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, Gigi, Isabel, Jax, Juliana, Megafamily, Phineas, Tess

It’s The Great Pumpkin!

Each year, the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch that he thinks is the most sincere. He’s gotta pick this one. He’s got to.

Say, Charlie Brown, I’ve got a football…

I got a popcorn ball.  I got a fudge bar.  I got a pack of gum.  I got a rock.  

By the way, whatever happened to the world war I flying ace? Oh, he’s probably getting ready to take off in his Sopwith Camel on the next dawn patrol.

You kept me up all night waiting for the great pumpkin, and all that came was a beagle!

Maybe not only a beagle!

–FullPlateMom, who hopes you all find your Great Pumpkin too!

 

Megafamily

My Nomination for Sainthood

I was texting with another mom of a large family today.  We were texting back and forth about her upcoming adoption.  She texted “I got my first comment about what a saint I am.”  I welcomed her nomination for sainthood, and to the sisterhood.  The Sisterhood of the Sainted Mothers through Adoption.

She has just gained her official membership.  Every mother through adoption does the first time someone makes a comment about what a saint we are for having adopted.  Those comments become even more frequent when you become a large family.

Sainthood for mothers actually isn’t actually a thing.  No matter how badly we want it to be.  I’ve made no secret about how perfectly imperfect I am.  If you follow me on Facebook I make jokes about my swearing, boozing and occasionally absolutely crap parenting.  My kids would line up to be the very first to tell you about all the mistakes I make.

I hope they all have their own blogs someday.  I’ll sit in the nursing home and fill their inbaskets with so many comments they won’t know what to do with themselves.  I’m giggling even now at that mental image.  Brady is getting it first.

Seriously though, I can be ridiculous.  I’m Type A.  I can’t stand mess (can you imagine? In a house of 13 people, I can’t stand mess).  I’m not easy to be married to.  In fact, I’d say I’m awful to be married to.  I have ridiculously high expectations of absolutely everyone around me, including myself.  I’ve been in therapy for forever now.  I have baggage in the form of my non-existent family relationships.  All this is on top of my love of swearing, wine, and on top of the intermittent crap parenting choices.

No one will be submitting my name for canonization anytime soon.

As I was texting with this friend I confided in her that this large family thing can be isolating.  It’s not the children, or even their special needs that isolate me, it’s the idea of the Sisterhood.  People think I’m unapproachable because I absolutely must be perfect.  After all, I’m raising all these great kids.  I am.  But they’re not perfect either.  I just don’t tell you about their screw ups.  I tell you about mine instead.  This is my journey to talk about.

I have to imagine that people wonder why I live so much of my life on social media, discussing things that other people might deem way too personal.  I do it to combat the isolation.  Aren’t you so much more likely to come and talk to me at a social function if you know that I swear, love wine and sometimes scream at my kids and husband like a harpy?  Because, maybe you do too.

We’ll need to rename the Sisterhood.

–FullPlateMom, who hopes you’ll bring your suggestions to the comments.

 

Megafamily

I’m Doing the Best I Can.

I’m headed to the middle school to pick up Miss Ally in just a few short hours.  We are SO excited to have her back after a week in DC.  If you follow me on Facebook, you’ve seen my updates from her.  She has texted daily, emailed and sent photos.  Then she told us she misses us, and that, sadly, a tour with 40 middle schoolers is just too quiet for her.  That is sad because it’s an obvious commentary on how loud our house is.

Her absence left a hole, but we’ve been keeping busy.  Adjusting to the summer routine is always just that, an adjustment.  We’ve also been thrown for a little health-related loop when it comes to Gigi.  Her eyes have been a concern since she came.  We’re not sure what caused her vision loss, and we’re not sure if whatever that cause will cause her to lose more of her vision.  We live in a state where there is, apparently, a shortage of qualified pediatric Ophthalmologists.  We received approval late last week to travel to Mayo Clinic.

Prior to doing that, we have to see our local Ophthalmologist again and be worked in with a Geneticist.  Plus, we have a whole slew of ongoing Audiology appointments.  Plus, we have intensive Deaf Preschool for the next three weeks.  Plus, we’ve hired an interpreting student to come and work with all the kids on the days our Deaf Mentor doesn’t.  And, we have signed swim lessons for Gigi, because, she is a drowning risk every single time we enter an area with water (she is wild woman in the water).

This is one child.  Of 11.

I’m not complaining, this is what we signed on for.  And, I love my kids desperately.  But, it’s hard.  As one might imagine, other people get lost in the shuffle.  I got three texts this week from people asking if I’m mad at them.  That’s the problem with social media, the internet, and having 11 kids.  Tone is hard to read,  and, I’m short on time, so I take short cuts.  I am rarely angry in a way that would cause me to simply not respond to someone.  I’m sure I just forgot.  Please don’t give up.  I really am so sorry.

I’m asking for some grace.

If I skipped your personal message by accident, I am so sorry.  If I missed an email, or a text, I’m sorry.  If you see me on my phone, answering emails and texts, I am not ignoring you, I promise.  This is a rough season for us.  Everyone has them.  Sadly, we are not immune.

–FullPlateMom, who is grateful for grace.

Megafamily

Messy Hair Don’t Care: Tess’s Laundry Detergent.

It has been heavy around this blog for the last couple of posts.  I thought I would share something fun this time.  Tess enjoys playing Holly Homemaker immensely and has perfected her own recipe for laundry detergent.  She has incredibly sensitive skin, so this has been trial and error to make sure that none of these ingredients bother her.  We’re all good.  The basic ingredients for Tess’s recipe are pictured here, one by one.  Everything but the fabric softener crystals are the most basic of ingredients.  Those can ALWAYS be skipped if you would like.

We always double our recipe.  We are a family of 13.  These two glass containers last us 6 months.  Prior to starting our project I asked Tess if she felt okay about me putting this on the blog.  Her reply, I kid you not, “For sure! Messy hair, and don’t care!”  So, there you have it.  She is beautiful, inside and out.

DSC_0419We use three of these bars of Fels-Naptha.  We unwrap and zap them in the microwave for 10-15 seconds on high.  That softens them.

DSC_0420Then we grate them.  This grater is only used for this purpose, because, yuck.  Soapy cheese otherwise.  We’re using a giant Home Depot bucket.

DSC_0421Next up, Borax.

DSC_0423Then Arm & Hammer Laundry soap.

DSC_0424Oxi-Clean because boys socks are funky.

DSC_0425Baking soda.  We use TWO boxes.

DSC_0426Then we added our “fresh scent” fabric softener crystals.

DSC_0429

And stir, and stir, and stir, and stir.

DSC_0435

We store in these glass containers purchased on Amazon, but I know you can get them at Wal-Mart.

DSC_0436–FullPlateMom, who also has a great recipe for make-up remover pads, using essential oils.  Ally loves them!

Megafamily

Ford Transit: A Review

I am sitting at the gate waiting for a flight to L.A. for what will be my first ever solo trip anywhere. Doing this was a huge deal for me. I don’t leave my kids, ever. When an opportunity arose to fly across the country to meet with some of the most amazingly dedicated mamas on earth to talk adoption advocacy, I leapt at it. The reality of going has been scary, but in an exhilarating and eye opening way. Some of my kids are getting older. I need to let go a little. It’s time.

I know why you’re really reading this post though, and it’s not to hear about my co-dependent ways. You’re here to read about our new, to us, much researched and anticipated vehicle. With the impending arrival of Gigi, the 12 passenger Chevy Express Van that we had called ours was now outgrown. We have known for almost a year that this was coming. During this time, the new 15 passenger Ford Transit was released for purchase. I was immediately intrigued. We liked our Chevy van, and they do make a 15 passenger version, but I worry about the roll over risk.

Prior to 2004, 15 passenger vans lacked the electronic stability control to keep them from rolling over at high speeds when driven incorrectly. I don’t think we would buy a version built before 2004, but the combo of the rear wheel drive and elongated wheel base still scares me.  I also don’t plan to drive our van incorrectly, but if we’re being totally real, I’m not the best driver. If we’re being even more real, FPD is almost a worse driver. I love him, but the man is impatient and tries to drive our large vehicles as if they are a Prius. We own that weakness in ourselves and decided we’d best accommodate for it. So, we decided to wait until the Transit hit the used car market.

All the while, we drove a van that looked like it had been ressurected from a scrap yard. The door handles had fallen off in some places, one of the bifold doors could no longer be opened at all, and the air conditioning ceased functioning in the middle of July. The snow tires were so worn they would never make it through another Wisconsin winter, and the brakes needed maintenance. While we mourned the loss of our completely paid off vehicle, it was time to put it out to pasture.

Finding a replacement vehicle proved to be an adventure. I started calling dealerships and actually had people think I was joking about the type of vehicle I was looking for. Then, when we went to apply for a loan, the bank got confused and thought I was applying for a loan for a business vehicle, you know for those early childhood education centers that I own. They assumed I must want a large vehicle like this to transport kids to the centers. Nope. I just need it to transport my own kids to and from school. Sigh.

Finally I turned to social media and posted a desperate plea to anyone who might have connections to either a Ford dealer or just Ford in general. Facebook for the win! We found someone with a commercial car manager who could help. He scoured the market, and we waited. Finally, we got the call! He had found a former airport shuttle for us. Yes, an airport shuttle. But, it was a 2015 model year and only had 21,000 miles on it. Perfect! We picked it up last weekend after our farm adventure. I am in love.DSC_0001

DSC_0004The visibility is excellent. Overall, better than in our Chevy Express. I feel like I can see more to the sides but slightly less out the back. I do have rely on my side mirrors more. There is NO trunk space. None. I’ve posted a pic of the back so you can get an idea.DSC_0002We make up for it a little with under the seat storage. When we do long road trips, we always have to travel with a storage box that hooks into the trailer hitch anyway. It has become a necessity. We’ll have a trailer hitch installed and continue to use the one we have.DSC_0003My favorite feature, as a mom of so many, is the seating configuration. Three “cow” seats for easily in the row behind the driver.DSC_0008Behind this are two rows of three and two individual jump seats that run along the side of the car. That means that my two little troublemakers can have their own space. I won’t tell you who they are. Those of you who know us can just guess.DSC_0010We plan to drive this car right into the ground. It need to last us for the long haul. For those of you who are thinking we’ll eat our words and need to move to a bus in another two years, you forget that our eldest kids are entering the teen years. As sad as it is to say, they are with us less and less and Ally is now two years away from having a driver’s license. Yes, our bigs are spreading their wings.

A larger car will not be necessary.

–FullPlateMom, who says this with total conviction.