pandemic diaries: the souvenir nobody wanted

After two years of being pretty darn careful, even for heightened Bay Area standards, COVID caught us. The pandemic diaries have officially been renewed for a third season! Welp. I'm fairly certain my son, and maybe I, brought it back from D.C. (I hinted at a follow-up post in my recap here; not the encore we wanted). And we were being pretty careful there, too—everyone was vaccinated, masks were required everywhere except when outside, if not particularly crowded, when eating and drinking, and in hotel rooms. But there was a fair amount of unavoidable indoor dining and nobody has successfully figured out how to eat and drink and keep a mask on at the same time (maybe these goofy things which, in hindsight, don't seem so silly now). 

When we returned home on Sunday evening, middle of the night east coast time, I was exhausted and had some irritation in my sinus passages and upper back portion of my throat. I chalked it up to the trip, the dry circulated air on the plane, etc. I woke up the next day to more cold-like symptoms (definite sore throat, runny nose) and news that at least one traveler had tested positive for COVID upon returning home. Crap. Elias and I did rapid home tests that morning (it was spring break and I am still 100% WFH so we were already effectively on a sort of ongoing lockdown). Negative. But because I was symptomatic I scheduled PCR tests for both of us just in case. Also negative. Could I have picked up a cold on a trip with folks who picked up COVID? Technically, it's possible. There are certainly other viruses circulating. I managed to work through Wednesday, taking just a half sick day on Monday to catch up from the trip (I cleaned two bathrooms and the litterbox and did a little vacuuming...this is what I do even when I'm not feeling well) and go to the drive-thru PCR test appointment. 

Wednesday evening Elias seemed more tired than usual and right around bedtime looked flushed and was very warm. We took his temperature and sure enough, he had a fever of 102. He did another rapid test. Hella positive. I took another rapid test. Still negative. We locked it down through the weekend, canceling numerous plans (I'd taken Thursday and Friday off already but I'm still trying to sort out if I can swap those for sick days instead!). Daphne and I both tested negative on Friday; by then I was feeling mostly better, aside from a lingering cough I'm still trying to fully kick. Neal started to feel a slight sore throat on Friday night but waited until Saturday to test since testing too early can result in a false negative. Hella positive. Like, seriously, the line was so thick and dark it put the control line to shame. 

Our house is really too small to effectively isolate anyone, and we don't have any friends with, say, spare condos in the area, but we jacked up the air purifier, wore N95 masks as much as possible, and, while it was summer-like for a few days late last week, opened the windows and turned on the fans. So far, Daphne continues to have no symptoms and test negative. Elias had the faintest of positive tests yesterday so he's still home from school today. We only have 2 home tests left so I'm tempted to just keep him home through the weekend; he can return to school on Monday either way. And I'd say he's about 95% recovered as far as symptoms go.

That's that. For now. A total of 6 negative tests later, I guess I'll never know if what I had was COVID, which is annoying when you think about a possible 4th booster in the nearish future. Do I get it or wait until any possible natural immunity wanes? But if I didn't have it, am I more susceptible during that period? I did find one article that might explain my experience, but who knows. As far as catching COVID after 2+ years of avoiding it, it's tempting to feel like a failure, but I'm grateful we got it after the vaccines and the boosters. I'm also grateful we didn't catch it in the fall or even winter because I think I would have felt a lot more shame, guilt, even fear, and anxiety, and that's a real drag on top of everything else. It's too soon to say our cases won't develop into long COVID but I will say we've all had worse bugs. So at least there's that. But this thing sadly ain't over, folks.


5 days in D.C.

I recently chaperoned my 8th grader's class trip to Washington, D.C. When Omicron started to surge right after the New Year, I worried the trip would be canceled as it had been the two years prior. But I think we just managed to squeeze in between the Omicron surge and whatever BA2 is going to do. Sort of. But more about that in a follow-up post.

I should preface this by saying that when the school started discussing this trip, and the need for chaperones, in the fall, I knew I'd probably want to step forward. I love traveling, increasingly longing for anything to interrupt the tedium of the past two years, and I genuinely enjoy chaperoning school field trips. I haven't chaperoned any middle school field trips, mainly because there haven't been many (none since the first half of 6th grade), so I decided that if my 8th grader didn't object, I'd volunteer. I think he may have been motivated by the false hope that I'd be able to smuggle his cell phone to him in spite of a no cell phone policy, but either way, he said he wouldn't mind so I filled out the form. 

We saw so much over the course of our nearly five days in D.C. I already posted a list on my newsletter, which you can check out here. For this blog post, I thought I'd flesh out that itinerary with some images and reflections.

Day 0: redeye flight from SFO to IAD

Neal and Daphne drove us to the airport on Tuesday evening to meet up with the other families, in particular the other students in our chaperone group. I was partnered with a teacher, which was great, not only because he was great, but because it was nice to have a parent-teacher combo. The kids were overall really well-behaved, engaged, respectful, etc., but sometimes it takes a teacher to get their attention and cooperation. Together we were responsible for 8 students, including Elias. The only challenge here was that chaperone groups didn't necessarily match friend and/or room groups. The kids got along well enough but they got really tired of my repeated attempts to get chaperone group pictures to text to their parents. 

Anyway, we made it through security to the gate without incident and had plenty of time for everyone to get dinner, fill up water bottles, etc. The kids were pretty quiet on the flight so I assume most got at least some sleep. Elias and I were prepared with neck pillows, eye masks, and ear plugs, but it wasn't exactly a great night of sleep. I was so tired when the plane landed in D.C.

Day 1: National Museum of the US Army, Monuments & Memorials on the National Mall, and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

The redeye flight was just a little over four hours from takeoff to landing, so no matter how you slept on the plane, you were operating on a sleep deficit for the first packed day. From the airport, after freshening up a bit, we met our tour guides and bus drivers (2 of each for the duration of the trip). Our Bus, Bus B, was cursed, as we'll discover why a little later on. From the airport we drove to our first stop—the National Museum of the US Army—by way of a cluster of fast food joints for breakfast and, most importantly, caffeine. We had a couple of hours at the museum before lunch at the Pentagon City Mall and on to the National Mall to walk around the monuments and memorials. 

From there we moved on to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History plus dinner at a restaurant on the way to our hotel. 

I lucked out and got upgraded to a single, private room, and honestly, that was a total game-changer. If my daughter goes to the same school and I chaperone her trip (or any other like it), I will pay extra to have a private room. That said, our first night at the hotel was a late one, since we got checked in relatively late and still had to debrief as a chaperone group, something we did every night after the kids were all tucked in in their rooms. I slept so soundly those first couple of nights (but still woke up tired!). My strategy was to get up and be partially ready before I had to wake up the students in the room I was responsible for (different than my chaperone group). That first morning I snuck down to the hotel breakfast before the kids did and, not to be a food snob, but let's just say I walked across the street to Starbucks every subsequent morning. The waffle maker, however, was a big hit with the kids. Later that second day I bought a giant blueberry muffin that served as my breakfast for the following two mornings, alongside a soy latte and a banana. I'd also brought some vegan granola/cereal bars. After the first breakfast, I smuggled a banana to Elias each morning (what hotel doesn't at least have bananas?).

Day 2: US Capitol Building, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the Inner Harbor for a Dinner Cruise

The night before, upon discovering that the tour company had not in fact secured us group tickets to the Museum of African American History and Culture, as requested, we decided we'd try as a group to get enough individual tickets for everyone when that day's tickets were released in the morning at 8:15 a.m. And we were successful! But first, we drove to the US Capitol Building for a photo op in our matching red t-shirts.

From there we moved on to the museum. It was packed. We spent so much time waiting in line first to get in, then to get to the bottom half of the museum, and again for lunch at the cafe. I mean, what else can I say, it's heavy stuff. And a few hours is not enough time. One also needs time to take in the building, both from outside and within. The cafe is excellent. I recommend spending a full day there, with a lunch break at the cafe in the middle.

We stopped at a general gift shop on our way back to the hotel, where we had an hour or so to freshen up for the Inner Harbor dinner cruise. Not gonna lie, this was not my favorite part of the trip—especially given we didn't leave the harbor due to choppy water—but the kids had a blast. A thunder storm was moving north of us so that provided a cool, if slightly concerning, backdrop to some upper deck outdoor photos before they sent us inside again. 

The party was extended for Bus B when it was discovered that Bus B had a flat. Another late night settling in to the hotel. Mind you, we chaperones also had to fit in phone calls to parents once or twice a day for each of our 8 "chapees," as we affectionately called them. We took advantage of the extra time on the boat that night to do just that.

Day 3: George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Arlington National Cemetery, The White House, and National Harbor

I was really looking forward to Mt. Vernon since this was one of the stops on the itinerary that I hadn't visited before (I lived in two D.C. suburbs—Springfield and Manassas— for 2nd and 3rd grades, and we returned as a family in 2019). As with almost every place we visited, I wished we'd had more time to explore. We spent way too long waiting in line to use our lunch vouchers provided by the tour company, and apparently if you order a veggie burger with a meal voucher they refuse to "dress it" with lettuce or tomato. Worst meal of the trip. The gift shops are nice but they were so crowded. And one thing I learned on this trip is that I am not ready for crowds! I may never be.

From Mt. Vernon we drove to Arlington National Cemetery. We walked around with our tour guide, observed one of 31 funeral processions scheduled for that day, and spent about ten minutes (too long) watching the guard pace back and forth before the changing of the guard ceremony in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We observed him interrupt his pacing to firmly request silence and respect from another school group chatting and giggling as they sat down on the steps, so that was exciting. Our group of students was collectively quiet as a mouse after that!

After Arlington National Cemetery we took a quick detour to the sadly fenced and barricaded White House for a few photos (hard to see the janky barricade from the photo above but let me tell you it is sad and janky and totally blocks the view of the bottom half of the building and grounds). When we got back to Bus B, we discovered that cursed Bus B wouldn't start. Bus A had already departed so the plan became this: get Bus A to the National Harbor—a 30-minute drive—before returning to the White House area to pick up the occupants of Bus B, the battery woes of which would be remedied while we too ate dinner and explored The Awakening statue in the very cold wind. 

It was a relatively early night back at the hotel where kids who wanted to could fill out postcards to send back home and to their fundraising donors. I was delighted by the size of the stack produced that evening in the breakfast area of the hotel.

Day 4: Thomas Jefferson Memorial (and cherry blossoms!), Arts + Industries Building, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

First stop of day 4 was the Jefferson Memorial and a short walk around part of the lake to check out the last of the cherry blossoms (wish I'd known about the bloom cam before...although, it would have been about 6 a.m. west coast time when we were there!).

From there, we'd decided the night before to check out the Arts & Industries Building

This was probably the only place we visited where I felt like we had enough time to look around. It was fun to see the kids engage and interact with so much cool stuff. The other thing I liked about this day from this point on was the walking to and from destinations compared to hopping on and off the cursed Bus B (the only downside to this is that middle schoolers are apparently not very good at staying to the right half of a busy city sidewalk; they're like liquid, filling whatever form they collectively occupy!). From the A+I building we walked to L'Enfant Plaza for lunch. After lunch we walked to the Holocaust Museum. Apparently there was another mixup with tickets, with only about half of the tickets provided by the tour company for the afternoon slot we all wanted. So earlier that day a group of chaperones had again snagged some individual tickets online (most D.C. museums are free but you still need advance tickets and total number of tickets at each location are limited each day). But this meant some groups, including mine, had to wait a bit. Perfect opportunity for my kid to call the other half of our family back here in Oakland; with all my energy focused on making sure the other kids in our group called their parents each day, I'd completely blanked on having Elias call home the previous two days! 

The Holocaust Museum, like the Museum of African American History and Culture and some of the monuments and memorials we saw earlier, is extremely somber. And we did not have enough time, despite allowing an extra hour or so beyond what was originally allocated on the itinerary. I like how both museums kind of move you through the space according to the narrative arcs of those histories. After the museum, we sat on the grass near the Washington Monument to decompress and debrief in reflection circles. We had dinner at Uno Pizzeria and checked out the MLK Memorial a little after sunset before returning to the hotel for our final night in D.C.

Day 5: Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center + flight home to SFO!

The cherry blossom 10-miler happening in D.C. on Sunday meant we had to omit an item or two from our itinerary, but honestly, I'm so glad we did. I think everyone was feeling the effects of our whirlwind pace by that point. We had about an hour and a half to wander around the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center on our own (everywhere we went, depending on the location, we were either "tight" with our chaperone groups or "loose" and free to wander around until a specific time to return to a meet-up point), with a check-in break at lunch (Firehouse Subs lunch boxes on the benches outside the Museum), and just enough time after lunch to watch one of the IMAX movies. We all thought we'd have a ton of time at the airport, leaving the museum around 2:30 for a 5:55 pm flight, but it was nonstop until it was time to board. Sorting 100+ boarding passes takes time, as does getting that many kids and adults through security. To add to the chaos, once my group got to the gate, excited that we were finally not the last group to arrive somewhere, we discovered our gate had changed and, this being IAD, had to take one of those weird, wide buses over to an entirely different area of the airport. Which was a real bummer because our original gate was in what appeared to be a much nicer, newer part of the airport with better dining options. But wait, there's more! On top of all this, when we got to the correct gate, one of the students in my group announced that he'd left his backpack on the bus thing. Fortunately, we were able to retrieve it but let's just say I clocked a lot of airport steps that day. I had just enough time to hit the bathrooms, refill my water bottle, and grab a veggie sandwich from a deli chain I can't recall the name of now. I also bought some chocolate I intended to enjoy with some red wine on the plane as a little reward to myself, but United's "contactless" method of payment is way too fussy. I watched Spider-Man: No Way Home, slept for about an hour, and we were home. I've yet to have that glass of wine, but again, more about that in a follow-up post.

Overall, I had so much fun. I didn't really know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised by how generally pretty great the kids were. They were well-behaved, quiet and respectful when they needed to be, polite and friendly when they were separated from their friend groups for one reason or another, a little goofy as this in-between age tends to be, which I love, never complained about all the walking, and thoughtful and reflective in ways I think they'll carry with them for a long time.