Being a Dad…the best role I've ever had.

Archive for June, 2015

The Affordable Care Act and a Night out on the town

The Not-So Affordable Care Act

Raising one child is difficult and expensive. Raising three? Well, it’s not quite as hard as one may thing, but it is more difficult than raising one or two. The cost, however, is far greater.  Now, I don’t want to sound cheap or like I am complaining, but I am constantly amazed at how much it costs for certain things, like health care.

Just three years ago, I was employed at a major utility and had really good health insurance. I remember complaining that my premium was going up…a whole hundred dollars. A MONTH.  It was going to cost me about four hundred dollars a month for complete medical coverage for ALL of my family, including my lovely wife.  Granted, that coverage was probably more than most needed, but I have two children (well, one is 18 now) that have weak immune systems and sick quite a bit.

Well, fast forward three years.

I no longer work for that company as they ‘eliminated the position’ that I held.  My insurance lasted about three months after my official end of service date. Then, the worst happened. The Affordable Care Act was in effect and I had to use the Healthcare.gov web site and buy insurance. 

Let me tell you, that was not a pleasant experience.  Not at all. There is nothing good about that site and I think they forgot what ‘affordable’ means.  The cheapest insurance, for the family, was about what I paid at the former place of employment. The difference? It had a high out of pocket and deductible.  The deductible was something like five thousand dollars and the out of pocket was really high.  And, it was lacking in coverage PLUS…new doctors since, contrary to what we were told, our then current doctors did not participate.I ended paying nearly seven hundred dollars, with a two thousand dollar deductible.  Now, when you are stretched thin already, how is this affordable?

Today, I have a new job but am currently considered a temp worker (my full time job starts in a few months) so I am not entitled to the temp agency benefits. I have some, but…well, they aren’t great.  For example, the ‘medical’ insurance is the bare minimum they can get under the ACA. It ONLY covers preventive care, not sick visits. AND…my wife is not eligible.  She must go through Healthcare.gov.  So, not only will she pay a lot more, there is still that high deductible.  Unfortunately, we have to go this way as it is the law. Albeit a broken law that just does not work.

Our lawmakers lied to us.  This Affordable Care Act is anything but affordable.

A Night Out With the Kids

Recently, we had a sleep over for my step son. It was just a neighbor kid and my stepson, but your would have thought we had a whole boy scout troop as it was bloody expensive.  A movie and then dinner at a Stevie B’s (like Cici’s Pizza) was just nuts, cost wise. Now, mind you, I have not been to a movie for a while and just forgot about how much they charge for things.  The movie was just over thirty dollars. I actually don’t mind the high cost of the tickets as the theater experience is still worth paying for, but just wait till I get my home theater. The concessions, though…OH MY.  Popcorn, one very large soda, two boxes of candy and two slurpee like frozen drinks was 33 dollars. Dinner, which also included my oldest son, was also around the 35 dollar mark-which isn’t all that bad, for five people.  So, this little outing, for two kids, my wife and myself was nearly a hundred bucks.  Seriously.  How in the world are parents on an even tighter budget supposed to do something like this? It’s no wonder Netflix and RedBox are so bloody popular. I have to wonder how others, who may not be as fortunate, do this. I can’t imagine how a parent who is making thirty grand a year and has two or more children does it. This has gotten me to think about alternative ways to entertain, have fun and enjoy the kids having a great time. Look for more later, but I will start with dinner, below. Read on.

The only reasonable thing we did was dinner at Stevie B’s.  In fact, it is even cheaper if you buy the regular size pies and take them home: $4.95 each and they actually taste fairly decent, for cheap pizza. Get a couple of them, a two liter of soda and rend a movie for under $20 bucks. Not bad.

Of course, it was all made worth it when the the neighbor kid looks at us, cute glasses and wide grin, and says ‘this is the BEST night ever!’ Well, that hundred dollars suddenly seemed inconsequential.  It got even better when my step son concurred, with an equally big grin. Yep, that’s what it is about and that makes it easier to swallow an otherwise very bitter pill.

Watching him become an adult

DSC_5358June.  The start of the summer season, vacations starting up, school ending and graduations.  Among the events that have taken place, for me, in June…my oldest son graduating from high school and turning 18.

I thought the graduation was going to be tough for me. I was very proud of him.  Watching him walk across the stage, getting his diploma and remembering a time when we sure if it would ever happen.  When he was a child, Chase had an immune system deficiency and took several meds and received monthly, then weekly infusions. We never knew what the long term effects of the medication he took and the blood infusions he received would do. There was even concern on how it would all affect his cognitive ability.  Well, I am happy to report that it all kept him alive as well as not doing anything to hamper is learning and mental growth.

He has turned out to be a fine young man.

Fine young man. 

Wow.

It seems to me that just a few short years ago he was five and just starting school. But, I woke up one day and he’s 15 and in high school.  How in hell did that happen?

Now, he’s 18.  Out of school, driving and has a job.  Soon, he’ll have two jobs as he will be a ‘scare actor’  at a local theme park for the Halloween season.  My otherwise quiet son will be scaring the pants off of grown people and kids alike.

He’s good at it too as we saw him in action last season.

Over the years, I’ve watched him develop and grow. Often, telling him he needed to stop that nonsense and be my little boy forever.  Of course, that didn’t happen.  Well, the stop growing part, anyway. 

I think back at his many goals…like being tall enough to reach the light switch on his own.  Being able to read just enough so he could play Rollercoaster Tycoon while daddy was at work (I used to put him on my knee and play the game with him. We built many, many amusement parks together.) Getting tall enough to ride the Tomb Raider.  Being able to ride to ride the Volcano. Wishing he was in high school. Wishing he was out of school, etc.

And watching the awe and amazement coming from him when he discovered something new as well as having those goals met.  Watching his excitement when he was able to reach the light switch, play the games, ride the rollercoasters and tomb raider.  The pride, walking across the stage, in getting his diploma.  Even today, he still gets excited. Not as much, perhaps, as he used to, but he does. (Seeing the joy on his face when we went back to Disney World was just as cool as it was the first time, some 12 years ago.)

Time doesn’t stop and Chase will, eventually, move on and, hopefully, find out how awesome it is to be Dad. And, it has been awesome. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

And, I get to do it again.

Elmo, Mandy Patinkin and feeling scared: taking my son to his first movie

I still remember the first movie I took my oldest son to see, Elmo in Grouchland. Now, this was back when Elmo was still a big thing and going to the movies didn’t cost two arms and legs.  Chase was probably three when we went to the movie. He was very excited and, frankly, so was I. Not see the movie, but to take him to his first movie. 

I put him in his safety seat in the back of my car and we proceed to the theater. This particular theater was about ten miles from my home, not a huge distance, but it was going to take a few minutes to get there. I knew Chase was excited as he talked incessantly.  That was fine, I loved listening to him talk. His sweet voice was cute and his use of words just astonished me, after all, he WAS only three.

As we pull into the parking lot, he sees how big the building was and he got worried.

“Daddy, what if I woose you?”

“Don’t worry, Chase, you aren’t going to lose me.”

We go in and I purchase the tickets and get us some snacks. At that point in his life, Chase did not like candy. I know, I never understood, but was glad he did not. No, instead, he wanted a hot dog and juice.  I got it for him and for myself, a small popcorn and soda.  We go to our seats and, then…

…the lights went down. Well, that scared the crap out of Chase. So much that he nearly threw his hot dog!  I reassured him that all was well and that the movie was about to start. But, before I could warn him that the picture was going to be big…

the damned music started and the previews came on screen.

He was almost in tears. 

I calmed him down, let him know it was normal and that the picture was supposed to be that big. He grew to like it.

After several previews, the movie started.

He finished the hot dog and sucked down the juice.  Laughing and giggling, he seemed to really like the movie.

And, then…IT happened.

Nothing prepared me for this. NOTHING.  It was just awful.  And, for  a three year old, I can see why he reacted the way did.  This was so bad, we had to leave the movie.

We were only about 45 minutes into the film.

So, what happened? What was so awful? What scared him so bad?

MANDY PATINKIN.

Yep.  The actor. He played the villain in the film and he looked pretty damned scary.  His makeup was so good, Chase could not look at him.  Nothing I said could convince him that it just a picture on the screen and not real. Nope, nothing.

So, we left.

I managed to get him calm and took him for ice cream and then we went home. 

Later that evening, he walks into my office at home and climbs up on my lap.  Gives me a big hug and proceeds to let me know that, even though he got really scared, he still had fun with me. He gave me a big hug.

At that moment, I knew this Dad thing was going be awesome.  The love and utter contentment I felt, at that moment, made everything else secondary. He was the center of my world.  Making him feel that way, even as scared as he was, that he could still feel safe and have fun, well, that’s what it is all about. 

How to deal with school when your child misses a lot of time

In a week full of sadness and terrible memories, something wonderful happened. My son, Chase, graduated from high school. Like thousands others on that hot, Saturday, Chase walked across the stage, shook a few hands and received his diploma. Less than an hour later, the super intendant of Hanover County schools declared him and 378 others as graduates of high school and no longer required to attend public schools.  In effect, they became adults at that moment.  Adults.  Made me think about when I graduated and how I felt.  But, the day was his, not mine, and so, we celebrated. We met some friends and family and had pizza and exchanged stories. All the while, I had to wonder…how the hell did he grow up so damned fast? And, boy, his Mom, Papa and, now, Nana, would be so damned proud. Indeed. We all were.

And, admittedly, there was a bit of relief too. Relief that we no longer had to deal with the red tape because of his health, which is not great. Living with an immune system that barely works is a difficult thing, being persecuted for it, however, is just wrong.  Now, don’t get me wrong, Chase has been fortunate and had many, many wonderful teachers who not only understood, but CARED that he was sick and worked with him on staying up to date with his work. And, for the most part, the school administration has been kind and worked with us. But…

…there were times when it was not easy and, in fact, much more difficult than it should be.  The key, to both a smooth relationship and to cover everything, is documentation. Doctor’s notes, detailed journals, transcripts of testing, medical test results and patience. Don’t get upset with the school when they want ‘proof’, it is their job and there are those who would take advantage of the situation.

ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS get a note from the doctor’s office no matter what.  If your child is in kindergarten, where it, seemingly, does not matter, it really does.  AND CALL the school. When your child is out, call the school.  Do that as soon as you can. Do not miss a day. This is important, as important as that doctor’s note. For one, it alerts the school that your child is not there and won’t have to be accounted for IF there is a problem. Secondly, and importantly, you establish that, yes, you know where your child is, you care about your child’s education and you want to establish a good relationship with the school.

One great way to maintain all of that documentation is with a computer.  I use Microsoft’s OneNote to maintain a journal of my kids’ health (as well as my own and that of my wonderful wife.)  OneNote has an OCR capability (meaning, it ‘sees’ text in images and can search on that text) which means you can scan in test results, doctor’s notes, and any other documentation that you may need. That documentation can then be searched. Having your stuff in a computer will help you not only at school’s end, but you can also produce reports for your doctor. If you keep them updated, then your doctor will have a good picture of what is going on with your child.

It is also important for YOU to contact your child’s teachers IF they are out for more than a couple of days.  Be courteous and mindful of the fact that your child is not the only one these teachers deal with.  And, remember, they have, likely, seen and heard it all.  When you talk to them, let them know what’s going on with your child, how long you think they might be out and offer to come pick up any make up work.

For Chase, I’ve had to coordinate things myself. It was not easy, but being organized is important.  Know yours child’s schedule, teacher names and the times they have class.  I have not always done this and it usually ended up a confusing mess.

Follow these tips and you should have an easier time dealing with the school. Just remember, one troublesome administrator or teacher does not mean all of them will be the same way. They have your child, plus dozens more to deal with, just keep that in mind.

Nana. A tribute to my Mother In Law

When I married my first wife, Jo Ellen, I married her family. Indeed, they took me in right away. Wayne and Elsie were parents to me as well as Hunter and Jo Ellen. They were good people. I use the past tense because, except for Hunter, they are no longer with us. It is with great sadness that I have to say that Elsie passed away on June 8.

She had been hospitalized for several days due to a head injury, something she has experienced in the past. This time, however, the injury was too severe and, in addition to the brain swelling, there was bleeding as well. Family and friends were gathered at the hospital when Elsie took her last breath. Some were in the room with her and some were waiting in a waiting area. My son and wife were in a waiting room, the sight of Chase’s grandmother was a bit much for him. She wasn’t looking good and, frankly, reminded both of us of how his mother looked some five years ago when she passed away. In fact, the day Elsie died was just one day after the fifth anniversary of my late wife’s death.

Elsie1Elsie was a unique lady. She was frank at times, but was Grandma all the way. She loved all of her grandchildren (who could never do anything wrong) and adored her son and daughter. She treated her extended family as if they were part of hers. Still, if she didn’t think you were doing something right, she would definitely let you know. She could also heap praise if she thought it was due. No matter, if you needed help, she and Wayne were right there. Afterwards, of course, she would have to tell you what you did wrong. And remind you, years later. It’s one of the things that made her who she was and I think that was part of her charm.

She was also naive about many things and was, shall we say, easily embarrassed. That was fun. Say something remotely naughty and she got that five year old ‘I’m caught’ look. Lips puckered and three fingers trying to hide her surprise. Bodily sounds would always draw that same look, no matter who was at ‘fault’. That was one household where that was a genuine laugh. Part of the naivety, however, was that she also gullible–which was also fun. When Jo Ellen found out she was pregnant, we went to tell her parents. She is sitting there, telling Elsie how excited she was and Elsie says ‘well, how far along are you?’ We didn’t know for sure, but when she started talking about dates, I looked up and said ‘WAIT! I was out of town that weekend!’ Elsie, not missing a beat, says ‘JO ELLEN! You should be ashamed…’ then she realized I was messing with her and, well, I didn’t know Elsie had quite the punch.

And, so, this day, we buried Nana, Mom,  Elsie and any number of nicknames she had.  As we sat there, listening to the minister, I had to wonder, ‘what would Elsie think?’  I think she’d be happy to see her family and closest of friends, I also think she’d like Hunter’s choice of ministers. She’d be happy to know how we felt about her.  She’d be happy about many things. But, in typical Nana fashion, she’d turn to Hunter and say ‘why did you do this on such a hot day? I mean, really!’ Yep. That was our Nana.

Life goes on

1988.  I was working two jobs, one at a company that made the front end gear for pocket paging systems and a part time job at a local video store (remember them?) I was content, for a change.  I was making a little money, had an automobile and … not much else.  Later in the summer, I was laid off from my full time job (who buys paging equipment anyway?) and went full time at the video store. In management.  Which, for me, was kind of funny.

My first assignment was at a store in Colonial Heights. It was a very busy store and a challenging position. Second Assistant Manager.  Oh boy. I was a MANAGER! I was there for a few months and was transferred to a store in Richmond’s west end. This store, as I was told, was a mess.  I was to help straighten it out.  I was promoted to ASSISTANT MANAGER too.  A plus, since it meant a raise.

Well, my first day at the store was uneventful except for my introduction to one of the staff.  A perky and young person, she was very friendly and seemed to get along with everyone.  I was smitten.  Toward the end of her shift, she asks if she can leave a little early. Jokingly, I look at my watch and said ‘yeah, I suppose so!’.  She gave me an odd look, thanked me and left.

After a few months, I was completely taken with this person and gathered up enough courage to ask her out. She turned me down. Not once, but several times.  One day, though, she said sure.  Now, today, I probably would have gotten into trouble for asking a subordinate out, but it was a different time then. 

That first date? Well, it was terrible. We saw the movie ‘Ghost’ and both had had bad days.  We did agree, however, to try it again.  That second date was way better, though I could not tell you what we did or where we went.  I’m sure it was dinner and something, but I forget.  That first date, though? I still remember it.  Unfortunately, nothing remains today of that date.  The restaurant is history. The movie theater is now a Kroger. The cars we had? Both are gone. 

We went on to more dates and I eventually married her.  We bought a house, which is now someone else’s home.  We had a child, who is now graduating high school and is no longer my ‘little’ buddy. 

June 7, 2015 marks the fifth anniversary of Jo Ellen’s passing.  And, while I do miss her, I know that she is no longer in the bad spot that trapped her  for the last two years of her life.  That life is gone, but the happier memories remain.  As I go through boxes that have lay dormant for four years now, I find pictures, yearbooks and other mementos from that part of my life. I am happy to find them and I realize that life, my life, has gone on.

And, so too is my desire to write about it. This will, likely, be the last time I write about that part of my life. I have another wonderful wife, two more wonderful kids and look forward to making more memories with them. 

Jo Ellen’s death was devastating for me, my family and our friends.  It was unexpected and seemingly out of nowhere.  One day she is in the hospital for muscular problems and, then…the ICU and she’s gone.  I will never forget the lifeless stare or having to tell my then 12 years old son he has lost his mother.  It is seared in my memory forever.  The decisions I had to make that day will haunt me as well.  But, there is a bright side.  She is no longer in pain. She is no longer suffering the deep depression she had fallen into and she is at peace. 

After five years, my life is completely different. While I do miss her, I have gone forward with life.  I have married another wonderful woman who has accepted my son as hers and given me another biological son and a really cool step-son.  Jo Ellen would approve, she always told me I needed to remarry if something ever happened to her because Chase needed a Mom and I needed someone who could tell me where my socks were and what day it was.  She was right.

Oh, and the comment I made to her that first day and the odd look? Well, I found out, years later, that she thought I was an ogre! She did not realize I was just having some fun. I’m glad she, eventually, realized that.

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