What We Did, When

I don’t find the time much anymore to write blog posts, and since the idea of a blog was really to keep folks informed on our goings-on, and since we don’t have many of those that rate more than a mention on Facebook, trying to find the time hasn’t felt terribly pressing for the last couple of years. 

That was until March 13, 2020 when the Fairfax County Public School system closed schools in response to Covid-19, temporarily at first, and then for the remainder of the year when it became clear that the Coronavirus was going to be a total douchenozzle about everything. 

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Not pictured: Him peeing on the seat.

At the same time, naturally, CPI, the preschool where my aiding shifts had gone from “We’ll call you if we need you” to much more frequent had to cancel its year, and around this time Katherine’s company told everyone to work from home. 

So there we were, like nearly every other American, in lockdown, scared, trying to make sense of it all and figure out the next steps. The next steps for us being: educating two kindergartners. As was every parent and student out there, we were caught unaware and ill-prepared. Although as it would turn out, NOT as ill-prepared and unaware as Fairfax County Public Schools in general or our school in particular. 

I got right into it as best I could, trying to level up the boys’ knowledge while K worked upstairs. We started out pretty heavy with hands-on learning; science experiments, baking, LEGO builds, painting, and so on, with some printed worksheets and purchased workbooks filling in the cracks while we waited for the school to start providing some work, or at least some guidance. 

See, the school, remarkably, did not have a contingency plan in case half the year was suddenly cancelled. Because why would they? If anyone had proposed they plan for an immediate emergency cessation of on-campus learning with a full conversion to distance learning “just in case” something happened, they would have been looked at as a paranoid doomsday prepper insisting schools need to design a remote learning curriculum to focus on trapping game, ham radio operation, and attaching weapons to muscle cars. 

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“I have some ideas about distance-learning P.E., too.”

Three weeks (counting spring break) went by before we started receiving things from the school to help before our kids forgot the alphabet under my tutelage. The first thing we got was a “packet” in the mail. Actually, we got two different packets for the first few weeks: one for pre-k-2, and one for k-6.  

The packets were…rough. “A” for effort. We appreciated the work that went into them, but there wasn’t a lot we found useful to our situation in them. We did a few “assignments,” but mostly to be polite, like eating that one dish your partner always makes that isn’t great but bless ‘em they tried so hard.  

The packets were also a sign of things to come, something that we hadn’t really thought of or planned for until then: the Lowest Common Denominator. Commentary on American public education aside, in this emergency situation, class and privilege came rushing into the fore. Students that had family situations like ours, where one or both parents were able to work from home, which are financially stable even in this crisis, where there is an educated adult to continue some semblance of education, where there is some sort of technology to use to access distance learning materials, and where there is dependable internet, were automatically at an advantage. That’s not to mention all the things that provide an advantage during a normal school year, like food security, family stability, safe homes, and so on. 

Once you start peeling back those privilege layers, you have to send out a program that teaches to the LCD. No internet or devices? Here’s some stuff in the mail. Parents can’t help? Almost none of this work will require guidance. Parents have to or choose to put you in front of a screen? Have we got good news for you!  

This is all the only way it makes sense to do it, of course, but it means many kids weren’t learning at grade level, let alone getting challenged. 

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. The online learning began (“began”) three weeks after school ended. At last, we would have proper instruction, such as it was. The boys would be able to interact with their peers and teachers again! Hooray! Only… 

…Middle schoolers happened.  

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“One, two, three, CURSE WORDS!”

See, the platform FCPS was using for online learning was Blackboard, which is like Zoom, only it sucks in different ways. And also all the same ways. It took exactly one use for kids to find and exploit the security flaws. It also only took the first session for kids to be swearing and harassing each other, because of course it did. Kids are shitty to each other in the best of times, but bored kids trying to process a global catastrophe were of course going to do all the wrong things the first chance they got. Little parental supervision? Anonymity? Boring classes? You can’t even really blame them. The rest of distance learning week one was cancelled. The school district immediately sent out letters of apology and new statements on students’ responsibilities as online citizens.  

The next week they tried again, but this time they were plagued by technical difficulties. The rest of that week was cancelled, too. Blackboard was designed for smaller groups and individuals, not for the tenth largest district in the country to start using it all at once. They couldn’t handle the capacity. That’s not to mention the bandwidth issues as well as all the teachers and students trying to learn to use this technology on the fly. The district now sent out a letter informing us that they had hired a law firm to help them get out of their contract with Blackboard and find something new. Okay, more delay, but they have a plan. Great.  

But then they worked things out with Blackboard, so JK, we kept using it. 

Finally, on the Monday of the sixth week after classes were cancelled, we started doing live classes with the boys. In our particular case, the four kindergarten classes decided to team up, so any chance for peer or teacher interaction went away immediately as up to 100 kindergartners could potentially be logged on at a time (classes averaged around 50-60). The classes were offered M-Th, and each day was led by a different teacher, and the focus was either math, language arts, social studies, or science. Class lasted an hour, and each day ran something like this: greeting, music video about a word, slideshow or video,  teacher talking at students about subject, video, read a book, video. 

Aside from the fact that the kids were too numerous to really interact with the teachers, I was mainly disappointed that they spent an hour a week more or less on one subject. Monday was math, and if the teacher was talking about story problems, they’d have a little lesson about that, and watch a video or two about it, and that was the end of math for the week, aside from whatever extra stuff family taught them. I don’t have any idea what would have worked better, but so much of our online session time was spent playing Jack Hartmann videos and YouTube videos of people reading books that I feel like a little more attention could have been paid by the live humans, and that maybe a little math (science, et al) could be done each day instead of just getting it all in at once. Maybe those are terrible ideas that wouldn’t work and the teachers knew this. What I’m saying is it wasn’t ideal for our situation. 

After the “main” class, there was another hour of online learning most days, divided up among the “specials,” including p.e. and music and the like. These were even less targeted, as they were all aimed at k-2, and depending on the teacher, the classes tended to err too much in favor of the younger kids or older kids, because the developmental difference between a kindergartner and second grader is pretty substantial. 

These classes also brought up the equity in learning problem again. I know that when planning art or STEAM projects for kids to do at home, teachers need to take a shot at picking something that families will likely have the supplies to make, and that can be challenging. Not everyone has assorted tissue or construction papers, for example, so you need to pick a project that does not absolutely require those. Coffee filter project? Not every household has basket-style coffee filters, so if there isn’t an alternative material, it might not be the best project to pick. Again, it’s tough, because some kids are going to be left out no matter what.  

Between the specials and the regular classes, we had two hours of online learning at least three days a week, and at least one hour the last day, and none of it provided much actual education or engagement. 

The specials were the first to go. The boys weren’t at all interested or engaged in some (counseling, library), preferred others in real life (music), the classes were usually too advanced (art), we didn’t have the required materials (STEAM), or there were way better real-life things to do (p.e.). I started screening these classes after they posted the recording, and if they seemed like the boys would benefit, I’d play them the video, but for the most part we just skipped them. 

Speaking of screen time, the following is a list of websites/apps we used – at the school’s suggestions – during the distance learning period. This is just what I could remember off the top of my head: Google Classroom, ABCya, YouTube, SafeYouTube, Math Splash, MyOnDreambox, Starfall, Tumblebooks, CODE, CUBE, FlipGridBrainPop Jr., Wixie, ABC Mouse, PBS Kids, ORIGO, Pebble Go, Scholastic, Bookflix, Chrome Music Lab, and Splat. Some of these like, YouTube and PBS Kids, are straightforward and free. Others, like Dreambox and Tumblebooks, are available to us through the boys’ school profiles. Some we were “assigned” to try once, like ABC Mouse and Math Splash, but we would have had to create accounts or pay for a subscription to use them more than once or twice. 

In a distance learning situation, there is going to be a lot of screen time, of course. We were just surprised ultimately at how much passive screen time there was. MyOn, for example, is a reading website where the kids get to pick books that interest them. Then the books are read to them. It’s like an audio book mixed with an e-book. Does that help them learn to read? More so than if we read to them? I understand that some families don’t have the resources to read to their kids every day, but we do. Still, we were told to get them on MyOn every day. The teacher explained that this is so she could track how much they’re reading each day/week. Cool, cool. But was she? If nothing was at stake (no grades were being recorded), there wasn’t much motivation to see which kids were “reading” each day, especially considering the fact that some wouldn’t be doing it at all. And does it even count, since the kids are not themselves reading?  

That brings us to the homework. During the second week of online learning (the one that got cancelled due to technical difficulties), the kindergarten teachers started sending out a Google Slide containing “assignments” for the week. They averaged around 40 tasks; about half of those were videos, and if you count books being read aloud as videos, then over half were videos.  

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“This is how ‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See’ was meant to be enjoyed!”

I’ve talked a lot about the negatives of distance learning, but we did have one positive: after a few weeks, the boys’ teacher set up meeting times for students. She would meet online with each boy, one-on-one, for half an hour each week. She read them a book and did basic reading comprehension afterwards. We had two such sessions, and then received an email stating that the boys were doing well enough that she wanted to stop the meetings so she could focus on the kids who needed more help. 

We had some mixed emotions about this. If she was going to spend that hour a week helping students in need…great. But we also wouldn’t have minded if she just stepped-up the boys’ learning. If “Bear Goes to the Moon” is below their reading comprehension level, read them something more complex.  

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“And what did the fading eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckelburg represent?”

These meetings were the one time the boys got to interact with, well, anyone, and to end it after two sessions because they’re doing “too well,” bummed us out.  

Speaking of one-on-one sessions, we did have speech therapy sessions. There weren’t a lot, but we had them, and they seemed helpful. The asynchronous work we were sent home for speech wasn’t as helpful, largely because we aren’t speech pathologists and because we are so used to hearing the boys speak that while we hear the disabilities, it doesn’t always sound a loud enough alarm for us to stop them and correct it. 

So that’s what FCPS did do, didn’t do, did right, did wrong, or just plain did and who the hell is to say if it was right or wrong because this is brand new territory. But what did we do? 

Like I said, in the beginning, we did our own thing. Store-bought workbooks, science experiments, lots of reading and story writing, Mo Willems doodling and Cincinnati Zoo Home Safaris. Even during spring break, we kept up with some sort of learning every day since we knew we’d be facing an education deficit at the end of the year no matter what.  

I never saw myself doing the homeschool thing (or “crisis school,” per the homeschool Karens on the internet), and I’d rather if the year hadn’t been cancelled, but all things considered, I think we adapted pretty well. There is much to be said for teaching your kids at home. You can teach to their level and to their interests. You can provide individual attention that is simply impossible for a teacher to provide in a class of 24, you can let a kid take a long time to read a book if that’s their pace, and you can tweak math and science lessons to help keep them engaged and learning.  

For example, when the school had a unit on money, we incorporated money into their math work. When it came to reading, we explored children’s books, classic and modern poetry, comic books, classic literature, and non-fiction of every stripe. In science, we did a deep-dive into whatever topic their teachers picked for the week. 

That’s a recap of the last three months or so. Now we have the future to deal with, and it’s looking murky at the moment. While we will be continuing learning throughout the summer (not too much; we’re not monsters), next year is still a question mark. As of my writing this, the Fairfax County Public School district has narrowed down the choices for next year to either one or two full days at school each week, or all distance learning. Neither option is ideal. Distance learning so far has been beset by technical difficulties, and lacks the social components. Going to school is better on the surface, but is being in one room all day, with limited interactions with their peers for just one or at most two days a week better than, say, organizing social activities with families outside of the school? Regardless of what the school decides, I’ll be pretending to be an educator somewhere between three and five days a week. 

I’m Going Through Changes

For a while before the boys had their first day of kindergarten on Monday, August 26, Katherine and I had been glum. Our little guys were so big now, and would be leaving the nest to strike out into the big world of elementary school, with all the influences and perils that that would mean. 

I was prepared and braced for how I would feel when they got on the bus for the first time. Sad, sure, but mostly proud at what smart, kind, personable, funny children we were sending out into the world. It turns out, however, that I was NOT prepared for how devastated I would be at the immediate redefining of my entire world. 

For five years, I have been a stay-at-home-dad, part-time at first and then full-time, working here and there and (very, very) occasionally taking time to myself, but mostly raising the boys and taking care of the house.

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Pictured.

While I had been aware of the huge change looming, until the bus doors closed behind our boys, I had not accepted it as much as I thought I had. I was nearly catatonic for hours, partly trying and failing to nap, but mostly trying and failing to come to grips with my new status.  

People have been asking me for months what I planned to do once the boys started school. I never had a good answer. Take some time to myself, sure. Work more, hopefully. Maybe go back to school and push my student debt into levels worthy of epic poems. Perhaps I’d wrangle an illustrator and write children’s books about my kids’ plush mermaids and gorillas and polar bears. 

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Suck it, A. A. Milne!

 

I suppose that I assumed these pieces would fall into place on their own immediately after I had the house to myself. They didn’t. And still haven’t. While the upheaval of the first day faded about the time we met them at the bus stop that afternoon, here we are weeks later and I still don’t know exactly where my life is headed.  

One thing I really wanted to start doing again was blogging. Not in a “for a living” sense, but just so I could update folks on the goings-on in our lives. I had fallen away from this hobby, partly due to time constraints, partly due to lack of good habits and will power, and largely because we were in a rut. There are but so many ways I can write a post about going to the park again and keep it interesting. And once I fell far enough away, it was more and more difficult and nonsensical to write anything even when we did do fun things, like going on trips and having family visit and basically an entire year of fun stuff at their preschool. 

I’d like to say that I’m getting back in the game, but to be honest I started writing this post five days after school started, and here we are. What I can say now is that at least in the short-term, I have something to fill some of my new down-time. At the end of the boys’ last year in preschool (and only year at Centreville Preschool, Inc.), I was asked to work first as a camp staffer at the summer camp the school offers, and then to continue as an emergency aide during the 2019-20 year.  

This was out of the blue, but not totally weird; I had been a co-oping parent and board member while the boys attended, so they knew I enjoyed working with the kids and wasn’t terrible at it. What started as an emergency substitute situation became a recurring role situation, and besides picking up openings, I now aide once a week during “lunch bunch” and “little scientists,” which are right up my alley since I love lunch and science. 

That said, I’m still a little lost. I don’t know where I go next, and while I’ve gotten used to the boys being gone all day every weekday, when they are off school, K is usually off work, so my solo time with them is all but ancient history.  

Yummy Animals vs. Buried Animals

Yesterday we buried our cat Jack. We talked to the boys about death, and about how Jack would become part of the ground, and how the flower seeds we planted on top of him would gain nourishment from him.

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Thankfully, we’d seen “The Lion King” in 1994, so we were prepared for discussions about the circle of life.

 

Today, I took them to Fresh World, an international market (read: not so much an American grocery store). We go there from time to time to look at the live seafood, find rare produce, or pick up other items I just can’t find at Harris Teeter.

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“Sorry, we’re fresh out of guinea pig.” – sarcastic meat department workers in an other store

Today, as we walked through the meat department, I pointed out to the boys a pile of beef hearts. Miles asked if it hurt the cow to have the heart taken out. I said no, the cow was dead when the heart came out.

What follows is a summary of the next hour and a half or so’s conversation between the two of us, edited for time and clarity:

Me: The cow was dead when they took the heart out. It didn’t hurt.

Miles: Was the cow sick like our cat?

Me: No.

Miles: Was he old like our cat?

Me: No.

Miles: Than how did he die?

Me: He was killed.

Miles: What’s “killed?”

Me: Someone made him die.

Miles: How?

Me: I’m not sure. They probably hit him on the head really hard and or cut him with a knife.

Miles: He got a boo-boo and died?

Me: Yes.

Miles: And they took out his heart?

Me: Yes.

Miles: Did you take out our cat’s heart?

Me: No.

Miles: Why?

Me: Because we loved Jack and we buried him.

Miles: Did anyone love the cow?

Me: I don’t know.

Miles: Why didn’t anyone bury him?

Me: Because we don’t usually bury cows. We eat them.

Miles: Why don’t we eat cats?

Me: I don’t really know.

Miles: (asks me what a pack of pig ears are)

Me: (tells him)

Miles: How did the ears come off?

Me: Someone cut them off.

Miles: Did it hurt the pig?

Me: No, he was already dead.

(we go through how livestock dies again)

Miles: What other animal ears do we eat?

Me: I don’t know.

Miles: Do we cut off gorilla ears and eat them?

Me: No.

Miles: (runs through every other animal he can think of that has ears)

Me: No.

Miles: Why do we only eat pig ears?

Me: I don’t know.

The next hour or so was spent with him asking me whether or not we eat various animals. Cats? No. Dogs. No. Well, yes, in some places. Goats? Yes. Ducks? Yes. (Pick an animal. Any animal. We went through them all.)

Miles: Why do we eat some animals and bury some animals?

Me: I don’t really know, exactly.

Conrad (seeing a sparrow out the car window): Do we eat those birds?

Me: No.

Conrad: Why?

Me: They’re too small.

Conrad: Are cats too small?

Me: No…

Conrad: Why don’t we eat cats?

Me: We just don’t.

Miles: Because we love our cats?

Me: Yes.

Miles: Does anyone love cows?

Me: Yes.

Miles: Why do we eat cows then?

Me: (brain explodes like an android given a logical paradox)

*a few hours later*

Me: What do you guys want for dinner?

Miles: Hot dogs!

Conrad: Bacon!

 

I’d been more or less prepared to talk to the boys about death. I was even more prepared to talk to them about the death of our cat. I was prepared to talk to them about how we kill animals to eat. That the hot dog they enjoy was once a cow and pig and chicken and turkey and chipmunk and orang-utan and whatever else goes into hot dogs.

I wasn’t really prepared to grapple with the questions I have myself. Why don’t we eat this animal, but eat that animal? Why eat horses and not cows? Why do some people eat horses? Why do we have pet birds but also eat birds?

I don’t understand this myself. I figured I had a couple more years before the moral gray area of meat consumption became a topic of conversation for my kids.

I’d love to push a more plant-based diet, but since these guys cringe at any vegetable that hasn’t been rendered unrecognizable and/or deep-fried, I worry that getting an appropriate amount of nutrients into them would become impossible.

Plus, I have to agree with them: bacon and hot dogs for dinner is awesome.

Goodbye, buddy.

I haven’t done a blog post in quite a while for a variety of reasons. I have twenty or so drafts saved, at varying levels of doneness. Maybe some of them will be posted soon.

I’m writing this post and actually posting it right away because it was something I needed to get out, and it was more than I could squeeze in to a Facebook or Instagram post. I felt like I needed to post urgently, both for the sake of people curious about our little family’s status, as well as for my own mental well-being.

A couple of months ago, our cat Jack was diagnosed with kidney failure. The diagnosis was basically that of all living things: he could live for days, or he could live for years. “Months” was most likely, and a couple of months is what we got, despite hiring the best medical care we could afford.

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The best medical care we could afford.

We got Jack and his litter mate Malibu in 2004. They went from our college apartment in Virginia, to Orlando, to Washington, and back to Virginia. We lost Bu two years ago to cancer. Jack soldiered on.

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He was like a SEAL, really.

Jack did for cats what deep-frying does for vegetables: he made the whole genre more palatable. Even people who aren’t crazy about cats admitted to enjoying his company.

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Pictured.

He was a people cat, and enjoyed even the sometimes over-bearing attention of our boys. When the boys started talking, if you asked what noise a cat made, they’d hiss, because while Malibu was a sweetheart, she didn’t suffer pokey toddlers lightly.

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Jack was down for whatever.

After all the pokes and prods and dogpiles and pulled tails and ears and squeezes and everything else the boys threw at him, Jack never hissed, growled, yowled, bit, or took a swipe at them. If they bothered him, he’d just move to another part of the room. For his patience with the boys, I will always be grateful.

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Seriously, buddy, wherever you are: thank you.

When we got the diagnosis, the vet told us that he’d probably stop eating (which he did) and start hiding away from us (which he didn’t). To the end, he wanted to cuddle, sleep on our bed, and have the boys poke him in the eye.

When we made the decision that it was in his best interest to put him down, his (extremely relative) illusion of vitality made it difficult. But he’d finally started to be a little stand-offish, he had stopped eating altogether, and was positively skeletal.

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This is the last picture of him. Bright-eyed, alert, and hanging on by a thread.

I’d been very worried about how the boys would handle the loss. I looked at the library for books about passing pets, but didn’t find any that were a good fit.

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Everything they had was either for older kids or involved “cat heaven.” We figured we had enough questions to answer without adding questions of theism and feline incorporeal existentialism.

Miles said many times that he’d miss the cat, said that he was sad, and right after I put the last shovel full of dirt on Jack’s new forever home, he gave me the best unprompted hug either kid has ever given me. Conrad was mostly concerned with whether or not we could get a unicorn now that that pesky cat obstacle had been removed.

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In all fairness, Jack and Miles had a bond going way back.

As far as we’re concerned, we won the cat lottery. When K posted about his passing on Facebook, I realized from the comments people were leaving how many people met Jack over the years and recognized his uniqueness and sweet personality.

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“Hey girl.”

Our little family is better for having had Jack as one of its members,  but we (or at least I) are feeling his loss deeply. I’m trying my hardest to focus on that first point. I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about “mindfulness” lately. It’s all about living in the now. It occurs to me that pets are the most mindful thing in many of our lives. We know that one day, we will be saying goodbye, but we don’t think about that. We just enjoy and love our pets, we curse them and clean up after them, we look forward to spending time with them and then take that time for granted.

Pets are just on loan from the universe.

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After Jack passed, the vet took him to put him in a box for me to take him home in. While she was gone, I noticed this sign in the room. It was…ironic?

The picture that probably best sums up my relationship with Jack is below. Watching Adult Swim and reading comics, together, as if he knew what was on the page or the screen. He just wanted to be with us. Be one of us.

Love you, buddy.

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Off My Meds

During our recent vacation/decade-late honeymoon to Puerto Rico, something I’ve always worried and wondered about happened: I forgot to bring my meds. To be fair, by “I forgot,” I mean they were packed but got lost in the shuffle of a repack.

I hate to be in the position of being able to apply the term “off my meds” to myself, but here I am. On top of the thyroid meds which I will be taking every day for the rest of my life, I take an anti-depressant and assorted “mood stabilizers,” which pretty much do what the name suggests, and all of which I will probably also be taking for the rest of my life. There’s a whole big back story to all of these, and if you don’t know them, well, count yourself fortunate.

The point is, these are all daily medications that work in congress to keep me on the beam with regards to everything from mood to sleep to appetite to overriding my constant urge to twerk while informing onlookers that I am all about that bass, but am fairly indifferent to – if not filled with abhorrence for – treble.

In the chaos of leaving for our trip, my week’s supply of medicine was overlooked, and I didn’t notice it until too late because I forgot to take them the night we left Herndon, the next morning when we left Maryland, and the first night in Puerto Rico.

No biggie. Missing a dose or two happens, and isn’t the end of the world. Our first morning in PR we discovered that we’d left my personal pharmacy at home, where I can only assume it spent its days fending off burglars with improvised booby-traps in a series of wacky shenanigans and catch phrases.

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“Keep the change, ya filthy animal.”

Okay, so this has to happen, right? People forget to take their meds, they lose them, they spill them on the ground. There has to be an emergency system to hook someone up with the pills they require daily to lead a normal life, right? Right?

Yes! Yes there is! Thank the patron saint of meds!

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St. Francis de Skeevy be praised!

We contacted our insurance provider, Kaiser Permanente – the Lloyd Christmas of health care systems – to see what could be done. To our relief, there are protocols for exactly this scenario. Granted, it took us a good chunk of the morning and several transfers and new phone calls before we got someone who knew this (including one person who thought PR was another country), but still, protocols are a good thing.

There was a Walgreen’s right down the road from where we were staying, and after wading through the quagmire of shit that is an insurance company’s patient service system, a nurse told us a few days of each prescription would be available for pickup there that very day. I would receive a phone call from Kaiser if there was any problem.

I got a phone call a short while later, but it was from the local Walgreen’s, and rather than letting me know that I could swing in whenever I wanted for my scripts, they informed me that they couldn’t honor the prescriptions because of reasons.

Another phone call to Kaiser (including another few transfers) got me to a nurse who said she would call Walgreen’s directly and get things squared. Awesome.

She called me back to tell me that I was completely and painfully screwed. The healthcare system in Puerto Rico requires prescriptions to be transferred through a specific database, and Kaiser wasn’t able to use it. The only way I could get my medications would be for me to find a doctor, schedule an appointment, go in, get a new script, take it to a pharmacy, pay up front for the appointment and meds, and file a claim to get compensated for the out-of-pocket expenditures.

A few things you should know: Due to the financial ruin that Puerto Rico is in, doctors are leaving at the rate of one a day. Getting an appointment with someone would be challenging. Have you ever tried to schedule a doctor’s appointment in the actual United States? Do they ever cheerfully invite you in the next day at a time when you’re available? Probably not.

We talked about getting the stuff express-shipped to us, but since I have trust issues with parcel delivery companies, I wasn’t willing to gamble on the things getting to us on time, not to mention how expensive it would be to try and overnight a package from Virginia to Puerto Rico.

On top of the logistical issues of getting an appointment, we had one day completely spoken for during which I wouldn’t be able to go to a doctor. Finally, would it be worth taking that much time out of our trip (assuming I could get an appointment anyway) to get one or two day’s worth of meds? Would it be worth dealing with the paperwork to get compensated for our out-of-pocket expenses? Should we trust two medical systems who couldn’t manage to get me a handful of some extremely benign pills to work out payments in a way that didn’t screw us? According to one Kaiser rep, Puerto Rico is a foreign nation, so who knows if their king would allow their minister of medical skullduggery to approve the tariffs on trans-national currency transfers? (Citation of all preceding terms needed.)

I figured, what’s the worst that could come from skipping meds for a couple more days, or about a week total? So, I decided the only logical thing was to roll the dice and go without any meds for a couple more days.

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Also known as “Quaiding.”

We did survive our vacation, free of medical or psychological issues. That said, it would all catch up to me when we got back. I went through a few days of misery while my body and brain readjusted to not being completely neglected.

I know I said it already, but I really can’t over emphasize the point that I hate – HATE – being in a position to say that I’m “off my meds” when I miss some doses. It carries a connotation that doesn’t sit well with society, regardless of how ignorant those stigmas might be.

I know this post ended abruptly, but I couldn’t think of anything else to say for a change, so here’s a picture of C from a year+ ago looking unimpressed.

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Puerto Rico

In case you missed it because you have a life and have better things to pay attention to than our family’s goings-on, Kat and I finally managed to take a “honeymoon” 10 years late, because having twin two-year-olds actually makes taking a vacation less challenging, apparently.

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“No, go; we got this.”

We decided to head for Puerto Rico, as it was far enough away and exotic enough to feel foreign, but since it’s a U.S. territory, we could let loose without looking like douchey American tourists. Well, more than we would otherwise.

I’m not one of those real bloggers who takes time each night to write about their adventures from the day (hell, I barely manage a post a month), and we packed a fair amount into our trip, so there’s a lot to go over. That said, I’m lazy and short on time, and, let’s face it, most people haven’t even read this far, so who wants to slog through details of someone else’s vacation? Nobody, that’s who.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I am going to post some of my favorite pictures here, so I can at least prove that we were there. All links are to reviews of the associated businesses I posted on Yelp, so if you feel like fleshing out those thousand words a little bit, check them out.

Now, thousands upon thousands of words, all in .JPG form! Enjoy!

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Pre-flight beverages in the airport: Coffee for her, because she needed to wake up, and liquor for me, because I was about to get into a metal tube of fuel and ride it 30,000 feet in the air over the ocean, and eff that noise.

El Yunque Rainforest Inn B&B

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Breakfast on day one at our B&B: Vegetarian burrito, fruit skewer, vegetarian sausage patties, and homemade hot sauce. Yum dialed up to 11.

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The sign before the waterfall/pool at the end of the private hike on property. We did!

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Check out those Pacific Northwest tans! #pasty

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Fairly deep natural pool on top of a freaking mountain. Pictured: A dip taking a dip.

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Some of the jungle on the Machete Trail, a private hike on the private property of El Yunque Rainforest Inn.

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View from the common patio.

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See “Dip…” above.

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Stuffed French toast and vegetarian sausage. This is breakfast on day three; on day two we left before breakfast, so they prepared a to-go breakfast for us the night before!

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The patio of our room, “The Villa.”

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Shared dining/lounge area.

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If you don’t like lizards, don’t stay…well, anywhere south of Georgia, really.

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Food Kiosks at Luqiollo

There’s a set of food “kiosks” at Luquillo Beach; think a strip mall of nothing but restaurants. The best we ate at was Wepa Arepa, but alas. I was so consumed with consuming the food that I failed to take any pictures. I did manage to snap some pics of the food at Coral Seafood, the most meh food we had on our trip.

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A plantain stuffed with beef and topped with American cheese. They were kind enough to microwave it before they handed it to me.

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A crab taco and a pork pastry thing. See “meh” above.

Castillo San Cristobal and Castillo San Filipe del Morro

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Puerto Rico used to be one of Spain’s most important territories, as it offered a nice spot in between Europe and South America for ships to do ship stuff. Naturally, they fortified the hell out of it. 

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The Spanish watchtowers are so iconic in the Caribbean that they grace everything from license plates to maps. In the right light, they appear to be big stone middle fingers to the rest of Colonial Europe. 

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“Eff you, Netherlands!”

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The men’s room has quite a view…

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…But if you think that means it’s legal to pee off the balcony, you’d be wrong. Very, very wrong.

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Even the view back into the restroom is vintage!

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During WWII, America added extensions on to both forts. I like how the new turrets actually blend in pretty well with the original structures.

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Old Town San Juan (in no particular order)

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The Carmelo Anthony charity basketball court, surrounded by the walls of fort El Morro.

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At the birthplace of the pina colada, we also tried tostones stuffed with chicken…

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…and some of the best fried grouper I’ve tried.

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At Cathedral of San Juan Bautista lie the remains of Ponce de Leon. [insert fountain of youth joke here]

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In the lobby of the CasaBlanca Hotel. I don’t know the name of the movie they were showing in the lobby, but it looked good…

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From the roof of the CasaBlanca Hotel.

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You know when you’re on the roof of your hotel and you’re like “Man, I wish there were some bathtubs up here so I can hang out in cool water and hang out?” Good news!

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Greengos, an eco-conscious Tex-Mex joint serving great food and margaritas made with house-infused tequila. 

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I got steak nachos. They were OMG phenomenal, and I brought great shame on my family by not being able to finish them.

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Coffee. Somewhere.

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A la vodka pizza at Pirilo. Honestly, one of the better pizzas we’ve ever had, and it was in San Juan, no less!

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Snorkeling

A moment for mofongo: It seems that everywhere I go, there is a regional cuisine with a funny name. In Puerto Rico, it’s mofongo. Mofongo is simply a mashed plantain and garlic dish, but like “baked potato,” it can mean a lot of things. Load it up with whatever you want, and you still have mofongo. While nearly every restaurant has mofongo on the menu, we were lucky enough to try it at a joint called Desperado.Mounds of mofongo smothered in shrimp in rich gravy (her) and skirt steak in sauce (I). If you make it to PR, make sure to try mofongo, and you could do worse than Desperado.

You people: Hit up Puerto Rico. It’s a lovely island that only looks like it isn’t lovely.

 

Kid Junction

What’s your function?

Today I took the boys to Kid Junction, an indoor playground/arcade, and they had a pretty good time. I worry with places like these, because some are so big and/or elaborate that it’s hard to keep an eye on twins, but this place was laid out so that the boys were easier to track.

There were climbing…um…things, closed off areas for the smaller kids, an arcade, a dining area, a cafe, and rooms where kids can pretend to be postal workers or grocery store customers or other things they will hopefully never, ever get stuck doing when they grow up.

The cafe had a fairly wide selection as play zone cafes go, and the prices were mostly lower than I would have expected. No outside food is allowed inside and it’s a nut-free zone, so plan accordingly. In our case, we got two free drink tickets with our passes. I asked for milk, but the drink vouchers only work for soda, coffee, and juice. The boys don’t get soda or juice and they’d already had enough coffee in the morning. I understand that milk costs more, but it would have been nice if a healthy drink option existed for use with vouchers, free or not.

Our hands got marked when we came in to show we paid, which is fine, but we were checked again with a UV light on the way out. The boys were well behaved, thankfully, but if they’d been throwing a tantrum and fighting with me as I put their shoes on, I would have politely informed the attendant where s/he could store the light for safekeeping. I assume this was because they wanted to double check whether we had paid already? If that’s the case, and we had somehow snuck past the two-door, manned lobby, would they make us give back the fun?

The place was as clean as can be expected, although the tiny diaper trashcan (Diaper Champ, to be specific) was broken. The staff wasn’t surly or rude, but seemed absolutely joyless. Does that happen when you work in a building usually packed with screaming kids and whiney parents? Probably. I think that would make me dead inside, too.

There is free Wi-Fi and a dining area, so parents can be on their phones and computers and get a break from their kids and/or ignore them while somewhere “Cats In the Cradle” plays softly. Seriously, though, I was a little surprised that I was one of only two parents I saw the entire time we were there who was actually playing with our kids. I definitely get it if your kids are old enough to look after themselves a bit and you want some grown-up time, but I figured more parents would be making nom-nom sounds while trying to avoid eating the plastic pizza slice their tots are trying to force-feed them.

We’ll be back.

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When you haven’t driven a car for a long time and find out it got infested by mice.

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Pictured: Why we won’t have guns in the house.

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“Look, I like you, but not ‘hug you’ like you.”

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This might have been their favorite thing. I’m not even joking.

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His field goal percentage was only like .18.

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Running real errands: they want to go home. At awesome play zone: They want to run imaginary errands.

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Pfft, the Capri Suns would never get stocked next to the rice. F on authenticity, Kid Junction.

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“Yes, 911? My dad saw me working a toy cash register in a pretend grocery store, and I think he’s having some sort of PTSD episode.”

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“Fire station? Fix-it shop? Space ship? I’ve got it! A post office! What kid doesn’t want to grow up to be a surly, over-worked government employee?” – KJ designer, apparently

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Animal hospital! Now we’re talking!

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“Will my cow be okay, doctor?” “I’m afraid she’s got cudstipation.” “Oh no! Is it hopeless?” “Udderly hopeless.”

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So they can learn how to work the knobs on a stove.

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This isn’t edible, but that didn’t stop M from trying to take a bite, nor from trying to force feed it to me.

 

NIAW

It’s that time again: National Infertility Awareness Week is here. NIAW is a time when focus is brought to the issue of infertility, an all-to-often overlooked medical concern that afflicts roughly one in eight couples. It’s often considered so personal that it doesn’t get brought up as often as it should, with the exception of multi-millionaires rubbing their success in your face.

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Congratulations, ass-hat.

Honestly though, I can’t connect with this issue on the same level as my wife, so I’ll let her do the talking:

“This year, in honor of National Infertility Awareness Week, I wanted to let people know that infertility doesn’t just end if/when you add a child to your family. There can be a misconception that once someone is successful in pregnancy or adoption, all the stress and negative feelings that you experienced while going through infertility should just fade away. While I am eternally grateful that we were successful and have our twin boys, I am still and always will be infertile. It still stings to know that I will never have three children in my family (the number I always envisioned being the right size for us). Seeing a pregnant woman still makes me feel a twinge of jealousy. And it is stressful that I’m still paying back a loan to afford IVF, two years after my children were born. Infertility will always be a part of me; it doesn’t just end when children are welcomed into your family. Visit Resolve.org to learn more about infertility.”

Different couples have different means, goals, and timelines, so I’m not going to sit here and tell you to try everything, or hang in there, or you’ll get there, or God forbid “you just need to relax.” But like she said above, Resolve is a great resource, and can even connect you with support groups if you want to have a more personal, shared experience. I will say that you aren’t alone, and keeping this problem on the radar is the only way it will start to get the mainstream attention it needs.

 

 

Sickos

**READER ALERT: While no graphic descriptions are given, there are references to bodily functions that you might want to avoid even picturing. You’re picturing stuff right now, aren’t you? You know what kind of bodily functions I’m talking about, and you can’t help but imagine what could be so horrific that I have to warn you, even though I won’t be giving details.**

We’ve hit a major milestone in our life as a family with kids: the lot of us all got sick as hell at the same time.

Yes, a stomach bug (most likely rotavirus) came upon us like Donald Trump in the election: It came out of nowhere, and every time we thought it would pass into obscurity, it would immediately resurface, leading to vomiting and an overwhelming sense of despair.

Poor little M was the harbinger. He [bodily function deleted] on a Friday morning, and continued [bodily function deleted] all over me and the living room for most of the day. His spirit remained as high as possible, which is to say his spirits were pretty low, but he soldiered on.

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Pictured: Stoicism

That night was interrupted by more [bodily function deleted], and by morning, he was pretty wasted. That morning his brother started to display symptoms as well; it became a bit of sibling rivalry, really, with C seeing M’s [bodily function deleted] and raising him severe [bodily function deleted].

Not to be outdone, M became lethargic and weak, and we decided to take him in to urgent care. Kat took him, and in the six or so hours they were there, he received three IVs for dehydration and meds for nausea.After less than two days, he had lost four pounds. I remained home with C, who had largely stabilized.

When Kat got home with M, he was in fine spirits and went right to bed with no fuss, in spite of his terrible night.

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One tough mofo right there.

Sunday saw both boys suffering, and we spent more time than usual cuddling with them on the couch. It was also the beginning of my new hobby: Cleaning [digestive expulsion deleted] out of said couch.

It was Monday when the boys started to feel and act better. We gave them nausea medicine when we needed to, they ate more of their regular diet, and [bodily function deleted] and [bodily function deleted] were at a minimum. It was also Monday when those little [unkind personal expletives deleted] generously shared their germs with me. I’ll briefly sum up Monday night be saying it became practical for me to bring pillows and a blanket to the bathroom. It was a rough night. At some point during that night, I emailed Kat (who was in the next room, but I’d been keeping her up enough) and told her I would need her to stay home from work on Tuesday if it was at all possible.

It was possible, and she stayed home to tend to the three men in her home who were usually burly stalwarts of strength and power.

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Like this, but not funny. So just like this, I guess.

I was down and could hardly handle taking care of a pair of sick two-year-olds, who at this point were having a resurgence of symptoms.

The good news was that Kat was able to stay home to take care of us. The bad news was that that day she got hit too. It was the first time that all four of us were sick at the same time. It was kind of a low point. I had been looking forward (if you can call it that) to having her handle the boys while I recuperated, but with her trying to steal my sick-parent thunder, the two of us were on equal footing, both trying to balance feeling like death while trying to take care of twin toddlers who also felt like death. Of course, we didn’t refer to it as “feeling like death” in front of them; we told them we were all getting ready to go to a wonderful farm where we could play and chase rabbits and be happy forever.

While K and I felt better after a couple of days, the boys carried on with their illnesses as if they were trying to win a competition. A call to the doctor’s office was met with the comforting advice “give it seven to ten days” before we made another appointment. By this time, the boys were managing to keep down enough water to remain hydrated, but the overwhelming percentage of things they took into their bodies ended up [insert nightmare].

If you don’t have kids, it’s hard to get how bad it feels when your kids are sick and you can’t do anything about it. I’ve always hated the “if you’re not a parent you don’t know” crap (and still do, mostly), but dammit man, it’s tough to have someone who counts on you looking at you, wondering why you won’t make the suffering end. I imagine it’s like every meeting the Jackson Jaguars have with their owners.

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M, the poor lad who started it all, continued being sick into the next weekend. C wasn’t doing great either, but was clearly recovering. Finally, almost exactly 10 days later, all of us seemed to be mended. It was a relief in every way.

I have no idea if we were lucky to have had this nightmare take place two years after the boys’ birth. Were we ahead of schedule for the worst family adventure ever?

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Was this more or less the average point in time where entire family units are crippled by rampaging RNA strands?

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You capsid-wearing bastard.

Either way, it sucked. Some people say that when you have multiples, the best thing to do when one gets sick is to make sure the other one/s is/are exposed as much as possible, thus becoming sick as well. This way you have to deal with more than one sick kid at a time, but it’s over relatively quickly, rather than having kids be sick end-to-end, drawing out the time you’re dealing with it. That’s probably still good advice, but when the parents are sick too, you start wishing you only had one kid whose [bodily expulsion deleted] you have to worry about.

I’m ready to return to a simpler time when the boys only got sick because they ate Cheerios they picked out of a puddle in a parking lot.