Editor’s Note: Joe Bardi — writer, editor, musician, husband, father — has always been a busy man. But until recently it had been up to his wife, freelance writer/photographer and frequent dRTB contributor Heidi Kurpiela, to handle the bulk of weekday parenting chores, because she could work from home and he had an office job. Then the pandemic hit. The following post is the third installment in “The Quarantine Diaries,” a series about the double whammy of suddenly being both unemployed and a 24-hour stay-at-home dad. Read the first two installments starting here.
Quarantine Diaries, Part 3: War With The Machines
The aftermath of losing my job occupied much of my non-kid time in the days that followed. There was paperwork to sort through, accounts and documents to transfer to new owners, and I had to actually start telling people I had been laid off.
That was the hardest part. Not because I was ashamed, but because the reveal prompts difficult questions that I have no answers for. “What are you going to do now?” Well, not a whole lot, actually. The country is closed! “What’s the dream job you’d love to get next?” That’s an excellent question, one I have historically been awful at answering. Guitar God seems a less than viable career for a 44-year-old married father of two with a mortgage.
The one thing I knew I’d be doing next: Filing for unemployment. And I was dreading it, because I had some inkling of the State of Florida’s FUBAR filing process. Our previous governor had made certain that Florida’s system is an utter disgrace — from shameful, meager benefits ($275 a week maximum?!!?), to the outdated online application that’s more like a museum exhibit documenting what the internet looked like in 2002. The opposite of “too big to fail,” Florida’s UI system was designed to be “too small to succeed.” And now I was going to do battle with it, along with hundreds of thousands of my fellow Floridians.
We must have all logged on at the same time, because the site was non-functional from the beginning. A typical session of trying to register for benefits goes something like this: First, a disclaimer page threatening the applicant with jail time (a lovely welcome, thank you State of Florida!), then a log-in screen with boxes for your Social Security number and a PIN. Nine times out of 10, inserting your Social and PIN and hitting enter takes you … back to the disclosure screen. Fume, repeat. Every once in a while the user is lucky enough to break through this particular vicious circle, and is treated to page after page of data collection. But don’t dally! I found you’ve got maybe 90 seconds before the system becomes overwhelmed and kicks the applicant back out to the disclosure page. Losing your job means starting over. Applying for unemployment benefits in Florida means starting over, and over, and over, and over …
As I sat at our kitchen counter entering my Social for the millionth time and quietly boiling over, my 8-year-old was beside me fighting his own battle with technology. Spring break dragged into weeks two and three, and the school system had pivoted to remote learning using their online portal. It’s called Clever, and it generally lives up to the name. Using Clever, students can get assignments and file their completed work through Microsoft Teams, check in with the teacher, and grab links to additional content like videos. (My younger son’s preschool teachers have been sending links to them reading stories on YouTube. It’s adorable and he loves it.)
While Clever gets a passing grade, the Microsoft Teams integration is an abject failure. Just signing into Teams took a day of haggling with my son’s teacher over log-ins and passwords. Once signed in, we found that the section for uploading completed assignments straight-up didn’t work — meaning my son would complete a task and then have no way to file it. Texts and emails with the teacher were steady for days. Demoralized by a child’s learning portal, we’ve slowly given up enforcing “school time.”
I am aware this is not a popular stance. Check Facebook, and you’ll find an endless flipbook of Super Moms and Dads holding court in kitchen classrooms, prepping their 9-year-old overachiever for the LSATs. Not in my house! The very act of proposing doing some schoolwork typically results in waves of screams and tears. Once Henry sits down to actually do the work, the system thwarts him at every turn. Assignment started, assignment lost, assignment started over, WHY WON’T THIS SAVE?!!?
“Don’t throw the iPad across the room!” became something of a mantra for both of us.
We did manage to finally “resolve” both my unemployment problems and the kids’ online learning issues — though we arrived at wildly different solutions. To overcome my unemployment website woes, I devoted two full days to getting registered, and another two full days a week later to “claiming” my first two weeks. As I type this I have yet to see a dime. I also have no idea if I did any of it correctly, which is maybe a little disconcerting considering how many times I was threatened with fines and incarceration while filling the damn thing out. I’m now looking forward to claiming my next two weeks, which I expect will eat up about 48 hours next week. Reminder: In a sane world this would take five minutes.
As for the kids, we said screw it. We are 100% there for class Zoom meetings — the one bright spot in the online learning struggle. There’s pure joy in firing up a class video conference, and watching my son delight in seeing his teacher and classmates. It’s important to remind the kids that there’s still a world outside these walls. But beyond the Zoom we’re not sweating the assignments that filter into Clever each morning. The kids will learn far more from just hanging with their parents all day than they ever would from an Internet worksheet.
And besides, Heidi has been dropping gifts and handwritten notes on the teachers’ doorsteps. Sometimes the offline solution is still the best solution.
PS: My wife insists that I add a short list of learning activities we’ve done with the kids, lest the world think we’re horrible parents. These include: Henry is recording a Vlog with my wife, regularly practices his drums, is reading for at least 30 minutes to an hour a day, and has written at least 10 letters to his teachers and family members who don’t live nearby. Chip learned how to ride a bike, worked with my wife to build a garden, and set up a makeshift Chuck E. Cheese in the house.
Next up in the Quarantine Diaries: