for the scholarship for a higher level, we told him we didn’t personally agree with the culture of that particular club, it didn’t feel very diverse, and we weren’t going to spend our hard earned dollars traveling all over the Midwest for one child.

Ultimately, he understood. When we do participate in a sport, we try to get multiple kids involved in it. Everyone is on the swim team. Even if they choose not to compete, we have them get in the water for practices so they learn good habits when it comes to exercise. We choose sports where individual times are measured, but there is a team atmosphere. We tell the kids we don’t expect anything of them other than improvement in their own performance.

Ally runs cross country, as does Cam. Ally will never win anything. Sometimes, she is close to last one in from the course. Cam wins quite a bit. He narrowly missed making Varsity his Freshmen year. He did letter in both swimming and track. Ally won’t have a letter.

I am so proud of Ally. I am so proud of Cam. They are both working to their fullest potential.

Then Bowen entered our lives. He loves sports. He loves them the way Cam loves them, the way you love them when you have that innate drive to WIN, and I mean WIN with capital letters. He wants to get out there and blow away they competition.

His predicted adult height is 4 feet tall.

Bowen has Achondroplasia, the most common form of Dwarfism. His head and torso are average-sized, but his arms and legs are short, approximately half the size of other kids his age. As you might imagine, this makes truly competing in any sports very difficult. It makes winning anything nearly impossible.

Swimming is an excellent sport for Bo. It puts very little wear and tear on his joints. He gets to be part of a team, and he has individual times to help him measure his own performance. When he’s participating with average height kids, we make sure he understands that the only win or loss comes with a time drop on his own personal best. He understands and embraces that.

It took Bowen a very long time to even learn to swim. We put our other kids in the water as soon as they got to us, swam year round and most had mastered it within a year or by the time they were 5-years-old. That wasn’t the case for Bo, and largely, that wasn’t his fault. People are taught to swim by people who have been taught to teach average height children to swim. Bowen has to balance his short arms and legs against the weight of his head and torso. He had to learn how to accommodate for that. Accommodations like that can’t really be taught, it just takes time and getting comfortable in the water.

Two summers ago, it began to click. We put him on our summer team, and he made his big swim.

Last year he swam year round, on a summer swim team and over the winter with a club on a scholarship. Our winter club held a Paralympic swim clinic for athletes with disabilities and Bo got to meet a Paralympian.   He got to touch Paralympic gold and it was decided in his mind, that was his goal. So, this summer we took him to a local qualifying event. We had looked at the time standards and thought he stood a good chance of qualifying.

He did.

At the beginning of this week, Bo and FPD traveled to Fort Wayne, Indiana for Paralympic Junior Nationals. We traveled 5 hours to get him there. We wouldn’t do that for any other kid in our family. There wasn’t one word about why Bo got this and the others didn’t. There wasn’t one bit of whining.

Instead, we painted the windows on the car to make him feel so special, to let him know that this is what matters, doing your best on that level playing field. In our pajamas, in the wee hours of the morning, the driveway was filled with FullPlateKids waving to the retreating silhouette of a sedan containing one very excited 8-year-old.He brought home some major hardware. Two golds, two silvers, and a broken record. Yes, our Bo broke a record at U.S. Paralympic Junior Nationals in short course swimming.

We couldn’t be more proud of him as an athlete.

–FullPlateMom, who can’t wait to see where his next competition takes us.

 

Adoption, AJ, Ally, Bowen, Cate, FPD, Gigi, Isabel, Jax, Juliana, Tess

On Top Of The World–Day Two.

We rode the ‘funicular’ (it’s like a train) up the side of a mountain today.  It is a beautiful mountain, with a church at the top, called Monserrate.

The only rub was, half of Bogotá decided to ride with us.  Seriously, the line to go up the mountain was 1.5 hours long, EACH WAY.  It was like the world’s worst line at Disney World.

As we stood (and sometimes sat) in line, the kids doing beautifully, we met other families who were curious about ours.  We chatted, it was completely lovely.  The weather was beautiful too.  I can’t imagine asking for a better day.

The view at the top was absolutely beautiful.  The sky was beautifully clear and the metal rooftops of Bogotá shimmered in the sunlight below us.  We pushed our way through the crowds and I managed to get a picture of my whole family.  Well, whole for now.  We are still missing the person we came for.

At the top of the mountain, we all ate empañadas and drank soda from glass bottles.  Then slowly, we made our way back to the line.

On the way back down, when we got to the spot in line where we were stuck, couldn’t get out no matter what, Cate decided she had to pee.  For the next hour, I did dances and encouraged her to not pee down the side of me.

Poor little guy in front of us, started to look a little green as we stood there in the heat.  I thought he might have to pee too, that maybe all the pee talk was getting to him, even though it was in English, and he was the world’s most precious Spanish speaker.  But, then I saw him lean over and start to gag.  I dove to the side and shouted at the mom “Tú bébe va a vomitar!” But, too late.  I went into self-preservation mode and pushed all my kids out of the way, as the puke hit the floor with an epic splash.

We walked carefully around it, and smiled that, for once, it wasn’t us.  The crowd rallied for that mama and let her pass right through the rest of the line, onto the train, and down the mountain.  Cam thought maybe he could induce vomit to get us all to the front of the line, but we decided it wasn’t worth it.

After the mountain, we had our driver take us to Plaza Bolivar.  We walked past rows and rows of street vendors.

The plaza is beautiful.

After asking me every single hour for the entire day, Cate finally got her ice cream, and we made the day of some random ice cream man.

Cate gives Colombia a thumbs up.

–FullPlateMom, who can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.

AJ, Ally, Bowen, Brady, Cate, Dessert, FPD, FPM, Gigi, Jax, Juliana, Tess

A Murder Mystery on NYE

2016 is about to roll out, and we’re anxiously waiting for 2017 to roll on in.  2016 hasn’t been the kindest of years.  We’re ready for it to end.  When we asked the kids how they wanted to kiss this year goodbye, they said they REALLY wanted to party.  This year Santa brought the kids a murder mystery game pack, so it seemed the perfect time to have a little family time with the kids while celebrating with some fancy fixins’.

When the package from Santa arrived on our fireplace it contained a game manual for me and envelopes for each of the kids.  I set the scene.  Each child was given an invitation to the Teen Idol Awards and the swanky Hollywood after party hosted by world famous photographer to the stars, Poppy Razzi (me), and her faithful and loyal assistant (Gigi).  For tonight only, each kid would get to play the part of one of their favorite celebrities.  They needed to prepare a costume and be ready to walk the golden carpet at precisely 5:30pm.  But, sadly, during the course of the evening, someone at the awards after party would meet their untimely demise, and we would all have to work together to solve the crime.

The tweens LOVED this.  They were SO excited.  Their excitement rubbed off on the littles, who had a BLAST choosing a costume.  Ally helped prepare a totally corny menu that had dishes with names like ‘Get a clue stuffed chicken’ and ‘Crime scene cake.’

Food gets the teens excited about almost anything, and really, they were good sports about the family fun.  They cheered their siblings on as we took pics of them walking the golden carpet, making their grand entrance at the awards.  This is Tess, entering the awards ceremony as Selena Gomez.  Sadly, tonight wasn’t her night to win the Teen Idol Award though.  Instead, Brady took home the Teen Idol Award, playing the part of Logan Lerman.

His story would come to a tragic ending though when he was strangled in the bathroom approximately one hour after this photo was taken.

He makes such a convincing murder victim that he made one of these once happy girls cry.  Whoops.  Sorry, Sofia.  We talked her through it by having him re-enter the game to help her solve the mystery as a friendly, and helpful, ghost.

This has to be my favorite pic of the night.  As Poppy Razzi, I roamed the room taking photos and helping the little kids who can’t read make sure they understood their clues well enough to give away the necessary info to help the other kids solve the mystery.  You see, I knew who the murderer was all along.

Joe played a helpful and friendly police officer, Officer Nelson.  Every time Tess got a clue, which inevitably contained some sort of criminal activity, she wanted to report it to Officer Nelson.  “Officer Nelson.  You can’t tell the others, but I’m being blackmailed.  Help me.”

This had Joe and I guffawing.  It didn’t take long for us to arrest a suspect.  Poor Ally, otherwise known as Taylor Swift, will be doing hard time.  Apparently she and Logan lived next door to one another, her dog peed on his yard regularly, and he was threatening her poor pooch.  So, she decided to take matters into her own hands.  Here she is being read her rights.

She is not resisting.  She simply can’t breathe, she was laughing too hard.

All and all, it was a GREAT way to end an otherwise pretty stinky year.

The kids were already begging to have Santa bring another mystery again next year.  That’s not the way Santa rolls though.  Every year there is a new adventure or experience to be had.

I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings.

–FullPlateMom, who doesn’t want anyone to think that this sort of family fun is a one time occurrence.  It’s not.  It happens pretty regularly around here.  One time, we threw a wedding for two stuffed dogs so that they no longer had to live in sin.  God, that feels like a lifetime ago, and yesterday, all at once.

Deafness, FPD, Gigi

Emerging.

There is a point in every single one of our adoptions that our children begin to emerge as people.  It’s an odd feeling during these few months at home, almost like a fog.  We operate in a constant state of haziness.  We’re strangers when our children arrive.  They don’t know us, we don’t know them, and lots of times, they don’t know themselves.

Gigi didn’t know herself.  I know she didn’t.  I often try to put myself in her place during those years she spent in an institution.  Locked inside herself, no way to communicate.  I think in English.  I have a constant internal monologue going.  Don’t we all?  “Oh, man, the laundry.  I forgot to change it over to the dryer.  The kids school supplies, I need to find time to buy them.  Tuesday? Yeah, I think that’s free.  Put it in the Google Calendar before you forget and they go to school with empty backpacks.  Everyone will assume their backpacks are empty because you’re too poor to buy the supplies.  How are you going to pay for those?  You owe Bowen tooth fairy money too.  Damn.”  Yes, my inner monologue comes with negativity and curse words.

Joe (aka FullPlateDad) once told me that he felt truly bilingual (he is an interpreter) when he began to think in the language he was attempting to master.  Joe’s inner monologue occurs in Spanish.  That made me wonder, in what language did Gigi think?  She had no language.  So, what did her inner monologue sound like?  What does it sound like now?

Gigi on the TrainI can almost see the wheels turning in her head.  We were riding the train at the zoo in this picture.  A few seconds later the train began to move and she looked up at me.  Her face registered pure excitement.  Then her hands began to fly.  “Train! It’s going!”

She was thrilled.

And she was able to tell me all about it.

The fog is lifting.  I am beginning to see her emerge.

And, she is beautiful.  

Someday, a very long time from now, when all this is done and I’m old and gray, I know I’m going to look back at these moments, the moments when the fog lifted, as some of the most amazing moments of my life.

I am so profoundly lucky to get to witness this.

–FullPlateMom, who can’t wait to see who she becomes when she’s finally truly done becoming exactly who she is.