New Year Adjustments – Charity

One of our end-of-the-year tasks in the PracticalDad household is culling the closets for items to donate to charity.  While we periodically donate throughout the year, there are plenty of instances where growing children find that what fit three weeks ago no longer does; those items are typically pulled but never actually seem to make it out of their bedrooms.  Hence, a mess.

The youngest had multiple too-small items folded on the closet shelf, and the eldest was collecting items for several months in the floor of her own closet.  Simply put, there were too many things in too many different places and it was becoming confusing.  What to do?

We resurrected a solution that had fallen through the cracks after a move the previous year.  There is now a large cardboard box in the corner of the garage to hold those items that should be sent to various charities.  I no longer have to roam from room to room and root through closets and shelves and after checking, the children can simply take their items to the box.  When the box is full, I can sort, itemize and get the items where they need to go.

Anything to make the logistics easier.

Keeping Tabs on the Culture/Music

Today’s culture is not friendly to raising children, especially in terms of exposure to sex.  It’s one thing to be able to monitor what’s on the television – and even that gets difficult at times – but another thing entirely when it comes to music.  The rise of the iPod/mp3 player, downloadable music and burnable disc has made parental surveillance far more difficult because of the lack of labels and also much more important than it was.    What are some things to consider?  What can you do?


First, be clear and explicit that if it’s in the house, it’s a privilege and not a right.  Two of my own have their own personal players – one an iPod and the other an mp3 player – and even though the elder bought the iPod herself, it was with parental consent and an explicit understanding that there could be unexpected inspections of the contents.  And gross failure would result in confiscation. 

Kids will trade CDs amongst themselves and even if you can monitor what they purchase, you can’t monitor their friends’ buys.  So I do take the opportunity to keep an eye on what’s laying around and have on occasion required that a CD be returned to the owner because of contents.  It wasn’t liked, but with the expectation made clear, it happened.  What if the CDs are kept in drawers?  Again, the kids are clear that while they deserve some respect of their privacy, we have the right to toss their rooms if we deem it necessary. 

Besides, that’s one of the reasons that I’m still willing to help them put away clothing.


 The simplest way to follow what’s happening in the culture is to simply sit with the kids and watch music videos with them or periodically listen to their favorite stations.  Likewise, some station websites will have lists of the most popular and requested songs in a specific period of time.  Listen to a few at random and hear what it says.  Likewise, purchase your own mp3 player – I’m too cheap to buy an iPod – and load your own favorite music.  Offer to share it with the kids and you’d probably be surprised to find that they’re really curious about your taste in music and much more willing to share the contents of theirs as well.  I was surprised that my eldest had Queen and Styx on her iPod.

If you can’t understand what’s said, and it hasn’t improved since we were teens, then you can visit a lyrics site.  There are any number available and most are up to date on current lyrics.  Most lyrics are still fairly innocuous in terms of sexual content, but others are more explicit; even the innocuous lyrics can be surprising given the constantly changing slang. 

If you run across phrases that don’t make sense, then the best alternative is to then explore the phrases themselves.  And for that exercise, you should visit urban dictionary, a site dedicated to the recording of the most scatological and sexual slang.  It is educational, appalling and sometimes even hilarious.  I’ve made it a point to visit the site on multiple occasions because of things that I hear from teens and this is from teens in a church and Christian venue.

An Exercise (and the links are explicit, so get ready)

I spent an evening with some teens and the conversation turned to Crank Dat, a then-popular song by Soulja Boy.  Some were laughing at the lyrics and others were confused at the "Superman" reference.  I was aware of the slang usage of superman so I was able to finally manage the discussion into male/female relationships – and the session would have been a lot worse had I not been aware.  I still returned home that night to double check the lyrics of the song and after cross-referencing, was astonished to find that no one had picked up on the "Robocop" term.

This is a practice that you can try with songs chosen at random, so that you have a sense of what’s coming through the ear-buds.

And in today’s world, what’s through the ear-buds can be corrosive so it’s worth the time and effort.


If You Give a Cub Scout a Pinewood Derby Kit…

With apologies to Laura Numeroff.

If you give a young boy a Pinewood Derby race car kit, he’s going to want to build it.

And despite being before school in the morning, it’s a snow delay so you say okay.

You ask him to get pencil and paper to draw some ideas of what he wants the car to look like while you pull out the peanut butter and jelly.

He can’t find a pencil, so you put the jelly jar on the counter while you help him find one and the elder sibling decides to open the race car kit box, causing a fight between the two kids.

You separate the kids and get the other child settled doing something else, and finish helping the cub scout find a pencil.

The pencil is brand new so you send the cub scout to sharpen it while you return to packing lunches.

He can’t get the sharpener to work so you go over to find it overflowing with shavings, needing to be emptied.

You give the shavings tray to the cub scout to empty as you return to the kitchen and you hear a crash of glass as the elder sibling – who’s decided to help – drops the jelly jar on the floor.

As you enter to see what’s happened, the boys start scuffling again as the older sibling squawks at and pushes the cub scout for walking across the spilled jelly.

When you separate the boys, you step in jelly as the tray of pencil shavings is knocked from the cub scout’s hands and across the kitchen floor.

The elder child then steps in the mound of jelly spewed across the linoleum.

You thank God that both are wearing shoes but have to keep them on amidst the shards of sticky jelly glass.  You have to have them walk out of the spill zone, spreading the mess like grape-flavored ebola virus.

You help each kid get their shoes off since they don’t want to get their hands dirty and toss the shoes into the garage, then quickly return to separate them in separate parts of the living room.

As you wipe off the shoes in the garage and return to start clearing the debris from the kitchen floor, the scout retrieves the kit box and returns to open it in the living room, then spilling four nail axles across the light colored carpet.

You respond to the yelling and insist that they not move while you run upstairs to don another pair of shoes so that you can carry them out of the living room.

The elder child sees the clock and insists that the bus will be coming shortly, so you carry them to the garage to put on their sticky shoes, then run inside to get their coats and backpacks.  En route, you look at the only-started sandwiches and tell them that they’re buying as you shove them out through the garage.

And once you’ve found the nails and finished mopping the kitchen floor, it dawns on you that one of them doesn’t have enough on the lunch ticket for lunch.  So you have to get the keys to take lunch money for a meal.

Or maybe not.

And the kids wonder why you’re cranky when the Pinewood Derby kit is brought to you that evening, because if you give a cub scout a Pinewood Derby kit…

Reacting When the Kids Surprise You

Early on in fatherhood experience, I decided that if I wanted the kids to believe that they could come to me with questions or problems, I would have to learn to control my responses when the questions and comments got uncomfortable.  In today’s smartass age, it’s too easy to be sarcastic and kids are looking for answers instead of sarcasm.  And as they age, they’ll shy away from conversation and question if they believe that Dad’s going to overreact.  I haven’t fully mastered it even now, but it’s a damned sight better than it ever used to be.

What are some of these circumstances?

  • When your four year-old pipes up in the backseat and asks "what’s a mother*&^%$@?"
  • When your fourth-grader makes a caustic, off-color remark (ignoring the paternal pride that it’s a really funny and on-target remark).
  • When one of your children makes the first reference to a sexual act, not involving intercourse.

When these things happen – and believe me, they have – what do I try to remember?

  1. Keep things calm and don’t blow a gasket.
  2. Where is this coming from and what’s the source?
  3. Oops, if that’s from me, how do I fix this?
  4. Is this something requiring immediate action or can I address it at a more opportune time?
  5. How much do they really understand what they just said?  If they’re asking, it’s safe to assume that they don’t understand.
  6. My response(s) need to be straight-forward and honest, regardless of how uncomfortable that might be.
  7. After providing the simple fact, provide a bit of morality to put it in context.  For example, that’s not something that we ever say, even Daddy.
  8. Don’t make it a joke afterwards or followup with some sarcastic remark.  For example,  we don’t say that someone is "on the rag", even if Mrs. Ferkley could be a spokesperson for Tampax.

This is an ongoing exercise and even now, I have moments where the comment or situation is so outrageous that my reaction overwhelms my practice.  But it’s worked often enough that I continue to hear them.  Which is what I want.

Getting the Kids Back on Schedule/Day 1

With the Christmas break ending and a return to "normal" in three days, there’s a need to get the kids back into the swing of regular life as painlessly as possible.  By painless, I refer to the kids’ eyes sprained by rolling them so much at Dad.  So today was the first day in a several-day effort to bring normality back to the household.  This is a cumulative process as just throwing them into bed on Sunday night after so much hoopla invites disaster. 

So how’d it go?

  • For the most part, they awoke at reasonable hours although not at school time.  The exception was the feverish one who slept through until mid-morning, and I’ll live with that one.
  • Each kid had their own to-do list with the caveat that upon successful completion and approval by Dad, they could have time on the new Wii system.  With such incentive, each took some care to assure that things were completed, although some items fell through as is the wont of all teenagers.
  • We were back to the usual sniping and grousing that comes from the younger children.
  • Dinner was held at a reasonable time, altough the meal didn’t come off as I expected.  Newly discovered leftovers left the new dish in the dust.
  • The family engaged in a "family fun" night as we broke in the new Wii system and this is where the wheels fell off of the wagon.  Bedtime for each was exceptionally late and if they arise at a regular time tomorrow, then there will be hell to pay on account of attitude and integrity.

So the catch-up tomorrow will be to assure that they at least get some sleep in the morning and a recurrent grinding of parental teeth as they  bounce off one another like so many marbles.  And tomorrow evening is also the crunch time for getting to bed at a reasonable hour since a late bedtime tomorrow would definitely affect the bedtime on Sunday night, the last night before school.  If that goes, then the first several days of school will be unpleasant while they get the routine back down pat again.

And I’ll keep you advised…

Getting the Kids Back On Schedule

Major holidays are a wonderful respite and in this household are marked by visits from out-of-town family and gatherings with nearby friends.  The corresponding school break means no need for the kids to rise early and their activities are largely on hold.  So speaking plainly, all routine and schedule goes straight to hell.  And this is always followed by the need to get them back on schedule and when we haven’t handled it well, the resulting attitudes and behaviors from the disrupted sleep schedule and routine have been unpleasant.  Face it, we all need our sleep and kids need it even more than the adults.

The return to a typical schedule is easier this year since the large majority of schools are returning on a Monday after a Thursday (New Years) holiday.  This provides an opportunity to ease the transition to routine by working it in over several extra days.  In other years, the New Year’s Eve event is followed next day by a standard bedtime the next evening with school the following morning.  Since the kids are more revved than a ’70 GTO, this typically leads to cranky and befuddled mornings that take several days to remedy.

In the PracticalDad household, the long weekend after the holiday permits us to:

  • Review backpacks (for younger kids) for any work that needs completed before Monday’s return;
  • Start a general clean-up of the house so that the household isn’t still a wreck for days afterwards;
  • Return to the general chores that each child has to do, including making beds and picking up toys that were left while everyone was caught up in the melee;
  • Return to the academic drills that were put aside for the holidays, which might include mandatory reading times, spelling lists and various kinds of math drills;
  • Return to the music practices that were put aside;
  • Work our way back into a normal sleep schedule with the difference between standard and holiday bedtimes shortened each evening so that the night before school is akin to a regular bedtime and Little Johnny doesn’t spend hours in bed staring at the ceiling;
  • Work our way back to standard wake-up times so that the child is hopefully back in the swing of arising at the required time.

Bear in mind that with older kids, it’s helpful to look at schoolwork before the break begins since they’re at a level that might require even more work over the holidays than can safely be done in two or three days.

While parents see a return to normality as positive and kids really do thrive with routine and structure, they love chaos and most are anarchists at heart.  So be ready for squawking and whining and some unpleasantries in the household over these several days.  Still take the time to play the Christmas gift games and enjoy the little time left, but this effort will make the return to routine more manageable and much less stressful.