Single PracticalDad:  How the Scheduling Actually Worked

And even when you plan your work, as I had to do for yesterday, things don’t quite happen as you’d like and you have to improvise and amend accordingly.  Which is why it’s called management.

Kids appeared where they were expected and most work happened as outlined with a few bumps.

  • Child B was required to turn in grade paperwork to allow her to continue with the school play, but didn’t bother to make a print-out until time to walk out the door.  At which time, the printer broke.
  • This delay caused a detour to the scout meeting place to at least open up for the other cub scouts and parents.  Then the school play delivery occurred.
  • The dishes weren’t finished upon return home since the dishwasher wasn’t emptied of clean dishes and child A can’t safely reach the uppermost shelves.

So my notes for the future would have to include making a reminder to remind child B to get the paperwork out in a more timely fashion.  And then to either get a stool for child A or make sure it’s emptied myself.

But all things considered, it worked.  Not the most pretty thing perhaps, but it worked.

Single PracticalDad:  Scheduling the Night’s Activities

With the mate away for a week on business and three active kids, making the activities happen will require some choreography.  Actually, it’s more akin to a linear programming exercise in Operations Management.

The constraints are:

  • there will be a family meal together in some manner;
  • money won’t be spent on fast food, which is being held in reserve for an otherwise unmanageable night;
  • child A has a play practice commencing at 4:15 through 5:30 and since it’s a professional stage production, absence is not an option;
  • child B has a school play practice commencing at 6:30 in the evening with a 10 minute drive time, including a stop for another kid pick-up to the practice;
  • child C has a cub scout meeting, for which PracticalDad is the Den Leader, so absence is not an option;
  • children A and C attend a different level of school and are dismissed later than child B;

After checking the schedule and working through the other obligations, I’ll handle it in the following manner:

  1. Child A will be picked up from school and dropped off at the practice, with the PracticalDad coming home to handle other issues;
  2. Child C will come home on the bus and be supervised by child B, who is certainly old enough to babysit until my return;
  3. Leftover soup will be put on the stove to heat up and sandwiches pre-made until returning to get child A;
  4. Child B is old enough to monitor soup and is even now preparing the occasional family meal when she chooses – or is asked;
  5. Child C is old enough to set the table under my supervision, so the table and food will be ready on return with child A;
  6. The family will sit to eat at about 5:50 in the evening and can have a twenty minute meal together before the next set of departures;
  7. Child C can throw on his scout uniform before leaving – or even take it with him – to pick up the child B friend and make the school play drop-off;
  8. Child C and I will do scouts and return home to child B, who can be alone for 75 minutes to do homework and take care of the dishes;
  9. On returning, I can check out completed homework and check on dishes while child C takes a bath and prepares for bed;
  10. Child B will be brought home by the parents of the friend that we picked up for the evening play practice.

By this point, two of them should be about ready for bed when the last child arrives home.  Then we assure that the regular daily tasks – clothing and lunches – are ready for the following morning.  Those things don’t just go away amidst the bedlam.

It sounds crazy – and it really is – but the reality is that we don’t permit the children to take on too many activities.  We have said no to requests for more activities and have forced them to finish activities that they’d started and found they didn’t enjoy; at the expense of trying something else.  This is simply what can happen on an evening when the varied interests of three children collide.

And the climax to the evening will be a well-deserved beer while planning the next day’s forays as a single parent.

A Single PracticalDad

With fathers stepping up more and mothers in the workforce, expect to also spend time managing the family activities while mom’s away.  And with sufficient planning and preparation, there’s no reason that it should be a terrible experience.  It can frankly be liberating to realize that you can also manage it successfully.

Again, the key is to know the calendar, schedule and routine and then plan accordingly.

The situation is easiest when the children are young and not involved in activities.  Remember that kids do best when they have a routine to follow and knowing that routine is important since the kids are liable to miss Mom, which can throw them off.  If you have your own activities apart from work, then you should consider just foregoing them during the absence in order to lessen the stress.  When you get home with the kids, get dinner ready and then after feeding them, start the bathing process.  Understand that small children shouldn’t be left alone in a bathtub, so don’t expect to do other things while that process is ongoing.  After bathing, then pull together clothing for the next day and make any other preparations requiring light in the child’s room.  When you finish tucking in the kids, then you move to preparations for the next day – making lunches, cleaning up, whatever necessary.  And then top it off by looking at the next day’s schedule again.

If the kids are old enough to have activities, then what happens is akin to choreography.  Activities implies school, which means that one of the first things that happens on your arrival is a review of the backpack.  What homework is there and when is it due?  Are there forms to return or announcements that require an update of the family calendar?  In the PracticalDad household, all good things flow from the schoolwork.  When that doesn’t happen, other things don’t happen. 

Where do they have to be and when, and how does dinner happen?  Is there the opportunity to sit for a brief meal together or will it happen on the road?  While I do sometimes spring for fast food in a pinch, I try to avoid it if possible and have even packed sandwiches for the car ride.  The backpack is everpresent and those not involved in the activity can finish schoolwork while the other(s) do their thing.  Along with the backpack should also be other activities for after the schoolwork, including books, toys and electronic devices.

If you’ve looked ahead, you have the time to arrange other transportation if possible.  Can other parents split driving?  Can you call in a favor from a trusted friend?  These do make life easier.

When the activities are done, then the bath/shower/bedtime prep can occur.  Part of this preparation is seeing what the next day’s clothing will be.  Your kids might be old enough to complain that they can dress themselves without your help and why do you always insist on treating them like children? Thank you!  However, they are young enough to complain the next morning if they don’t have clean underwear and how can you be such a slackard for not making sure that I have clean underwear at least?  Thanks alot!  If your kids pack, this would also be the opportunity to have lunches made, whether by you or them.

When they are finally almost ready for bed – or in bed – then you can move on preparing for tomorrow and again, checking the calendar and planning accordingly.

These days will wear you out and these are clearly the times when you simply have to suck it up and make it happen.  But the satisfaction from making it happen is worth the wear. 

Plan on it.


When Is a PracticalDad Working?

Many people nowadays poke fun at the old model of fatherhood, with Dad ensconced on the sofa watching television.  Al Bundy brought it to high art as he inserted his hand into his pants.

And I even bought into it, not watching television as I believed that there was always something else to be done.  And there always will be.  But as the children have aged, it has become the occasional treat to sit with them as they watch something.  Part of being a father is sometimes just having a presence and enjoying the moment with the kids.  In this instance, we’re watching a rerun of Goldfinger.

And after I put down the laptop, I’ll sit here without my hand in my pants.


PracticalDad:  What Am I Again?

Although I love my family dearly and do appreciate the opportunity to be at home, it has created awkward and confusing situations.  After 14 years of being the Stay-at-home Dad/primary caregiver/Mister Mom/whatever, I can now officially declare myself a writer.  If nothing else, it’s certainly easier than any of the other titles in the past. 

Women can identify themselves in any number of ways:  mother/wife/careerist/hobbyist/whatever.  Unfortunately, men identify themselves by what they do.  A guy could introduce himself as a circus carnie and other men would nod approvingly, thinking man, all the fries he wants and he doesn’t have to shave.  Suh-weet.  There have been points in the past 14 years when I’ve truly wondered what an appropriate title would someone in my position would be, acceptable to both society and me.  Unfortunately, the two haven’t routinely intersected.

Shortly after starting this experience, I went to the hospital for a routine pre-operative visit.  The clerk taking the necessary background information was a blue-haired older woman who resembled Mary Worth and the interview proceeded apace until she asked my occupation.  When I replied "homemaker", she refused to enter the answer and stated "oh, we can’t do that."  She refused to acknowledge that answer and we ended up compromising on student since I’d also gone back to school for a teaching certificate.  After that, I ran into any number of other situations in which the title of my occupation was debatable.  So what other titles have gone past?

  • A pastor once introduced as my wife’s wife, for which he immediately apologized.
  • A housefather, to which I immediately thought:  great, and my children are members of a group home.
  • A Superdad, which just made me uncomfortable.
  • Mister Mom, which I resent since I look lousy in make-up and sweats.

What about just plain Dad?  I’m uncomfortable with that sole word as occupation since every guy with a child is a Dad.  The fact that I’m home with the kids a lot more doesn’t give me the right to use that word, as though I’m somehow more qualified than all of the other guys.  So I adopted the socially acceptable Stay-at-home Dad and stayed with it. 

And now, I’m like the other guys who have a title to go with the occupation.  And I’ve also formalized the title PracticalDad.  It by no means makes me a better father, but one who’s a lot more experienced with the daily stuff than most.

PracticalDad Scheduling:  Revisions

When you do schedule, it’s helpful to look at the other commitments around whatever appointment that you make.

With multiple children at the November/December timeframe, life takes on a frenetic pace.  After making the Christmas photo appointment the other day, the PracticalDad was reminded that with family or children photos, additional cushion time must be allowed.  Children and babies don’t cooperate or the parent doesn’t get the photo poses that are wanted, or outfits have to be changed which leads to a longer studio time than is typically expected. 

Since we’re a month ahead of time, the appointment has been changed to later in the day so that other appointments aren’t missed.  It pays to check and check again.

PracticalDad Scheduling:  Ahead of the Curve

Apart from the daily routine of who has to be where, a PracticalDad has to pay attention to specific seasonal activities and get ahead of the curve in scheduling.  If you don’t, then life will be more chaotic as deadlines approach.

These events typically occur in the late summer and fall and the demand amongst families is such that it pays to act ahead of time.  What are these events?

  • Back to school sales.  The advertising for these begins in late July and into August and if you delay, then much of the mercandise – school supplies and clothing – will be largely picked over and unavailable.
  • Flu vaccinations.  The Centers for Disease Control now recommend that all children under the age of five receive flu vaccine, although it doesn’t have to be a shot anymore.  Most pediatricians have a nasal vaccine available, called Flumist, which is simply sprayed up both of the nostrils.  The vaccines are typically available from September through December; since the flu "season" commences in January and it takes several weeks for the antibodies to develop after vaccination.  It pays to contact your family physician starting early September to see what their particular schedule is.
  • Christmas photos.  Again, it pays to have the photos done early enough so that you can enclose them with the Christmas cards if that is your habit.  Since it takes several weeks for them to be developed and returned, having them done in December makes the card deadline difficult.  It pays to contact your photography studio starting in September, especially if the children are in school and have to have after-school or weekend appointments, which are more in demand that daytime, middle of the week.

These are the types of appointments that you have to consider when you first start reviewing the new calendar; this PracticalDad’s experience is that it even pays to note the appointment calls for a specific date.

A PracticalDad Look at Scheduling

As I said in an earlier article (Career Training for a PracticalDad), when you move to more than one child, your most critical skill is time and logistics management.

Almost every parent wants to see their child experience new things and find their niche.  And while this is entirely understandable, it gets dicey when more than one child is introduced into the scheduling mix.  It’s at that moment that the parent has to consider overload for both the child and the family.  Does the child really need another activity?  What’s the impact on the other members of the family, especially younger siblings?  Does it ruin the ability of the family to have a regular mealtime, one of the true necessities for a successful family?

While we live in a digital and wireless age, the most crucial element is the old-fashioned family calendar clearly displayed in a prominent place.  The PracticalDad preference is the 18×24  inch wall variety available in any office supply store and hung on the kitchen wall.  This is clearly an analog method in a digital age, but it serves several purposes.

  • It teaches the kids how to read a calendar.
  • When they’re older, it relieves you of having to constantly open the daytimer or Blackberry/Palm when they ask whether they can go to the mall, game, friend’s house, etc.  They can at least see if something else is happening before even coming to you.
  • It visibly displays for them that there are others in the family and that these others also have lives, an important lesson in the typically self-obsessed child and teen.  They might not appreciate it, but at least they can see it.
  • It introduces them into the world of scheduling and learning how to make use of blocks of time.

When it comes to calendars, the PracticalDad has come to prefer the calendar based upon the academic year – September through August – since the kids’ activities usually revolve around school. 

So what doe the PracticalDad do?

  1. Starting in July, purchase an academic year calendar at an office supply store and then begin to review the months.  When is Christmas?  When is Easter?  Even if you aren’t religious, many school systems base their Winter and Spring vacation periods around these holidays.
  2. When the school district or preschool sends home a calendar at the beginning of the year, start the first review by getting the in-service days and holidays marked on the family calendar. 
  3. If kids are in different schools, i.e. elementary vs middle/high school, then use the child’s initial after the family calendar entry.  Different levels can have different in-service dates and dismissals.
  4. When the child starts to involve himself in various activities, obtain the appropriate sport/activity calendar and make those entries on the calendar as well.
  5. Keep a separate folder in the kitchen or office in which to hold all of the various activity calendars, and refer to it if there are discrepancies.
  6. Some PracticalDads might prefer to use a different color pen or marker for each child or activity, but this PracticalDad found that his markers developed legs and marched off to various coloring and school projects.  Some things aren’t worth the fight.
  7. If you find that a child has too many competing activites for a particular night, then you have to consider whether the child is overscheduled.  Kids do have a purpose in "goofing off" or "vegging out" and minimizing this time can be detrimental.  It also highly complicates your life and doesn’t teach the philosophy of fully committing to an activity.
  8. Plan your upcoming week each Saturday or Sunday and consider meal planning, travel logistics and arrangements for other children if necessary.  Nothing ticks this PracticalDad more than to have a phone call requesting last minute babysitting services from the PracticalDad’s daughter.
  9. When a child asks if he can do something, then take him to the calendar to look at it.  As he ages, you can simply ask what’s on the calendar and let him then come back to you. 

This PracticalDad has found it helpful to keep calendars for a year after it’s out of date.  There are instances in which it’s helpful to review it in order to determine how something has changed or when an activity occurred. 

And if there are other reasons than schedule to prevent a child from doing something, then you can take up that discussion.  And you know, it’s actually alright if you simply tell the kid not today, I need a break from the running.  They’ll appreciate it eventually.

A New PracticalDad Paradigm:  Think Locally, Buy Locally

The economic events of the past year have caused the PracticalDad and spouse to not only rethink the uses of credit, but also the targeted use of spending when we do choose to spend.  In a nutshell, spending your economic stimulus check for a new TV is meaningless for the country since the money ultimately flows to Korea or Japan.  If you do spend, try to assure that it goes to your neighbors or countrymen first.

One of my wife’s comments challenges the view that Walmart is good for America.  How can it be really good for America if all of the manufacturing profits on goods sold flows overseas?  How does that help my own countrymen?

Ah yup.  I can’t say it better myself.

The PracticalDad family has long tried to control credit use, and is adapting to the new reality of Pay-as-you-go.  But we moved to a newer home in the past year and have consistently planned to finish the basement, paying it with cash.  The day that we signed the contractor’s contract was during the week of Wall Street hell and stroking a deposit check required a serious gut-check.  As we discussed the project later that night, we found that we’d had similar thoughts regarding the project.  One of those was that in this environment, if we had money to spend, we wanted to assure that it went to local people who would benefit from the money.  It wouldn’t go to improve the living standards of someone in another country.  And if we have to purchase bathroom fixtures, we’d like to purchase the products of American companies providing wages to American employees.  So we’ll be looking at American manufacturers.

Racist or nationalistic?  Not really.  We’ve purchased foreign products when they were a compelling buy, but as we age, we begin to understand that we are, in a sense, neighbors who have to support one another when the opportunity arises.  We understand that domestic products are liable to be more expensive than some imports, but it’s our responsiblity to look beyond our immediate checkbook to the support of our larger society.  And if the quality isn’t there, then we will elsewhere.

So our cash burn in the next two months will skyrocket as we move forward with the project.  But local electricians, plumbers and contractors will also benefit.

And if Walmart is so great about saving Americans money, it’s only to make up for the fact that the typical American is poorer for all of the manufacturing sent overseas.


PracticalDad Economics:  Pay As You Go

With all of the sound and fury in the credit and financial markets, what’s the immediate effect on the PracticalDad Family?

A "new" paradigm:  Pay As You Go.

The effect of the credit crunch, and as of this writing the credit markets are getting smashed, is that credit will be greatly curtailed to the American family.  If you have any unused lines of credit, they will likely be cut or eliminated by the banks and other credit providers.  This destruction of credit, faster than the ability of the governmental authorities to replace it, is referred to as deflation.  And in a deflationary environment like today’s, the general rule of thumb is that "cash is king".

The PracticalDad family has long taken a stand-off attitude towards credit.  Mortgage?  Yep, but a vanilla fixed rate note.  Credit cards?  Only one major card offering a college plan rebate, paid off monthly.  The preferred operation for service providers – mechanics, etc. – is to go to those offering 90 days "same as cash" financing so that the purchase can be paid off in 90 days without interest. 

And I sometimes leave the house without money in my wallet.  That way, when the kids start bemoaning their lack of a soda/snack/goody, I can honestly say that I don’t have any money.  There’s plenty at the house and they’ll survive until then.  If there is an emergency, that’s what the credit card is for.

For several years, the typical family has had no savings whatever as they’ve used the house as a savings vehicle.  The expectation was that the housing value would go up and they would be able to tap into it for cash, replacing the borrowed money with the profits when they sold it.  Families will simply have to walk through their spending habits and decide what can stay and what has to go as they adjust their spending to the new reality.  This could promise to be a searing experience but has to happen as the cash reserves are rebuilt.

And cash will be necessary as the credit is adjusted downwards.