What happens in Tennessee stays in the photo available in the gift shop at the end of the tour

Time flies when you’re not blogging. Last I checked, it was Christmastime, and now spring break has come and gone.

For spring break we piled into the minivan and headed south. We’d heard rumors of warmer weather and interesting attractions in Tennessee, and since it was within our spur-of-the-moment traveling range, why not?

Well, traffic for one thing. Every school district north of Kentucky had spring break the same week. I’ve never been in so many traffic jams in open country. I felt sorry for the families continuing to Florida during this temporary Midwestern diaspora.

Knoxville was a trip down a 30-year-old memory lane to the one semester I spent at the University of Tennessee before I became a graduate school dropout. UT does not seem to have suffered from our breakup. It remembered less of me than I did of it.

In Chattanooga, we played all over Lookout Mountain, taking the Incline Railway trolley up and down, then crisscrossing the mountain by car. We strayed momentarily into Georgia. Buster and Big Man had never been to Georgia, and since they didn’t leave the car, we debated if it counted. They never actually set foot there, but they did break the plane of Georgia, which counts in football. Since Georgia is a big football state, we’re counting it.

Pigeon Forge is an Appalachian Vegas, if you replace the casinos with moonshine and go-carts. We arrived with three intentions: Dollywood, Alpine Slide, and Titanic Museum (why there is an ocean disaster museum in the Smokey Mountains I’ll let you ponder). We did none of them. We got too distracted by other things, and the Alpine Slide was closed by high winds and a forest fire.

Still, we had fun discovering other adventures. We even spent hours visiting a bird sanctuary, which, Alfred Hitchcock notwithstanding, was not as horrible as it sounds. The boys loved it.

The kids decided they wanted to move to Tennessee. My wife was almost on board with them, but she didn’t see enough Target stores; when she drives too far without seeing Target, she starts to hear dueling banjos in her head. From there it’s a short mental leap to a Deliverance/The Hills Have Eyes situation.

It was not all fun and games. The minivan got progressively louder in the water pump area as the days passed. I grew apprehensive about the 500-mile trip home. During the drive back, I kept one eye on the road and one eye on the temperature gauge. She didn’t sound healthy, but our sick car soldiered through, delivering us safely, despite her nasty cough.

Now, $800 later, she’s sounds good as new, almost. Add that to the cost of vacation. It kind of makes me wish we didn’t buy a family photo at every ride and sideshow we visited. Oh well, those family photos will be a minute of pleasure when we stumble across them in basement shoe boxes every 15 years or so. So I guess that’s worth it.

School on Screens

Well, it’s happening. God only knows how it will play out, but this train won’t stop now.

Online schooling begins tomorrow.

Even though I haven’t been a real Catholic for 30 years, I have an impulse to cross myself when I make that statement, or even when I think about it.

The emails have been coming fast and furious from the middle and elementary school administrations as well as individual teachers. We’re drowning in informational attachments.

The boys have all gotten their schedules. Big Brother’s 7th grade schedule contains an elective called “The Great Outdoors,” which was not one of his top choices. The schedule was silent about the irony of learning all about the outdoors from a computer screen inside his house. His schedule is the most detailed, which is good, because he’s going to have to manage his responsibilities largely on his own.

The Great Outdoors, transformed into screen time for educational purposes.

His little brothers will need lots of help.

It used to be that 3rd grade and 1st grade schedules looked like this:

Morning: Drop them off at school

Afternoon: Pick them up from school

This year we have a day-long schedule of live and taped events the children must access on the computer every day. I am happy to see there is a break each day at 10:15 for the students to have a snack and the parents to crack open a bottle of wine. We weren’t in the habit of drinking in the morning, but as they say, welcome to the new normal.

Lunch is at 11:45, which is just about the time we will be realizing that wine is insufficient to our needs. A couple shots of something a little more robust should help us prepare for the afternoon sessions

Preparing our learning devices for the big day.

I think whoever made up the schedule gave up on it once they hit noon. The afternoon is a hodge-podge of pre-recorded sessions, which seem like they could be done in any order, but also seem to leave the administration entirely in the parents’ hands.

As daunting as this is, it may not turn out to be a bad thing. Parents have been lulled by our system into believing they are not ultimately responsible for their children’s educations. Some have leapt onto that slippery slope to the point where they don’t feel responsible for their kids’ emotional development.

Maybe this experiment will bring some parents back to their responsibilities. It won’t be fair to all parents, but nothing ever is. How fair it is to my family is not our top concern right now. Our top concern is that ourchildren progress, in all the facets of their lives. This, we are determined to see them do.

Maybe there’s a silver lining in online schooling, if it gets parents more involved in their children’s development. Or, maybe it’s just a train wreck in the making. Maybe it’s both. I was always partial to D: All of the above on multiple choice tests when I didn’t have a clue what was going on.

Snow day: use it or lose it

Yesterday was our first school snow day of the year. I’m not sure why it was a snow day. There wasn’t a particularly large volume of snow. Maybe the school system needed to use up the days before they were lost to spring weather.

This meant I had to take a vacation day from work to stay home with the boys. I don’t like having to spend my vacation days in this manner. I prefer to save them up to use when everybody is in school and I can stay home alone. So far, I’ve only been able to do this once; it was pure bliss.

After breakfast, and a break for some light roughhousing, we used the morning to catch up on our reading and do some homework. Buster lags a little bit in reading. That’s why it amazed me how willing he was to help his little brother do his homework. Buster helped Big Man sound out words on his list like a professional tutor. He showed more patience than I did when Big Man hit a difficult patch. Maybe he’s supposed to be the teacher instead of the student.

In spite of all the attempted murders, they do care for each other.

After lunch, we went out and played in the snow. By this, I mean I shoveled while the boys frolicked. It was the least amount of snow I’ve know to close a school, so the shoveling wasn’t bad. I didn’t even get sore or feel the need to swear when the snowplow went by later and pushed the street snow back into our driveway. It just wasn’t swearing snow.

Pulling little brother.

The tables turned: Pulling is not a fun as big kids make it look.

In the end, it wasn’t a bad vacation day spent.

Today was worse. School was closed again. This was a mind-boggler to me. There was hardly any new snow, and the roads seemed fine.

Today was fort-building day, which keeps kids from murdering each other, but is kind of messy for a living room.

Fort Living Room. Established to protect the TV from marauding parents.

It helps that none of the garrison of this fort is very tall.

Meanwhile, I worked on our washing machine, which decided not to run at all. I got it to work, but not quite the way it’s supposed to work. I’m not sure how my wife will like my cobbling job. She may press for a new machine. This is going to be a hard battle to lose. It’s one of the those where you know the exact problem, but the machine was manufactured to prevent you from getting to it without breaking more parts.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings. The school still has a few snow days in the bank, so it might turn out to be too sunny for school in the morning.

Drive-through chaos

When I was childless, I dreaded getting stuck behind a minivan in a fast food drive-through. It took fast right out of the equation. It still does. Now I am the slug driving the minivan. I still hate the combination of minivans and drive-throughs.

It’s better to be stuck behind the minivan than stuck in it. You stew quietly in your own impatience and breath oaths at the roadblock ahead of you. Inside the minivan, it’s nobody’s fault but yours and your fertile loins’ that you can’t make any progress. Thanks to your fertile loins, there is no quiet surrounding your impatience.

None of my boys can tolerate a fast-food burger the way it comes. It must be altered to suit their whims. Just ketchup; just ketchup and mustard; just ketchup, but add bacon. And those little, minced onions you don’t even notice? My kids notice them. Every kid notices every minute onion fiber.

Then, factor in chicken strips.

Kids like chicken strips almost as much as they like burgers, sometimes more – sometimes exactly equally as much. Chicken strips are a logistical nightmare. You can never get them in the quantity you need, especially when dividing them up among children who need a taste of chicken to wash down their burgers. Chicken strips are a wedge to intra-minivan cohesion whose only rival for spreading chaos is fries.

When they said French Fries could contribute to a heart attack, I thought they meant after you ate them.

I understand not liking a pickle on your burger, and I would be fine with all the special orders if those in the back would condescend to voicing their desires before we are stopped at the speaker. Nobody can focus on what they’d like to eat while the wheels are turning. Only when the little voice from behind the pin-holed metal asks for our order, does the chorus of answers spew forth. It’s an episode of Family Feud, except with more feud.

After the order is finally given, our strife-inspired pokiness continues. At the pickup window there is more gnashing of teeth. Enter the fries tumult:

Child 1: You didn’t get me any fries!

Dad: You didn’t order fries.

Child 1: Yeah! Because you didn’t ask me if I wanted fries!

Dad: You heard other people ordering fries. Why didn’t you say something then?

Child 1: Because you never asked me if I wanted fries.

Child 2: I didn’t get fries either!

Dad: You said you didn’t want fries.

Child 2: But now I do!

Mom: Order them fries before we drive away.

Dad: No! This isn’t the ordering window. Besides, they need to learn to order what they want.

Mom: [Getting that Carol Burnett twitch in her eye] Just order them fries so I don’t have to hear the whining all night!

“Order. Them. Fries.” (Image: CBS Television)

Dad: [Taking deep breaths and wondering how many families are wrecked by French Fries.] Excuse me. Could we get two more orders of fries?

Child 3: There’s a piece of onion on my burger. Can you get me a new one?

 

I’m sorry, young, single people waiting behind the minivan. Enjoy your quiet fuming while you can.