Saturday, December 28, 2013

Survival Mode

Here it is.  Visual proof that I have been living in survival mode:

That's our sukkah, still up at Hanukkah.  That is, I believe, the biblical holiday equivalent of still having your Christmas tree up at Easter.

So, I've been a little busy lately.

A lot busy.  In fact, it's funny to actually look back at the life I used to characterize as "busy."  I clearly had no idea what I was talking about.

I've done survival mode before, especially after babies were born, but never for this length of time.  When I'm in survival mode, I deal strictly with the urgent.  ("Mom, Austin has pulled off his diaper again!"  "Mom, I can't find my..."  "We're out of peanut butter!")  In the back of my head, I have a firm belief that there's something, some process or method or something that I can figure out to make my life more efficient and I will suddenly find myself with time to blink, or at least breathe.  (Does anyone know where the Jetson's got that robot and those meal pills?)  As the months went by this time, though, I started to be afraid that no amount of time management implementation was going to put us on the road to serenity anytime soon.

I have found over the course of the last twelve years that any life change has the potential to force me into survival mode.  I've come, in fact, to expect it.  When a family has a new baby, moves, or faces medical or other issues, the routine is disrupted and things that worked before just don't work anymore.  And often, when the dust settles, life itself has changed.  I've learned that most of those changes require a new normal.  Rarely has a "survival mode" incident been followed by a return to things the way they were before.  New times require new strategies.

Fortunately for my family, I like strategizing!  I find the challenge of logistics invigorating.  I recently came across a "flow chart" of sorts that I had put together about seven years ago.  Justin was a tiny baby, Nathan had just started formal homeschooling, and we were living in a construction zone in an old home we were renovating.  There were problems to be solved, challenges to be overcome.  (My flow chart indicated that the key to calm out of chaos was "get up earlier.")

I am happy to report that, in our present survival mode experience, we are slowly but surely pulling ourselves out of it (the sukkah is down!)  Things are starting to take on a routine, and I'm starting to feel more on top of things.  We aren't drowning in laundry, we've finally hit on a school schedule to bring sanity to our at-home school days, and the house is starting to take on a more orderly appearance.  That makes mom happy, and when mom is happy, everyone's happy.

And a happy mom can laugh and take pictures when the boys pull something like this:

(That's mud.  Note to self:  Move getting backyard sodded to top of list.)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Leave it to the Government

Well, I have experienced a first.  I have waited in line, online.  Yes, my friends, I went to again and this time, instead of clicking away on the "create account" button to no avail, I got a message informing me that I was waiting in line.  They called it a "queue," perhaps hoping that the British accent would make it sound more intelligent.  It would seem that the government wants to make sure that visitors to the site get the full bureaucratic experience, lines and all.

Obamacare is a mess.  I suppose that's not news to most people, but I'm not just making a statement, I am living the mess right now.

I am a poster-child for Obamacare.  Single mom, seven kids, un-insurable pre-existing condition, employer doesn't provide health coverage.  I currently pay $115 a month for $3500 a year deductible "catastrophic" insurance for myself.  But that policy is going away January 1st and I need something to replace it.  (The kids are already completely covered.)

Enter  I made my first visit to the site with some trepidation.  I had been hearing that the rollout wasn't going as well as planned.  But I'm an optimist.  I'm certain it will work for me!  So, after putting all my kids in bed, I settle myself in front of the computer and prepare to start the enrollment process.

I click the create account button.  Nothing.  Click.  Click.  No error message.  Nothing.  Should I call?  Is the problem on my end?  I'll call.  After the required bureaucratic messages, I get through to a live human.  Her voice sounds suspiciously like a recording.  She stumbles over a word in her script.  Ok, maybe she is real.

There are a lot of people visiting the site, she says, that's why I can't create an account.  How about I just fill the enrollment form out with her and then I can create my online account later?

How long will it take?  About 10 minutes.  I doubt that, but I sigh and dig in.  What information do I need to have?  Just name, address, social security number.  I doubt that too.  I know bureaucracy.  There's no way this is going to be ten minutes and three pieces of information.  But I'm committed.  Let's go.

After 20 minutes, she's managed to get my name, address and phone number.  She begins to list the kids, even though they don't need insurance, because the government needs to have a list of everyone on my tax return.  She never deviates from her monotone-bureaucratic-recorded voice, even as the number of children grows.  When I finally tell her that Austin is the last, she says she is going to place me on hold for a minute.  So she is human after all.  I know she is telling her colleagues, "This lady is crazy.  She has seven kids!!!" Glad I could relieve the monotony of her existence for a brief moment.

After an excruciating 56 minutes of answering questions and pulling paperwork out of files, Miss Monotone drones, "Your healthcare application has now been completed..."




"your application cannot be submitted because our verification system is currently down.  You are welcome to log in to your account at and submit it there."

"But I don't have a account.  That's why I called you.  I can't create an account."

"We encourage you to keep trying."

And so it goes.  That exchange took place a month ago.  I have since managed to make it through the line, create an account and even enroll.  For a mere $203 a month ($88 more than I'm paying now) I can get a policy with a $6350 deductible.

Here's the catch, though, I haven't managed to actually PAY for my policy, which, of course, means that I do not, in fact, have a policy for next year.  No premium payment, no coverage.  But the "pay for policy" button on the site doesn't work!  I was instructed to contact the insurance company directly if they didn't contact me in "a few days."  I've tried.  No dice. Can't get through.

As far as I'm concerned, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"

Where's Ronald Reagan when you need him?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Two! Four! Six!

"Excuse me, excuse me!  Four year old coming through!" Steffen announced loudly as we went through HEB on his birthday.

He is four, and he knows that four is a VERY big deal.  He took his birthday very seriously this year.  What do four-year-olds eat?  What do they wear?  How much should they get for their birthdays?  These were all questions that he pondered in the lead up to his big day.  (He decided four-year-olds eat buttered noodles and wear clothes that say "4" on the tag, and they get LOTS of Hero Factory.)  At the end of his special day, he said, "This was my best birthday EVER!"

Evan sagely remarked that that was because he'd only had four birthdays and two of them he couldn't even remember.

But Steffen wasn't the only guy around here to have a birthday.  After Steffen's birthday on September 30th, Austin turned two on October 9th, and Carsten finally (he's been talking about his birthday since August) turned six on October 28th.  That's right, my three youngest boys have birthdays within a month of each other, and trying to make sure each one had a wonderful day kept us even busier in October than we usually are.

They all thoroughly enjoyed their birthdays this year, despite my failure to invite people over.  (I felt terrible when Steffen got up in the morning and said, "So when are all the people coming over?"  Next year, buddy.) They did get all their birthday perks, though.  I try to let the birthday child have all the choices that sometimes aren't available in a big family.  They pick breakfast, lunch, dinner, the Friday night movie.  Plus, my kids only get sweet cereal if it's someone's birthday.  Much negotiation, bribing, and suggesting goes on before the birthday child finally makes a selection.

Their official "party" was very low-key and combined.  It's hard to believe I'm the same mom who used to pull off huge parties.  That was another life.  Carsten, since he's the oldest, got to pick the venue, so we packed up and headed to the zoo.

There were cupcakes.

 And gifts.

Austin was especially impressed with the snazzy box.

And animals.

Everyone (except for Nathan, who was home sick) had a great day.

Happy birthday, boys!