Dear Family and Friends,

I’m sitting here in my Lyft-enabled car (the second new-to-me car I’ve had to buy this year), waiting for my next rider. And it’s like I’m in one of those high-concept movies, like Deadpool 2, wondering out loud at the start as to how I got here. For me, it’s been a year of downs and more downs. Helena and James are hopeful for a Christmas Miracle. Let me explain. 

Normally, I like to start with the story of the kids, followed by Lisa, and end with me, but our family story doesn’t make as much sense this year unless I’m the main character, like Ebeneezer Scrooge. It kind of started around this time last year, when I figured I had a torn ACL, which was confirmed in early 2019. Since Lisa’s insurance is pretty typical of awful insurance, my decision to pursue knee surgery led to the necessity of finding a job with benefits outside the house, which led to two job offers in spring that were rescinded (I didn’t even know employers could do that). Lisa’s car needing a $2500 repair meant it made more sense to buy a new car, and since I had two jobs lined up at the time, I bought one. When both job offers went away, I realized she still needed the car, but I could wait for surgery. Then one morning, I woke up and could barely get out of bed. Fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees, and hips were all hurting. (Knees and toes.) And it kept getting worse and worse as we took our trip back to Wisconsin. Eventually, I had to go to the ER at Froedtert in Milwaukee. Pinched nerve, they said. When I ran out of meds and no one would give me more, I ended up at the ER at Mayo Jacksonville. Some other virus and carpal tunnel, they said. Several months later, I went off the steroids to see how I’d recovered, and I hadn’t. Now it’s apparently Rheumatoid Arthritis. Or something else. 

In order to help pay for all the new medical bills, I took a job as a teacher in Duval Schools (Jacksonville). I started at a middle school that would be closing at the end of the year. I got transferred out after it was apparent most families had already pulled their kids. Kind of like my job there, my own car died in the parking lot one day. Blown head gasket on a $500 car with 166,000 miles, so I needed a new car in order to complete my next new job at another middle school. This time I’d be teaching direct instruction reading to 7th and 8th graders. I literally point at a word and have them say the word out loud, then move to the next word, so obviously the kids love the class. But then it’s time to come off the meds, and when I do, I can’t walk or write on the white board or break up one of several fights at the school, so it’s unpaid medical leave time. Which leads to me sitting here in a rideshare car, making some money while I try the RA meds that are supposed to make my pain bearable. 

So the year wasn’t all that great for me, but I figure it can’t get any worse, really. Besides, my old car didn’t even qualify to be used with ridesharing because it was too old, so at least now I have a chance to meet new people and exhibit my excellent driving skills. So the glass is half-full, after all. But not with beer or wine, since I can’t have any alcohol with my new meds. 

With the context of why I’m sitting here waiting for my next rider, we can now explore what the rest of the family was up to as they had to deal with me being Mr. Crabbypants for a good part of the year. Lisa and the kids have been truly amazing in helping me deal with health issues, especially since we’re mostly alone. With no family or close friends here and a near complete lack of social norms in Florida, I am grateful for my wife and kids. 

Lisa is in her third year at Grace, and she is as busy as ever. Her extracurricular tasks have included two out-of-town conferences, two camping trips (one to North Carolina), and various after-school assignments. She’s also still singing with the band at church, playing raucous games of bunco with the gals some Fridays, and attending her Jane Austen Meetups. In the classroom, she has had to deal with getting new curriculum, which is always a challenge, as well as help out with the accreditation of the school. She does now get to teach one of Grace’s best students (Helena), which has been fairly positive overall. Then she gets to come home and hear about how I couldn’t walk from the living room to the kitchen or dress myself.

Lisa was happy we were able to travel during the year, seeing Cousin Nicki, Paul, and the kids in Orlando, as well as my friend Jeff’s family at their vacation pad (also in Orlando). Before I became an invalid, we also got a chance to travel over to Madeira Beach, the place where Lisa used to vacation with her family. Unfortunately, James was a little under the weather for the trip, and we never should have given him the medicine before we fed him at the restaurant (cleanup at table six). Still, we all got to go parasailing (one and only time for me). 

Our family made it up to Wisconsin this summer. I was barely there because I was either writhing in pain or all doped up, but Lisa and the kids had a good time seeing family and friends. We were able to see Lisa’s Grandma Grabowski once more before she passed. Lisa and the kids returned for the funeral and a chance to see family this November. Of course, it snowed. Helena and James were very excited about the snow. Lisa, not so much, since she had to drive her rental minivan sleigh through that snow. 

Helena and James got to try water skiing with Skip and Julie in Wisconsin again this summer, and we also sent them to Aquatics Camp near Jacksonville so they could get their water sports fix. Neither kid is too interested in ocean surfing or other activities that might antagonize migrating shark populations, and I am fine with that reasoning. 

I guess both kids are officially middle schoolers. Having taught in two local public schools, I am thankful that our kids are able to attend a small, religious school with high standards and at least one stellar teacher. There was so much swearing at the two schools I taught at this year that I thought I was teaching in Boston or in a Quentin Tarantino movie. 

Helena was elected to be vice president of the Excel Club at school, and James ran a very impressive, successful campaign to become a student council representative. Of course, these accomplishments mean more time spent at school for Lisa and the kids, but I guess it will look good on their resumes some day. James was also Grace’s representative in the Duval spelling bee, making it to the final round before he forgot how to spell “penitent.” If nothing else, he’ll always remember how to spell that word. 

Helena’s not quite as worried about spelling as James, but she is a little more concerned about competitive sports than her brother. She’s fast and tenacious, which means that her lack of height isn’t an issue while playing soccer or basketball. Plus, she’s still growing, and she might even be as tall as her Aunt Amy at this point, as well as Lil’ Kim, Shakira, and Tila Tequila. That’s some dope company, yo. 

Both kids have worked hard to create a YouTube channel, and while they may not become famous, it’s been good to see them create rather than just watch what others have created. Plus, since they’re doing it all on their own, they’ve both learned about video editing and marketing. Search YouTube for Jaeger Kids. And not those blonde, perfect Yeager Kids who can’t even spell Jaeger properly yet who have videos with 20 million views because they have a hot mom. Unfortunately, my kids’ hot mom doesn’t like to be in their YouTube videos, except to interrupt their filming to tell them to vacuum the upstairs, so they’ve got a few million fewer subscribers. But we’ve got our dignity, I suppose. 

OK, Boomer. In a year that has four people in their seventies running for President, I’m feeling kind of old. I just saw a picture of Helena running down the big hill at Boerner Botanical Gardens, and I can remember running down that same hill as a kid. Last year, I was hoping to fix my knee so I might get one more chance to hit a homerun in a baseball game, but now I’d be satisfied with one more chance to run. Or even walk briskly.  Hill or no hill. I suppose it’s one of those great reminders to enjoy every moment and not take anything for granted, like being able to mow the lawn without falling backwards into the pond. Every day that I’m not dealing with terrible pain or being asked to give someone a Lyft to a meth lab is a good day, and I am prepared to embrace the good days more than I ever have before. In fact, seeing the sunrise over the Intracoastal a few days back was almost as spectacular as running down that hill in Whitnall Park, even with a stranger in the backseat. A Christmas Miracle, I suppose. 

 

Love, 

Brian, Lisa, Helena, and James

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