The kids started back to school this past week, after two weeks on break, and what a week it was.
Garin's primary teacher in his GATE program was out with Covid before even making back from Winter Break. That's one down. Catherine and Graham's fourth grade teacher made it back into the classroom for just one day after break before he too was out with Covid. That's two down. Miles' teacher was out for undisclosed reasons. They said it wasn't Covid, but she was absent, nonetheless. That's three down.
Then there was the array of substitutes all week. Garin started out with a PE teacher as a substitute in his gifted classes, but that didn't last long. The twins had a theatre teacher as their substitute one day, but by day-two, she too was out with Covid. Garin's school seemed to run out of substitutes altogether later in the week. On Thursday he came home to report that he had a parent volunteer teaching his classes. Funny, I didn't get a call to teach? Should I be offended? Perhaps I'm not qualified?
At one point I heard Graham discussing, with Catherine, the changing cast of substitutes throughout the week in their class "I think they just have to have a teaching credential to qualify as a substitute?" How does he know about teaching credentials? And apparently at Garin's school they don't even need those.
Then there were all the disappearing students. Garin said that each day he went to school, there were fewer and fewer students in his classes. "There one day, gone the next, without a trace," is how he explained it. Eerie is the word he used to describe the quickly dwindling student population.
I received this email from Garin's school by midweek, "Your student - Lieblich, Garin - was in a classroom with a COVID-19 positive person. However, your student has not been identified as having had close contact with the COVID-19 positive person. Anyone who was a close contact of this individual has already been notified and will be quarantining according to county guidelines.' Phew. I guess we dodged that bullet, for now. How far away was he exactly from this COVID-19 positive person? The district didn't feel the need to clarify that.
It felt like a bizarre version of Covid Musical Chairs. Every time an email came in from the school district, I held my breath and was afraid to open it. After reading it and learning that it was not my child who was exposed, the music would resume. I was just relieved to hear that each of my children still had a chair to sit in as the nail-biting game and week wore on. However, I found that by the end of the week I was exhausted from holding my breath as I waded through all the emails from the school district that filled my inbox each day. All I could do is be grateful we made it though the week without being exposed to Covid (or so it seemed) or getting Covid (or so it seemed). Keep your head down Jana, keep calm, and just plan your weekend. And so I did....
On Friday night we watched Forest Gump, which the kids quite enjoyed. Who doesn't love Forest Gump with his wonderfully simplistic view of the world and his magical box of chocolates?
We started out our day on Saturday morning by going to visit Granny and Great Granny. We took down the Christmas decorations on their graves and replaced them with bouquets of miniature baby pink roses and yellow and fuchsia pink Gerbera Daisies. We shared all of the stories with them of our exciting outings during Winter Holiday Break and had a nice visit.
We then headed to Descanso Gardens to see the Camellias. It seemed we were a bit too early in the season (the hundreds of bushes were filled with thousands of buds, however), so instead the kids spent the entire visit climbing an enormous 150 year native California Oak. Because much of the gardens are dormant for the winter, we practically had the entire property to ourselves. The tree was certainly all ours. It was a lovely (and safe) way to spend a brisk winter's afternoon.
We'll return in a few weeks to check on the progress of the camellia garden. Descanso Gardens is home to North America's largest camellia collection, which we visit often during camellia season because there is so much to see.
In the late afternoon, we then headed to the Van Nuys Mega Passport Office for our long-awaited appointment to get the kids their passports. I struggle to find the words to aptly describe the experience of being a large government office, in the midst of a huge surge in the pandemic, with four kids. I don't drink often, but would have happily accepted a drink, had one been offered to me. However, Zuzu, the very kind and seemingly competent Nigerian agent who oversaw our interview process didn't offer me anything other than a nearly $600 bill for four children's passports. She then went on to explain that I would be lucky to receive the in 11 week's time, if all goes well. If we had applied just a month ago, the wait would have been closer to 18 weeks. You've got to love the US government! "They charge for passports? I thought they were free," Garin said to me as I was painstakingly writing out four separate checks (with each child's name and date of birth printed carefully and in a very specific place on each one as instructed by Zuzu). I was in a fog by the time we left there nearly two hours later. I had hoped to recover from the experience after taking the kids to a quick dinner on the way home and then taking a long, hot bath once I arrived home. No such luck. I was a cranky mommy zombie for the rest of the evening and didn't recover until the next morning. Thank goodness we don't need to do that again for another five years, when their passports expire.
In addition to feeding the kids, I made just one stop on our way home from the passport office simply due it's proximity to the office and the time of day. It was a beautiful sunset so I thought it would be a nice treat for the kids to watch a few planes take off from the nearby Van Nuys airport:
On Sunday morning I was up with the roosters to finish the final preparation of the roses for the winter. Miles agreed to help trim some small sprouting branches in this pepper tree at the front of the house. My suspicion is that he only agreed to help because the task at hand required climbing a tree. I was right. After completing less than fifty percent of the job, he quit (keeping with the trend of many working Americans these days) , leaving Garin and me to finish it.
Garin was my wingman (or hose man, more accurately ) as I sprayed all 250+ rose bushes, not once but twice, with two separate solutions designed to send them into a healthy dormancy for the winter. Garin mixed and prepared all the solutions and then followed after me, helping me change hoses as we moved around the property and keep the various hoses from getting knotted. "This is the worst job ever, Mommy," is how he started the morning. However, by the time we were done, "I know this isn't very fun, but you really feel a great sense of gratification once it's over, don't you?" Yes, Garin. I feel like this is the same conversation we had, verbatim, a year ago, when we did this exact same task. And we'll probably have the same conversation next January. But he is right, I wouldn't recommend it if you're looking for a fun way to fill a weekend day.
Catherine "Scissorhands" trimmed all the boxwood hedges and topiaries in both the front and backyards, amongst many other garden jobs she helped with yesterday. She is a tireless trooper and quite a talented gardener.
After escaping the pepper tree prior to finishing his job, Miles moved on to moving patio furniture. Ever the he-man.
Graham, somewhat begrudgingly, agreed to help me rake leaves on the lawn. It's not a fun job either, I must admit. Now that I think about it, many gardening jobs aren't. Maybe that's why I never fashioned myself a gardener until a few years ago when I had to take it up out of necessity. Graham commented yesterday that I have become "quite the gardener!" At least there's that recognition for the hours I pour in to keeping up our property.
Graham was much more excited when I mentioned the idea of moving the lawn. He absolutely loves gadgets and machines of any sort. His favorite thing is to figure out how they work, fix them or take them apart. Since I am in need of all of those services, I am most grateful for his expertise.
Here is an adorable video of him in action, mowing the lawn. Miles got in on that act as well (it was a gadget after all):
As a small token of my gratitude for all their help, I prepared the kids one of their favorite dinners (wedge salads, grilled ribeye steaks, and baked potatoes with the works). I surprised them with a chocolate/ raspberry cake from Bristol Farms. They are so simple to please and were so happy with their gratitude feast.