2022: The Year of the Slumlord

Those of you that have been following along for this entire year know that my family has gone through some… well, insecure housing. I will sum it up here, but will also link back to the other posts, in case you want to do a deep dive. The insecurity is of no fault of our own – my husband has a good job, and a side gig; we are responsible, pay our bills on time. We do not make unreasonable requests. Just. an average family, a part of the community. And yet none of this has spared us from being treated like renter scum, along with the other half of California treated much the same, and – I suspect – much of the country that tenant’s another person’s home.

The good news is that I now feel panic attacks are well-deserved.

The bad news is that our housing situation is no more secure now, at the end of 2022, than it was at the beginning when we entered it.

House #1:

I wrote about the housing crisis in California HERE.

After years of living at the same home, caring for it as if it were our own, and diligently paying rent in full and on time, we were callously booted from our rental home. I say callously because we wrote a letter to them after receiving the termination of our tenancy (that’s putting it nicely: it was an eviction without cause), begging them to let us stay until summer so my 18 year old daughter could have endometriosis surgery we had been planning for the entirety of the pandemic, that spring.

They said no. Her surgery was canceled.

This was going on at the same time that thousands of other people across California were suffering the same fate: with the market booming, and looking like it was about to bust; and the eviction moratorium lifted, property managers and owners that wanted to get out of their investments jumped at the opportunity. At the time we entered the market, there was 1 unit available for every 1,789 families in our county looking. So we had quite a hard time finding a place, which we did only for it to be an absolute disaster as well, for other reasons (we’ll get to that next).

The kicker in the pants of all of this is that not only did they cheat us out of our security deposit, trying to charge us for routine maintenance and upgrades to make the house improved above and beyond standard wear and tear, was the fact that: they evicted us unlawfully. As it turns out, California has pretty strict laws about the reasons that a landlord can evict you without cause, not included is that a client of yours needs a rental home. Your landlord cannot, under any circumstance, evict you to just let someone else move in. Unless they are a member of your immediate family, this is a violation of California law.

And yet still, it was the reason we were let go. So a client of our landlord could move in.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, just a few months ago we learned the insult to this injury (one we are all still recovering from): the new tenant is somehow related to our (now ex) sister in law. Tons of people in my husband’s immediate family and friends are mutual friends with these folks.

These folks living in our old house. The one we were unlawfully evicted from without cause.

House #2

I wrote about it HERE.

And HERE.

And HERE.

And HERE.

As I mentioned, we moved in a time that thousands of middle income families were put in the same position. And, we had a limited budget, still recovering ourselves from pay cuts and increased costs associated with the pandemic.

Nevertheless, we eventually found the only place we could afford, in the timeframe we had to get there. It was 45 minutes away from our home, and in a matter of short time (actually, the problems started the first night we moved in), it became evident that this place was not going to work out for us.

Beyond the commute to school, sports, and social activities for our kids, the toxic environment in the HOA, and the smallness of the house were untenable. And then, after we resolved to find a way out of our lease, one presented itself, with a host of maintenance issues and the exposure of water leaks and mold through out the home.

Once we found a new place, back in our old community (actually the same general neighborhood as House #1, where we had lived for years), we were able to easily pull the implied warrant of habitability and get out of our lease. The last day I took a shower at this house, I could see mold peeking through the walls; and shortly after, we discovered the owner had gotten an appraisal only to find over $500,000 worth of damages.

(Of course we’re still arguing with them through the District Attorney to get our security deposit back, but that’s another blog for another day.)

House #3

I wrote about it HERE.

I wrote about landlords HERE.

So now we’re in House #3 for the year. We have moved twice, spent over $40,000 – in total – to move between the three homes, put our children through an enormous amount of trauma, suffered temporary illness from exposure to the mold (more than one night close to hospitalization for breathing issues for me, as well as my son), but figured – hey – we’re back home, we’re back in our community…

Fairly early on, though, it became evident that the property manager of this new home was very inexperienced in being a property manager. He always seemed confused, would flake on showing up for maintenance things, and after moving in July 1st of this year, as of today – December 13th – he has yet to complete the items on the move in walk through.

The gardeners written into our lease have shown up approximately 4 times (they are supposed to come every two weeks, which would be 12 visits at this point). The front lawn, completely dead, has drawn the ire of neighbors, and complaints from the city, so much so that we ended up having to invest $300 to cover it with more attractive mulch just so the neighbor kids would come ask our son to play.

In 5 months, we put in one maintenance request for a broken fan, and after a 100 degree heat wave and months of waiting and never getting any answer, just replaced it ourselves.

Then, a few months ago (just before Halloween), maintenance people started randomly showing up to do maintenance not requested or included in the move in walk through – without any notice. One person showed up one day to “repair window screens.” (No window screens needed repairing.) He took them and never returned. Another time the same person came to repaint the front door. He slopped paint all over the place, and painted the door so many layers that it now doesn’t open or close properly.

The coup de grâce, though, of this whole affair is that 3 days after paying our 5th month of rent (now December, almost a year after our foray into insecure housing began back at House #1), the property manager texted my husband saying effective immediately he would no longer be the property manager. Another company – un-ironically our old company that allowed our landlord to unlawfully evict us without cause – would be taking over. This would in effect nullify our lease, so we started scrambling to get some legal advice only for him to contact us the next day and say “just kidding, never mind it’ll still be me.”

Okay…

Then today, upon entering our tenant portal, we discovered a couple of weird things. One is that our landlord never actually signed the lease. Two is that our security deposit had been zeroed out. My husband again contacted the new-old-new again property manager, who explained all of this but then… texted him again and asked to come over and take photographs of the home in “a few minutes”…

Again… um… okay…

California law is very strict about these things; it’s one of the few protections 45% of the state that rents has. Property managers and landlords cannot legally enter the home except for emergencies or routine maintenance, or if the house is being sold. Otherwise, inspections are illegal, unless you’ve written it into the lease or are a recipient of state assistance (neither of those apply here). By definition, a 5 month “check up” to take photographs of the home and our personal property with absolutely no notice is both illegal, and a violation of the tenant’s (our) privacy. This, coupled with the previous maintenance folks showing up without notice? And the other maintenance requests and gardening included in the rent ignored? Well… it all qualifies as harassment of a tenant.

We decided to go ahead and call the property manager and be amenable to this quick walk thru to try and get a better idea of just what is going on here. He comes tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ve done some poking around, only to find – to my dismay – that the landlord and his wife have a number of mutual connections with me, and – this is where it gets crazy, and a little sad – his adult son recently died stepping in front of oncoming traffic. Very tragic, even crazier though is that our landlord was apparently on the hook for $420,000 in bail he had forfeited on that son’s behalf, who was about to go to prison on three strikes for felony car theft.

Obviously our landlord is in a state of grief, and trying to control what he can, and possibly recoup some of that lost money. But, all understanding and empathy aside, this does not make what is going on here okay; and moreover, leaves us wondering just how much we’ll have to tolerate before moving on to House #4.

Fundamentally, renters are very oftentimes folks just trying to live their lives peacefully. In California, as I mentioned, 45% of the state lives as a renter. That is almost half of the state, nearly 20 million people. And yet, time and again we become collateral damage for the poor decisions and lifestyles, the problems and personal issues, of our landlords. There is a sense that we are not people, just a paycheck; that we are nothing more than financial capital in the form of humans that can come up with the money to be so. This Class War, it is personal to me, and so many others of the middle and working classes. Personal because it calls into question the very conditions upon which we are able to live or even survive.

Christmas is just 12 days away, as a mom I should be focusing on the magic of it all – wrapping presents, checking all the experiential boxes; all while taking care of my kids, going to school myself, and just… living. It’s hard to see how people can live under these conditions for so long, though. Every morning I wake up in a panic, wondering what problem will come next, how our housing will become even less secure. I’m trying very hard to hold myself together right now, for the sake of my kids. But I’m also just about done. Today, for the first time in all of this, I very seriously thought about putting the kids in the car and just driving. With no idea what that meant, or where we’d go, all I could think of was that anything would be better than suffering under this cruel system where some of us are treated like subjects to be controlled and used for a paycheck, until there’s no more need for us and then we’re just thrown out with yesterday’s garbage. But renters, tenants – we are human beings too.

We, as a family, have a lot going on now, having thought that we were through all this insecure and crazy housing stuff. Big stuff, little stuff, plans we thought we were safe to make because things were supposed to settle down. We had rescheduled that endometriosis surgery for my older daughter, and just learned my younger daughter will have to have a minor procedure for a meniscus problem we planned for the beginning of the year as well. I don’t see us being able to tolerate all these problems and chaos and just *dealing with* our landlord, and navigate all of that at the same time. As a renter, are we really ever beyond that sense of insecurity, into the safety of settling down? Are we ever able to live life like everyone else?

If this Year of the Slumlord has taught me anything, it’s that the answer to all of that is a resounding no.

The Newsletter: Issue #17

Ugh.

Around the World

The Queen died! I get it: everyone has a different relationship with the tabloid family. The memes, of course, have been amazing and on point. The British were colonizers, I think we all need to remember that. But I also can accept that a lot of people have a complex relationship with GB, and also many family that way so… if you’re sad, I’m sorry. If you’re glad, well that’s great.

For me?

Well we had a whole ass revolution to not give a literal shit who was Queen, when she died, and who followed her. I just don’t care.

What I will say, though, is that her address to the world at the beginning of the COVID 19 pandemic was – I believe – one of her most important addresses. It urged calm in a time when people looked to baboons like Trump and Johnson to restore calm and order. I know I appreciated it, and many others did as well.

As for the tabloid family and what is next under Man Baby Big Hands? Only time will tell…

More around the world: today, in an interview, Trump apparently argued that he could declassify documents as president “telepathically.” And, in a similarly idiotic statement, Biden – with no qualifications or data to back his claim – said the pandemic is over.

Buzz kill: neither of those bone heads was correct.

Around My World

As I started this newsletter: ugh. I am feeling like absolute garbage, physically and emotionally. Physically the hay fever is hitting me hard. I sound like I have a smoker’s cough, spend all my time trying to itch my throat with my thoughts, I’ve gone through about 50 boxes of Kleenex, and there seems to be no end in sight. Other than that, my classes in college are relatively unfulfilling – including my 600 level Public Governance course which I am starting to think is taught by AI. No one ever responds to my discussion posts, I’m receiving an A+ for a grade, and the one time I communicated with the professor she responded “I do trust you…” and that was it.

Another pretty crazy thing happened in my world that probably has set all of this off: we found out that friends of family and family friends moved in to our old house. You know, the one we were effectively evicted from with no cause? After living there and caring for it as if it were our own for years? Yeah…

The short of it is that my daughter was on a long walk with the dogs, and we live on the other side of the same subdivision so she made it almost all the way there. She said the people were outside and they were in a big screaming match; so I finally looked up who is living in the house now. A couple searches over on Facebook and I discovered: it’s the family members of my soon-to-be-ex-sister-in-law’s step sister’s partner. Confused? Yeah I am too, but let’s boil it down to this: my brother in law, soon-to-be-ex-sister-in-law, family friends, our former nanny, the soon-to-be-ex-sister-in-law’s step sister and her entire family, also family friends, and a host of other mutual connections are “friends” on Facebook with the people and their extended family that now occupy the house.

Ouch.

Many of them believed that during my campaign I wanted to defund the police. Rather than act like civilized human beings who have known us forever and consider us family or close family friends and – oh, I don’t know – ask me about it personally, they instead decided to rip up my campaign signs, campaign for my opponent, and never talk to us again. Now, I guess I have to wonder if they were all instrumental in getting us the boot for some people not even remotely related to our former landlords moved in.

Or, at the very least, if any of them ever saw anything about these people moving in to our old house… on the Internet? In person? go to a 4th of July BBQ there and think “hey I know the people that used to live here…”? … and, what… just not say anything to us about it? Who else knows?

So. Many. Questions.

Pretty sure that’s also kind of illegal now in California, but that’s neither here nor there. Kick in the gut, and makes me feel even sicker about the tens of thousands of dollars this has cost us. Not to mention all the trauma.

In honor of that, I decided to do my podcast episode this week about Truth and Post-Truth. I didn’t really talk about my personal situation in the pod, but it’s still a fun philosophical listen. You can get it on any podcast platform, or just listen here:

You Can’t Unsee This

A literal representation of me at this time:

STFU Fridays

I was trolling the Internet the other day, looking for mom blog type posts to comment on and stir up some shit. For one, I was bored. For two, this is how I gain new followers. Every once in a while, someone clicks my profile and makes their way here, and *poof* I have made another connection in misanthropy.

Scary Mommy had posted this thing about kids budgeting for toiletries. I really don’t want to get into it, because I sense some of you will disagree with me (which is that I think that making small children budget for necessities like soap, regardless of the parameters, sets up an unhealthy relationship with money and personal care products early on… teach to budget with something else)…

ANYWHO, so I basically said that and boy did the mean mug mommies of the Internet go after me in the comments!

One thing that came up though was on the topic of small children squeezing out toothpaste, and how this budgeting technique would eliminate a small child from doing that. I remain skeptical on that, but I made the egregious mistake of saying I couldn’t relate – my kids have never done anything like that. And it’s true! We brush our teeth together, always have and always will. There’s literally no reason for anyone to go in to the drawer and get that toothpaste otherwise. Problem solved, no toothpaste wasted and squeezed out everywhere!

Well apparently, on the Internet, you are mom shaming others if you openly state a fact of your own household. The mean mug mommies then went after me for saying that my own children have never squeezed toothpaste everywhere – how could I shame them and their parenting styles and their little heathens like that?! HOW?!

You know: not everything people say about themselves is about you. I know that in this hyper-narcissistic and self-interested world we live in, it’s tempting to think that. And I certainly don’t want to turn into one of those people that comments on every single post another person makes, turning it all into an opportunity to talk about themselves. But really… sometimes when someone says something about themselves or their situation… that’s it. It’s not about you. It’s not an attack on you. It’s not meant to shame you. It’s not anything other than a simple statement that ultimately has nothing to do with you.

So you know what you can do if you take other people’s experiences personally?

Well, it’s Friday. You can just shut… the… fuck… up…

Better yet:

Anywho, happy weekend everyone! It’s not quite the weekend yet, but… close enough!

The Newsletter: Issue #13

Welp, it isn’t Friday the 13th, but it’s Friday and this is newsletter issue #13, and I also am pretty sure I saw a ghost yesterday, so let’s call this all a sign. A sign of what though? Not sure.

We’ll get to the ghost in a minute…

Around the World

So … monkeypox, huh?

Monkeypox has largely taken the stage, while COVID and its variants continue to absolutely ravage the world. The United States has more than 7,000 cases of confirmed monkeypox, with too many more than that suspected to count. As usual, we never learn from our mistakes, and are making the same ones we made with COVID. Among them have included stereotyping a group, being slow to act, and allowing misinformation to rule the public sphere.

We just do not ever learn from our lessons. Frankly, it’s embarrassing at this point.

On the note of lessons and never learning, COVID transmission around the United States remains at remarkably high levels. The vaccines are slow to be updated, and a 9/11’s worth of Americans continues to die every week against a disease that we know how to deal with at this stage. At least half of them from states reporting are in people fully vaccinated – the vaccines need updating, and urgently.

And yet, of course, economic interests come first, and so the CDC is moving to decrease mitigations even further, at the same time that they just released a report on the long term health effects of unfettered COVID infection in children and adolescents. Spoiler alert: it ain’t pretty, and will – I believe – go on to be among the largest marks of shame modern America has to bear.

Nancy Pelosi spent $90M of your taxpayer dollars to take a trip to Taiwan. I’m still unsure why that happened. And basketball player Brittany Griner was convicted and sentenced to 9 years in prison out in Russia.

Great times, amiright?

Around My World

So my big news right now is that I’ve started a podcast! I’m pretty excited, and you should be too – that is if you can tolerate the sound of my caustic and irritating voice.

I’m still working out the kinks, so if you do have a listen and have any thoughts or ideas, shoot me a message and give me your thoughts.

You can get a new episode every Monday on your preferred podcast platform, it’s on all of them. And in the days that precede that, the episode is loaded to YouTube where you can also listen to it in full. Your choice, let me know what you all think.

To that end, here is next week’s episode, available now on YouTube… or you can wait until Monday to listen to it wherever you listen to your pods.

You Can’t Unsee This

Have any of you seen the Dark Brandon memes? I still don’t understand them, one bit; and yet, they’re hilarious.

It probably only makes it more the strange that a few days after they went viral, a lightning strike injured two people and killed two others right outside the White House. Now I’m not the biggest believer in heavenly things (as with me and everything: it’s complicated), but y’all need to start paying attention to the Lord already.

STFU Fridays

Last night, it was very loud in my house and my husband was working late. My 5 year old could not get calmed down so as I always do when this comes up, I took him for a drive. He knocked out in a matter of minutes, but when I pulled into my driveway I decided that I should sit and wait a few just to make sure he didn’t wake back up when I carried him in.

I put the car in park and grabbed my phone, then looked down at it and immediately saw a white figure move rapidly right past my car window out of the corner of my left eye. No one was in my drive, on my street when I pulled up; so at first I thought it was one of my kids.

But the hairs on my neck were standing upright, and I got chills. So I texted my kids, because I thought: what if someone was trying to break in? They confirmed it was not either of them, it wasn’t my husband and wasn’t my dad… and the security cameras we have around our house showed no one.

To make things all the more creepy, when I got out of the car, it smelled strange. Like a dentist’s office – like the gases that you can smell when you walk in as you hear drills running and dental bills racking up rapidly.

So I’m pretty sure it was a ghost.

Naturally, I took to social media to share my story, and I told everyone in the house. The consensus was that I was full of shit: either I’ve gone insane, or am heading there. All of that may be true, but the insulting ones were the people saying I was just making shit up.

Well to all of them I say: shut the fuck up. Shut the fuck up with your skepticism that a world beyond exists, or questioning the validity of my otherworld encounters. The same as the existence or lack thereof of some omnipotent being striking the White House with lightning is no more disprovable than it is provable. You find out when you meet that ultimate human destination – we all do; everything until then is speculation. If we can believe in good vibes and prayers, it stands to reason we can believe in an afterlife where some resonating energy of people persists. Even if it’s just that: energy.

If anything this is a sign that Spooky Season is just around the corner, and I for one am ready.

Things Are Getting Pretty Grim Around Here

This is a personal update, and has a major trigger warning: a lot of heavy shit, massive complaining, and hard knocks situations. But, it’s time to stop being stoic, and start being honest. Maybe that’ll come up with some solutions – flushing them out here, in a blog; because right now I’m out of them.

I’ve mentioned a few times that we recently moved. It feels like a lifetime ago, but the reality is that it’s only been about two and half months since we got the keys to the place. I guess, when you’re miserable, time slogs along at a snail’s pace. I’ve tried to gaslight myself, as have others: chalk it up to depression, chalk it up to turning 40 this year, chalk it up to the fact that I did not get into a doctoral program I worked three years to get into at the same time as we moved. I tried rationalizing it as something millions of other Californians are going through.

While all of these may be a little piece of the truth pie sitting at our table beginning to rot, the reality of the situation is that we – my family unit – is in a pretty bad place, and it’s only getting worse.

(And when I say “sitting at our table,” this is of course a mischaracterization of our home… there isn’t even room for a table in our home that we can all fit at anymore.)

We Were In The Worst Position To Move

When we received our notice that our landlord had decided to terminate our lease, we were probably in the worst position imaginable to move. I wrote a letter to them, begging to let us stay just a couple of extra months until the end of the school year – the beginning of summer. I outlined the reasons with total honesty.

The first was that our now-18 year old daughter was scheduled to have excision surgery for endometriosis with a specialist in San Francisco in the spring, something we had been waiting over a year to get the a-okay on. Requiring us to move at that same time would make both the logistical and financial aspects of that a complete impossibility, after seeing a considerable loss of our income through the first year of the pandemic.

The second was that our kids and their friends were in years foundational to a kid’s childhood, especially our 8th grader. To rip them out of their communities in that time would, in our view, be absolutely devastating to their mental health.

The third was that the housing market for rentals was going to be difficult to navigate. We had cared for the home as if it were out own for over five years, and paid our rent in full and and on time without question. Even when we had a 30% reduction in pay for the bulk of 2020. It seemed fair to ask for a couple extra months to find a place so our kids could stay in their community. This isn’t like we are a military family, where moves are expected and this was our choice. It was sudden, it was unexpected, and we were given very little warning.

In that letter, we also made a number of offers. We offered to pay considerably more in rent to allow us to stay until June. We offered, if they were planning to sell the home, to make it readily available for work, and showings.

Their response was callous and cruel: to reject our request, with absolutely no reason why. A lot of friends and family surmised that this was because they had planned to quickly get the house on the market for sale. In reality – we learned from several friends we left behind that lived on the same street – it was so one of the landlord’s family members could take the home.

You all can imagine the result: my daughter’s endometriosis surgery has now been indefinitely postponed. The kids missed out on much of the year’s things with friends, even though I have tried as hard as I could to drive them back for all of them. We were forced to take whatever was available, even though it was far away and a significant increase in our monthly cost of living, our rent alone now constituting 46% of our monthly income, with a host of other additional costs of living where we now live.

And as it turned out, this was only just the beginning.

I Had a Premonition

Originally I thought that the worst of the stress was going to be finding a place, and moving to it. Moving is the absolute worst, and we were doing it under forced circumstances.

Now I’m not saying that I’m psychic or that I actually believe I had a premonition. But I do often have hunches that turn out right, typically my anxiety piques for a reason, and more than anything I listen to my dreams, because they’re telling me what I already know and don’t want to believe or admit.

About a week after we moved to our new place – a whopping 45 minutes in the best of circumstances from our old home and our entire lives – I had a bizarre dream about moving, and woke up thinking and the move was just the beginning, the worst is yet to come. In an instant, the reality that I had not been focusing on (just trying to get myself, my husband, my three kids, and my 79 year old dad moved, and the house looking as nice as I could make it) came crashing down on me, and it was true.

The move was just the beginning, the worst was yet to come.

For the Kids

So I’ve mentioned the situation with our 18 year old, but more than that this has put her entire life’s plans into peril. At the time that we were notified of our move, she was being scouted by several colleges to play tennis. But the thought of being that far away from home, and making that kind of a commitment, was too much for her if she had not yet had her surgery.

The problem now? Several-fold.

First, and foremost, the surgery requires a significant amount of financial commitment – travel, hotel, the costs of the surgery, and so on. We also will have to go back on a waiting list, which at the moment is over a year long. That, probably, is a blessing in disguise because – as I said – we were totally unprepared financially to move; now financially unprepared for anything medical, dental, or otherwise, to be honest. To be frank: with the exponentially higher cost of living here, and the amount of money it took for us above and beyond our savings to move here, I find it hard to imagine how we will even recover financially from this move, let alone be able to save up for more things years down the road anyway (something I try not to think about too much just yet, because right now it’s about surviving each day). But for now, we’ll stick with… four year college is on hold.

Nevertheless, she has considered two paths until we figure out the surgery: community college, with playing tennis there; and/or coaching for tennis. But still, we come up against more walls, as the community college with the tennis team closest to us is an hour and a half one way, in good traffic; giving lessons would also have to be done around 45 minutes away, as the only courts near us are already reserved by other coaches.

People have suggested we just get her a car – a fair proposition, if we are comfortable with increasing our cost of living even further beyond the bounds of what we can afford; except when beginning to explore this, our HOA notified us that we had already reached the maximum number of cars allowed in the community, and any additional vehicles on the premises beyond 48 hours will be towed (see what I mean when I say they hate renters?). And remember that condition she has that requires surgery? She takes medicine for part of each month that makes driving a bit dicey anyway. Wherever she goes, whatever she does, we need to bank on that she’ll need a ride.

So she is in something of a holding pattern, trying to figure out what to do while feeling entirely helpless to even make that decision. And the clock is ticking – you can’t wait forever to begin the rest of your life, or even your next year. There’s really no winning for her at this time, in this situation, and that we have done this to her at this point of her life is absolutely devastating to me, something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forgive myself for.

Our middle child, the 14 year old, seems to be relatively okay. Because of the move, she decided that she was definitely going to public high school back home. And while this seems like a positive thing: she’ll be with her friends, her community she’s spent her entire life with, the school is good, and relatively safe compared to other area schools; for myself I’m trying to wrap my head around how exactly I can manage to commute her older sister to school or work or whatever, plus her to school and high school sports…

… and also raise my 5 year old. He will homeschool for primary grades, as his sisters did; but that doesn’t mean he should be forced to just be carted around to chauffeur other people all the time. And then, of course, since he’s reaching the age of starting to get into activities himself… where exactly am I to put him in those? Back home, where we hope to eventually return to and where his sisters have lives? Or here, where we really don’t know anyone and it’s not exactly… safe? And the schedules for everything, should I just expect the schools and the coaches and the activity directors and the other families to work around us and our ridiculous situation? How, doing this all – for the most part – alone, am I to do that?

We’ve explored several options. My husband looked at a few office spaces to use as hubs back home, but none were within our budget, and moreover, most had restrictions about times and who could be there (no little kiddos, which seemed odd). Someone suggested using a family members house as a to-and-from hub. Well first, what family? We have a lot of family, but we may as well live on Mars to them. When we said we were moving, we got little, to no, offers of help. It’s been years since many of them came to a birthday party, a graduation event, invited us to either, or even said “Hello” to us when we’ve seen them at the tennis courts and said “Hi” (and don’t get me started on seeing family members pay little kids we know on Venmo for tennis lessons, when they know our daughter is trying to get her own coaching business going… hurtful does not even describe that one) – again this is one of those topics we can save for another day, and another post. Even so, we are still trying to be COVID conscious, and so I just would love to know how… that would even work when most everyone else has moved on? Because of my dad, we still have to be careful…

Whatever the case may be, it all comes with a price tag – either a physical one, or an emotional one; and frankly, the piggy bank on both is empty.

But Wait, There’s More

But it isn’t just the logistics of my children and their future that make this situation untenable to all of us.

Because of how few housing units were available, and the competition in the rental market that we were just unable to compete with at the time, we had to take the first place that came available that would approve us and that we could make work, even under dire straights.

Putting it bluntly: this home is way too small. It has the same number of rooms as our old home, but they are infinitely smaller than the other house, which makes things incredibly difficult; and some are open concept or an area of courtyard with no roof, so cannot be actually used as bedrooms or office/study rooms.

My dad’s room is on the second floor and has no closet. That’s right: it has no closet, making me think it was an office that the landlords decided to market as a room. He’s getting older, though (he’s 79 and his mobility is starting to strain), so if he’s having a bad arthritis day, I see him literally dragging himself up the stairs, I’m assuming due to knee and hip pain. Also upstairs is where my husband has set up our bed, all of our storage (forgot to mention there is no attic in this home); and his work space. The walkway between the wall and all of that is so tight that you have to walk sideways at some points just to get an Easter decoration out of the closet, shoved between his jackets and t-shirts.

My son has completely sacrificed a bedroom, and now sleeps downstairs in the largest bedroom with my two teenage daughters. His toys are stored in the garage. Because the room is the largest room in the house (so the natural room to put three people), but only a little larger than the other two rooms upstairs, we had to get rid of his bed. So he sleeps in one bed, and my two teenage daughters sleep in the other. In there, they have their own bathroom, which is good – kids bathroom downstairs, adults bathroom upstairs; except that the lights malfunction, and the landlord refuses to do anything about it, so they have to shower and get ready for the day and in the evening, with the lights off. The flickering is just that bad.

You all may be remembering that my husband works at nights. Yes, the thing they never tell you about the film industry is that hours are shit. His job in post production marketing is from just before 6 pm every evening, until whenever he’s done working in the morning. He doesn’t like to be bothered by our 5 year old during the day, when he sleeps though; so he locks the door to the room. This, coupled with the fact that all of our stuff had to be stored in that bedroom closet (old DVD cases, papers, holidays decorations), being the only storage to speak of in the entire house besides the area by the laundry in the garage, I have to keep my clothes in bins in the kids’ closet downstairs, and use a rolling garment rack that sort of just roams around the house, to store my clothes. And to sleep?

That’s right, I sleep on the couch. For the first year of the pandemic, I slept on the floor in my kids room along with my son. That was better than this, and more comfortable; but not possible, as you can see the floor through out the house is tile. As the pandemic wore on after that first year, we were able to really adapt our house for the long haul, as it became evident that the government wasn’t going to do anything to return actual pre-pandemic normalcy. But now? Now there is just no option but the couch for me. Every night. And because our house is so small, I can hear my husband working all night, I can hear my dad going to the bathroom at 4 in the morning, and when the kids get up… well then I’m up too. No locking bedroom doors and getting a solid 8, or even 4, hours for this lady.

We no longer have a laundry room, those hook ups being in the garage. I know that’s fairly common, though it does make it difficult to do laundry for six people when you live in a desert that gets really hot and dry during the day, and where you can regularly look over while sorting your whites from colors to see whatever the fuck this is:

Even the dogs lose in this situation: whereas at our old home they had a nice, grassy yard they could play in; now they have some concrete and a dirt hill in the back. It doesn’t matter that we have that back area, though: the first couple weeks we were here, our duplex neighbor complained to the landlord that our son was giggling in the back yard and playing with the dogs. So, frankly, we don’t go back there much.

And That’s The Rub

For the short term until we could find a new home, this seemed do-able. But as the days wore into weeks, it became less and less likely that getting out within months was a possibility. And so, hopelessness and depression has become pervasive to our household unit.

I haven’t even gotten into the crime in this community, which is something to write a series of blog posts about. We’ve had white collar crime, squatters, drunken people passed out outside the neighborhood gates, a throuple living next door in their mid-60s (not exactly crime, but also not something I want to have to explain to my 5 year old), someone try to break into our home, and, as mentioned before, our crazy duplex neighbor has it out for us something bad. Beyond the complaints about the mere existence of my son and dogs in her general vicinity, just today, we saw her taking photos of our garage when it was open, and later saw in her garage she has a pinboard with photographs of us and our house pinned up on it. This all, in just over two months.

But again, what even can we do? Can we get out of the lease here? Sure. In fact, we’ve consulted with a lawyer, and it should be easy and cheap to do so. But then what? Having spent our savings, plus recognizing the rental market everywhere right now, it’s hard to see an easy solution. We are not competitive, and have no way to pony up another security deposit, after our old landlord illegally stole ours for nefarious repairs that had nothing to do with our tenancy. There’s no way we can, or are even willing, to purchase a home at this time – it is way beyond our means, and more responsibility than any of us can fathom after everything that’s happened these last few months. Then again, it’s hard to make any decisions when my kids have medical needs I don’t know how to meet, they have educational and social needs that are becoming more difficult by the day; and everyone is literally on top of each other, while I basically do not sleep anymore.

It’s ultimately a dire situation, and hopeless to boot. And while I don’t have answers, and don’t expect any from you, what I do know is that we can all demand more housing and for our elected representatives to solve this crisis the entire country, and especially California, is experiencing right now. That’s about all I have left to hang on at this point.

The Newsletter: Issue #10

So much is going on in the world, and in my world: it’s a little bit of a whirl wind. I’ve been trying to post more in general, keep up on my social media following; and to keep up on this newsletter too. So let’s get to it.

Around the World

Somehow I got sucked into the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial. I’m never into these types of things – like ever – but then I see it streaming live on my For You page on Tik Tok, and I’m hooked.

One thing I think that I’ve noticed above all the details, the commentary, the cutting off the middle finger thing – all of it; is how authentic Johnny Depp is. Between his clarity on specific details of conversations, his bizarre hair dos, facial hair, and attire/accessories, to his remarkable pride in having quit using opioids, Depp – in all his weirdness and classically Depp deadpans – is unapologetically himself. Does that make sense? Regardless of the trial, or how it all turns out, that is what I take away from this.

Of course the other big obvious going on in the world is that COVID is going masks off-balls out, and yet the government is scaling back its efforts and funding in ways we probably never saw coming, no matter how bad things have been. (Just remember: it can always get worse, right?)

With variants upon variants cropping up that are just, to many of us, terrifying, it’s hard to really know what to believe. And yet, the doctors of Twitter and the mainstream media seem to have also flown the coop. Some, like Leana Wen from CNN, have gone batshit crazy, blocking major figures in public health, and even Marked by Covid (the largest national advocacy and lobby group for survivors and families of victims from COVID 19) from viewing and reacting to her comments on social media, all the while accusing the world of bullying and harassing her for having unpopularly eugenic views; while others, like Jeremy Faust, have decided it’s time to monetize.

I find the latter to be, frankly, stunning. This guy started writing a newsletter less than a year ago, and has fewer email subscribers than little old me, and yet he’s still thinking it’s a good time to grift. For $5 more a month than your favorite 99 cent game app on your iPhone, or regular emails from WaPo, you can get, as Faust describes it: “…after I publish, I realize that there are more considerations worth sharing for people who want to go deeper…”

Whenever I criticize this, people say “running a website isn’t free, Heather.” Sure, yeah, I definitely know that. As evidenced by the website I run, here. But if you are doing something for the sake of public health, monetizing a website that can be thrown together, maintained, used to host your email server, and give you a unique domain, for around $100 a year or less, when you’re a doctor that also makes high dollar media appearances… well, I don’t know… monetizing your very important medical information and advice seems sort of grossly capitalistic.

But America is a capitalism, and our healthcare is for those with the means only, right?

One more thing that is absolutely bananas to me going on in the world, of course, is this:

Around My World

It’s a bit of a shit show in my personal life. We really are not adjusting to the new house well at all. My kids and their entire communities are around 30-45 minutes away from home (depending on the day and traffic). This isn’t a situation where we are like the military, where moves and changes are expected and a part of life. We will continue to get our kids back to our old city to be with friends and their sports and social stuff, it’s just … really really stressful to juggle it all (and the cost of gas doing so).

Of course you guys all got my email yesterday about Hello Kitty Toaster coming back for a pop in.

Meanwhile, at our new house, I’ve recently discovered that across from our house is a home that I am 90% sure is occupied by squatters.

The people that own the home live in Texas for the bulk of the year. They just keep this home to use casually when they visit their adult children in town. Now we’ll save the fact that people that own multiple homes only for one to sit empty most of the year, while the rest of us scramble for any slum we can find to pay 46% of our monthly take home pay to live in, are making me more upset by the day, because these types of practices (their right, or not) have irreparably harmed my family, I still feel something of an obligation to … at the very least investigate.

I’m finding myself become more and more like Tom Hanks in The ‘Burbs, by the day. I’ve camped out on the living room couch for about two weeks now, waking up in the middle of the night, taking photos of the lights on, searching around the gated and upper-middle income community in which we live for any signs of something amiss… I even considered buying binoculars.

I’ll keep you guys posted.

You Can’t Unsee This

Presented without comment:

STFU Fridays

Again, with the masks.

I know, I know, but hear me out: even if you don’t give a shit about masks, you only care about yourself and what you feel in terms of protection, and you are just done with this whole pandemic…

… you could still keep your fucking mouth shut to those that still mask.

Monday the mask mandate for travel and public transportation was lifted by some dumb-dumb judge with no public health experience or expertise whatsoever, and the world cheered. (I wrote about it HERE.)

Within a day, accounts of people being shamed and bullied for still wearing masks cropped up.

The highest profile person I saw post about it was Trump’s Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, who has – oddly enough – become the voice of reason these last several months. You really know things are bad if any of Trump’s folks are the voice of reason, but we can save that conversation for another day. Adams went to board a flight, and a Delta pilot made some snarky comment about how he should take off his mask and breathe the fresh air. Adams posted about it on Twitter, and the anti-maskers went WILD on him.

Really? Just shut the fuck up. The fact that these people got what they wanted, but did not stop it there, indicates – at least to me – that it was never really about freedom or their personal choice. It was about an ideology and what the masks represent: weakness, fear, and probably a little bit of racism towards cultures in which face coverings are the norm.

Gross.

So to them, I say: shut the fuck up. Just shut your fucking mouth, and cough all over people all you want. You won! At least for now. We’ll all still be there to empathize with you when COVID bites you in the ass, because the data doesn’t lie on the promise that sooner or later, it will.

One more thing…

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Happy Weekend!

Actually, No. Working From Home Isn’t Ideal For Everyone.

Let me start by saying that if you work from home, and it’s working out for you… great! Fantastic! I’m genuinely – very seriously – happy for you.

But since many of y’all seem to have lost the capacity to put yourselves in other people’s shoes, and understand that not every experience is as yours happens to be, without having it spelled out to you like you’re a fucking five year old, I guess it’s time we have some words on this.

Not everyone is able to work from home, like grocery workers and delivery drivers. I’m sure we all understood all of that, all along. But there’s another group in the mix here too: those for whom working at home is not ideal.

There’s been a growing debate floating around social media and my Google News notifications feed lately: whether or not employees want to continue to work from home, go hybrid, or return to the office. Some people claim that everyone is clamoring to get back to the office, and for some that is definitely a reality. I know a few who simply find sitting at home over Zoom quite lonely. Others say they crave the productivity of an office environment, or – at least a few people I know – have a much nicer view from their city-based office window than their suburban dining room window. A change of scenery is what they need to feel successful.

Then there is the other side, who has saved time and money on commute, being able to integrate more quality into their own personal time (since they don’t spend as much time in traffic). Others have found that by blurring the lines of work and home, they are able to actually accomplish more via the flexibility that working from home allows for. And, in fact, studies have shown that working from home increases productivity about 13%. Why? A generally quieter environment with less water cooler conversation interruptions, fewer breaks, and a vast reduction in sick days.

Of course, for every study there is a counter, and recently Time released an article with a very expansive analysis of both the benefits and challenges the ongoing work from home environment creates. While workers are generally more productive, the team environment is all-but-lost, and employers find themselves with higher turnover rates, and even some with a damaged corporate brand. The response to this article that I saw on social media was, effectively: outrage. A lot of advocates for a permanent work from home environment argued that this debate is actually non-existent. That working from home is what everyone loves, and the newer counter-points to the original studies about the positives of working from home were Time and other media outlets simply acting as corporate shills, weaving their bullshit enslavement narrative into the media.

I get both sides of this. I really do – people experience things differently, and come from different walks of life. Different circumstances, different homes, different relationships, and different types of jobs. You can too, even if that isn’t the way it is for you personally. Some people need that separation of work and home physically to maintain that mental boundary; some thrive on working from home. Everyone is different. I have seen a lot of debate and discussion about this, and while we can present some facts to the case, I’m not sure we can really encapsulate the entirety of it without considering the nuance of the household. What I haven’t seen yet is much acknowledgment or discussion about the impact working from home has on the worker’s household, and whether or not long term working from home is tenable in situations where it is not ideal. We all saw the hilarious meme where the guy was being interviewed on live television only for his kids to toddle into the background. That was cute, but it was just a preview or tip to the iceberg of the insurmountable burden that working from home has presented for a lot of people.

I wish our situation at my own home was that cute.

We have six people living in our home. My father, who is 78 and retired. My husband and myself, and our three kids. Our house is relatively small, with thin walls, and a vaulted ceiling that echoes even a pin drop. No dining room or extra bonus room that can be converted to an office. Those of you that have been around a while know I have two teenage girls (17 and 13) and one toddler boy (4). When my husband came home for a temporary “two weeks to slow the spread,” his work set up forced both myself and my four year old to bunk with my teenagers, because not only did the master bedroom become his office, but he works at night. It was fun at first, right? Like a camp out. But as the situation became more than just temporary – something I am still routinely assured is the status of this working scenario … temporary … – the fun began to unravel. We’ve now found ourselves 19 months in, and feeling a bit frayed around the edges.

Work From Home Does Not Work If You Have Heightened Technical Requirements

My husband works in film, specifically editing trailers and other promotional materials. Our technical requirements are ridiculous: we’ve had to pay more to upgrade the Internet, even more to purchase a better router so that others in the home could have access to WiFi when he’s working over the wired connection. Before we purchased this higher capacity router, I had to drop a course I was taking because I kept losing my wireless connection during exams. Finally, when it happened in another class, I said we just had to spend the extra money – 19 months in avoiding my own goals had become a bit much.

Because of the way our house was built, and the cable and Internet installed, the main control box for the Internet is in my dad’s room – upstairs. So for 19 months we’ve had ethernet cabling trailing out of my father’s bedroom, through the hall, down the stairs, across another hall, and into the bedroom where my husband works. At the beginning of the pandemic, my father tripped on the stairs, falling so severely that we ended up calling 9-1-1, learning later he had fractured his shoulder. While this wasn’t a result of the cabling down the stairs, every time I look at it, it seems only a matter of time before the wire has come off the wall, or out from under the rug in the hall (both happen often), no one notices, and my dad falls again.

Sometime around the beginning of this summer, I noticed that when my husband is working, the lights through the entire house flicker. We called an electrician and he couldn’t figure out the problem, but broke one of our two mobile air conditioning units in the process of replacing the breaker “just in case.” Still, every night my husband is working, the lights flicker and flash with no explanation. Our electric bill has also increased over 26% per month over the last year and a half since he came to work from home. Further, our water bill is up 18%, food and house supplies bills are up as well (though this is difficult to calculate exactly in terms of how much).

And, as it turns out, we aren’t alone. That doesn’t make it okay, and is the first of several points that refute the claim that Corporate America is slashing their whips, trying to get their slaves back into the centralized cubicle. Why would they when they can pass the proverbial buck onto employees in droves?

Work From Home Does Not Work If You Have Weird Hours And Children

My husband, like many others in the film industry, works the night shift. His shift begins at 6:00 pm and ends whenever he finishes his work for the night. Sometimes that’s 2 in the morning, other times we get up for the day around 8 or 9 and he’s still working. He wears headphones, but there are still frequent times when we can hear noises. When it’s busy at work, it’s nightly. Sometimes it’s the headphones coming off and him checking something with the sound over speakers. Other times it’s a conference call at midnight, in our older house with thin walls. Most of the time, I don’t know what it is because it’s happening right before we wake up, but certainly we aren’t imagining it.

I’ve tried everything, to no avail. I put up sound proofing foam, especially along the wall that is shared with the room we sleep in. This provided minimal impact (so, more expense to us with negligible results). I’ve bought a sound machine that plays rain water (more expense, didn’t work anyway). One night, we set up my daughter’s camcorder in the hallway to try and really narrow down what the noise was, and we did hear him come out for a snack; so I set up a miniature break room with a mini fridge, coffee maker and snacks… in the master closet. Shortly before this, I had moved all of my clothes upstairs anyway, because it was just more convenient (though pretty pathetic – I now live out of bins stored under the beds of my teenage daughters’ bedroom). Still, sounds are frequently heard, and the energy of a post-production editing bay is pervasive through out the house most nights.

If you’re single or have no or grown kids, this is a non-issue. My teenagers can sleep through just about anything, most nights of the week (we’ll get to that in a minute). But my 4 year old is another story: he’s easily woken, difficult to go to bed, and – to be blunt – this has been a nightly trip to hell on Earth just to get a full night’s sleep. For 19 months now.

To get him to go to sleep, we have to take him on a nightly car ride and then carry him up to bed. When this was only supposed to be for a few weeks, back in early 2020, he and I slept on a twin mattress on the floor in my daughters’ bedroom. As the pandemic wore on though, I got the mattress off the floor, and now we have something along the lines of one of those cute family bed deals you see on Pinterest all the time. It works, for now; though my teenage daughters have to share a Queen sized bed, while I share a bed with a child that is about to turn five, who tosses, turns, and wakes very easily.

Inevitably, every night, there is a noise somewhere in the house that he hears and he wakes up from, and most nights he runs to my dad’s bedroom, normally going back to sleep immediately. As I said, thin walls and vaulted ceilings – sometimes you can’t even stand up in one room of the house without everyone else hearing your chair squeak. This would be fine, if it didn’t occasionally wake up one of my other two daughters, or myself, too. Once I’m awake, it is very difficult for me to go back to sleep. Once my 17 year old is awake, she’ll toss and turn for the rest of the night and then not feel well the next day. My 13 year old doesn’t generally have a hard time going back to sleep, but when she is woken it’s with a flare of drama.

The other night was one of those nights, with the flare of drama and me being up for most of the night, and everyone else being disrupted so much that everyone just felt like shit the next day.

My four year old was in bed and asleep after “car ride time,” my daughters and I finished watching the movie we were watching, and we all went up around midnight. Around 1, I had just fallen asleep when I heard a noise through the shared wall. It wasn’t too loud, but it was enough to wake me up (like I said, I’m a light sleeper). So I turned on the television, muted with the subtitles on, and was watching, my toddler now with his feet wedged into my back anyway, when around 2 there was a much louder noise from somewhere in the house and this one was loud enough to startle my 13 year old. She was sleeping on the side of the bed she and her sister share that was close enough to me, and in her brief moment of half-asleep-half-awake, she lurched her hand in my general direction, effectively knocking my glass of milk off the small table that is set up between the two beds, into me and my toddler. I got up to change and put down towels, only for my toddler to be woken by the commotion. Because the TV was on, though, I flipped it to Storybots, and he laid there watching it instead of running to my dad’s room. Somewhere around 6 in the morning – the house now quiet – my toddler was still awake, and I dozed off (surprisingly) only to wake up a few minutes later to find he had left the room. I thought he must be in my dad’s room, which he was. But because it was now light out, and the night had been a total shit show, he was wide awake, sitting on the floor of my dad’s room – my dad still sleeping – drinking a can of Diet Coke he got from my dad’s bedside table.

A long time ago, a friend of mine that runs her own therapy practice told me that kids can feel the energy in the house. If you’re stressed, they feel it. If you’re happy, they feel it. If you work in a night job that is in a fast paced environment with unpredictable hours, a lot of technical hubbub, vacillating periods of no noise juxtaposed against a lot of noise, and high levels of stress, and the like… the kids feel it.

This is why I think it’s so unbelievable and selfish when people expect us to just carry on as we normally would before the pandemic – do all the things, and then some. They make flippant comments like “oh, well at least he doesn’t have to commute,” like that makes the fact that my children have not all had a full night’s sleep for more than two nights in a row for 19 months now any better. At what expense exactly are we to accept this scenario? When one of us gets hurt, or worse? At the expense of the children having the quiet and calm and well-rested environment in which children need to learn? To do homework? To thrive?

People have offered an array of suggestions, none of which are really tenable for a lot of people. Rent office space somewhere else? More expense. Use a family member’s home? Passing the buck onto them. Move to a bigger house? … in this market?!! No matter how you slice it, it’s just not feasible… for us or other families. Dare I say: most families.

The short answer of it all is really that the solution for some – dare I suggest many – workers is actually simple: get back to the office. Sure, the commute sucks, the employer has to pay the utility bills, and there will be some extra measures needed to make it happen (like vaccine mandates, testing requirements, sick pay for workers to stay home when ill, and so on)… but families won’t fracture and experience hardship and trauma like they are. Children in situations like ours will not have to continue to bear the burden of this pandemic.

We had a shred of hope towards the beginning of the summer when those dreaded words came over my husband’s email… when his office finally responded to his and other inquiries about just when the fuck they would all be allowed back to the office: “Due to the Delta variant, our return to the office has been postponed …”

If you have not been vaccinated or are not wearing a mask out in the community, please consider how these variants you are producing is impacting families like ours. Working from home does not work for everyone, and it will not work forever. There will come a point when the dam breaks, and for our own situation I hope that I can hold out long enough to avoid that happening. Your personal choices on this don’t just impact others with COVID, but all its effect.

If working from home is working for you, that. is. AWESOME. If it is not, know there are many of us still living this pandemic struggle in the worst of ways. If there’s anything I’ve learned through this last 19 months, it’s that everyone’s situations are different. Different situation, different results. Before claiming that working from home is perfect for everyone, try to remember that.

It’s Time for a HOCO Post

Welp. The pandemic is over, or at least it would seem as much down at the local high schools, where screaming, unmasked football crowds packed into stadiums are a regular occurrence again. And, HOCO season is here, another opportunity for every teenage girl that exists to prove – once again – that high heels are walkable in for everyone except me.

That’s right, ladies and gents, I’m talking about homecoming. The annual weekend when people are supposed to travel home from wherever they’ve moved on with their lives to, like in those quintessential 90s movies; travel home and go to the ol’ football game and sit in the “alumni section” with the other old fucks that have started to bald and wear fanny packs no longer out of irony, but rather utility. …have drinks at the bar you tried to sneak into with a fake ID decades ago, have an old person’s dance of your own where the quarterback of the football team slops all over you, hairy beer belly bulging out of his shirt that’s missing a button, drunk; all-the-while trying to sell you and your husband Barry insurance… you know, homecoming…

Of course where I live now, in hyper-whitebread suburban California, no one ever leaves, so I’m not certain the Hoco football game part of it all is as big of a deal. The entire town goes to the weekly football games anyway, whether they have children or not. (A little weird, if you ask me.) What the fuck are you “coming home” to if you’ve never left? Here, it is all about the spirit week and the dance. And while my kids homeschool, they still have friends in the community, and we have family… and there’s just a decidedly HOCO vibe about the community during homecoming week that leaves me acutely aware of just what is going on, and how things have changed.

HOCOPROSAL

What the fuck is it with kids these days where everything has to be a charade?

Like you can’t just text a kid and say “hey, you want to go to the dance with me,” or whatever. Now, kids are doing these stupid signs with little poems. One year, my daughter showed me a video on Instagram of a girl she knew getting a “Hocoprosal,” where this kid brought a pizza into class for her and he had used green frosting to sloppily write “will you go to HOCO with me” ON THE PIZZA. I can still taste the vomit boiling into the back of my throat at the thought. Another year, I heard about a kid being given a goldfish, because the theme was something very Back to the Future – like “fish under the sea dance.”

When it comes to the gimmicky use of a living creature that will require care, time, and cost for God knows how long (my understanding is that, years later, the fish is still alive), why not go bigger than a stupid carnival goldfish in a bag? Why not a rabbit? How about a dog? Fuck it, a horse! Hey gurl, I got you this horse will you go to HORSECO with me?

Thoughts and Prayers

There is no less of a meaningless, I-don’t-give-a-fuck-about-your-problems, thing to say than “thoughts and prayers,” but this year in particular I have a lot of people to “thoughts and prayers” at.

Thoughts and prayers to our old neighbors who rented their kids a hotel suite to have a party in after the dance. They also supplied the alcohol. Stand up, Grade A parenting right there. Good luck on the bill you get for the room damages, and hope no one got drunk and died driving because of that kind of dumbass enabling behavior.

Thoughts and prayers to the family member whose daughter came home from homecoming having made it official with the kid sporting a decidedly ironic mullet, which he happened to curl for HOCO because – you know – Joe Dirt cleans up real good.

Thoughts and prayers to the parents of the kid who joked in the line behind me at CVS the other day that this may be the year he finally gets his girlfriend pregnant at HOCO.

In the last couple of years, I’ve heard horror stories about janitorial crews finding empty 40s in the bathrooms, and used condoms on the dance floor, to which I have to ask: what the fuck is going on? I mean I get it: kids will be kids, but actually no. No. This is not kids being kids. This is too many thoughts and prayers, and not enough… I don’t even know what…

When I Was a Kid…

I don’t know if it’s that I’m hedging on 40, or that things just really are remarkably different than when I grew up, but when I was a kid absolutely none of this bullshit would have flown.

I’m not even just talking about the truly audacious stuff, either. In my day, we went to the Ken-Tac-Hut and ordered soft tacos and personal pizzas in our fancy clothes, not out for a $50 per person prix fixe meal at a wine bar. We had a party after the dance, sure; but it was at someone’s house, and we had to pay an older brother to buy us a six pack of beer that he drank half of before handing it over. Homecoming was, yes, a thing – with the king and the queen and the football game, and the spirit week with the pajama day and the crazy hair day; but never – not once – did anyone (at least that I am aware of) intend to impregnate another person on the dance floor.

Times change, sure, but this much? I don’t know. Maybe this is more reflective of the Midwestern girl in me, who still brings a sweater everywhere with her lest people see her bare shoulders. Or perhaps it’s unique to the community in which I live now, where no one seems to ever leave, and so how would they ever understand that some of this stuff isn’t normal?

Whatever the case may be, I’m just glad I’m not a kid anymore. Sure, I’m not exactly jumping for joy about turning the page on my 30s, but there is no way I could keep up with the heavy drinking, fast talking, wine bar dining, dry (or not) humping dance- lifestyle that teenagers have today.

And how could I? I can’t even walk in high heels.

Why Everyone Should Still Be Wearing Masks

I’ve been hesitating on posting on the blog until I have my straight-to-blog book about running for city council last year ready to hit the publish button. But this topic is just too important, and while the debate is gaining a fever-pitch for another critical moment in this ongoing pandemic… well, I just had to throw in my two cents.

We all have felt the whiplash of the back-and-forth recommendations from public health over the last year and a half; many of us as parents even moreso since the CDC announced that masks could be burned in the fire in almost all situations for anyone fully vaccinated. Our states quickly followed suit, along with individual businesses and enterprises everywhere making big announcements – as if such a thing was even necessary. Now I’m not saying that people always wore masks perfectly everywhere, but there is something to be said for just quietly changing rules instead of making such a hoopla over it.

Even local journalists were hosting Twitter threads announcing what locations immediately took off the masks; a shocking admission of their position on the matter, and moreover not equally covered now – weeks later – as cases have risen, neighboring counties have reinstated mask recommendations, and failing today to report on the actual quiet changes the CDC has made, such as reinstating mask mandates in homeless shelters for vaccinated people experiencing homelessness. To put it simply: the pressure on politicians and public health officials was strong from the press to take the masks off, but to back off on that? Not so much.

Now, a bit after the mask guidance dropped, and as coronavirus infections (for some) and variants (all over) have risen in number and prevalence all over the country, the mask debate goes on. I see doctors taking selfies unmasked, because – as they say – the vaccines do work. But I also hear wet coughs and comments about “freedom from face diapers” by people wearing t-shirts that say things like I will not be your medical experiment while I’m at the pharmacy picking up my unvaccinated four year old’s medication. As has been the case for the vast majority of this pandemic, when public policy has not intervened, the honor system has been asked of people. And while before public policy was effective enough to at least deter some of the negative effects, now – so it seems – people of all political persuasions have donned the Trumpian MO of staunch, and at time narcissistic, individualism. I got mine (vaccine), so you get yours and you’ll be fine. No more public policy needed.

Except every human being alive today under the age of 12 is not eligible for vaccination just yet.

In my own city in Southern California, the city decided they would encourage masks for everyone, but also make them entirely optional even for the unvaccinated. They (masks), thus, largely no longer exist. Anywhere, and for anyone – this being a total and direct defiance of county, state, and federal public health guidance. If immune compromised kids or adults want to go visit our local public library without at least some level of worry, they can – essentially – go blow.

(I wrote my city council on this, by the way, and not a single one of them could be bothered to respond… including, and most notably, the nurse.)

Masks, at this point more than at any other in the pandemic, have become so deeply political and incredibly controversial – both keeping them on and taking them off, and what each means in so many different situations – that I find myself spiraling down a hole that can best be described as Reverend Lovejoy’s wife on The Simpsons, just screaming over and over again in abject horror: “think of the children!” in hopes that some part of this will at some point settle down, and make sense. Pretty much 24/7.

Yes. Think of the children.

Please. Think of the children.

Severe COVID in children is exceptionally rare, though as more transmissible variants crop up, this may not remain to be the case. As with all new diseases and science – they just don’t know. As it stands, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that in the week ending July 1st, 1.3% – 3.6% of COVID cases in children required hospitalization, with an all time figure since COVID appeared ranging between 0.1% AND 1.9% of all children infected in the entirety of the pandemic (to this point). A concerning increase? Maybe. I’m not a doctor. But the real issue is that the more people in need of acute care in a hospitalized setting, the less people and supplies there are available to care for them (resulting in more severe outcomes).

Death from COVID in children is even more rare, with somewhere just above 300 children in the entire United States having succumbed to the disease, most with underlying health conditions. A child in my own county died earlier this year of it, and the most disgusting, and common, reaction was to normalize it by saying “but he had other health conditions.”

Nothing about having other health conditions changes the fact that without COVID, they would still be alive today. If there is more we could have done to save that child’s life – any of those children’s lives – we have failed them by not doing so. Which is exactly what we are running the risk of doing now as virtually all mitigation measures are being stripped systematically by hacks in local government who care more about being re-elected than doing the right thing.

Children Need To Be In School In Person Next Month

The same thing that happened last summer is playing out again this year: the debate about how schools should open in the fall are ramping up. At the same time, we’re seeing viral Twitter posts, alarmist doctors, and legitimate news sources with clickbait-headlines about debated studies (from Israel) on vaccine efficacy, and disastrous accounts of more and more breakthrough cases cropping up. Mask guidance has again become nuanced – because we apparently don’t learn our lesson about how the general public deals with complexity and nuance.

The CDC has not even put out its guidance for schools in the fall yet, while some school boards have already made their decisions about what – if any – protections they will be putting into place. And at the same time, cases are rising in some areas of the country, even in my own heavily vaccinated state of California.

And yet the facts remain about school and children in the time of COVID: distance learning has profoundly affected children on an educational, as well as social and mental health, level. It’s also become a socio-economic hardship for families to have one parent staying home, with extended unemployment benefits expiring in the fall as COVID still ravages parts of the country, and other teacher’s unions signal they will not come to reasonable agreements over fears about breakthrough cases and variant transmission.

And yet still, I personally know of a handful of mom friends all over the country who are looking at rising cases in their communities, feeling uncomfortable with what safety measures their individual schools have planned, and are planning to keep their kids home, and in many cases strapping themselves even more financially, simply because so many people in their communities are now clinging for dear life to this rugged individualism that is killing people in real time.

There have been several studies proving without a doubt that children in school faired better with COVID. That is to say that in school with proper protocols being followed (ventilation, masking in some scenarios, etc), kids got sick less and had far better outcomes. With teachers and staff being protected now through vaccination, it seems to make sense that if we properly protect kids with other mitigation measures until kids can be protected through vaccination as well, getting them back into school is the right choice.

But…

As all things pandemic have been politicized to this point, what has become increasingly clear is that more than simply the educators and scientists will be making the decisions on this. Politicians, interested parties, and the parents with the loudest voices (though both sides are pretty loud and backed into their corners at this point), are already making school reopening policy with their rhetoric, and the virus and the media with their headlines.

To me, the logical thing to do to make sure we get kids into schools in person this fall in a safe environment is to universally mask back up until there is much more certainty about the variants, as well as the vaccines; until the headlines about the breakthrough infections subside, and the schools are at the point of no return to get kids back in their desks and in school.

It will put an end to headlines like we saw here in California yesterday, about the news that staffers at the Capitol had an outbreak with an unusually high number of post-vaccination breakthroughs, and only after the Capitol had slightly relaxed its masking guidance for vaccinated employees. It will slow workplace outbreaks, in particular in low wage service industry jobs that are public facing, where we rely on the public to be honest about who is in the store without a mask or a vax.

Because people can make their personal choices all they want. When you operate on the honor system, unvaccinated people by choice are violating this honor system, and in turn getting sick. Mask mandates in indoor public spaces showed they worked. Even with people continuing to gather in homes, at gatherings, and with capacity limits being lifted. By toning down the news cycle (which the media clearly cannot see any sort of moral imperative to do), we can make sure the ammunition in the school reopening debate is eliminated.

Won’t Somebody Think Of The Children?!

There are some other key points here that make sense to even someone like me – just a mom who pays attention:

People under 12 years old are not eligible for vaccination yet. Full stop. To say that it’s on the unvaccinated to protect themselves is a pretty dicey proposition to so many people literally cannot. They rely on the goodness of everyone else, and right now everyone else is not showing themselves to be very good. And while we already established that severe outcomes from COVID for children, including death, are exceptionally rare, long COVID (coronavirus symptoms more than 120 after testing positive) remains a persistant issue for children, just as: well, they’re kids.

Not a single child on this planet brought this pandemic on themselves, and to look at them and suggest that their risks are low, so we’ll now do nothing is… well, I can’t even think of a word to describe how awful that is.

Kids are also not as dumb as adults seem to consider them now. For the last year and half, we’ve asked them to make enormous sacrifices to protect the adults, in particular the elderly ones. We’ve taken away school, sports, aid for kids with special needs, consistency, they’ve watched families die, sacrificed much of their future, decimated their mental health; we’ve isolated them from friends, subjected them to greater food insecurities, pushed some into abject poverty and homelessness. Not everyone agreed with that proposition, and the science in the end has shown that some measures went too far.

But I continue to find not a single child that had a problem wearing a mask. And more so, including when I ran for city council, over the last year and a half, I have found that the kids were the most adaptable; the most willing to do what they had to do, no matter how hard it was, for the sake of caring for the adults. Will it hurt them in some way in the end? Probably. But they were willing to do it, because kids are like that – they have empathy and compassion that the rest of us seem to have, sadly, lost.

I have three kids, you guys know this. One is 17, one 13, and one 4. My 4 year old was the hardest to convince to deal with the discomfort of wearing a mask, but when it came down to him understanding that we were doing this to protect others, he immediately complied. This was the theme of the mask debate in the earliest of days, including after the Biden Administration took over the pandemic response, and he issued that 100 days to wear a mask and protect our communities in doing so. Masks work if they are worn universally. They provide some protection for the wearer alone, but if everyone does it they work remarkably well. This, like all of the other things we’ve discussed, is proven.

So what does it say to kids that know they still aren’t protected that suddenly no one is wearing a mask? Kids under 12 know they haven’t gotten the COVID shot, some (like mine) were there when siblings got it. They know COVID is still out there, they know some places still require masks or some of their parents are still working from home. Many still have family dying of the disease, wondering if they or another loved one is next.

After a year and a half of asking them to wear masks to protect everyone, what does it tell them now that the adults won’t wear masks to protect them?

The pandemic did require sacrifice, and it still does. From everyone. And while we can debate on whether or not some was just or went too far: at least some lives were saved in the process. We may never know if it could have been more, we may not know what will be required of us in the future. Today, we find ourselves in a new stage of the pandemic: one that is about controlling the virus, and preventing the variants from causing more large scale catastrophe until everyone has had an opportunity to be protected. It is a fact that everyone hasn’t, and another one that a lot of people do not care. It is a stage that the CDC and Dr. Fauci argue should be based on each person’s individual risk assessment. But is that a realistic and grounded expectation of the average American? To assess their own risk and act accordingly? Arguably, based on the behavior of a lot of people over the last year, in addition to just the reality of the different paths and struggles we all walk every day in this modern American life, I would argue not. People barely have time to sleep more than a few hours a night, let alone take the time to read studies, follow community transmission, and consider personal risk assessments. Many also just trust the government to do what is right, and as a mom it seems right now like they are doing anything but.

When all is said and done, I would argue that everyone should still be wearing masks as we continue to think of the children. On the precipice of kids getting back to some sort of a normalcy this fall – with school, sports, friends, and good health – is it really so hard to just put the cloth back over your face sometimes? Personally, to me, it says more about you as a person if you won’t.

No One Understands What It Means To Have Toddlers (Or Just Kids In General) Anymore

I’m not sure what the reason is for it, but it’s as if no one remembers or understands what it means to have toddlers (or just kids in general) anymore.

Or maybe it isn’t that they don’t understand. They just don’t care.

I have three kids, at various ages. One is a teenager, turning 16 next week. The second is a tween, having turned 12 last December.

And then, I have my toddler. My 3 year old. The baby of the family who keeps all of us on our toes.

Well… he keeps me on my toes…

There’s something I’ve noticed with this, my youngest child, that I never noticed before: people, generally speaking, don’t seem to get it anymore.

They don’t understand that several hour-long phone calls to insurance companies or to fix the cable, or to just gossip about what aunt so-and-so is up to over coffee, is rarely – if ever – an option.

They don’t understand that if I do actually do something other than entertaining the toddler (and/or making sure the toddler doesn’t roam out into the street of busy traffic), I can’t just – like – drop everything to show them how to change the ink in their print cartridge, or send them a detailed email about how to start a blog. Or even sometimes engage in a twenty minute conversation about [insert just about anything here]. That if I work or go to school, the time I have carved out in my schedule is literally the only time I have.

Or – shocking as it may seem – usually when I have free time away from my toddler, I am taking care of my other kids.

They don’t seem to be able to wrap their heads around the fact that there are three of them and one of me, and I can’t actually split myself into three pieces to be at three places at once. Sometimes, appointments have to be scheduled around the other kids’ things. Sometimes, I can’t get them to an extra curricular activity that day. Occasionally, other things in the house have to wait so that the children can be cared for first.

Sometimes, if I’m sitting at one of my older kids’ tennis matches, I’m not a “bad mom” for having my laptop open and my school books out (as many parents so eloquently “joke” to me). It’s that it’s literally the only time I have that I am not talking about Toca Boca or Paw Patrol with a 3 year old to get that other stuff done.

When you have a toddler, that’s how life is. It’s a delicate balance between having enough time to fit everything in, and making sure your toddler is cared for.

This is honestly the way it is when you have multiple kids.

It is a lot of time cleaning. Cooking. Picking up food they threw at the wall.

Having a toddler is not showering sometimes. It’s going days without realizing that all you have eaten in 48 hours is Goldfish crackers and Jell-o.

Add two other kids at completely different stages of life to this, and forget it.

My time is spent driving my teenager to her college- and life-preparatory things, helping my middle schooler with her school work and making sure she gets to all of her extra-curricular activities on time, and taking care of my toddler. That includes developmental things, play things, reading times, and interacting with other kids and the world. When I’m not doing one of those things, I’m cooking dinner for all of them, making lunches, serving breakfasts, and cleaning up the messes.

It’s balancing screen time and play time. It’s taking a kid to an appointment and letting the other kid have more screen time so you can hear the doctor speak, then it’s managing the tantrum because that kid had too much screen time, all while answering the phone when people call you back about the one kid’s appointment and helping the third kid with her SAT prep book.

What I’m saying is, I have my hands full. A lot of people are in this position now. A lot of people have been in it at some point in their lives.

A lot of people have forgotten.

I’m referring to the people that ask me over and over again at tennis matches for my older kids where my little guy is, but then complain when he even breaths too loudly when I do bring him.

I’m referring to the people that don’t do their jobs, too. Like a doctor’s office, that owes me a refund and says they’ll refund me automatically, only for me to find out a month later they never did, resulting in an hour of sitting on hold to get it straightened out. Or a local water company that charges us six times for the same, one, bill, requiring me to both call and sit on hold, as well as go in to dispute the extra charges.

Maybe I’m just complaining, because I’m feeling a little overwhelmed right now. I’m not complaining about the fact that I am taking care of my three kids and have these jobs to do with caring for them.

I’m complaining about all the interference the world outside of me and my kids is interjecting into the mix of it all.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve been asked to do all of these things, and then some, and then a little more, but – and this is a big but – I have to do it with my hands tied behind my back.

Or when I read articles about Stay At Home Moms or Working Moms, I sometimes feel like I’m going to explode. Not because of anything the article says (usually), but rather the comments from the working moms “oh, imagine having to do all of that and work a full time job.”

Except you don’t. When you are at work, someone else is doing all of this (vaguely gestures at school/cleaning/working/feeding/watching/caring for/etc) and the difference between a Stay At Home Mom and those people that provide those services so that you can do your job at work is one thing, and one thing only:

Those people get paid.

I’m not suggesting that I should be paid to care for my children (although it would be nice if somewhere in the budget were things for me like toiletries, healthcare, makeup, hair appointments, clothing, or – oh I don’t know – anything)?

And I’m not suggesting that Working Moms do not have other challenges or concerns or sacrifices that are distinctly unique from mine.

I’m just saying that at the very least, I could be paid in support.

I could be paid in understanding.

I could be paid in an occasional “hey, did you do something different with your hair today? It looks nice.” Even if my hair looks like a crow’s nest on top of my head.

I could be paid in the conscious decision to let things go and not harass me about stupid and mundane things, or demands that I drop everything to deal with X, Y, Z thing that – in the grand scheme of things – can wait. Or… dare I suggest… could just not happen. I could be paid in competence by insurance companies, so I don’t have to spend my time on the phone with them. Or a cable service that is good and doesn’t require regular and routine cable man work done by Mom (keep dreaming on that one, I know). I feel like everyone is constantly breathing down my neck for things they want – be it my husband, my dad (who lives with us), outside family members, or the lady at the allergist’s office, who has called me five times in the last 24 hours to fill out patient paperwork. Like I’ll get to it when I can, Linda. I’ll get to it when I fucking can.

Perhaps I am just complaining right now because I find my situation to be particularly Cinderella-esque at the moment. I don’t even get “Happy Birthday”s or “Happy Anniversaries” or thanks for meals anymore. The other adults in the house don’t talk to me about anything but what they want and things they need, and my text messages are largely ignored.

But maybe my situation isn’t that unique, and it’s what a lot of Stay At Home Moms experience. We – as a society – tend to think that if a person doesn’t contribute financially to a household, they aren’t contributing anything. Of course the stupidity of this is self-evident, and yet large groups of people believe this way.

Or maybe it’s something more.

Maybe it’s that people just don’t remember what it’s like having a toddler or having kids. Or maybe they always had other people taking care of things for them, and they were never aware of how acutely precious a mother’s time really can be.

Maybe no one ever said anything about it, because they knew their words were just falling on deaf ears.

Well I’m here to say it today. I’m a mother. A Stay At Home Mother, at that. My kids are my job. And just as I wouldn’t march into someone else’s place of work and criticize them, tell them what to do, interrupt them multiple times for mundane things, or actually have the balls to expect them to stop working so I could get or say what I need to… I’m going to have to start expecting the same courtesy.

“Please be quiet during the meeting” is a sign now permanently hung on my door. At least for the next decade or so.