Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

These few moments have to be one of my very favorite times ever. The kids just put on their new flannel PJs, Fitz checked Norad with them, and they ran up to bed after seeing how close to the East Coast he is getting. Now we sit here in silence, just enjoying the lights from the tree and the few moments of peace while we wait to make sure the kids are asleep. We'll head to bed ourselves after we get all the presents laid out and stuff the stockings, but for now... this is bliss. I am feeling completely blessed at this moment. No wonder 'bliss' and 'bless' are so closely spelled!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Music, revisited

Remember this guy?  When I wrote that post, we thought we were saying goodbye to Michael for the summer, but life (and bills) got ahold of us, and we weren't able to work Michael back in. But as of last week, he's back. Tonight, I had to run out to bring Charlie to his hip hop class (whole 'nother story, whole 'nother time!) and left before Michael arrived. When I got back, there was a full on jam session in the family room, with Michael on the guitar, E.J. on the banjo, and Pipo on the drum. Last week, he worked for quite a while on the piano with Emma, and she has been practicing relentlessly all week. 

With a musician Dad, and a roomful of instruments, we aren't usually lacking for music here. But sometimes, it's easy to take it all from granted. Sometimes it's easier to leave teh guitars hanging on the wall and watch a dumb movie. That's where Michael comes in. He lights a fire under our kids like nothing I've ever seen. He makes them love music, and want to get better for the love of it, and for the fun of it.

The other night, I was cleaning up after dinner and getting the table cleared to make gingerbread houses. All of a sudden I stopped in my tracks. All 7 kids, hanging out in the family room waiting for me, had started playing Feliz Navidad on various instruments together. It was hilarious, and they were having a blast. This is why we have to make an effort to keep Michael a part of our lives.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

4 Years ago...

4 years ago tonight, I sat here in the quiet living room with kids sprawled sleeping all around me. They had made a valiant attempt to stay up and meet their new brother for the first time. Fitz had met Pipo at the airport, coming in off a late flight, and drove him home in the newly fallen 18 inches of snow. It was the first snow Pipo had ever seen. He was up bright and early the next morning putting his new orange parka on over his pajamas and begging to go touch the snow. I couldn't get over the enormous smile on this sick, scared little boy.

It's 4 years later, and there isn't close to 18 inches of snow on the ground yet here, but what little we have still brings out the same enormous smile. A lot has changed in 4 years... I'm glad that smile hasn't.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hassle chores

This morning was like any other crazy morning here in Fitzville. Fitz rounded the older 3 boys up to head to school, Kaleigh made her way off, and I was trying to get Tommy and Emma ready to drop them off and then run Margaret over to the orthodontist. Minutes before we left the phone rang. It was E.J. telling me he had forgotten his big project he had been working on for days... a project that was due today, and could I please come bring it to school for him.  Sure, no problem... fit that right into the other 100 things I was trying to get done today. 

The beauty of this phone call is that E.J. knew my policy when he called. It's a brilliant idea, given to me by a cyber friend years back, and which I have not only used in my own house, but passed on to many, many friends in town, so that their children could hate me. And now I am taking it to the cyber world, so that children nationwide can hate me. 'Cause I'm an overachiever like that.

The policy is hassle chores. Very simply... if you call to ask me to do you a favor that is above and beyond the call of mom duty, a favor that is truly a hassle for me... then you will in turn owe me a "hassle chore".  These are chores that moms get stuck with. Thinks like cleaning out the van, or sorting laundry, or organizing a closet. 

The greatest thing about hassle chores is not getting an annoying task out of the way, but that the kid learns quickly not to forget soccercleats/books/lunch money etc. And as an added bonus, they learn to think hard before they make that call... is this call really necessary, is it worth a hassle chore?

And as much as my kids hate this policy, I would bet money that someday my grandkids will also do hassle chores. Maybe not right away, but after mom or dad has to drop everything they are doing to run to school with that shoebox and playdough diorama.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Last night the windshield wipers stopped working, and it was lightly raining. Margaret asked how Fitz could see, and he replied "I can't... I'm like a bat."

Charlie immediately corrected him... "Oh, you mean you have echolocation... but that wouldn't work in the car, because it would bounce right back at you off the windshield."

Sheesh... my kids have no imagination.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

He's 7

There's something about the youngest child's birthday that makes it seem that time is moving at lightspeed. Tommy was way more excited to turn 7 today than I was. I would be very happy to freeze him right now. How much longer do I have of him still reaching for my hand when we are walking? Of him climbing into bed with us in the middle of the night? Of him curling on my lap when the movie gets too scary. Not many more of these moments I am guessing. I will take them for as long as I get them.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Head count

Can you count all 7 Fitz kids in the tree? Click to enlarge and make it easier. I can find them all. I can find them with my eyes closed. I spend a good portion of my life doing head counts wherever we go. So it pains me to think that next year I will be coming up one short with each count.

I have always had a hard time with any of the kids being away for any length of time, so it is unfathomable to me that Kaleigh will be going off to college next year... away for months at a time. She is looking fairly locally... but still. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to counting 6 instead of 7.

Last night was the high school sports banquet. Being a tiny high school of only about 300 kids, we have one awards night for all the teams together. Kaleigh was announced as the “unsung hero” of the soccer team. I wasn’t surprised to hear the way her coach described her. He said that she gave her heart and soul out there for ever single game. I wasn’t surprised at all. Kaleigh gives her heart and soul to everything she does.

One of the schools that Kaleigh recently applied to requested a parent letter, describing important qualities you felt your son/daughter has. The first word that came to my mind was passion. From the time Kaleigh was tiny, everything she did she did with passion and she continues it to this day. Whether it is school work, on the sports field or sitting with her guitar in hand, she puts everything she’s got into it.

She will be a huge asset to any school that akes her next year, but she will leave a big hole in this home while she is away.

Monday, November 30, 2009


The phone rang earlier today, and the woman on the other end told me she was from the "Make a Wish" foundation.  I was silent for a minute, and she had to repeat herself. Kaleigh sent in an application for Pipo sometime last Spring, and I hadn't given it much thought  then. We had gotten a brief phone call saying they had received the application, and that they would have to verify with Pipo's doctor and then get back to us. At the time, Pipo was doing well and I thought this program was meant more for kids who were terminally ill.

Today, I was told that Pipo is being granted a wish... that they will assign two volunteers to come to our house and try to make that wish come true. I was stunned enough, silent enough that the woman told me she would let me think about it, and call next week to set up an appointment. I told her that would be fine, and hung up the phone and was silent again. It wasn't until about 10 minutes later that I burst into tears.

I've written before about the reality checks we've had in the past regarding Pipo's FSGS. It is so easy to get lulled into thinking the disease isn't there. Since last December, Pipo has been relapsing regularly. Not bad relapses... we have caught it quickly each time, adjusted his meds and pulled him out of it. In the back of my head, I knew the frequent relapses weren't good. I had spoken with his doctor at the end of the summer about his current immunosuppressant having run it's course. I was afraid it wasn't working and that we would need to look for something else.

This last hospitalization was the biggest reality check yet. People have been constantly asking how Pipo is, ever since we got home. And I tell them he's fine... it's part of our life, just a small stumbling block. That's true for the most part. Fitz and I have talked about how hard it would be to have a healthy child and suddenly get an FSGS diagnosis, how hard that would be. We've talked about how in a way, the FSGS is almost a good thing... it's how we found out about Pipo, it's why he is here today. Without the FSGS I don't know if we would have this funny, loud, exuberant, smart, brave son. But none of this changes the reality. FSGS sucks. It's totally unfair that he has to check his urine every morning, that he has to swallow handfuls of pills twice a day, that he has to have blood drawn regularly and stay in the hospital sometimes. I know things could be worse, I know other kids who go into renal failure, need transplants. But it's is still so unfair to be a kid and have to put up with all that.

And this is where the tears came from today. We tell everyone everything is fine... that he is doing well. And he is. We tell ourselves it could be worse. And it could. But someone is here, acknowledging that it still is so unfair, and they want to do something for him to make up for that unfairness.  I wish I could grant every wish for my son. I am so incredibly thankful that he will now have one granted.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sibling bond

One of the toughest thing with older child adoption in a large family has got to be that expectation you get that this child will quickly develop a loving bond with a big group of strangers. I knew this was unrealistic, and we had tried to prepare ourselves for issues. Pipo immediately hit it off with Margaret, who he started school with, he worshipped big sister Kaleigh, and adored Tommy and Emma who were still little at that point in time. We expected issues between he and E.J. as he was replacing his new brother as the oldest boy in the house. With time and patience, we worked through that one, and they quickly became best buds.

The hardest relationship of all, though, was that between Pipo and Charlie. I have a bit of a soft spot for Charlie, and couldn't imagine anyone not loving him. He's a sensitive little marshmallow of a kid, and sees the good in everyone, which makes him particularly vulnerable. So it broke my heart to hear Pipo tell him he "didn't like him", and that he "wasn't his real brother." Charlie looked up to Pipo so much, and desperately wanted Pipo to like him. We had many conversations with Pipo, many firm sit-downs, where we told him he had to be nice. Nothing seemed to get through to him.

I had to step back at one point and really look at it all from a distance. I realized then that to someone new in our house, I could see how Charlie could be annoying. Especially when he was trying so, so so hard to get Pipo to notice him. The other kids have all grown up with Charlie. They 'get' him. They know that he gets revved up easily, and that he can't always help it. If they are all riled up playing a game, the others can 'turn it off' and walk away, but Charlie can't always do that so easily... just the nature of ADHD. He has a harder time finding his "off" button. Pipo had not grown up with this. All he knew is that this little kid was following him everywhere, talking a mile a minute and constantly touching him.

I sat Pipo down at one point and just laid it on the line for him. I explained ADHD as best as I could, telling him that it was a bit like his kidney disease, that Charlie was born that way and couldn't help it. That we all worked together to help him overcome it, and that Pipo would have to help too, because that's what we do in a family. It took some time, and more conversations like this, but it slowly started to sink in.

Little by little, Pipo started to realize how much he and Charlie have in common. He saw how great Charlie's sense of humor was, and how funny he could be. We started to notice them hanging out a little more, doing things together here and there. I celebrated each small moment I saw.

Time has passed since then, and it's easy to forget that there was ever an issue between the two. But every once in a while, something reminds me, and it makes me melt to see how close they are now. Tonight, we all sat down to grace before dinner... the first dinner we've shared since Pipo went into the hospital last week. As we finished grace, Charlie piped up with "and thank you God, that Pipo is back home with us." I glanced down at Pipo and saw the grin on his face. After dinner, I went downstairs to throw a load of laundry in, and saw the two of them curled up together, sharing a beanbag and watching a movie. The bond may have taken time, taken work, but it's there in full force. They are 'real' brothers... no blood required.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The answer my friend...

Pipo and I have been cooped up in a hospital room in Boston for a few days now. His kidney disease has relapsed, and he needed some IV fluids to get him back on par. He is doing well, but bored and awfully tired of hospital food and diet restrictions.

Last night, I had left my phone out in the van to recharge, as the battery was dying. I went out to the garage to retrieve it, not realizing it was almost 10pm by then. Almost realizing that the hospital practically goes into lockdown at that time of night. I could not get back into the building. I wasnt worried at first, figuring I could find someone on security to let me in. But I couldnt find anyone, and then I got lost, as this hospital has multiple buildings on both sides of the street that are connected.

My saving grace turned out to be Bob Dylan. Turns out he was doing a show right around the corner, and it was letting out just around the same time. At first I was a little thrown by the sudden hoards of people sharing the sidewalks with me... an incredibly eclectic group with a broad age range. I was on my cell phone with Fitz, who told me about the concert. I relaxed instantly, knowing that if these were all Dylan fans, they were bound to help me!

Sure enough, everyone I asked was more than understanding and helpful, and I was soon directed into the right part of the building to get back in.

So thanks Bob... “On a night like this, I‘m glad you came around.“

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cartwheel boy, revisited - an in depth look at ADHD

A couple of things lately have spurred on this post. One is that I recently commented to Fitz that Charlie seemed to have grown out of his cartwheel phase. Fitz quickly informed me that the cartwheels are alive and well at school. Charlie started at Fitz's school this year, which is a campus rather than one building. There is some moving around from classes, and apparently Charlie takes full advantage of this to get the cartwheels out of his system. I think we don't see them at home so much because he has the trampoline now to let out that excess energy.

The other thing was the recent progress letter from Charlie's teacher. It was glowing, but it did mention his distractibility, and lack of focus at times. I love his teacher, and it sounds like Charlie is having a great year so far, but this was that reminder that the ADHD is alive and well.

I have mentioned ADHD on here in the past, but never spoken in depth about it. This post may end up way longer than you would like :)

Charlie was not quite 2 when we were first made aware of his attentional issues. Yes, that's right... not quite 2. He had had some hearing/ear issues and we were having him evaluated by Early Intervention for speech. He ended up not qualifying for speech, but they told us they were concerned with his attentional issues, and we were given an educator 3 days a week at our house to work with him.

I was shocked to say the least. Pre-kids, I was (am) a special educator who worked primarily with ADHD kids. But these were school aged kids. I had never known of this being picked up so early, and I never would have seen it in my son at that age. Sure he was a busy active (okay, crazy!) toddler, but aren't most little boys? But I will tell you this... years after this, I can say that it was the best thing that ever happened to Charlie. I don't think he will ever need meds, and he is forever coming up with new coping strategies just like that long ago teacher taught him to.

When I was teaching, I often encountered regular ed. teachers who were frustrated by the active kids in their class, and at a loss of how to handle them. I came up with an easy layman's explanation that seemed to help. It goes like this...

Everyone has filters in their brain... filters coming in and filters going out. As you read this, you might hear a television in the background, kids running around, the washer running, and that’s just the auditory stimulation. But we filter all this out so that we can concentrate on the task at hand. For ADD and ADHD kids, this is often much harder. All that excess noise may be coming in at the same level. I once had a student describe it to me like this... you are in the TV department at sears, with 20 screens on the wall, but they are all on different stations, all equally entertaining. Its a big effort to focus in on the right one.

Those are the filters for things coming in. There are filters for things coming out too. If I was talking to you about this, you might be thinking, "this is a load of crock" or "who the heck is this lady" but the filters in your brain would keep you from saying something inappropriate.  All kids are impulsive at heart, but the truly ADHD kids have a hard time filtering those impulses.

This is not to say that it's impossible. It's just something they have to consciously work at, something that comes much easier to most kids.  One myth that drives me crazy is that ADHD are "bad" kids. People are always shocked when they find out Charlie is ADHD. Some people even question the diagnosis. "But he's so good, so well behaved," they say. And he is. He is a great kid with a great heart, but he works very hard at this. And the impulsivity still comes into play (especially at home with siblings!)

He holds it together well in school. He comes home with a lot of pent up energy. He'll go immediately to the trampoline and let out some steam, and sometimes he'll ask to take a shower in the middle of the day. He's learned that the enclosed shower stall, the white noise of the water, and the pressure on his head, all help him to pull it back together. 

There are no showers in the classroom however. And sometimes, when the stimulation in the room gets to be too much, he may get caught looking out the window, at the fields, and the wide blue sky, because there are less distractions out there.

He is our dreamer, our thinker, our crazy cartwheel boy, and I wouldn't have him any other way.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It's the little things...

It 's been a long hard fall, but we are hanging in there. Fitz has reminded me daily that I have not written on this blog in quite a while. I can use the excuse of being busy... an all too real excuse lately, but the reality is, I just haven't had the emotional energy. Beyond being physically drained, my brain has just been trying to process the last month or so. Nothing bad, just life.  I like to remind him that he has not been the most prolific of bloggers either, but he beat me to it and posted the eulogy he wrote for his mum. A beautiful read, I must say.

This fall has reminded me once again what an incredibly supportive group of friends we have. With all that we went through, people were constantly doing many, many little things to make our life easier.  The wake for my mother in law was scheduled from 4-8pm. A very long stretch of time for a group of young kids. Rob, a good friend and fellow teacher of Fitz's, stopped by early on. He lives very close to the funeral home, and offered to take whichever of our kids wanted to walk his new puppy and go back to his house for pizza. A small offering in his eyes, but a huge help in ours.

It had me thinking on the way home of how many times people reach out to us, quietly, simply, and without reservation. It's Wednesday, our normal spaghetti night, which we kept up right through the midst of all this. I've written about Wednesdays, and how much I love them. We tell people they don't need to bring a thing, but people almost always drop by with a bottle of wine, a loaf of garlic bread, or a dessert. Our friend Tom though, almost always shows up with a gallon of milk. Sometimes he even has a loaf of bread and a dozen eggs. He never says a word, just quietly puts the milk in the fridge. He knows we are feeding an army every day, and that gallon of milk, a small offering on his part, is another huge gift to us.

Our friend Drew will most likely make an appearance tonight as well. At our last Memorial day party, there was a small crew of us sitting by the fire late night. Fitz and I laughed that this was the first year we were both working the next day, and the mess would have to wait. I came home the next day and stood speechless in our backyard. It was completely cleaned up. Bottles recycled, trash bagged, platters and dishes stacked on the picnic table. I found out a few days later that Drew had stopped by. He was free the next day, and knew how tired we would be. This was no small thing, although Drew tried to tell us it was no big deal. 

I could write for pages about the small things people have done in the last couple of months. The rides people gave our kids to soccer practices, the meals friends dropped over, the outings people picked up our kids for, the list could go on and on.  If anything at all has come out of this for me, it's that I am reminded to do the little things. To hold the door for the woman with the double stroller at the store, to let the car out in front of me that has been waiting for a while,  To pick up the neighbors trash barrels that have blown over in the wind. Each might not feel like a big thing, but I personally know that those little things can be big to the recipient. I am incredibly thankful to all those amazing people in our life who do these little things.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Gramma Mary

We lost Fitz's mom this morning. These last few weeks have been amazing for me to witness. Her children gathered around her, holding her hand, loving her to the end. She had always been an inspiration to me... raising 6 kids to be such great, close adults. Not a day goes by that Fitz doesn't talk with at least one of his siblings.

The last few years we had been losing her slowly to Alzheimers. The last year or so, it was very hard for her to remember people. What amazed me though, is that each time we went to visit with the kids, she would need help and ask the names of the kids, but when it came to Pipo, she never forgot. She would proudly introduce him as her grandson from Haiti to anyone nearby.

Today, as we went through her things, my sister in law found a 'memory notebook' she had started for her in the early stages... when her memory was just starting to fade. The idea was that she would keep it close by, and jot down notes each day of things she wanted to remember. She didn't love the idea though, and had made only one entry on one day. My sister in law looked at it, and promptly gave it to me saying that I should save it. I looked at the entry. After a couple of sentences of everyday errands she needed to do, there was this sentence... "John picks Philippe up tonight at Logan."

She accepted Pipo from the start, just as excited for our new son as she was with each baby I gave birth to. But to see this line there... to know it was something important enough for her to jot down... I just had no words.

Fitz met with his siblings this afternoon to discuss all the arrangements. He called me at one point to get an address from me. The address for Saint Boniface Haiti Foundation . He and his siblings decided to have donations in memory of his mother sent to Saint Boniface, in honor of their bringing Pipo into our family. I couldn't be more grateful.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Where are the parents?

Yesterday, Fitz played at an outdoor festival. It was a gorgeous day, and the band was set up in a gazebo at the bottom of a large, sloping field surrounded by orchards. At one point in their set, I noticed a good number of small children climbing up into and around the gazebo, poking at, picking up and playing with anything within their reach. The harmonica player had a case of all of his harps set open in front of him... so that he could switch to different keys as needed. Some of these kids were actually grabbing spare harmonicas and playing them. Kids hanging on the side of the gazebo were jumping down and grabbing the sound system to get their balance. Running across in front of the musicians, they would occasionally knock a mike stand off kilter, requiring Fitz to adjust it in mid-song.

This wasn't new or unusual unfortunately. Whenever he does a family show where there are a lot of kids, there is always the stray kid 'getting into things'. But it does seem to be getting worse. A lot of the time, the parents are there, they are just to caught up in their own things to be paying attention to their children. But many times, the parents see this behavior and let it continue. They think their kids are just "so cute" and isn't it great that they "aren't shy at all". "Look at little Sammy... getting right up on stage!"

Trust me, it's not cute. It's not cute at all to see small children playing around with very expensive equipment. My guess is some of these parents think it's a family friendly show, and after all... the musicians aren't complaining or saying anything. The musicians are working. They can't very well stop the show to discipline someone else's kid. They also want to get booked for more shows, so of course they will smile at your adorable child who is pulling the strings off of their $4000 guitar.

Yesterday I honestly wanted to find some of these parents and ask them... "Hey, would it be okay if tomorrow I show up at your office with my 7 kids and let them climb on your desk and play with your computer while you work? Okay, that's be great."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

His glass is half full

This morning, while looking up at his spice rack full of meds, Pipo said to me "I think I'll be a pharmacist when I grow up, because I am really good at pills.

I really, really love this kid.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Fall insanity

I've written about our crazy soccer schedule in the past, both here and here... but this fall we are at a whole 'nother level. All 7 are playing, one on two different teams, and no one is on the same team. Eight different schedules to follow. A friend commented the other day on how organized we must be, and what my calendar must look like. I admitted that we don't even have a calendar. I keep stuff in my head, always have. That way I won't lose it! The truth is, if I wrote everything on the calendar I think my head might just explode. Going day by day doesn't seem so scary, but to see all of it out there... I'm just not sure I could deal with it. I counted last night, and we have 19 practices a week. Thankfully Kaleigh can drive to her own, so I am 'only' left with 14. Add on the 7-10 games per week, CCD starting for 6 of them, multiple doctor and dentist appointments set up for the fall, and Fitz and I are left with our heads spinning.

We chose to have a big family, and we chose to have them involved in activities like soccer... so I am not complaining at all. I was talking with a friend yesterday, and I realized what the bigger issue is. We have no transition time from Summer to Fall. I am incredibly thankful for our summers. They are truly dream summers for our kids. All of us are together constantly, with no pressures or true commitments. Camp is our only commitment, but it is a joy to be there, and it is one of the most relaxing places I've ever been. We go straight from pure, fun family time to a jam packed schedule literally overnight. It's a tough thing to get used to. At least for this mom.

The picture above is one of the first family photos of all of us in many years. I have plenty of pictures of all the kids, but I am rarely out from behind the camera. This shot was taken during a weekend in Vermont with family and friends. Slipped in between camp and trips to the Cape, it was just one more adventure I know the kids will remember forever. I doubt they will remember all these soccer games, or their 5th grade homework or any of the other things we seem to be rushing back and forth from lately. It all makes me realize how valuable that family time is. And no matter how crazy our fall may be, we will make an effort to fit some of that time in where we can.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Getting bigger...

At the playground the other day, Tommy asked me to help him on the trolley, where he was never able to reach up to. Last Spring, he still needed help. But the other day, he reached right up and grabbed it. I think he was as surprised as I was! It made me realize that all 7 have grown so much over the summer!

Then I took pictures for Kaleigh's senior portraits... she might not be getting any bigger, but she sure is looking older!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A man remembered

I was incredibly sad this morning to read the news about the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy. Not a lot of people know our tie with Kennedy, but it is a big one. So today, I am reposting a post I wrote almost 4 years ago. Kennedy is not just one of the "politicians" I speak of, but the one who stepped in. The one who made it possible to bring our son home. 


Fitz had just come home from work. After routinely asking him about his day, I tried in vain to listen to him above the normal chaos of a house with 6 young kids whose Daddy had just gotten home from work. As I waded through the thick mass of toys and toddlers which had become my home, one sentence filtered through to me. “His name is Philippe, and he is eight years old…”

Much, much later, when the kids had been tucked in and some of the chaos of the house sorted out, we lay side by side in the darkness of our room. I asked him again to tell me about Philippe. It seemed an old student of his, Conor Shapiro was working in Haiti, and his family was adopting a young boy. When Fitz asked Conor’s mom about it, she immediately told him about Philippe…another little boy needing a home. He said he would go home and talk it over with me. But there was no talking needed. From the moment Philippe’s name filtered through to me that afternoon, another Fitzsimmons child was born.

Adoption was not a brand new idea to us. After making several trips to Honduras, Fitz and I spoke of adoption often. We even got as serious at one point as to start looking into the requirements of several different international adoption programs. But as time went on, we soon had six children of our own, and the idea became something more distant…something to put off until our children were a bit older. It became a vague, fuzzy vision of a foreign, exotic looking toddler with six older siblings to spoil him or her. Not once in our brief discussions did Haiti come up. Not once had we talked about an older child. Most certainly we had never discussed taking on a child with serious illness.

As we have found out, yet again, life rarely turns out as we expect it. After going through pregnancy and childbirth six times, I thought, “How hard could this be?” We started first with the appropriately named ‘home study’ process. They do actually study your home. After interviews separately with the social worker at her office spilling our lives out, and then an interview together, she came to our home to interview our kids and inspect our home. I was nervous to the point of being nauseous. Would we pass this test? Would we be acceptable parents? If things were found to be wrong, what would that mean…that I had already failed as a parent six times over? Throughout this process, one thing kept me sane. It was a picture pinned up to our bulletin board. The little boy was Philippe, and he was eight years old…

Over the next several months, that picture on our bulletin board became an accepted part of our house, of our family. One morning I awoke to the sound of two small voices in the kitchen. Charlie, 5, was asking EJ, 7 where babies came from. EJ, with his infinite patience, was explaining to Charlie that God puts the babies inside the mama, and when they are ready, they come out. Charlie replied with, “so Mama had a baby inside her, and then another, and then another, and then another, and then another and then another?” “Yes,” said EJ. “Well what about Philippe?” asked Charlie “Well, God knew Mama was tired, and so he decided the next baby would come from Haiti,” answered EJ. “But Philippe’s not a baby,” pointed out Charlie. EJ, again showing his patience, replied “Well God knew a baby wouldn’t be much fun for us to play with, so he made him 8.” As I lay there listening to them, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to cry. Our kids had made common sense of a situation which we had pondered over for hours about how to explain to them.

Now, many months later, I sit here in the dark thinking about that little boy. He is lying in a hospital bed far, far away from us. I have spent the last several days contacting every government official I can think of who may be willing to help. Each conversation starts the same way, “His name is Philippe, and he is eight years old…” I have politicians in three states fighting for us to help get our son home. The US Ambassador to Haiti is pleading with the Haitian government to make an exception, waive some requirements and let Philippe exit the country in order to be rushed to the US for medical treatment. There is nothing more I can do now but wait. It’s an excruciating feeling as a parent. We know we have done our best, and we hope we have reached the right people, touched the right emotions, and helped people understand the imperativeness of this situation.

So for now, we wait. I hold on tightly to our six children here with us, and am thankful for their good health. I pray daily for Philippe’s well being and hope that he will be here soon. A stranger stops, noting how many children we have. After commenting to the kids on how many brothers and sisters they have, Margaret quickly pipes up, “We have another brother….his name is Philippe, and he is eight years old…”

Thursday, June 18, 2009


I laugh at the title of that last post. Did I really think I was catching up? That I ever could catch up? Life seems to have spun out of control on us somewhere along the way, and I feel like I just grabbed an overhanging tree branch to yank myself out of the current.

Since that last post we have celebrated 4 birthdays, said goodbye to our good friend Livingstone, held our 12th annual Memorial Day bash (unofficial headcount had our numbers over 150 this year), dealt with some ever occurring health issues with Pipo, attended numerous sporting events, concert, school celebrations and special events, finished up the school year, and most recently, hosted a group of Rwandan dancers.

What? What was that last item? Oh yes, it was that broken filter in my mouth... the one that let's that crazy YES word come flying out at any old moment. Standing by the fire after one of our Wednesday night dinners, a good friend casually mentioned a Rwandan dance troupe that was flying in shortly to perform and had nowhere to stay. I swear, sometimes these moments are like an out of body experience. I float somewhere up above, watching myself say "Why of course we don't mind seven strangers moving in indefinitely!" I float up above, shaking my head, wondering when I will ever learn.

What we thought was the offer of a roof over their heads for a few nights became a week and a half of feeding the crowd, driving people here and there, trips into Boston Medical to try and figure out strange ailments... we quickly found out we bit off a bit more that we expected to chew.

But here I am, down on Cape Cod, hanging onto that tree branch for dear life and watching the current storm by me. In retrospect, with all the stress and commotion this latest turn of events caused, I don't know that I would have changed things. Some definite positives came out of it, and it is an experience my kids won't soon forget. 

Raising 7 kids on a teachers salary is no easy feat, and Fitz and I know there are many things we will never be able to do for our kids. Fancy expensive toys, exotic trips, private lessons and activities may all be out of our reach, but life experiences... these are the things we hold on to. Watching Kaleigh drive off with 3 Rwandan teenagers to meet up with a crowd of friends and get a soccer game going. Seeing the pride on Emma's face when she throws herself into her own soccer game, scoring two goals and inpressing the young Rwandan friend who came to watch her. Laughing while E.J. attempts to work out a Bob Marley song on the piano and guitar with another Rwandan friend who speaks not a word of English. Watching the sheer joy on the youngest of the troupe jumps on a trampoline for his first time.

We may not have much, but I am feeling incredibly rich lately. I look at my kids, see them reaching out to strangers from the other side of the world, and I know that I gave them this.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Catching up

Well... Fitz Mountain is finally gone. The winter we thought would never end has finally turned into Spring! And with Spring comes yard work, which Tommy and Emma are glad to help with, as long as it includes a ride in the trailer!

Easter came and went, with lots of aunts, uncles and cousins. Actually... a mid egg hunt snowball fight was the final demise of the mountain!

Then came Fitz's birthday, with so many candles I had to get a permit from the fire department!

Last week, Margaret had 12 inched cut from her hair, which she donated to locks of love.

And last but not least, Emma made her First Communion. The 5th in a row here in Fitzville. We have a brief hiatus this coming year, before Tommy has the grand finale.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Long time, no post

Life in Fitzville has been a little crazier than usual this Spring. Along with the normal school/work/sports schedule, we've had a few big events like First Communion, plays, birthdays etc.

Our most recent change in routine is a nice one though... in the form of an unexpected visitor. Our friend, Livingstone Mpagi from Uganda flew in last week and has been staying with us. We met Livingstone 2 years ago at camp. He was a counselor that the kids fell in love with immediately, especially Pipo, who came up to me soon after camp started telling me "Mom, Livingstone is my best friend!"

We knew Livingstone as the quiet, gentle farmer from Uganda, but didn't know much more. This past week has been an amazing week finding more and more about this amazing person.

I have spent the last hour helping Livingstone set up a blog of his own to promote his school in Uganda. He is brand new to blogging, and still figuring out the whole system. His school is shown on a website here at Building Brighter Futures.

The picture at the top of the post is the initial school Livingstone built in 1996. He had 11 students from the village attending. Now, he serves more than 200, in the school pictured at the bottom of the post. Livingstone's new blog is Bukeka Children's Center . Stop by and send some encouragement!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why is it...?

The other day we were getting ready to go to church, and I played the nagging wife role perfectly. "Are you really wearing that?" and "But your hair... it's, like um... sticking up everywhere!" I had just spent a frantic half hour making sure the kids did not have gaping holes in the knees of their pants, or stains on their shirts.

Fitz laughs whenever I get like this. He tries to convince me that no one will care if Tommy's shirt matches his pants, or if Emma's pigtails are uneven. But I know the truth. Everyone will be watching.

Why is it that when a family (especially a large family) goes out in public, the husband and wife are viewed so differently? If it's the typical chaos, and someone's shoes are on the wrong feet, someone's hair isn't brushed, someone buttoned their shirt wrong... people look at the dad and thing "Oh, that poor, hardworking guy... just trying to support that big family of his." But when they look at the mom, they are thinking "Man, why can't she get her act together? Those poor kids... she has so many of them she can't possibly care for them properly!"

I know society thinks this way. So for now I will keep spit-slicking my husbands hair down on the way to church, no matter how many times he smacks my hand away.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Way cool...

Caribbean - July 2008

Fitz and I have talked lately about how thankful we are for what we have... especially these days. Things are always tight, and we scrape by, but we do it with fun and love and purpose. One of the things I am most thankful for is the experiences we have been able to give our kids.

All told, I have had it pretty good my whole life, but if there is one thing I regret, it is the lack of traveling I have done. Fitz has been around the world, and the big joke when he tells his stories is me saying "I've never been anywhere..." He promises me that someday I will be able to venture out of my little New England bubble.

My oldest daughter Kaleigh, however, is fairly well traveled for a 17 year old kid. Last summer, she had the amazing opportunity to spend a month in the Caribbean through the incredibly awesome Summer camp Fitz and I work at... Windsor Mountain International. Today, we officially found out that this summer, Kaleigh will be spending a month in Peru, in a full Spanish immersion program. How cool is that. I fully admit I am living my life vicariously through Kaleigh, and I am incredibly excited for this opportunity for her.

Every summer, Fitz and I must say a hundred times how lucky we are to have camp be such a huge part of our lives. Even before these trips, Kaleigh had such awesome experiences just being part of camp while we worked. And now, all 7 kids are getting so much out of it every summer.

We are just counting down the weeks now... the kids ask me regularly, "how much longer until camp?"

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

All in a name...

Okay, time to get back to the lightheartedness...

There is nothing I love better than listening to my kids chatting away after they are supposed to be going to sleep. I just can't get mad when I hear them laughing and joking up there. Tonight, I lingered on the stairs a bit to listen to the 4 boys, all in one bedroom. They were discussing names, and why they had their names. Charlie was retelling what I had once told him... that I didn't care what Fitz called the baby if it was a girl, but if it was a boy, it was definitely Charlie. E.J. told the others that he was going to be Sarah if he was a girl (true), and they all cracked up and said they would call him Sarah now. In the middle of all this, Charlie says, "But what about sauce?" "Huh?" said 3 brothers' voices. Charlie went on... "but what about sauce, I mean why do we call it sauce?"

This had me laughing all the way down the stairs, to tell Fitz, where it reminded us of another story from years back. I was driving a van full of young kids, and they were all discussing animals. I was trying to impress upon them what a brilliant mom they had by classifying animals. I was explaining that a dog is actually a canine, a cat is a feline, but they are both mammals... etc. Suddenly, a small voice in the back pipes up, little Emma asking "Yeah, but what about croutons?"

I still haven't been able to answer that one.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Walking the Line

When my blog suddenly got over 500 hits yesterday, I knew something was up. It seems yesterdays post was linked on another blog, and started quite a debate.

While some people understood my anger at the ignorance I witnessed yesterday, many thought I was jumping to conclusions, and being overly sensitive.

I have learned in the past three years that it is a very thin line walk as a parent of a black child. You want to be there to protect them, and to prepare them for the racism they may encounter in life. But you also want to teach them tolerance, acceptance and trust. I certainly don't want Pipo to be expecting people to judge him... and yet I don't want to raise him to be naive either.

It's hard posting things on a blog... so much is left to the interpretation of the reader. There's no good way to convey tone, inflection or attitude. I am sure that the woman yesterday had no idea Emma and Pipo were siblings... I wouldn't expect her to know that. But the tone of her voice, the expression on her face said everything to me when she spoke of the "African American boy."

Even before Pipo arrived, I had seen much ignorance. Having a big family puts us out there, so to speak, and leaves us vulnerable to peoples public (and sometimes very vocal) opinions. But I've learned over the years to listen carefully when people speak... and not just to their words. Two strangers can say the exact same thing to me, and have totally different meanings. When finding out we have 7 kids, I often hear, "Are you going to have more?" Picture these words spoken by someone with open curiosity and a smile on their face. I love talking to people who are genuinely curious as to what its like to raise a crew. Now picture those words spoken with a sneer, and a look of disgust. It's very hard not to read in the implications there... I'm overpopulating the world, I am irresponsible, I am creating tax burdens on those with smaller families, I can't possibly have enough love or attention for that many, and am therefore neglectful.

When we are in public, and Pipo yells "Mom!" to me, I get lots of reactions. I am the first to say that the vast majority of the reactions are positive. But it's the same deal. It's not the words, but how they are said. "He's your son?" with a smile and a curious look can often lead to a cool conversation about adoption. "He's your son?" with a look of disgust makes me wonder what the person is thinking. I actually had one person say straight out to me "do they all have different fathers?"

But I also know this ignorance is the minority, at least from what I have experienced. And even many of the most ignorant comments are from well meaning people. People who have just not been around different types of families, different types of people. (Don't even get me started on the dreadlock comments I have gotten!) But just because it is rare, it doesn't mean I should teach my kids that it is out there. Pipo needs to know, he needs to be aware. By not teaching him this I would be doing him a huge disservice. And so I walk that fine line, and try to teach him to not just hear the words, but the way they are spoken.

Saturday, February 28, 2009


When we first talked about bringing Pipo into our family, we talked about the possible ignorance we may face. Thankfully, there have been incredibly few instances over the last three years...but when it does come up, it is a terrible reminder to us that it is out there... it exists.

Today I had the kids at Fitz's big end of the year wrestling tournament. We go every year, so by this point, my kids know the building really well, and I am pretty comfortable to let them run loose there. So I was standing with another parent, watching a match when a woman walked up to me holding Emma's hand. She told me that Emma was alone on the first floor of the building and a group of boys were harassing her. I laughed a little and told her that they were probably her brothers. The woman was still upset, and told me they were 'threatening' Emma and telling her they would give her candy if she kissed someone. I asked Emma who, and she said Pipo, Charlie and Tommy. I told Emma to go get them, and again told the woman they were just her brothers, and I was sure they were just teasing her. The woman, looking very angry at this point, said "No... there was an African American boy there, and she looked scared!"

And there it goes... the bigger black boy with the smaller white girl. Obviously a little thug, obviously up to no good, obviously the poor little white girl was in danger from the black kid.

I told the woman a little more firmly this time... "Yes.. that is her brother," and I walked away. But I walked away fuming. If it had been Charlie or EJ teasing Emma, this would not have happened. But because it was Pipo, this woman assumed he was up to no good. The fact that she said Emma looked scared made me laugh... of course she was scared. A strange woman grabbed her by the hand and dragged her away!

I took all the kids aside and talked to them about teasing, but I also told them what this woman said. I have talked with all of the kids about this before. They need to know it's out there. They need to know that some people will see Pipo' skin color first. It makes me angry that a normal sibling moment turns into this, but it is part of our life. It is part of life that Pipo will always have to deal with, and moments like this are just part of the learning process for him.

The funny thing is that after it all, I was still fuming... I wanted to haul that mom outside and knock the ignorance out of her. (I know... very mature, but it's the mama bear thing I have going... don't threaten my cubs.) But Pipo was in a great mood afterwards. I couldn't understand at first, because it made me so mad. But then he said "Mom, you're really mad at that lady, huh?" and he smiled. And I knew then... he knows we've got his back. We've taught him that ignorance is out there, but we've taught him that we will do our best to stand up to it, to stand behind him.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Small town life...

Been away from the blog for a bit, but we are just finishing up vacation week and getting back a little normalcy here. If there is any such thing as normalcy here in Fitzville!

We had a fantastic few days down the Cape with Nana and Papa and some fun, fun cousins. Much swimming was done, and a short visit to a maritime museum where the kids got to try their hand at some scrimshaw. The pirate dress up area was the favorite by far though.

Mid week I had a situation come up where I needed to drive to NJ unexpectedly. With Fitz not being on vacation, this meant I needed to either take several kids with me on a 5 hour two way road trip, or find people to watch all the kids overnight. Most people who know me know that I have a very difficult time asking for help. Fitz reminds me constantly that people like to help... and that I have no problem offering to take other peoples kids at a moments notice. Well, I didn't have much choice here, so I started making phone calls. And this is where I love our little town. As much as I hated asking, I knew without a doubt that there were so many people I could call, and I knew they would help without hesitation.

An hour later, I had 5 kids distributed among 3 different houses. The kids were thrilled with the spur of the moment sleep over arrangements, and I was relieved to know they would all be in good hands.

The bonus of all this is that Margaret decided to come with me for company. This meant some unexpected one on one time (rare in our house) and a night at a hotel with a pool. As tough as the long drive was, we had a very fun night.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Who needs CNN... I've got Charlie

This morning Charlie was in a hurry to get to school, so he went out to sit in the van, which I had warming up in the driveway. I must have left the radio on, because when I got into the van (he had been in there no more than 5 minutes!) this is what I heard...

"Hey Mom, you know what? There was a bad fire in Plymouth last night, their smoke detectors weren't working. And a plane crashed in NY. The Celtics won last night, and the Bruins are on the road tonight. It's going to be 35 tomorrow, and the warm spell is over. Probably a few cold ones in store for us."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

In his own time

I have posted about EJ in the past on by blog, though rarely. He is our quiet, sensitive sweetheart. He is also one not to jump in headfirst. He has always liked to take his time and assess the situation first. This is the boy who did not walk until 16 months, not because he couldn't, but because he just wasn't ready. He does things in his own time... and he does them when he knows for sure he will do them well. So yesterday shouldn't have surprised me.

When Pipo signed up for wrestling this winter, we had offered it to all the boys. EJ had no interest at all. Fitz tried to gently encourage him, mentioning friends that were doing it, but EJ wanted no part of it.  All winter, however, EJ has been hanging out at practice with Fitz's varsity team. He often fully participates, but will also just sit doing his homework, occasionally looking up to watch a new move being taught.

Yesterday, I brought the rest of the kids to watch one of Fitz's team matches. When the other team arrived, they had a couple of smaller kids, and the coach asked Fitz if he had any smaller kids to give them matches. Fitz had no one that size, but told the coach that he had two sons there that might be willing to throw on a uniform and wrestle. Now Pipo has been wrestling all year with own team, so I was not worried a bit about that. But EJ had never wrestled a match in his life... I was sure he would say no. When he quietly went and changed into the uniform, I knew down deep that my boy must be ready. He would never jump in until he knew absolutely that he was ready. And he was.

In his first wrestling match of his life... a school varsity match no less... EJ went out and pinned his opponent in the first period.

I wish I had a camera to capture the moment, but I am pretty sure there is no camera lens wide enough to have captured his smile coming off that mat.

It seems we have a new wrestler in the family.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Pops Night

Finally got it uploaded... Kaleigh and a friend doing their version of "Picture". Sorry for the dizzying camerawork.

And Kaleigh doing a cover of "Bleeding Love"... might want to look away and listen, this video is REALLY dizzying!

Friday, February 6, 2009

I am not old enough...

... to have a 17 year old daughter. But there you have it, Kaleigh is 17 today. She had a great night, as it was "Pops Night" at her school. Kind of a highschool acoustic coffee house. It was awesome. Kaleigh played a song on her own, and then did a couple of other songs with friends, including an awesome cover of "Picture" by Sheryl Crow and Kid Rock. I will try to get a video up later, but the videographer skills of 10yo E.J. made me a little dizzy.

But seriously, a very cool night. I was amazed at the talent at our tiny little high school. And the guts! I could never have gotten up like that at that age. Or now. Or ever.

Monday, February 2, 2009


Yesterday, I was picking Emma up from a birthday party. As we were leaving, I reminded her to say 'thank you' to the girl's parents. The dad smiled and said, "Oh, and thank you for being so, um, so... excitable!"   "Excitable," I said?  The mom must have seen the look of horror on my face, and she quickly said, "Oh, no, she's just... well, she's not shy at all is she?"  I smiled weakly, and led Emma out the door.

On the way to the car, I asked Emma what she had done at the party. Skipping ahead of me, pigtails bouncing, she yelled over her shoulder "I had FUN!!!"

Well, there you have it. I can only hope she wasn't doing cartwheels through their living room like her brother would have.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Lesson Learned

About a week ago, I made the mistake of telling someone how this is the healthiest winter I have had in ages. Of course the next morning I woke up with a nasty head cold which I have been fighting for a week.

You would think I had learned my lesson, but no.  The other night I was bragging to some friends that we hadn't visited our pediatrician all winter. Of course, Margaret came home from school yesterday and fell sound asleep immediately, which told me something was up. I took her temp when she woke up and she was at 103.

I am not saying another word about any of us and our health. Ever.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Headlock with Dreadlocks

I didn't think there was anything as cool as Pipo's dreadlocks when he played soccer, but I must say, they are pretty cool when he is wrestling too!

A fellow blogger recently asked me to do a post on hair, so I will do my best here.

I have posted about hair in the past, but never in depth. I have been incredibly fortunate in that the summer camp we work at has several people who I have been able to go to for hair advice. I was SO happy this summer when one of our good friends from Jamaica told Pipo his hair looked great and that that was how he started his dreads when he was a boy.

When Pipo first started growing his hair out, I wasn't sure what to do with it. One of my camp friends sat with me one afternoon and talked me through these 'comb coils'. These are done by taking small chunks of hair, greasing them up good, and twisting them up with the end of a fine toothed comb. While it looked cute, I didn't love the style on Pipo. His face is just too pretty, and I felt it made him look a little girlish.

Eventually I started to do two strand twists on him as his hair got longer. This was a little easier for me... taking two bits of hair and twisting them around eachother, so that the final product looks almost like a bit of fat yarn (or at least mine did!) But again, it looked a little too feminine on him. I saw a photo online of a boy with all but the top of his head shaved. I asked Pipo if he wanted to try it. The big bonus was that it took much less time to do his hair with only the top of it to twist. I loved the look on him, and we went with this. As his hair got longer though, it got pretty time consuming to do a retwist. He would wash his hair, and I would have to pick it all out with a comb, and then redo all the twists. He didn't seem like he was going to want to cut his hair anytime soon, so I suggested going to dreadlocks. I told him it would be for good (until he wanted to cut his hair) but he liked the idea.

So now his hair has been "locked" for well over a year. It's getting pretty long, but I must say, it suits him.

When I first started his dreadlocks, I read anything I could find about them. One of the best resources was a post by another blogger, which you can find here. These two adorable boys have had their hair locked since they were very young toddlers. It's a great post with lot's of info.

Starting Pipo's locks was fairly simple. I just kept the two strand twists in, and every week in the beginning I would retwist. His hair wasn't that long yet, so it wasn't too bad. After about a month, it was 2-3 weeks between twisting, and now I can go up to 6 weeks without it looking too bad. The main issue is the new hair growth. The base of the locks get pretty fuzzy.

I take each lock, dab a bit of gel at the base, and twist up the new growth.

Then I glide a bit more gel up the length of the lock and palm roll it as you can see below. It is simply putting the lock between my hands and rolling it back and forth.

I add a clip to each finished lock, right at the base. You can see below how fuzzy the untwisted part of his head is.

When his whole head is done, it needs to dry. Pipo is not a fan of the hairdryer, so I usually do his locks early on a day when we have nothing going, and then he can just hang around the house for a couple hours with his head all clipped!

There are lot's of variations to this routine. I use "Let's Jam" for gel. I have tried many products, but this is the one which worked best for Pipo's hair. As far as parting the hair goes, I was pretty loose about it. Being a boy, I didn't care so much how 'uniform' his locks looked. So the parts are not even at all, and the locks themselves are varying sizes. I like this look for him, it seems more 'boyish' and natural.
The biggest benefit by far though, is how much bonding happens with hair time. I have posted about that before, but I will say it again... the physical one on one time we get with retwisting is SO good. Pipo actually will ask me to do his hair before it even really needs to be done. And I am sure it's because he needs that time. Time to just relax, and have mom to himself. And for that... I will keep twisting his hair as long as he wants me to!