Today I turn 44. Like each year before this, I want to take a moment and reflect on the last year and look into the next. In particular, I haven't written about life here during the COVID-19 pandemic and I want to capture some memories. I'll also look ahead a bit.
Before we begin, I've been very fortunate through the pandemic that my livelihood was never truly threatened by the pandemic and government enforced lock downs. I know the challenges my family has faced are nothing compared to what many have suffered through. I'm writing this blog entry to be a time capsule for me in the future.
I truly hope you and yours are safe and healthy and find your own way through these times as trying as they may be.
So, let's start where the pandemic manifested most for us, the kids. When it started my son was in second grade and my daughter in preschool.
The previous summer, 2019, we hired a nanny. We wanted the kids to go out to a bunch of different places over the summer vs. spending most of it at a single daycare location. So we hired one of my very good friend's daughter who was college-bound that fall.
That summer worked out so well that we decided to stick with a nanny and found a part-time nanny for when school started end of 2019. He would pick up my daughter from preschool, which ended after lunch, and they'd play and go on adventures until school was out and my son joined them. That worked great for the first six months of school
The when everything went into lock down (March 2020), my wife and I had to decide if we kept going with our nanny or shut everything down. My wife was deemed an essential health-care worker but I worked from home. So it was theoretically possible that I could keep an eye on the kids myself while banging on my keyboard.
In the end, we trusted our nanny to take the appropriate care (washing hands, social distancing, masking) that it really came down to money. We already had the nanny expense in our budget for 2020 and it looked like my wife and I would remain working (a bit more on that later). That meant we could and I believed should keep him employed. It wasn't right to make our nanny look for a new job when everyone would be cautious about accepting additional people into their social bubble.
That turned out to be one of the best decisions we made last year. The kids were able to go on a ton of bike rides, socially distanced hiking, and generally enjoy the beautiful summer weather near and far.
When I look back now, my daughter has done very well. There were many planned summer camps and friend play dates that she missed out on. But as long as she had her brother--who is probably her best friend (most of the time)--she was simply happy to play and play and play.
The initial lock down was harder on my son. There was an attempt to finish the school year remotely. Since there wasn't daily instruction, my son learned he could complete all of his work in two days and have the rest of the week free. This was great but all soccer events were canceled. He initially took it in stride but a couple weeks later (end of March), he started crying while getting ready for bed. He missed soccer so much.
Thinking about him crying and being unable to really do anything to help still makes my heart ache. Every couple weeks during lock down, the desire for "real soccer" would overflow the little boy's reserves and we'd sit together quietly before bed while he cried it out.
Fortunately, when summer hit the early pandemic surge reduced and his soccer club got permission from the government to start "socially distanced practicing". The night after his first practice, my son said, "As long as we can practice, I'll be okay with no games." And he was right. His team practiced all summer and fall with no games (until just two weekends ago). He never once complained. He was simply happy to have his soccer.
Quick funny story. In lieu of attending Sounders games, my son put together a soccer tournament of fictional teams where he played all players on the field and the announcers. "Chicken United" were the ultimate trophy winners but the "Atlanta Capitols" gave them a good run out. I wish I remembered all the names, there were at least 12 teams competing with fun and on brand names like: Hawaii Surf, Minnesota Water, Texas Bulls, Pittsburgh Bells, Nashville Superstars, El Paso Shells, Maine Lobsters. It was fun to set up camp chairs in the driveway with my wife and watch the tournament games as he played and announced the game in our cul-de-sac each weekend.
Which brings us to the return to school (September). Our school district, like many I've heard, went through different ideas until landing at fully remote school. Even with my daughter starting kindergarten and unable to read, I've been really fortunate that my kids can stay on task and are technically adept. I've heard stories of kids that can't type in their password so parents are constantly interrupted.
So while the kids manage remote school extremely well, I think I've taken a 30% productivity hit. That wouldn't have been so bad (again, all things considered) but it took me months to recognize the hit. I was getting over scheduled at work again. That translated into not enough movement and not enough sleep. Which means negative health impact.
Which leads to our final topic on the home front. I'm sure many of you have heard about the "Freshman 15" where a first year university student gains 15lbs due to being in charge of their own eating and new stresses. There's definitely something to big life changes and gaining weight.
I can think of now four major life changes for me that cumulated in weight gain. Getting married, birth of my son, birth of my daughter, starting FireGiant + pandemic lock down. That adds up to 60lbs and is simply not good.
I'll write more about this eventually, but 18 months ago, I recognized that working from home meant I moved my body even less than when I traveled to an office. The result was that I was physically getting weaker. I decided I had to fix that and found the perfect gym (again, more about that later).
But I distinctly remember my first day meeting with Chris at his gym when I said I wanted to improve my strength and reduce weight. He said "You can improve your strength here but weight is managed a home." Well, after 18 months of getting stronger, I went to Chris last month and said it's time to do some homework. I started February 1st. My goal is to lose the 60lbs this year returning to my weight in university.
Save for two scares, work has remained incredibly consistent with previous years. FireGiant has been a distributed, remote work company since the beginning so the pandemic lock down didn't change our day-to-day.
We again took on some custom projects that have turned out great but did distract us
from progress on some of our larger goals (
The first example I have of that is FireGiant's adventure with the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Quick refresher, PPP was a government project quickly put in place near the beginning of the pandemic to help businesses keep people employed as the pandemic force an economic downturn. There were some provisions that the PPP loan would not have to be paid back (or paid back at a low interest rate?) if the money was used for payroll.
Well, when lock down hit in March we had some very large invoices outstanding from some of our largest FireGiant customers. FireGiant was fine at that point in March but what about Q4? We decided to apply for PPP to remove the risk, knowing we could give the loan back if everything turned out well. We were denied the first round but granted a loan in the second batch of PPP.
Just after our PPP loan was approved, the invoices started closing. I guessed it took a little extra time for the big companies to adapt to remote work. That's when Kirk, my co-founder at FireGiant, said, "The patriotic thing is to give the PPP loan back now."
Patriotic isn't a word I use much but I really appreciated the way he put that. He was right, of course, and we did just that. The loan removed uncertainty from our future when we needed it and I hope it was put to its full use by some other business.
The second example, isn't FireGiant related but my wife's work. She was at one of several University of Washington (UW) specialty clinics as a hand therapist. At the end of the summer, UW decided to close their specialty clinics. My wife's position was eliminated.
This led to a nervy couple months as she was offered another occupational therapist position in UW that was not hand therapy. For the uninitiated, hand therapy has its own certification process as that is akin to passing The Bar Exam or getting your Professional Engineering License. She is a very accomplished hand therapist and was actually teaching a couple occupational therapy classes at UW. The job offer was in a different focus area of occupational therapy.
After considering her options for a while (there aren't a lot of job openings during the pandemic), she accepted the new position. She's transitioned incredibly well because, first, she's an awesome occupational therapist and, second, she's maintained an amazing attitude through it all. She's always done everything she could for her patients (pandemic or no pandemic) and followed careful processes at work and home to protect us from her potential exposure. I've been really impressed and proud of her.
The pandemic will continue to shape our daily lives through the summer. There are small improvements in the quality of life with masked up soccer games for my son and half-day Kindergarten starting this last week for my daughter. Quick aside, last night my daughter said, "I wish tomorrow was Monday so I could go back to school! But it's your birthday so that's good too".
I'm going to say that 2021 will be the year that WiX v4.0 releases. We're actively making decisions at FireGiant to get my time focused on WiX v4.0. On top of that we still have some really awesome internal projects going on in FireGiant, that I hope we make public sooner than later. We're busy, even if a lot of it isn't visible yet.
Here's hoping life gets more back to normal by this fall.
In the meantime, keep coding. You know I am! And stay safe. Stay healthy.