Early this year, as it became apparent that COVID-19 was going to cause a serious pandemic, I remember reading someone who proposed that people start keeping pandemic diaries. These type of first-person accounts would be important from a historical perspective, as they were useful for figuring out what had happened during the past pandemics like the Spanish Flu. I began taking it in all seriousness, and have published twenty-six entries so far, trying to detail my family’s experience.
Some of the first estimates that I read near the start of the lockdown said that we were looking at potentially eighteen months to two years of lockdowns and restrictions before either a vaccine was available for mass production or the disease mutated into a benign form. It’s hard to believe that we’re only five months in at this point. Other predictions about a second wave, worst that the first, have been accurate, but it will be some time before we see whether my initial napkin calculation of five hundred thousand dead will be close.
Several readings of psychology show that human mental outlooks seem to return to baseline six months following a life-changing event. Lottery winners and those suffering new para or quadriplegics lose the elation or despair that circumstances have brought them after half a year, and I myself have noticed how much has become normal that seemed absolutely stressful back in March. Life becomes normal. This has popped up in my readings of stoicism as the hedonic treadmill.
This normalization has been one of the worst things about the Trump era, but I’ll hold off on the political ranting for now. In general, people just became too stir-crazy to adhere to strict lockdown procedures for more than six weeks, and began sliding back to normalcy. We’re guilty of it ourselves. At one point, after raising my voice at the kids, I told Missus that we had to go let them play with their friends, or else we would have no choice but to send them to daycare. I’ve refused to consider sending them back, mainly for financial reasons, less so for the health risk. But aside from moving to an isolated area where they can roam free, there’s no way we can keep them locked away from everyone.
Our isolation pod that we previously formed with our neighbors seems to have become a bit more diffuse over the past few weeks. The girls can still play with their friends down the street, the T’s, but I’ve stopped being concerned about what they do with their time. The most we can do at this point is just wash our hands and wear a mask when we go out, and just stay away from large groups.
Adults I see out in the world without a mask are assumed to be either a sociopath or an idiot. I’m not sure which is worse, those that go without masks or those that leave them down under their nose while they wear them. It’s a stark contrast between going to Barnes and Nobles or Lowes, or heading into stores here in the city versus our trips out to the mountains.
Yesterday’s news said that Putin announced a Russian vaccine was available and that he and his daughter had both received it. Apparently the Chinese have one and have been giving it to their military and scientists working with the disease. There’s been some reports of pushback from the scientific community with regard to safety, but I’m still on the fence as to whether it’s just propaganda at this point. Still, there seemed to be a response from the financial markets, as this hope of normalcy returning caused gold and crypto to dip.
I’m not holding my breath of any resolution here in the US soon. Umair pointed out that Trump would do nothing to stem the virus while he was in office, and by the time Biden would be in place to put measures in effect it would be too late. COVID would be a permanent part of American life until a cure or treatment is found. As I’ve oft repeated from him, American passports are near useless now as most countries with stable COVID rates have banned US travelers.
Our main concern now is the upcoming school year. I’ve practically given up looking for a new job, given my belief that finding a better full-time job which will let me manage the kids will be nigh impossible. That may be my fear talking, or laziness, as most all of my day is taken up with managing the household. I spend most of my time working, reading or writing and taking after the kids. For now, we look for ways to compound our existing finances, mainly bitcoin, cut our expenses, and minimize our lifestyle. I hardly spend any money on myself, and am starting to save up some free cash for the first time since we bought the house.
Schools are going virtual for the first seven weeks or so, and we’ll have to see what that looks like for Elder. My main concern is that she’ll be tied up, leaving me with Younger, which may interfere with my job to the extent that I’ll have to place her back in daycare. I’d rather pull them both and homeschool them, to be honest, but I can’t seriously say whether that is more for my benefit of theirs. Probably mine.
It’s a quarter to seven this morning, I was woken from a strange dream by Younger a bit before six and went back to sleep to try and gain another few minutes of sleep, or perhaps part of me wanted to return to the dream world. All I remember is some treacherous surveillance AI trying to steal children. I remember searching for something in a lost in a vast field of snow, and lastly, some scene in a small, dark, grimy garage, working on mechanical equipment with two other individuals before pounding into some Swans-like driving hardcore music. I can take nothing from it.
Missus finished reading Atomic Habits last night, she’s really impressed by the book. I spent yesterday evening writing and only managed an hour on my WordPress project. The two of us wound up talking well past eleven, mostly concerned with what to do about the schools given how we are well in the midst of a second wave. As was predicted, this one is way worse than the first, but at least at this venture the grocery stores have toilet paper. Our stores aren’t where they need to be if we are to be locked down, but our state continues to fall in the number of cases, and has drifted from the top ten down to number fifteen or so.
There is no way that we can foresee sending our children back to school. Not even for two days a week, which is likely. Missus just purchased pre-school supplies to make sure Younger learns her letters, and I’ve recently sat down with Elder to draw up a plan for her to complete third grade math and her other studies. We’re still figuring out how to track things on our Kanban board, moving stickers around on the wall, and figuring out the best way to get things done.
We’re expecting some friends this weekend, the Gs. We befriended them by happenstance several years ago while Elder and their daughter M. were in pre-school together. We kept running into them weekend mornings at Target and started hanging out. We discovered that we enjoyed a shared interest in board games and good beer, and hung out often over the years until G. got transferred to Florida. His station is up now and they moved back to the area two weeks ago, and this will be the second time we’ve seen them in close to four years. My first batch of homebrew IPA will be ready this Friday, and I am looking forward to cracking the first bottle with him this weekend.
I haven’t been waking up as early as I like, the girls are coming downstairs before I’ve managed to finish writing these entries. This morning was remarkable, as Elder came right down stairs and starting doing her school work right away, doing Khans Academy, Typing.com and ReadTheory all in one block. She also did the dishwasher and snuggled me on the couch to keep warm, and clung to me lovingly when I went into the kitchen to help her sister unload the silverware. It’s very rare for her to act in such a way, and remarked that she must have gotten a lot or rest last night. (I read her to sleep with Wired magazine, which put her right out). I called upstairs to Missus that our little orchid was blooming.
Today we’re leaving on our trip. It’s only for two days, but making sure the house is ready and that we have everything we need is always an endeavor. Yesterday I tended to our plants, cut the grass, edged, and sprayed some weeds while the girls cleaned the house. Then I managed the girls investments and wrote up a brief for them on our home intranet. Then we had our quarantine family over. The kids watched TV and the four adults played a game of Settlers of Catan. It was the first time our neighbors had played, and it must have had the least amount of trading in a game that I’ve ever seen. By the ninety minute mark we just wanted it to be over as it was getting too late for the kids, and in the end D. won. Turns out it was his birthday too!
We’ve got a four hour drive ahead of us, and while the girls are finally old enough that we don’t need to take the drive while they’re sleeping, taking rest stops during the age of COVID is still stressful. The number of new cases in our state continues to trend in the low numbers, and has opened up to “Phase 3” reopening, which means things are ok, I guess. We continue to wear masks whenever we go indoors, and are still avoiding crowds. The library has reopened, and Missus took Younger there a few days ago.
I’m hoping that we can get out on the water and do some canoeing. I don’t think white water rafting is in store, but I don’t think any lakes are near where we’re going, so maybe a lazy river is in store. We’ll see. I plan on taking the girls hiking to explore some trails that we found off the road last time we were out there. So that should be fun.
Missus dad also invited us to go target shooting, so that Missus can use the .380 that he bought her. That’s got me thinking about the girls. They don’t even know we have a gun in the house. I’ve got it stored away with a chamber lock, the bullets and key are stored elsewhere in the house. But if we’re going to travel with it then I want to have a conversation with the girls about guns and gun safety. Whether or not to bring the girls to any live fire activities is a conversation I need to have with Missus.
When I was growing up, my dad brought me to so-called “turkey shoots”, which is called such not because you actually shoot at turkeys, but because the winner takes home a frozen bird. There’s usually several rounds with varying prizes, contestants buy in per round, are given a single shotgun birdshot round, then step up one at a time to take a shot at one of several targets in a lane. At the end of the round, the targets are collected and whoever has a pellet hole closest to the center of the target wins. Crap shoot would be a more apt term, since the winner is usually based on luck, not skill.
My girls have never even seen a real gun, as far as I know, except maybe holstered on law enforcement. The only thing I’m sure Elder knows about them is what they told her during the active shooter drills in her elementary school. It still pains me to think that is a thing.
My FIL brought Missus the gun after he returned from a two-year stint working overseas. He barely managed to make it home, as the pandemic was taking off. No one was sure how bad things were going to get, so he wanted her to have something to defend herself with if things got really rough. I’d like to think that we’ve avoided that possibility, but given that the number of cases in the US continues to break records, I’m not so sure. Winter is coming, I guess.
For this weekend at least, we’ll just focus on getting out of town for a few days up in the mountains and having a good time. I’ve already got a checklist building in my head of things to pack. I hear the girls rousing upstairs, and I’ve got plenty to do to prep: reset the security cameras, pack food, clothes, and gear that we’ll need for the trip. And now Elder’s downstairs, already complaining that I let her little sister watch TV while I wrote. Sigh.
I usually pack my laptop, iPad, and a couple of books to read. Now Elder has a laptop as well, although I’m not sure I’m going to let her bring it. We literally cannot keep enough books around the house though, as she races through whatever we get her from the library in a few days. The last thing I want though is for her to get to my FIL’s house and then try to park herself in front of the TV there. It’s a challenge.
Well, time for me to get a move on. To my fellow Americans, please enjoy your Fourth of July. And remember, Hamilton is available on Disney+. We’ve only watched a half hour of it, but it’s good.
I’ve stopped counting the days since the COVID lockdown, we’re well in the third month. Yesterday the papers announced that our state was moving into phase 3, which should bring us back to some sort of normalcy. I’m not buying it. Homestead, Florida ran out of beds and that the US is back on a positive track, so it’s clear the rest of the country isn’t dealing with it well. I keep looking at our numbers daily like I’m analyzing the next price move for Bitcoin, and it looks to me like we’re in a consolidation phase before the next bull run.
I spent most of yesterday completely useless. Sleep deprivation hit hard in the afternoon, and I spent two hours on the couch reading blogs. By dinner I was snapping at the kids so I tried to lay down with Elder when she went to bed but it just wound up giving me more energy, so I spent an hour on the back porch meditating. It was the longest session I had done in a long time.
My backyard is fairly quiet, we live near the end of a cul-de-sac, near the water. We’ve got a patio and a hot tub out the back door, and maybe a third of an acre in the yard, big enough for two large maples, a shed and playhouse for the kids. There a freshwater drainage ditch with a no man’s land about thirty or fourty feet deep, sort of a mini-forest if you will, and beyond that are some condos in the neighboring subdivision. It’s not completely isolated, but enough so.
We’ve got a variety of animals that wander through from time to time. I’ve seen entire families of deer wander through, and often find signs of them around the yard. Rabbits are prevalent as well, and we’ve found turtles wandering about. There’s also the occasional fox alert on Next Door. Earlier this week I watched a squirrel cut down small twigs off one of our maple trees to build a nest at the base of the branch attachment.
And the birds. There are so many birds, I don’t even know how to describe them. I’ve heard woodpeckers out there, and all kinds of calls that I don’t even have the capacity to describe. A lot of the trees along the no man’s land are probably over a hundred years old, and tower into the sky, and I often see hawks or falcons soaring above them or perching atop them. There’s all sorts of other finches and smaller birds that flit around the yard, last year we had a blue jay visit us, and this year we’ve got a cardinal nest in the juniper bush between the deck and our bay window. If I balance atop the deck railing, with one hand on the house, I can see the chicks.
And there I was yesterday, too wired to sleep but to tired to do anything else, sitting cross-legged on a cushion while the sun went down, watching the birds and fireflies bustle about in the yard, alone. Call Newport talks a lot about solitude in Digital Minimalism, and he uses an interesting definition of it, basically the state when one’s mind is isolated from the influence of others. And he doesn’t just mean people around you or in your social media feeds, but also books and magazines. This is something I hadn’t considered before. He notes that while at Walden Pond, Thoreau wasn’t far off in some wilderness, but just a couple minutes away from town, far enough where he could be undisturbed by people most of the time, alone with his thoughts. He talks about Lincoln at the Soldiers’ Home, away from the bustle of the White House, where he could think in solitude. And Kierkegaard had a penchant for walking, hours every day, which allowed him the time to come up with his works.
I’m normally the type of person that doesn’t stop reading, and yesterday was no exception, I spent most of my miserable afternoon alternating between trying to nap and reading blogs. I had had too much caffeine for the former, and not enough to do anything more productive than cook dinner. After putting the girls to bed, I decided that a bit of solitude would do me good, so I gave myself an hour to sit and think, to let the ideas wander in. In the past I’ve had a bit of general anxiety about forgetting a good idea. I’ve tried keeping a notebook handy in the past, and fought the urge to dictate notes to Siri in the past. I’ve since come to realize that the good ones will come back, or can be retrieved after I’m done sitting, especially if I let them play out in my head instead of trying to dismiss them to focus on breathing or what’s going on around me.
After I was done I walked inside, and Missus was coming down at the same time, phone in hand. She immediately told me about how worked up she was about the latest drama, both at work, and with her family airing dirty laundry in public. I listened, but didn’t want to be drawn into it. I didn’t want to be pulled away from the place I had just spent the last hour getting my mind into. I wasn’t done. So I went upstairs, opened up the voice memo on my phone, and spent ten minutes dumping my brain out of my mouth, then read and went to sleep.
I slept like a baby.
Removing all the social media off my phone has been working out real well. Part of me misses staying hyper-informed on Twitter, but taking a break has made me realize that it’s not really what I need to accomplish my goals. It’ll be interesting to see what my metrics look like after a month, I sign on now and the notifications are just useless someone you follow like this types. It’s like the algorithms have detected that I’m becoming less engaged, and they’re crying out, look at this! Look at this! I dumped LinkedIn off my phone as well after getting too many notifications.
I know that my writing volume has increased notably. And my reading has picked up as well, but I don’t have a real way to quantify it. And whether I’m closer to achieving my goals remains to be seen, but that somehow seems secondary to making sure I carve that space out for myself.
Monday was filled with the usual challenges of dealing with the kids while Missus is locked in the office on the phone with patients. It’s been raining, and trying to keep the kids indoors while limiting their screen time is tough. They fought again, I think we all got up in a rough way as Younger wouldn’t listen to my direction and wound up having a tantrum before the rest of the house was up. We managed to their Dad Summer School work, and wound up having a little dance party before bed while I played beats on the keyboard. (I really want some sort of LoopStation!)
I had a heart to heart with Boss yesterday about the future of Zombie, LLC. It was the most frank conversation that we’ve had in a while. I didn’t go so far to volunteer that I was actively applying for work, but did tell him I was under the impression that we were operating with less than two weeks of runway and that I would either be going on furlough or unemployment from that point. He assured me that it wasn’t the case, and understood that without me, there was no company. The other two members of our staff are not so lucky, and might have to go hourly. We talked a lot about pivoting, and what that might look like. Unfortunately we’re still locked into a franchise contract for the next two years, so we’ll have to stand up a new DBA for whatever we do.
One of our clients makes embedded systems, and just wrapped up a major project. They’re preparing for a new one, and I got a request from them about standing up a GitHub server for internal use. They’re not using any version control internally. I was shocked. They’ve got two C++ devs that are geographically distributed, and they’re basically sharing code between the two of them wrapped up in in VirtualBox images. I wound up spending two and a half hours writing up a proposal document on how to go about rolling out a VCS system internally, proposing training and gathering business requirements to determine whether to go self-hosted or cloud based, and to choose which of the various vendors to go with. We’ll see if they bite. I’ve been managing the systems for this firm for over five years, so moving into a development position there might be feasible. We’ll see.
My life as a WordPress developer continues. Last night I discovered that the database I was running locally was pulled off of my botched staging site, and was missing half of the sidebar widgets from the production site. This was after two days trying to figure out why the logos were missing from my local host. Still, I’m learning how WordPress works. I’m not sure how helpful it is to be starting from this abomination of a theme, but I told the client I was confident that I could make it happen. I have a feeling that I’m about to get way more involved in the design of the site than I have in a really long time.
Many years ago, when Zombie, LLC was still new and growing, we had a young guy who was working with us. He bragged to me that he made most of his money working freelance, standing up Drupal sites for clients at ten thousand or more a pop. I was sceptical, since he had the air of someone who grew up with money, but he did move on very quickly, working with the DoD and other large firms as AWS architect and devops manager. In some sense, I guess I was jealous, and that jealousy lead to keeping him at a distance. I think he recognized early on that Boss didn’t have the vision to lead us where he wanted to go, and he got out early. Que sera.
I’m sitting here with Designing Your Life next to me, turned open to the section on writing a lifeview reflection, my next homework assignment. The first example question is why are we here? and moves on to what is good , and what is evil? and so on. I was planning on addressing it here, but these blog entries are always to long-winded for the type of short, two hundred and fifty word answers they require. It will be very hard to keep my answer short, and will be a lot of work. It’s almost easier to write a thousand words about “matters of intimate concern” than it would be to just two fifty.
Younger has come downstairs, and is playing in the living room singing. Moments like these make me wonder why we ever lived like we did before coronavirus. Again, I ask myself why would I send this babe off to daycare for two hundred dollars a week just so I go to work. I can do my job from home now, so why would I send her away. But the Fall will come, and her big sister will probably be going back to school in some regard, and keeping the little one home with me, might be more than I am ultimately prepared to take on. When I was younger, daycare was my grandmother, or a family friend down the street. Of course I have no family close enough to take the girls on like that, so it’s either keep them home or send them off.
Last night, in Digital Minimalism, I read a chapter about the Amish, and the Mennonites. They both follow the biblical creed to be “in the world, but not of it”, and the description of the mindfulness with which they allow technology, or anything, really, into their lives seems like it’s a great approach. We’re all living in some sort of minimalist lifestyle right now, separated from the world we knew. Everything has been refactored, daycare, schools, work, the way we shop for groceries, the way we interact with friends. My wife may be forced to go back to work soon, but I can tell you that the rest of us are never going back to life as normal.
It only remains to see how we allow the world back into our lives.
My birthday was good. My dad came over, and my mom and brother were able to join us over Zoom to celebrate. I got a craft beer kit and a board game that I’ve been wanting to get my hands on for years, Dune. The kids played outside most of the day with their friends, and I set up the slip and slide for them to play on. The day was wonderful, but was marred by my neighbor knocking on my door to literally tell me to keep the kids off his grass. Its an ongoing cold war that unfortunatley has taken up too much space in my head for the past two years.
Today begins the first day of what should have been summer vacation. In an alternate dimension, I would have just dropped them off at daycare, and my wife would have gone into work. I would be returning to an empty house, to myself for eight wonderful hours. That was another life. In a sense, having the kids home has exposed how little of my day was productive before. I don’t even remember what I spent my time on, I usually aimed for two hours of billable time a day, the rest was just administrative or non-productive. A year ago I was on the last week of a tense campaign which I would lose by thirty points, before sequestering myself away for several months.
Last night, we managed to get the girls to bed on their regular schedule, and Missus and I were able to get to bed on time as well, despite all the revelry. I already told the girls that even though school was out for the summer, Dad School was not and that we would still be continuing their studies. They protested, but we’ll see what happens. We’re also relaxing our self-isolation, which has been broken in all but name anyways, so that they’re free to play with any of the neighborhood kids.
As far as COVID goes, our state has moved into Phase 2, which means larger gatherings. I’m still avoiding public places as much as possible and wearing a mask whenever I go out. I’m still not going anywhere that isn’t necessary, only grocery stores, drug stores, and takeout. There was some good news out of Italy that the virus may be weakening, but this has been disputed. So it looks like we’ll continue to live with the thread of coronavirus for now.
Today looks like it’s shaping up to be another day, another Monday, back to work. Here’s to another week. I’ve been using a life calendar for the home screen of my web browser, so every morning when I open Chrome I’m met with a picture like this:
That’s my life, up to now. Almost halfway through an expected lifespan of eighty-five years. Of course, no male in my family has lived that long. My grandmother is eighty-seven, and she’s doing ok. But there are no illusions about my father’s current health, or mine, given the way I drink. This life calendar is just my way of reminding myself that the clock is ticking, and a way to stay focused. My wife saw it the other day and thought it was some morbid sign of mental illness. She also thinks that that I get morose when my birthday rolls around, as I contemplate my mortaility.
I don’t think there was much of that this time around, it was probably as much an artifact of approaching forty, it’s not that big of a deal at forty one. And anyways, I don’t need my birthday to remind me that time is passing. I see it tick by with every week now, a momento mori on my home screen, a reminder that this day is a gift.
My kids are constantly running around the house while I’m on the phone with clients, I usually wind up making apologies to whomever I’m speaking with. Everyone’s been understanding, usually with a sympathetic “I know”. So it’s clear I’m not the only one struggling to work from home while trying to run a daycare and elementary school. I want to get a sense of how other families have been coping the last three months, and share my thoughts on where we go from here.
There are two things that have been made perfectly clear to any parent who has been forced to pull their kids out of day care. One, teachers and day care providers are not paid anywhere near enough what they should, and two, the education system as we know it is completely ill-suited for today’s day and age. I’m limited about what I can do about the first problem, but I do have some thoughts about how we’re going to deal with the second one.
Our daily life
I’ve got two kids, a second grader, Elder, and a rising pre-schooler, Younger. Elder has been finishing out her public school classes via Zoom meetings, which usually run from an hour to ninety minutes in the afternoon. She’s also involved in the gifted program, which is one day a week in the morning. Based on what I’ve seen, the conferences are a mix of the teacher and students chatting, a math lesson, maybe a physical activity, followed up by a reading lesson. I don’t get much of a sense that the focus is on academics, which is fine. The kids need the interaction. Elder’s attention on the lesson varies from day to day. Sometimes I’ll see her sewing, or working on a typing lesson while the class is going on, and I’ve caught her playing video games on several occasions. I usually make her start on the computer a half hour early to do whatever assignment the teacher has, and let her have some free time to play a game after class is over.
The teachers use Class Dojo to communicate with the parents, and Google Classroom for assignments and archived Zoom videos. When the Great Lockdown started, the schools here sent out work packets for all kids. We were originally told that the kids were supposed to bring them back when school reopened, so Elder actually did a lot of them at first. After the second order came out closing schools for the rest of the year, more packets went out, but they’ve mostly languished on a shelf with the rest of the scrap paper. Especially since we figured out how to use DocHub to edit the math PDFs and turn them into the teacher via Classroom.
Younger requires more of a hands on approach. We’ve got flashcards and printable worksheets for letters, although I rely primarily on Khans Academy Kids on the iPad to keep her busy. It has a ton of interactive lessons on letters and words, numbers, stories and such, with rewards for completing them. She likes it, when she gets to browse through the library to pick what she wants, but I prefer that she follow the pre-selected lessons for the day. I presume there’s some sort of algorithm that’s tracking her progress, but she’ll often complain that it’s ‘too hard’ and fall back to picking and choosing stories and songs. I try to keep it balanced, and let her switch over to PBS Kids videos after she’s done twenty or thirty minutes of Khans.
The rest of the day is mostly free time, although I do have a number of chores the kids do, and I try to limit their free time with the television to two hours a day. We live on a quiet street with a big back yard, and plenty of things for them to play with both inside and outside the house. So long as they’re not fighting or destroying things I pretty much leave them be. I try to fit in a bike ride every day, or spend time playing football or soccer, wrestling or other horseplay. If it’s raining I pull up GoNoodle, for some dancing activity, or Cosmic Kids for some yoga. My wife, fills in when she can, and usually does some sort of craft activity with them, while I tend to focus more on their meals and making sure that they’re doing their chores.
Public and private education options
It seems a lifetime ago that Missus and I were looking over summer camps and dreaming about sending Elder off for a week of fun with the Girl Scouts, and plotting which of the grandparents we thought were most likely to take Younger for a few days so that we could have a break of our own. Alas, it is not to be. Since the kids have only been spending a couple of hours a day during the week on “academic” work, my wife and I don’t see any reason why we should change things up and are going to continue their education over the summer.
Tobi Lukte, the CEO of Spotify, made a really good point on a recent podcast appearance about the velocity of learning that struck me. He said there’s no limit to how quickly people can learn if they just have the teachers to help them. It is a factory model system, designed to produce workers, not citizens, and to “educate” children as a group, making sure they have the basic skills that they’ll need to perform their factory assembly line jobs.
I’m generalizing, of course. Today’s schools have lots of steps to provide resources and opportunities for both “the gifted” and those with special needs. And there seems to be a trend spreading around the country for academy-type schools with a focus on industry-specific skills. Still, we are still a long ways from wholescale self-paced learning in schools, and there’s plenty of evidence that students perform best when they are able to proceed at their own pace, at their own direction. The public education system is still locked into this factory farming style of learning. They’re trying to change, of course, however the pace of political change at the local, state, and national level, makes this a slow process.
I’ve been reluctant to break away from the public schools for several reasons. One, my wife and are both products of it, and “we turned out great”, as Missus like’s to say. Recently though, as I’ve grown up, I’ve come to realize that is not quite the case, and now, as a parent and engaged adult, I’m more aware of the issues inherent in the system. And besides, the world is not the same as it was thirty years ago. Secondly, private school is expensive. We’ve been spending a large percentage of our annual income on day care for the kids at a “learning center”, and we’d been looking forward to Younger entering public schools so that we could save that money. The savings there during the lockdown have been immense, and are one of the prime factors driving me to home school. It’s for that reason that we’ve ruled out Montessori. Too expensive, and in our case there are too many logistical issues about getting the kids there and arranging care outside of their hours.
And also, there’s a political factor to choosing public school. In my hometown, and in many areas across the American South, many of the private schools are segregation academies, opened in response to Brown v. Board of Education so that white parents didn’t have to send their kids to school with black ones. And home schooling for me has long been associated with religious fundamentalists, who pulled their kids from school to prevent them from being taught evolution or sex-ed. Attending public schools taught my wife and I a working-class, dare I say liberal education, and sending our kids there has been an act of solidarity with the working class. Choosing public schools has been a political act.
COVID, current and future
Of course, COVID has changed how we think about these issues especially within the context of class economics. Not only are the poor being hit hardest by the lockdowns, but it also seems to be making more affluent families such as mine more well off. The disparities between economic class correlates directly to the types of people most affected by the pandemic: aside from front-line hospital staff, essential workers like those in grocery stores, shipping warehouses and meat processing plants are the ones most exposed to the disease and others, such low-wage workers in food service, have joined other furloughed employees on unemployment. Meanwhile, tech and other knowledge workers like my wife and I are mostly uneffected, working from home remotely. And since we’re not forced to go into work, as some are, we are literally saving hundreds of dollars per week in daycare costs. I imagine the same is true for others in higher income brackets.
Beyond the economic effects, I wonder about increasing academic inequality. There’s no shortage of broadband or computers in my house, so Elder has no problem accessing her online schooling, unlike some of her peers who may be limited to using their parent’s cell phone. Then there’s the technical support that I am able to offer to her, and assistance I can provide to her teacher when needed.
And yes, I realize how fortunate my family is.
I already expect that we will be dealing with COVID for another year, likely until a vaccine is available for mass production. A second wave is almost an certainty now that lockdowns are easing, and may force states back into shutdown as cases and deaths rise. Our blue-state Governor seems to be handling it rather well, but I fear others are not. And I am not optimistic about public schools reopening next year, either. There are too many logistical issues around how to maintain social distancing during busing, instruction and lunch times. As one commented remarked, whoever wrote the safety guidelines for the schools apparently doesn’t have kids.
Daycares are currently under capacity restrictions, one teacher per nine children; two for infants. I suspect that most of the spots are being taken by the children of essential workers, or WFH parents who just need a break from the kids. We’re maintaining, and I’m considering keeping the girls home, even if restrictions are eased up enough or we can figure out a way to deal with the logistical issues. If I had to guess, I would wager that the schools will offer parents the option to home school their children, keeping them home, but allowing them to participate in class time via teleconference.
And if not, then I suppose that I’ll be sending Elder off to school, and her sister back to day care as well. Or perhaps not. This summer will tell how well the kids handle themselves. My wife is skeptical that I’ll be able to keep it up permanently, especially if she has to return to work, but to be honest, I’m enjoying keeping the kids at home. I understand the appeal of the home school crowd to have more direct control over their children’d upbringing, and watching them play every day is magical. It’s not all roses though, it is hard. I lose my temper at them and we fight about how much screen time they can have, what they eat, and their chores, but nothing beats spending more time with my kids and watching them grow up. As I’ve remarked often, it doesn’t make sense to work so hard, to spend so much money to pay others to raise my children.
With resources like Khan’s Academy, Code.org, and others providing math and knowledge resources, work from home parents have tons of tools available for homeschooling. How many parents like me, forcibly exposed to homeschooling by the pandemic, are going to choose to opt out of the traditional public school system, even after things return to “normal”? Will we once again count on public workers to watch and teach our kids, or we we instead choose to maintain this more direct role in our children’s education and upbringing? For me it’s exposed us to the joys of what some might call unschooling, and we will be reassessing things as the summer goes on, before the kids are called back to school.
So many people are acting like this is over. It ain’t over.
Memorial Day is over and now it’s back to our regular lives, so to speak. We went out of town Saturday to my father in law’s, who has a home at a ski resort three hours away. The girls were well behaved; we managed to avoid any meltdowns. We ate like pigs, consuming a large prime rib over the course of two days, and eating lots of sugary garbage while we were there. I managed to meditate Monday morning, but didn’t even try to write. Next time I go on a trip I’ll need to schedule out some posts so I don’t break my streak.
Missus’s dad was really glad to see us, we all enjoyed it as well. This was our first trip out with the kids during COVID, and, while I think we were safe and took precautions, we’ll have to wait a couple of weeks before we find out.
We had a full tank of gas, so we managed to get all the way to the base of the mountain without stopping. There’s a convenience store right at the bottom, so I gassed up and went inside for beer. I wore a mask, and noticed no one in the parking lot was. I got inside and neither was the three employees behind the counter. There were Plexiglas shields at the counter, and social distance markers on the floor, but only one other person in the place was wearing a mask.
The following day we took the entire clan to a drive through zoo. We had to stop by a WalMart for food and drinks. I was much happier with the precautions being taken there. Employees at the entrance had masks, carts were getting sprayed down, and most of the customers were wearing masks.
The zoo was a bit of a mixed bag. Employees at the entrance were wearing masks and gloves, and they were enforcing caps in the gift shop (which we did not go in), and had brought in some fancy bathroom trailers, but a lot of families were just standing in line without masks or any regard for distancing.
We got home without too much trouble. The kids went out to play with their quarantine friends, but we had to split them up. Not only did we have all of the potential exposure that we did, but our friends went to church on Sunday and so we probably just need to chill for a week, maybe two. I’ve yet to see my dad since this started and he’s got comorbidity factors.
And of course there’s was this video going round of the Lake of the Ozarks.
We’ll see how the fallout goes in the next two weeks. Lots of restrictions have lifted, and things are trying to return back to normal, but I still can’t help thinking that we’re just over the first hump.
The fact that the incubation period for this virus is two weeks is a major challenge. If someone around us does get sick, it’s going to be difficult to pinpoint exactly when it happened. I know I’m going to be watching the kids like a hawk for any cough, fever or wheezing for the next few days. We’ve been very lucky so far; no one that we know has been affected by the virus, health-wise. I’m sure it will happen at some point, it just depends on whether our family can stay safe until a vaccine can be deployed. If one can be deployed at all.
Well we are off to a good start this morning. Had a bit of trouble falling asleep last night, but woke up (was woken up) feeling pretty good. Got my morning meditation done, my cup of tea in hand, and I’m ready to kick ass today.
It’s still unseasonably cold and windy outside, so we’re looking at being stuck in the house again today. I think I’m resigned to this being my life for the next few months, at least until schools open back up. Part of me thinks that they may not open. I went to pick up Elder’s stuff from school yesterday and the teachers were handing out grocery bags while wearing masks. I can’t imagine they’re going to send kids back to school and try to keep them separated using plastic dividers on their desks or something. And I can’t imagine Younger going back to her preschool and not being able to keep from hugging and touching other children.
The most likely scenario, I think, is that families that can afford it are going to keep their kids in some sort of remote homeschooling class, while the rest are going to have to send their kids into whatever public schools there are, or worse yet, just keep them home. Missus has told me on several times that we’re lucky for my tech background, cause I’ve been able to deal with her and Elder’s technical issues. Lots of other families don’t have the same options, and probably aren’t getting exposure to the limited options that schools are offering. It’s going to increase our already divided nation, leaving a good number of kids behind.
The daily Zoom meetings that Elder is participating in are mainly just serving a social function right now; there’s maybe a half hour of math instruction, followed by another half hour or more of the group reading Harry Potter. Half the time, Elder gets bored and I catch her playing video games, so I’ve tried to redirect her to doing Khan’s or Typing.com lessons. Sometimes she’ll sit there and sew, which I don’t mind. The longer this goes on though, the more concerned I am about the progress that her generation may lose out on.
Younger is a bit more of challenge. Elder had a great preschool, and I’m not sure where her sister should be, developmentally. She’ll be four over the summer, can sing her alphabet, and knows about a quarter of it by sight. And she’s already riding a bike, without training wheels. Her education right now is me going over alphabet flash cards, doing Khans Kids activities and watching PBS Kids.
The worst part is just the sheer lack of exposure that she has to other kids her own age. It’s like our world has collapsed down to just the four of us, and the proximity forces the worst out sometimes. The children are like two Tasmanian Devils that leave a path of destruction around the house with their playing. And the fighting, Lord, the fighting. The two of them get into it constantly, and it seems that nigh an hour goes by without the one of them pestering the other into a crying or whining fit. It is so exhausting.
Which gets back to being cooped up in the house with them during days of inclement weather, like we’ve had the past three days. They don’t have many outlets for physical exertion, so it usually winds up being Daddy Jungle Gym time, wrestling and such. We’ve been doing GoNoodle a lot lately. It’s still not as good as them being able to go outside and ride their bikes or play in their clubhouse, but what else is there?
I’m about ready to sign us up for being foster parents for the local cat shelter. Negotiations continue with regard to a trampoline, I just don’t want to mar our already packed yard with a fifteen foot monstrosity. I told them that I would consider it once I remove an old stump near the back of our lot, but it just seems like one of those things that will make things harder for us if we decided to move in then next four years.
For now, the kids are watching their morning hour of television, which means it’s time for me to get to work. Hopefully I’ll be able to stick to my priorities today instead of reacting to whatever tickets have come in. We’ll see.
It is a beautiful day today. Perfect weather. The girls are playing together nicely in the living room, Missus is upstairs at work. I have half an hour before my scrum call, so I’m going to try to write quickly today.
I finished The Future Is Faster Than You Think. It took me a long time to read because of everything else going on, plus I wanted to let the ideas percolate in my head. A full review is upcoming as there are a lot of takeaways. They have CEO training — I wonder what they charge for that! — plus a venture fund that might lead to some possible opportunities. They have a digital version of their Abundance360 program that might be within my reach.
I downloaded GPT-2 here on this laptop, via their Dockerfile. It needed almost ten gigabyte of downloads for the model, and I still have no idea how to run it. That will need to wait for another day. I’m not quite sure what I want to do with it, but getting it up and running will be an interesting test. I’d like to see what it can do. I imagine prompting it with a subject and have it generate papers and blog posts. I’m sure there’s a business model in there some how. I know AI is used by a lot of financial news sites to generate articles based on firm reporting results, so the question is, how far can it be used.
Using Docker for development is going to be my new baseline, though. I really want to be come proficient with it. Ideally I’d like to have a setup where docker is running on my downstairs Linux server, and I can just connect to it using whichever machine I happen to be on. I currently have three workstations, though, one for “work”, my upstairs rig, and this laptop. It seems a bit much and like something I’ll need to pare down if we want to minimize or downsize. I should probably just get rid of the downstairs one completely, since I don’t really need a headless Linux server right now.
Today is the first day of the week, and I have a couple goals:
Provide at least two hours of value this week to my two clients, plus the pilot test I’m doing through Zombie, Inc. (six hours)
Sign a third client, at a higher rate than the other two. (two hours)
Register my LLC. I need liability protections to operate. (two hours)
Finish updating my resume and add it to the website.
Half the day is over, and most of the morning has been taken up with a trouble call and managing the kids and the kitchen.
Yesterday I spent several hours going through old mortgage statements and updating acccounts in GNUCash. I investigating refinancing and changing insurance companies, but both seemed a dead end. Even if we shaved an interest point off our mortgage, by the time you factored in three thousand dollars in fees, we’d save just over four hundred a year. It might make sense if we were going to take twenty five years to finish paying it off, but we don’t. If we roll rental income from Missus starter home into our mortgage, we could have our house paid off in ten years. Anyways, we’re at the point where we can drop our mortgage insurance. Applying that money to our principal will shave another two years off the maturity date.
The homeowners insurance quote I got from Lemonade wasn’t very good. The payments were higher than our current coverage from Nationwide, plus it didn’t seem that the coverage was better either. It was worth the fifteen minutes it took though.
I’ve still got a lot of catching up to do with our accounting, which will wait till next week. I’ve got nine months of utility bills to plug into GNUCash. Anyways, it’s one o’clock, and the girls are fighting.