Things I don’t know how to do without DH or the kids around

Because of flight prices, the rest of the family and I didn’t completely overlap on their family vacation/my summer conference.  So I ended up spending several days at home by myself while they were still in the midwest enjoying cooler summer weather.  It turns out there are some things that I have never had to do for myself since getting settled and I don’t actually know how.

  • Making popcorn.  I grew up with an air popper.  DH prefers to make it on the stovetop.  My friend, hearing my plight, sent me instructions for how to make it in the microwave with a paper bag, but I haven’t tried it yet.
  • Making coffee.  I grew up with instant or one of those regular drip coffee pots that uses already ground coffee.  We only have whole beans at home and my choice of french press/siphon/mochapot/whoknows.  I don’t even know where to start on DH’s burr grinder.
  • Watching Netflix.  So… I haven’t had to set this up myself since before DC2 was born and that was at least a couple game systems ago (we use game systems to watch things on a projector).  Normally with DH home I would be able to just borrow his phone or get one of the kids to set it up for me on the projector.  Now we have two game systems and I’m not sure which one is connected to Netflix or how to get there.
  • Taking out the trash/recycling.  Um… I haven’t had to do this since we lived in an apartment.  No clue what the days are and I only have sort of a foggy idea of where we keep the bins (there’s a mysterious door on the other side of the garage that I suspect leads to the dog run).  I suspect the blue one is recycling and the green (? brown?) one trash, but :shrug emoji:
  • Picking up groceries from curbside.  For this one I know how to do it but I can’t actually do it.  I can order them but I can’t pick them up because the account is connected to DH’s phone.  I would have to make a new account connected to my phone.  This is not a problem with Target curbside where I can tell it which phone number to use and I think we can both login to the same app at the same time.

Are there things you ought to know how to do but don’t?

RBOC (cw: aging verbally abusive parent etc.)

  • My father has always been a jerk, but several years back he had a mild stroke and has become even more of a jerk.
  • Pre-stroke, every family visit would include him being a jerk and then blowing up in a huge tantrum for some imagined reason and then going on a long walk and behaving somewhat like a grown adult after.  “Being on his best behavior” we would call it, as if he was a toddler.  Prior to that would be tiptoeing around to try to prevent the inevitable blow-up.
  • After we had a second kid, and there was a spectacular Christmas blow-up that ended in us leaving my sister’s place to go to an airport hotel before our next day’s planned flight to the in-laws, we decided we didn’t have to put up with it anymore and just stopped.  Christmas has been a million times better ever since.
  • He has been getting worse since my mom retired.
  • About twice a month, he sends DH an email (since my email has long-since blocked him) telling DH that I’m a narcissist and my children are in danger because of me.  Once every few months he includes my mom as also a narcissist and a gas-lighter.  If my sister ever responds, then he includes her in the narcissist/gas-lighting list in his next email.  She’s stopped responding.
  • I had to cut off contact with my mother because he started using her email accounts and chat programs to pretend to be her (but not in any believable way).  She no longer has a work email, so I can’t use that.  I can’t even send thank you cards or Christmas presents anymore because I get a response saying that he must be included too.  I know she is also a victim, but she is an adult, and, according to my sister and aunts, still lucid, so I cannot make decisions for her.
  • Before I had to cut off contact with her, my mother was still very much in denial (and still is, according to my sister who has also given up).  She was doing therapy with him, but kept putting all the onus on the therapist.  Or on me to “help him feel included” etc.  She would blame all his bad behavior on his childhood, 70+ years ago.
  • He stopped doing therapy.
  • My mom asked if we could do family therapy with just her.  And we were like, just fly out to visit.  We have no problem with you.  But she refuses to come without him.
  • Back before the stroke, well over a decade ago, he once alienated all of her sisters by fighting a will and being a jerk about it, so she was cut off from her family for many years, basically until the city where the money was left went bankrupt and my grandma died so the subject of the lawsuit was completely moot.
  • My sister says my mom claims to be ok.  “But then, she always says she’s ok.”
  • Most recently he made my mother send my MIL a letter asking if my children are in danger and if she had any suggestions for how to reconcile with me.
  • My MIL then called DH and sympathized with him about aging problems.  She took care of her mom through Alzheimer’s (in conjunction with a nursing home) which was unpleasant.  She responded (also via mail) that DC1 and DC2 are doing great and she does not have any suggestions for reconciling because she is not involved.
  • Most recent update from my sister is that my mom can no longer hang laundry out to dry (outside on clotheslines in the summer, inside on clotheslines in the basement in the winter) so my sister is getting her a small drying rack because my father has always said dryers are bad for the environment.  When we lived in an apartment in Santa Barbara without my father for two years (for work reasons) and when she visited here or at my sister’s she used the dryer.  If he had to hang the laundry a dryer would suddenly be ok, I’m sure.  Though he might just stop doing laundry entirely.
  • Growing up I was always taught to be silent about family.  To keep problems hidden.  Never to make negative things public about my home life.  But I’m an adult now.  And heck, now my MIL knows my family secret.  (Though she did not ask DH any questions about it and accepted the aging-related reasoning.)
  • DH’s family is so even-keeled and normal.  It’s nice having a set of grandparents who are what one expects of grandparents, with no tiptoeing around or apologizing to waitstaff. I want that environment for my kids too.  And I think we’ve succeeded.
  • I often wonder how my sister and I both turned out so ok.  And then I sometimes wonder if we did turn out ok.  But… when I reflect on it more, I think we did.

Grumpy Nation, please do not include the words, “raw,” “brave,” or “honest” in your replies.  

Don’t drop out of classes if it means losing financial aid

We didn’t pay for DH’s relative’s kid to take community college classes last semester because the government was paying for it under Covid relief.  Zie had 3 classes left and would get hir associates degree after finishing them.

But then the kid dropped out of class and moved to California to be with her older (half) sisters and their biological mom.  The three classes she’d been putting off were hard, she didn’t want to be a teacher anymore, and there are jobs in California that don’t require education and she was tired of her new husband and of DH’s relative telling her to take care of her three pets.  (She was still living with DH’s relative.  She gave away the dog and left him with her two cats, who, it turns out, use their litterboxes instead of the rest of the house when said litterboxes are clean.)

Because she left without attending the final classes, she lost financial aid.  So she owes money for the classes (that she would not owe if she had attended them and failed).  She’s blaming DH’s relative for telling her to look into the possible consequences of dropping rather than him looking into them for her.

She wants to get a job as a substitute teacher in California.  They have shortages, so they’re letting people who have taken specific classes (which she has) sub even if they haven’t gotten their degrees.  All she needs is a transcript.

But they won’t give her a transcript because she owes them money for classes.  So she can’t get a job as a sub.

I’m not sure what the moral is here.  Sometimes government programs backfire?  You need to look into your financial aid?  If we’d paid for the classes she probably would have finished them (I would hope?  But maybe we’ve paid for classes she dropped before?  But also before she had better reasons to drop?)?  Sometimes it’s better to fail a class than to withdraw?  Don’t get married young and don’t have pets that you’re not going to take care of?  If someone offers to pay for a tutor, take them up on it?

I don’t know how much she owes.  We’re not going to pay off her debt for reasons various and sundry.  (If it were our kid, we probably would.  But if it were our kid, there would be strings attached to paying it off.)

RBOC

  • DC1 wanted a Swedish princess cake for hir birthday this year.  We had tried making Marzipan twice earlier this year and both times did not end up with something that would make a good cake cover.  So we decided to bite the bullet and buy marzipan.  Sadly the only local places we could get it sell it in tiny 7 oz tubes, so we had to get four of them and squeeze it out.  I know we have made good marzipan in the past, but we don’t seem to have saved the recipe.
  • Update:  we did not actually need to get 4 of them.  Three would have been fine and we probably could have handled just 2.  We have a lot of marzipan in the fridge now.
  • Swedish princess cake was AMAZING.
  • I know that some people are genuinely picky eaters and have processing disorders and so on.  But I do wish that my MIL and SIL would stop telling specific children that said children hate all vegetables.  Like, when I say, would you like some green bean casserole, they could just keep their mouths shut and let the kid answer rather than saying, oh, X hates all vegetables.  I didn’t like most vegetables until I was 15 or 16, but I kept an open mind and tried things.  If I didn’t, I’d never have known that my tastes changed.  It’s not just one kid, it is three kids (ironically the fourth kid actually does have a feeding disorder and eats lots of fruits and vegetables via purees).  My kids have different vegetable likes and dislikes, and with a few exceptions (DC1 has never liked tomatoes, and DC2 doesn’t like the concept of mushrooms), those likes and dislikes have changed through their lives.
  • DC2 actually really loves most vegetables.  I suspect this is connected to hir dislike of most milk products (zie likes ice cream and a very small number of cheeses– I also only liked a small number of cheeses as a kid and now I love everything except goat cheese, but I drank a lot of milk because the pediatrician was worried about me being small and skinny, which DC2 does not do).
  • DC1 tends to eat most vegetables only under duress, but (at age 15 minus a few days) noted that Brussels sprouts (covered in bacon sauce, which zie was obligated to try) aren’t so bad.
  • The in-laws had forgotten that DC2 likes vegetables– the first couple meals we had at their place were uniformly beige in color, though DC2 did eat a lot of mashed potatoes.  The Brussels sprouts came later on in the trip after they remembered.  MIL loves them, but doesn’t usually get to eat them.
  • It’s crazy to think that when we were DC1’s age, we were a year away from trying Thai food for the first time and several years away from Indian food and Sushi.  Home-style Korean didn’t come until graduate school!  Many of DC1’s favorite cuisines and almost all the healthy food that DC1 enjoys were things we didn’t try until we were older than zie is now.  Zie had hir first sushi (veggie/cooked) and Thai etc. before zie could hold a fork!  And I lived on Indian food while pregnant with DC2 because of the wheat allergy.  I wonder what other new foods we will get to try in our future.  I think Poke is our most recent new thing, and that’s from like 6 years ago.  Man I love food.
  • Because of my toasted C drive (more on that later– I bumped the post to a later week) I finally moved into DH’s hand-me-down desktop computer which is a lovely Alienware.  Lots of things that didn’t work before now just work and everything seems faster.  One problem is that the Alienware has a slanted top so we have had to put a box on its side next to the case to hold my external harddrive because it kept slipping off.
  • I do not like my BIL’s MIL.  The first time I met her, a decade and a half ago, she was making my BIL’s fiance (now wife) miserable with her stressing out about the wedding and her insistence on everything being a specific way even though she was paying for none of it.  I later found out that she’d promised to pay for the expensive wedding dress she’d insisted on but then didn’t and BIL and his wife were in debt because of it for a while (plus it took a while for her parents to admit it, so there were fees and interest tacked on).  This time she ended up sitting next to me at Christmas dinner and started complaining about poor people mismanaging their money and what Judge Judy has to say about them.  And she gossiped a lot about her extended family and how terrible they are at raising children and how their three year olds (!) are horrible and are going to grow up to be horrible.  When I said I didn’t like to pass judgment on how people who are worse off than I am spend their money because I can’t understand their problems, she said she could because she has been poor (and then we played the who had a poorer parent game– I think I won because my dad is 5’2″ and grew up in a literal warzone/the Depression).  I did not remind her of her poor monetary behavior in the past which DH later said was very good of me, though I did lecture a little bit about public finance and public policy which apparently Judge Judy does not understand AT ALL.  Fortunately when DH showed up she stopped having her comfortable coze with me and started asking him about his job and whether he was going to be doing all of the driving back.  (“No, we’ll be splitting it,” he said.  “It’s my car!” I piped up.  And then we noted DC1 will probably help with the driving next year if we drive.  She did not approve.)
  • But it could be worse– not a word about Mexicans (which was the big thing I was always correcting one of DH’s grandmas on, reminding her about their essential humanity, though she always accepted the correction and added on to it– she knew because she was a teacher and did remember that Hispanic kids are people– she had one of those racisms where she liked every individual she met and saw them as individual persons, but as a group she quoted conservative talk radio), and not a word about Trump or liberals etc.  Apparently BIL’s wife made her stop doing that in company ages ago.
  • I do like BIL’s wife quite a bit.  We have similar taste in reading.  She’s the one who I miss exchanging presents with now that we’re doing kids only.
  • That’s probably enough of me being catty about people I’m related to by marriage.  I wonder what they say when they gossip about me.  (Actually, I suspect I would rather not know!)

Christmas Traveling Troubles

When we started making plans for Christmas, Omicron wasn’t on the horizon.  Rates were comparatively low across the country.  Here we’ve settled into 10-15 new cases/100K per day.

Now we’re looking at traveling to the Midwest.  Cases in the counties we’re planning on staying have rates between 50 and 70 new cases per 100K.

I bought cute POSH masks with Christmas designs and a few Enro Christmas masks that I guess we won’t be using (with such high community transmission we need to go with more protective fancy disposable masks).

We had thought that everyone in SIL’s family had gotten covid except the two girls.  One of the girls is supposed to be staying in the house with us, so DH asked MIL if SIL’s older two kids had been vaccinated (the older boy we knew had gotten covid recently so we weren’t as concerned about him).  MIL said she didn’t know.  So we asked SIL.  Turns out that only the youngest girl never had a positive covid test, and they think she must have gotten it because covid came from daycare and she never quarantined away from her twin brother and they even shared bottles while he had covid.  The older two have not been vaccinated but have had covid within the last 90 days.  Their pediatrician recommends waiting 90 days before getting a vaccine for kids who have had covid because of potential for increased risk of the enlarged heart thing.  On top of that, it is literally impossible to get a pediatric shot in their town.  I checked– vaccines.gov only lists “call here” places.  The main place is a Saturday clinic with short hours from their county health department and there’s a wait list that she’s on for when the 90 days are up.  She did think that the closest place she could get them shots was 50 min away in the city we’ll be staying at, but vaccines.gov notes a couple of pharmacies in a town 30 min away that she didn’t know about until DH sent her the link.

Then while DH was on the phone with his mom, she casually mentioned that she’d invited DH’s aunt (not the Trump supporter) who lives in a suburb of the place we’ll be staying and her three kids and their, I think 6 grandkids, to come over for pizza to our AirBNB on Dec 23rd.  One of the kids runs a daycare.  One of them manages a Target.  One of them is a court stenographer. I don’t know what their husbands do.  DH didn’t say anything, but later texted his mom to ask if she knew if they were vaccinated or had had covid recently.  His mom replied that she did not know and could not ask them as she had already made the invitation(!) and she would just meet them at a restaurant instead(!) since it was our airBNB not hers(!).

That, along with the conversation that DH had with his sister about how rates are crazy in their town but have died down here and it’s easy to get professional tests here (but not easy to get at-home tests) caused us to check on county rates of transmission.

Now DH is depressed.  I don’t know what to tell him.  I’m worried.  DH and I are boosted.  DC1 and DC2 are both fully vaccinated.  So even if we got Delta we’d probably be ok.  Even more ok if we got Omicron, probably.

I’ve been trying to buy tests, but they’ve been sold out and the ones that I ordered have been delayed.  We may have gotten lucky today at a distant Walgreens.  (If we get lucky, it will be $10/FlowFlex and if we only get somewhat lucky it will be $23/set of Binax.  Currently we’re trying to get 12 sets at 4 sets per place that we’re trying… so somewhere between $120 and $276.  I am concerned that we will end up in January with a ton of home tests but none before our trip.)  I know the tests aren’t perfect, but I also feel like if we’re stuck in a second best situation because of decisions DH’s family makes, it will be better if we have a test we can just whip out. [Update:  we have gotten 8 of the FlowFlex tests.]

We’ve been going through potential scenarios so we don’t have to make decisions in the moment.  What if SIL’s kids have obvious colds?  What do we do?  What if one of us gets sick, what do we do?  How do we deal with MIL going out unmasked in a restaurant indoors in an area with extremely high transmission rates?

It all makes me wish we weren’t going.

Ask the grumpies: Paying for family members’ education?

KGC asks:

I’m a newish follower and know you have written before about paying for higher ed for family members. Do you have a post you could link to where you explain more about that? (if you have explained more somewhere!) I have brought this up as a possibility to my spouse regarding two family members that I think could benefit from someone caring about their education but honestly – I don’t know where to start from a logistics standpoint or how to even potentially broach it with others. I’d love to read more about how this has worked for others. Thanks!

Well, nothing has actually worked. :(

The oldest dropped out of community college after getting pregnant after a year. The second (who turns out to be really bright and should have gone to the magnet school that DH and I went to, but we didn’t know) got pregnant in high school and never got additional education. The third got romantically entangled with a much older adult and barely graduated high school and has kind of disappeared (after getting accepted to a regional state university). The fourth is legally blind and doesn’t want to leave home to go to college even though he could. He’s now on disability. The fifth just dropped out three classes shy of an associates degree.

So basically all we’ve done is decreased the debt amounts of said kids. And it turns out we didn’t even really do that because the first kid took out a bunch of loans because she could.

I am certain that paying for school and making it known that you are willing to pay for school helps some kids. But we haven’t been successful about it.

My parents and aunts on my mom’s side have been more successful with a set of my cousins (these folks: https://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/my-catholic-relatives-arent-really-catholic-a-rant/ ) and they’ve gotten university degrees and some of them have separated from their horrible parents.

How to broach it will vary too. DH’s relative is only 2 years older than DH and probably would have had the kind of life DH had if he hadn’t instead gotten married at 16. So it’s really easy for them to talk and for DH to offer to help. Plus DH’s relative is always helping people who are worse off even though he can’t really afford to, so that helping and be helped culture is useful there. I assume we’ll offer to help DH’s sister’s kids when they get older if we’re still super wealthy at that time. I’d like to stealth contribute to 529 plans, but SIL only wants to open one for the oldest (a boy) and not any of the younger kids and that seems really unfair even though all money is fungible.

Grumpy Nation, have you had luck paying for relatives’ kids to get education?  What did you do?

We made Christmas plans!

Assuming everything goes well with the FDA (update: it did!) and CDC (we’ll find out tomorrow!), DC2 (age 9) should be fully vaccinated before Winter Break (WOOOO!)

Because SIL now has 4 kids instead of 2 kids and both BIL and SIL’s respective families live near each other (<1hr away) while MIL and FIL live 4 hours from them, the in-laws decided that we would go to BIL’s town for Christmas this year and his wife would host rather than everybody going to MIL/FIL’s place.  Of course, we can’t drive straight to BIL’s town (we can barely make it to DH’s parents in a day) so we will be stopping at DH’s parents for a day or two before we all travel to BIL’s town and another night on the way back home.

After some fragmented communication between MIL and her kids, she decided to dump all the decision-making and AirBNB purchasing on DH.  Which is fine with me.  I like getting things over and done with.

Poor BIL’s MIL is not as easy-going as my in-laws (that is to say, as his parents), so he couldn’t guarantee that we could stay at his place.  Currently she says she doesn’t mind ceding Christmas to BIL’s family this year but she has reneged on these kinds of promises in the past and he figures he should leave the guest room available in case she wants to join us instead of having a second Christmas back in their original home town.  Plus they really only have one extra room so it would be tight fitting DH’s parents and my little family of four.  So we decided we would need an AirBNB (not wanting to deal with hotels and all the people).  And if we were going to get an AirBNB over Christmas we needed to book ASAP because most of them were already gone for some number of days within Dec 24th-Jan 1st.

We had some options– we could get a reasonably nice place near BIL for $650 but would only fit 6 people, and while SIL didn’t want to stay herself or leave the babies (now toddlers) in BIL’s town, she did express a preference for leaving her 8 and 6 year old with us so they could spend more time with our kids.  So we ended up booking a $1600 place with 4.9 stars and lots of reviews that is 10 min away by car from BIL’s.  It only has three bedrooms, but one of the bedrooms has one of those fancy bunk beds with a double bed on the bottom and a single bed on top and they said an air mattress was available on request, so I figured the four kids could stay there.  We’re rich and we can splurge, especially since we haven’t paid for travel in years.  There were less nice places that fit with our plans at various price points, and DH wanted to expand his search to farther away, but I was like, let us just book this.  It fits our criteria and everyone in the comments remarks on how clean it is (unlike another place that would have been perfect except for the low rating and the comments about mold and mildew on the third floor) and we can be done with this now.

MIL offered to pay for the AirBNB but since we ended up going with an unnecessarily expensive option when we would have gone with a much less expensive option if she was paying, we declined.  There’s a nice freedom in holding the purse strings.  One can get nice things without feeling guilty.

We decided to drive instead of fly because my last flight experience was not great in terms of people on the other end paying attention to masking protocols.  Why risk it?  We’ll also take my hybrid instead of DH’s plug-in because it is a lighter car and gets better gas mileage for trips that last longer than the electric charge.  I am hopeful that we won’t be in gas station bathrooms long enough to get covid.  It’s a shame that we have to drive through so many unvaccinated Trump-loving states to get to the in-laws.  Even in non-panemic times, the bathrooms don’t start getting clean until we hit the midwest.  In the past when we’ve made this trip we have a nice lunch at the halfway point in one of the cities, but this year we’re just going to pack something and eat in the car.

Driving isn’t free, but if my calculations are correct, gas will cost around $100.  Wear and tear will also add to depreciation and my car certainly isn’t used to salt or snow, but what can you do.  It’s still less expensive than flying the four of us.

We will have to figure out which John Scalzi novel to listen to while we drive!  It has been a while!  Sadly the Kaiju Preservation Society won’t be out yet so not that.  Probably the second Dispatcher book.

It was nice staying home last year, but it will be nicer still with DH and the kids being able to see his extended family again.

Are your holiday plans back to normal yet?  Have they changed from last year or the year before?  What has changed and what is the same and why?

p.s.  For Thanksgiving we’re hosting my sister and her boyfriend but she’s asked for Friday because she’s not sure if his family is going to be doing Thursday.  I’m hoping we’ll be able to order out this year even though it’ll be Friday instead of Thursday, but asked my sister if not-Turkey would be ok if we can’t.  Though I guess the turkey isn’t usually the hard part and we could just make the turkey and get other food take-out.  I am not looking forward to cleaning.

RBOC

  • I hadn’t updated our net worth calculations in I don’t know how long.  (I literally do not know how long– if I did this would probably be a full post instead of a bullet).  But, since the time I updated it, it has increased 50%, meaning that it was X before but now it is 1.5 X.  The stock market alone seems to have been responsible for much of the increase.
  • The reason I updated things was because I was curious to see what our stock portfolio looks like in terms of stocks/bonds/etc.  It’s mostly stocks.  There’s some bonds.  My accounts that are just Target Date funds and my university Fidelity account are both currently ~85% stocks and 15% bonds.  The rest… pretty heavily stock.  Mostly US stock (though both Target Date and university Fidelity accounts have emerging markets and foreign markets).  Some accounts are entirely S&P 500 because that’s the lowest fee in an otherwise high fee work account.  So I think I need to focus on adding more foreign markets and emerging markets, and maybe more munis.
  • My father has been sending increasingly deranged emails.  (Most recently he sent DH a very fragmented email that seemed to be telling DH that DH had to contact my father NOW in order to protect my children from their narcissistic mother, aka me.  We think that’s what it was saying, anyway. Previous emails have attacked my mother and sister as gaslighting or narcissists etc.  Once he cc’d the author of a book on narcissism.) But he’s refused to get an evaluation and my mother won’t force him to.  She’s also somewhat in denial or attributes it all to a potential stroke he may have had a few years ago.  They are adults, and my mother still seems to be in full control of her faculties, so not really anything my sister or I can do at this point.
  • One of my colleagues says his age 80+ mother is engaged to a much younger man (like 50+ years younger) that she met online who seems to be interested in her money.  I will probably end up not getting an inheritance but at least the money my parents have saved is likely to either go to my sister or to actually worthy charities and not someone who preys on older women.
  • My MIL has started Christmas shopping already.  I just got a copy of Hillary Clinton and Louise Penny’s new book from her!  (Also, fairly clear she’s ignoring the “kids only” rule, but as long as we don’t tell SIL nobody need know. We’re either getting her a sewing machine or we’re taking her newish memories book to the local printer to get copies for the kids, depending on if she’s finished filling out the memories book yet or not.)
  • We have zero idea what to get for DC1 for Christmas + Birthday.  At first we were like, how about a ukelele, but then realized zie probably doesn’t want one given zie hardly has enough time for piano, violin, and theramin as it is!  I have fidget stuff on hir wishlist for relatives and a few fiction books, but we’re mostly drawing blanks.  We may have to resort to SAT prep and AP prep guides.  There’s always money, but it would be like, “Here’s $100” then a few days later “Here’s another $100!” and zie doesn’t actually use it.
  • Speaking of AP exams, DC1 is taking 4 AP classes this year.  Zie is probably not going to take the Physics 1 AP because zie will be taking Mechanics and E&M next year.  Zie will have to decide about Spanish soon.  Zie will definitely be taking the BC calc exam.  Then there’s psychology… It’s hard to know what is optimal for a junior whose scores might affect college admissions positively or negatively.  It seems ridiculous to decide these things Fall semester when the exams are pretty late Spring semester.
  • I’m not really sure how DC1 ended up so not consumerist.  DH likes shopping more than actually owning/using.  DC2 is delighted with new things. I’m a bit of a pack rat. But DC1 is just a natural minimalist.  Zie also listens to hir hunger and will stop eating say, an ice cream, if full.  Zie has been this way since a baby.
  • I bought more pens I didn’t need from jetpens and I’m really enjoying them.  These vintage color Sarasa pens from Jetpens (not an affiliate, I’m just addicted) are perfect for writing postcards to voters this fall.  VIP Voters in Ohio got in the Blue-black this past week.

Ask the Grumpies: Flying into the department 2-3 days/week and family time

traveling parent query asks:

I have a preschooler, my husband has a stable government job he loves, and we just bought a house in our current city. I have a potential (who knows…academia is a dumpster fire) opportunity which is a short plane ride away. It’s an amazing post in my niche but not a city I’d want to uproot my family to given the lack of comparable job opps for my husband + our love of our current city. It is a very exciting job and might allow me to make a lateral move back eventually. I think given the changes in remote work, I’d need to be in 3 days a week during the semester, and maybe 1 week a month during the summer. Am I bananas for thinking this is totally doable given our financial situation, my husband’s overall competence, etc? I mentioned it on a mom site I read and people thought it would destroy my family, but like, my husband is an equally involved and competent parent, his job is very normal hours, my kid is easy going? Management consultants have kids and I could make up for term time travel with flexibility during the long (not in the US, shorter semesters) summers?

I thought in your careers, you might have met someone who has done something similar? Did they end up miserable?

I live in a location where it is difficult to solve the two body problem so I know a lot of people who spend 2-3 days/week on campus and the rest working from home (or from coffee shops in their home cities). As far as I know their family lives are fine, even those with children. Even those racking up frequent flyer miles. I am unaware of any divorces or delinquent children.

Interestingly, the person I know who did this with a preschooler is a woman (she was the next pregnant lady in our building after I had DC2, so she gets DC2’s outgrown clothes… I think we’re at the friendship level where I’d hear about problems, and if not, I’m really close friends with her mentor who knows everything in their department). The men generally have older kids or no kids.

The two in my building that rack up frequent flyer miles say that it is a good idea to get into the habit of using the airport and plane time to get work done.  It’s actually easier for them to focus because there’s no interruptions.  (This is not my experience with flights, but I guess if you’re taking the same flight over and over it becomes more automatic.)  My external friends who do long daily train commutes (think San Diego to LA or SF to Palo Alto) say the same thing– commuting when you’re not the person driving allows you to do focused work (their advice is to leave on an early enough train that you can snag a seat).

Alice offers this advice:

I’m not an academic, but can speak to the travel for work side of things a bit. Early in my career, I worked for a company whose business model involved heavy travel, and when I was pregnant/when our child was younger, my husband’s job required a lot of travel.

When I was the one traveling, I didn’t have a relationship or a child. Most of the people at the company were single or in relationships but only a scant handful had younger children. The travel was fly onsite early Monday/fly home on Friday afternoon, and videochat wasn’t the thing that it is now. I know one man whose wife and daughter moved to the onsite city with him even though it was a 1-year job because his toddler would forget him while he was away. She’d be shy and hesitant at first on Saturdays and then engaged and joyful on Sundays… and then he’d fly out on Monday morning and it would start all over again. He said the pattern was too heartbreaking for him to continue it. So that’s a negative potential with a very little kid.

However. When I was pregnant and until my daughter was about 3.5, my husband’s job had him away every other week or every third week, depending on what was going on with his work situation. His travel was usually Sunday-Thursday. We didn’t have the problem of our daughter forgetting him. We did do some videochatting, but not much. I made it a priority to make sure that he and I were communicating, generally via text, every day. And I made sure to send him a lot of photos, particularly while I was home on maternity leave. The travel was hard for him emotionally– he got tired of it and felt like he was missing R&R time that he would’ve had if he was home. But it didn’t wreck our marriage or our family.

From a family relationships and kid emotional development standpoint, what you’re outlining could be fine for all of you. In my opinion, it could even be good from a gender roles standpoint. For us, my husband’s travel really cemented the Mom Does Everything pattern. With you being the traveler, it might do the opposite. To me, that seems like a good thing. If your husband is already responsible for family logistics or if he’s willing to take them on, this could give your family a level of balance that mine doesn’t have.

I can’t speak to the financial side of things, but would advise being really thoughtful about your flight timings and keeping a sharp eye on weather forecasts if you get the job. Never book the last possible flight you’d need to catch in order to make it to your first commitment, and if the weather is predicting something big in your home city (blizzard, hurricane, etc.), consider getting to or staying in your work city before it hits. For my husband and myself, the companies had planned and paid for the travel, so if flights were cancelled or if there was a delay, missed time at work was accepted, even if something important was missed. If you’re doing a more DIY traveling for work setup, travel-related flight/weather complications may not be okay in the same way.

Grumpy Nation– have you seen families where one person travels a few days a week work?  What advice do you have for someone about to embark on weekly journeys?

 

What are we doing to deal with the huge post-holiday Covid surge

The students are still gone, but our daily rates are higher than they have ever been, with new deaths every day and not just people ages 70+.  One of our admin just lost her father to Covid in town. Rates will only spike in mid-January when the students return.

I am teaching one section in person next semester.  This is going to be dangerous.  The course is limited to 15 students and there’s a wait list.  My two covid deniers from last semester are not in it, thankfully. (My other section is online.  I do not have a choice about either.)

Other than that, we are blessed that we do not have to do anything that puts us or our children at additional risk.  Most people are in situations where their jobs require them to be out with the public more than once a week and they don’t have full power to tell people to pull up their masks like I will.  Most people don’t have the ability to get all groceries delivered or done by curbside pickup.  These folks are at risk of getting covid themselves and spreading covid to others.  Those of us who can reduce the spread should because not everybody can.

SO, what are we doing?  (Bolding the things that are fun substitutes rather than sacrifices)

  1. DH and I are working from home when possible.  (Technically DH isn’t working anymore, but hey.)  This means that I go to work and then come home.  I also requested an 8am course so that there’s nobody before me and there’s a big gap after me (since usually classes start at 9:15).  Even so, I wipe everything I touch down with clorox wipes that I had to buy myself (and it is not easy buying clorox wipes!)  Students sit only in chairs that are 6 feet apart, which are actually 6 feet apart after I complained last summer to the department that the original dots on the chairs where only 1 foot apart on one dimension (they now skip rows, including the first row).  I do not let them touch each other.  When they share items I make them wipe them down with a wipe before if I catch them and squirt them hand sanitizer after.  Doing in-class activities has been a pain in the rear and I collected a lot of suggestions from students last semester about what to do and what not– it seems like pairs are doable 6 feet apart but triplets are not unless one person is zooming from home.  Some students liked sharing screens through zoom while still in the same room and some didn’t– one suggestion was for them to share a google doc which I think will work well.  I tell students that if they are the least bit sick they have to zoom in.  I enforce masking.  I don’t let them eat.  If I drink, I do it from behind the plexiglass (which doesn’t cover the entire board area, which is annoying).  If they drink, I tell them to use a straw if they can and keep the mask on as best they can.
  2. We’re only shopping curbside.  In the few rare cases in which we’ve had to go inside the store in the past (ex. the noodle place and the bibimbap place), we’ve made sure to order ahead so that we can just do a pickup rather than having to wait.  Basically I go to work and do curbside library stuff and DH does grocery, target, and home depot curbside (and takeout about once every two months which is not enough, but we do give big tips when we go).  DH and I do doctors visits.  I did a dentist thing this summer because I needed a crown and a root canal.
  3. We’re keeping our kids home (our school district allows us to choose).  This is definitely the safe decision for DC1 whose high school has at least one new case a day and was getting more like 4 new cases per day just before winter break.  Adding to that that mask enforcement and social distancing wasn’t happening in at least one of DC1’s classes (and the teacher caught covid right after we complained to the principal) and the principal sent out pictures of sports team pictures with only maybe 3 people masked… Now that they’re no longer sending out daily emails there’s a dashboard where we can see all the positive cases at each school (only a point in time info, but it does have the cumulative number), and our high school has about 4x as many cases as the other same-size high school.  For DC2 it would probably be fine to go to school– there have only been 8 cases so far and they’ve been drawn out across the semester.  But the virtual 4th grade teacher is amazeballs so we’re hoping to keep her as long as possible.  (It is really interesting looking at the elementary school data– one would think the numbers would map with SES and ability to not work or to work from home, but while the lowest number of covid cases is the richest college professor zone and the highest number of covid cases is the lowest income most working class zone, the rest of the numbers don’t map at *all* which makes me suspect that school leadership is important when it comes to covid spread.)
  4. We are not having in-person playdates.  I am not at all opposed to outdoor masked playdates, but DC2’s friends only want to do unmasked, so we said no and they stopped asking.  Two of them do have such playdates with each other.  Naturally these are the least safe members of the group– the third friend’s mom is more risk averse and would be safer, but of course, not doing in-person playdates correlates with all those other safe behaviors.  Update:  Just said no to a zoo birthday party after looking at the yelp page for the zoo and seeing lots of maskless selfies (or chin-mask selfies) and people complaining that masking isn’t being enforced.
  5. We have two regular weekly minecraft after-school playdates set up for DC2 and lots of other popup minecraft playdates.
  6. We didn’t visit extended family at Christmas.  Once the second wave hit and especially after the vaccine started coming out, MIL stopped suggesting it.  We now have hopes for summer.
  7. For Thanksgiving we had a socially distanced backyard meal with my sister and her boyfriend.  I was super careful and made sure we had separate tables that were 6 feet apart.  We kept masks on all times we weren’t eating.  I had separate paths set for bathroom use– they went through the garage to the guest bathroom and I had hand sanitizers taped to the door to the house on both sides.  We went through the patio and used the master bathroom or the kids’ bathroom.  For many of the food items (including all the appetizers and desserts), I made sure their table had its own bowls to serve themselves from.  For bigger things like the turkey, they went through first and hand sanitized before and after.  Then I had us use different serving spoons.  I also gave them a separate serving spoon for second helpings but they didn’t end up using it (I’m a bit less concerned about this because it seems like the virus is fragile on surfaces, but still…).  It was a bit tiring having to police the distance between my kids and my sister and I can see how easily if you’re not vigilant “safe” meetings can become unsafe.  Especially if not everybody attending is as careful as you are.  It’s easier to just not, which is why although we talked about doing Christmas at my sister’s patio in the end we just let that conversation not happen in time.  (The next day my kids went in the car for the first time since … last March?-we had to adjust the booster seat-for DC2- and August schedule pickup for DC1… to get flu shots.)
  8. We’ve done a couple of sessions of Crafting with Grandma on zoom, where DC2 and MIL just quietly work on crafts together punctuated by random conversations with DH and DC1 and FIL.  DC1 also did a Crafting with younger cousins on zoom.  (As the oldest by 6 years and very good with kids, DC1 is extremely popular with the younger cousins.)
  9. I’ve started buying a lot more fancy stuff online since we can’t go to the City.  I’ve already gotten a number of you hooked on nuts.com and we’ve spent some time talking about places other than amazon where we’re buying things.  Something remarkable has as well.
  10. Ringfit, exercycle, console dancing games, bicycling, unicyling (DC1 and DH), scootering (DC2), roller skating (DC2), all around the neighborhood, both masked (when outside and there are a lot of people out) and unmasked (indoors or outdoors when there’s few enough people that the road can be crossed if we see someone; this generally correlates with the weather).  I’ve also done a lot of walking around the house watching youtube videos while the kids are out exercising because I don’t want to have to put on pants (if I’m wearing pajama shorts and it’s cold out) or socks.

Something I want to highlight is that after 3/4 of a year of trial and error:  Zoom calls that are just straight-up conversations aren’t as good for the kids as are zoom activities. Having something that allows comfortable silences is way better than something that forces kids to keep talking.  And with kids, zoom is better than FaceTime, at least for the adult in question, because FaceTime involves lots of running around the house and flipping the screen and playing with filters and basically things that are too frenetic for anyone but the cool auntie (aka, my sister, who is just as bad as my kids with FaceTime).  There are a lot of crazy things they can play with on zoom, but there isn’t as much movement of the camera itself.

Playing minecraft with friends with zoom on in the background is better than just zooming (which was what we did last Spring and Summer until DC2’s birthday got us to research safe ways zie could have a party).  Playing Among Us with DH’s brother’s kids didn’t work out so well, though part of that was they couldn’t get audio to work so everything was chat-based which isn’t as fun.

Doing crafts at the same time with Grandma works better than just talking with Grandma.  It’s almost like actually being at Grandma and Grandpa’s.  We’ve done this twice so far and it’s just really nice.  DH and DC1 stop by and chat while DC2 and Grandma work on their own things.

We also set up an origami teaching demonstration with DC1 and the two older kids of DH’s sister because Nana had all four kids and suggested we try that while she looked after the babies.  So DC1 taught the 7 year old and the 5 year old to make fortune tellers and then did a few coin tricks.

Here’s an ask the grumpies from this summer about things to look forward to in the summer (also has a list of stuff we’ve been buying online).  Here’s a “what are you doing for fun?

What safe(r) things have you been doing?  (Note:  any bragging about doing unsafe things will be deleted.  Keep your secret shame secret and try not to hurt people.)