Ally and I arrived in Paris yesterday after a long, but uneventful (phew) journey.
This is the beginning of a new tradition in our house. For 16 years, we saved frequent flier miles, credit card points, and hotel points from 12 adoptions and several vacations, to make it possible for us to take each on of our kids to an international destination of their choice. We decided the summer between their Junior and Senior year of high school would be perfect timing for that trip.
For all the kids, that year begins now, and it begins with Ally.
Ally chose Paris as her destination a few years ago when we first began talking about these trips and why we were saving so intentionally for them. Paris has always appealed to her. She wanted to see the opulence, the luxury, and to enjoy the history. All of it appealed to her.
So, here we are. Just her and I, enjoying all of those things.
Since yesterday was our arrival day and we didn’t get to our hotel until shortly after noon, we spent the remainder of our day shopping. We chose the most opulent mall we could find and Ally chose three tops, that totaled $29.10 USD.
Ally may like to look at the expensive dresses, and to pass the people waiting in line for a Gucci handbag to be released, but she loves a bargain shopping. She can’t wait to visit the flea markets later in the week.
Today we oriented ourselves to the city from atop a double decker bus. We spent 6 hours being chauffeured past some of the most famous sites in the world.
We hopped on and off the bus and ate our way through both the left and right banks of the city. We are following a tour guide for James Baldwin’s Paris. We sipped coffee in the same spot he penned Go Tell It On The Mountain.
We made our last stop the Musee D’Orsay where we went in and saw some art, but stayed for the view.
–FullPlateMom, who truly believes Paris itself is art.
Last July, I started a book club with some of my besties.
I chose three of my kids who had a similar reading level and I crowdsourced a book that they might all like. I downloaded the reading guide for the book here. We had multiple meetings at local restaurants where I had gift cards or coupons. Y’all, it was the highlight of the summer.
So, when summer was dawning on the horizon this year, these three lobbied to have a book club again. But, this time, all of their besties jumped on the band wagon. Initially, I divided the kids into two groups. But, once we got going, the tiniest of Full Platers also demanded their own book club. Now we have three going.
The kids are obsessed. When is our next meeting?!? Can I read ahead?!? Oh my gosh, mom! I can’t wait for you to find out what happens in the next chapter.
Juliana is the youngest of this group. She is a rising 7th grader, but reads at a high school level. Ally is not joining us this summer because of the aforementioned internship she has at an on campus preschool. Her internship includes room and board at a local dorm. We send her snaps like this one to let her know she is missed.
Their meetings were first. We’ve had three so far, because this book is a brick. The next meeting will be our last for this book. We’re taking suggestions for the next TBR (To Be Read). The kids love Black authors, and their favorite genre is definitely fantasy/magical realism. Dystopian novels are okay.
A note to readers of this post: Don’t message me with any outrage over my children being “exposed” to a book of this variety. That is my intent, all you haters. I want my children to know about people who are different than they are.Understanding the life experience of others is what combats hatred and cruelty. Reading this isn’t going to make anyone anything other than more compassionate. We need a little less hatred in the world these days. Should you choose to post a comment with malicious intent despite reading this warning, I will simply not approve it. If you continue to send ugly comments, I will start blocking IP addresses. The end.
Then the “littles” demanded a Book Club. Let’s be honest, they really just wanted the treats and the time with mom. Whatever gets you reading, right? I structured their club a little differently, because it includes two Deaf kids and I sign like a rising 1st grader.
Their Book Club occurs at home. It does involve a dessert. Last week it was a brownie bowl. We choose a brand new picture book. I practice signing it, in ASL, and voicing it simultaneously. That’s a stretch for me to focus on correct ASL grammar while voicing English. Lots of times I try that and slip into SEE (Signed Exact English). This week’s book was the new Pigeon book by Mo Willems!
We adore Pigeon around here.
When the book is done, everyone in our little group has to sit for three questions that check their comprehension. Gigi struggles with that because her language is so delayed. ‘Why’, ‘What’, and ‘How’ questions are hard for her. ‘Who’ and ‘When’ are easier. This time she nailed both though. ‘How did the Pigeon get to school?’ ‘The bus! Same as me!’ ‘Pigeon was scared of school…why?!?’ ‘Maybe, friends…none. *insert sad facial expression*’ Nailed it.
They are loving this. I am loving this. It is a great way to connect with my kids.
–FullPlateMom, who is all about the connection, especially with her less than chatty teens.
We’re one week into summer break now, and adjusting to our new schedule. It has been an extra adjustment to have me back home again, and in charge of moving the children place to place. Oh the places they need to move. So many places. We lost our 3rd driver last week.
Ally has a summer internship at the university. She is working at campus’s early childhood center in the Toddler Room. She is so happy about that, but the littles all miss her terribly. Isabel asks about her less than we thought she would, but that’s good. First, she is sure Ally will come back. Second, she is used to Ally coming and going. Ally has her own life. When you live in a large family, and have a huge heart, it is really easy to make your younger siblings the center of your universe. We want our bigs to have their own lives. Ally does.
Cam has a job at our local pool and is waiting to take Driver’s Ed until such a time that he can prove himself responsible enough to handle that. We have high standards in this house, especially when it comes to operating a motor vehicle. And, I have big feelings about 16 being the driving age. It seems so young to me. That’s just me though, I’m sure. Some kids are so ready. Some aren’t. He’s not.
Brady is playing tons of local venues with his drum line and his bands this summer. He just played at the Union Terrace last night. That makes him an official Madisonian, I think. He leaves for Band Camp tomorrow. He has few to no responsibilities in this house other than being the great entertainer that he is. We will miss that for the week he is gone. The house always feels so quiet when the great entertainer is gone.
AJ just graduated 8th grade. He is so ready for high school, especially for the athletics part.
Jax and Jules are now completely adjusted to middle school, enjoying swim team this summer and waiting for Sofia to join them next year. She is so ready, and she is SO done with 5th grade.
Bowen is getting ready for Paralympic Junior Nationals again in mid-July. He’s competing in short course swimming and made it on to a relay this year!
Tess is my crazy reader and can’t wait to continue passing reading levels and logging her books read this summer! She has dreams of her own Good Reads account.
Cate bid farewell to Kindergarten. With her went our constant enrollment in Room 4. This man has become like part of our family. To him, we say ‘aloha’, which is hello, goodbye, and we care about you all in one word. How does one say thank you to a man who taught all of your children?
Isa has completed 4K, and will move on to full-time Kindergarten in the same center-based Deaf education program that Gigi is in. She can’t wait. School is definitely her jam.
I am looking forward to a summer of them. I spend so much of my school year focused on meeting the needs of other people’s children. Now it’s time to focus on us.
There are 11 mothers out there whose hearts are probably wondering. For me, every Mother’s Day starts a little early. The kids are too excited for any sort of festivities, and after all these years, I make a big deal out of it too. A low key deal, but a big deal. I accept all of their handmade gifts with excessive glee, even when it’s 12 hours early. They’ve already brought me treats to eat, and hugged my neck and told me “Happy Mother’s Day!” even though it’s not yet my day. Some of them have told me in ASL, that’s a first this year, and it has made my heart burst.
You came before me though. For me, this day is yours. Wherever you are (and I do know where some of you are), I want you to know that today is yours. We know 7 of your names. 4 of you can only be honored through hope, a hope that someday we might get the privilege of knowing your name.
I think about you all the time. Every day, but today especially. Every time one of them comes to me with their first lost tooth, I think of you. Every time they win an award, I think of you. Every time they ace a test, I think of you. As they move toward adulthood, I think of you. I wonder if they look like you. When did you lose that first tooth? Did you win similar awards? Did you ace similar tests? Is their smile yours?
In the case of Tess, I often wonder if you know she’s alive. Do you know that the sacrifice you made got her the care she needed? She is alive. She is one of the happiest, most optimistic 8-year-olds you will ever meet. If we never meet in this life, I think about the day we’ll meet in the next. I think about what it will be like to hold your hand and say “We did it. You fought, then I fought, and she is there, alive.”
For Bowen, I wonder if you know that here he is allowed an education. Because of the sacrifice you made, he is allowed to attend school, and so much more. How proud would you be to know that he is a Junior Nationally ranked Paralympic swimmer? I wish I could tell you.
Cate is well and whole. The medical care here allowed her the surgery she needed to no longer feel the pain she did when you left her. Her face is beautiful, but we both know it always was. There is probably no one else in the world outside of us who loved her face just the way it was. I truly believe that had you been given the opportunity to stand alongside me during all her reconstructive surgeries that you would have mourned the loss of her “bubble eye” with me. It made our Cate, our Cate. She is a sassy sweetheart then and now. Is there any way you know that?
Gigi has language now. I can tell her the story of YOU. She attends school. She reads. I fight every single day for access to everything she deserves. I do that in honor of the sacrifice you made. Can you possibly know that?
I hope that somehow, someway, you know.
I don’t have any way to honor you other than to keep the door open for you. I will. I promise. We’re here. We hope to find you. And until then, I will fight for them every single day, to give them every opportunity on this earth. I do that because you came first. In this house, you are sacred, and I am grateful.
–FullPlateMom, who is a better person because you came first.
I can’t believe that this is where we are! I feel like it was yesterday that I was praying her into our home from Ghana. She was 9 years old at the time and all I could think was “we missed half her childhood.”
We’ve had 9 years of her here with us before she entered adulthood. Half of her childhood with her first mom, and half with me. Next summer, she’ll go back to Ghana and we’ll all stand on that hallowed ground together to launch her into adulthood.
We are so lucky to have her in our lives.
FullPlateMom, who can’t imagine life without her eldest, but 7th, baby.
This past September I began working in our local school district in the role of School Nurse. I know it seems like an odd move for me after working for myself for 2+ years. Not gonna lie, I miss the flexibility of making my own schedule. I miss making as much money as I did before I began working in a public school.
Our district is working toward the goal of having every school become a truly Trauma Sensitive School. I definitely want in that process. It is my passion. I also see so much being talked about in our district in regard to acknowledging our racial inequities. My kids have experienced both micro-aggressions and overt racism in their schools. I loved that this need for learning amongst staff was being acknowledged.
I accepted the job in July, and for the past 9 months, I have truly begun to love the schools I have been welcomed into.
Even though my own kids have been students in the district for over a decade, finding my place at the beginning of the year was so hard. The education world and the medical world are like two different planets. I would leave every meeting I attended thinking three things…”What just happened here?” “Why did it happen?” and “Why are these people the way they are?” I’m starting to figure some of that out. Again, completely different planets.
I adore the kids. Adore. them. I now have some of the funniest stories from some of the most creative elementary students ever to share with my own kids. We spend every night at dinner talking about the goings on in all six of “our” schools within the district. The first year of any new job is hard though. It’s uncomfortable to feel inept. This has been harder than any other year though, and at first, I couldn’t figure out why.
I hit roadblock after roadblock this week that explained a lot, and I think I finally have an answer as to why despite great successes and forward movement that it would be hard for anyone to dismiss, I feel so beat down. For awhile, I couldn’t put my feeling on why? I couldn’t even truly name the “beat down” feeling. That’s unusual for me. Part of my own training was focused on self-identification of my own struggles. I am good at identifying and addressing those so that I continue supporting others. But this feeling, it’s a feeling of sadness over…something…that I couldn’t quite put my finger on? I was able to name it once I was out of school for the day.
Before I transitioned to this role I used to chaperone my own kid’s field trips. Not every single one of them, but a few a year. This year, I have chaperoned exactly zero. That has left me with the very natural feeling of ‘mom guilt.’ I’m a work out of home mom, that feeling isn’t unfamiliar. I can hold space for it.
When the opportunity arose for me to chaperone a field trip for Cam, who is now a Sophomore in high school, as his pre-college group attended a conference on inequities in education, I jumped at it. Cam is enrolled in a program that will give him a full scholarship to college. He is in a track to become an educator. He hopes to teach middle school math. While not pressuring him into this, we are definitely encouraging it. Black, male, educators are precious and rare. They are needed. I know this firsthand.
During the conference, a panel presentation was scheduled. The panelists were local high school students who were going to discuss their experiences as students of color in our local high schools with the room full of educators in front of them. One of the panelists cancelled, so a fellow student asked Cam to join. I did push him to do this. Cam is finding his voice. That voice is necessary for him. He needs to be able to discuss, and share, his experiences with racism if he really wants to serve his students.
He got up there. For the first few questions, he let other panelists speak. Slowly, I could see him become more comfortable. He began to share, so maturely, some of his experiences. He shared what it felt like to be the only Black child in his Advanced Placements classes. He shared how it felt to integrate the Men’s Swim Team in 2017. Yes, he is the first Black Varsity men’s swimmer at his high school. He shared how he could see a need for change on multiple levels in his schools. Then he shared a story from school that he never told me.
He had been pulled aside one day after class, with three other Black classmates, and only three Black classmates, to be questioned about why the classroom smelled of marijuana. All of the white students, Asian students, and less brown kids had been excused. Only the three darkest children were asked to stay behind. “Why does it smell like that in here?” The students explained that the odor had been present when they entered the classroom. This explanation was dismissed, and for a solid five minutes, he and the two other students were asked repeatedly which one of them had just smoked.
Cam explained that he doesn’t smoke. He explained that he is a student athlete, a member of the Varsity Track Team, with his sights set on running in college. He explained that he has made a promise to his parents, and to his coaches. He explained he has a personal code of conduct along with an athletic code of conduct, to which he adheres. None of that mattered to this teacher. He had to explain all of that, when he owed no explanation to this individual. Finally, after a sufficiently uncomfortable period of silence, all three students were excused. As they all walked to their next classes, now late, they discussed how change isn’t coming fast enough. The adults aren’t creating change fast enough to stop the trauma of students who we are supposed to be keeping safe.
Later that night, I asked Cam why he hadn’t told me the story when it happened.
“It happens all the time, mom. I saw how much it cost you to try to make change on the swim team. Nothing really changed. It cost you so much. I saw what you went through when we got that letter. It cost us all so much. It’s better to not lose so much over these smaller interactions.” This was a small interaction to him. That broke my heart. What would be big to him?
We’re not moving fast enough to stop the trauma. I’m not moving fast enough to stop it from happening to my own son. I’m not moving fast enough to stop it happening to the students I serve every day in a place that I promised them would be safe.
There are so many stories to share. This is one of many of Cam’s stories. Brady has just as many. AJ and Jax have stories. Ally has stories. Juliana and Sofia haven’t even crossed over the line of being teenagers, yet, they have stories. Isa has stories she can’t even name yet.
Cam had the courage to share this story publicly in this moment. He is allowing me to share it here. The point of sharing it is not to seek retribution for the person who committed the act. She is still teaching. She will continue teaching. He knows that neither he, or I with all my privilege, have the power to change that. We know that if we tried to seek retribution for every act of racism we had seen this year, that we would be fighting constantly, and that fight would cost us so much.
Grief. That’s the feeling. It’s a sign of my privilege that it took me this long to name it. I am sure people of color have this feeling named and claimed. I have named it now too. And I will have to figure out how to move through it if any change is going to come from what my kids have endured, all my kids, at the hands of people I may interact with at work.
We had a wonderful holiday, complete with two full weeks off for all of us. This is a big change from the way things used to be. Usually, I’ve gone back to work right after the first of the year, but now my holiday matches the kids.
When the school year began I accepted a full-time work out of home job as a School Nurse. It wasn’t my nursing experience that led to my hiring though, not exactly. It felt odd to sit in an interview and have my life experience distinguish me for hiring. All the post-masters training I did in Complex Developmental Trauma was what made the district take an interest in me. I started that training so that I was a better mom to all of you. I hope to carry forward all that we learned so that I can help teachers support children the same way we support each other. I am so proud of how we have come full circle. From helping each other, to helping each other.
It’s the beginning of a new era now. I always feel two ways about that, sad that so many of you are getting so big, and happy that we’ve come through all of this together. Change is hard for me. It always has been.
Some of you aren’t babies anymore. I try to respect that here, writing about you less and less because you have voices of your own. I am so proud of you though, so proud. You’re taking the ACT, driver’s ed, and making plans for what you’ll do after high school. No matter what you do, I am so proud. But, we’re coming full circle there too, as I hear some of you discussing plans to become adoption social workers or trauma-informed teachers yourselves.
Of course, there are a few of you who still plan on becoming a princess and an astronaut, at the same time. We’re cool with princesses in space over here too.
–FullPlateMom, who can’t wait to watch you all launch.