Stocking Up for (Swine) Flu

It’s important to keep the household well-stocked for emergencies, but what do you stock up on to address any household incidence of Swine Flu?

There are certain items to keep in event of sickness, but this is especially important with this flu season.  Swine Flu – H1N1 – is expected to make inroads into the Northern Hemisphere starting in the next several weeks after a jaunt through the Southern Hemisphere, which is ending its fall/winter cycle.  This is in addition to the flu variants with which many already have some immunity, so some authorities anticipate that in the event of a worser case scenario, hospitals will be busy, if not completely full.  By itself, having Swine Flu doesn’t mean that you have to have a special set of supplies but it does mean that there could be greater stress on the family and society.

The saddest part to H1N1, which thankfully so far hasn’t been as deadly as some have feared, is that it predominantly strikes children and younger people.  And this means that school districts across the country are preparing contingency measures to close schools in the event of flu outbreaks.

While this doesn’t mean that martial law is going to be declared and tumbleweeds will roll through the streets, it does mean that you need to be ready to take care of some very sick children.  So you may not have the latitude to get to the nearest grocery should you run out of something.

So What To Keep On Hand?

There are three general categories:  cleaning supplies, basic medicine and certain foods/drinks.

Cleaning Supplies.

  • Hand sanitizer and handsoap.  You’ll have to take greater care to assure that little Milo washes his hands after sneezing, coughing, wiping a runny nose or using the bathroom.  Don’t expect a seven year old to remember since it’s a royal pain in the neck, so it’s your job to do so.
  • Disinfectant wipes.  They aren’t a panacea, but they are a much easier way to wipe down common surfaces than lugging around a spray bottle and paper towels.  Keep the spray bottle and use, but it doesn’t have to be on everything.
  • Spray disinfectant and paper towels.  Wipes are great for smaller areas but won’t touch a larger pile of vomit or excrement.  For that matter, kitchen sinks and wide area countertops are better served by the paper towels.  Just remember to read the disinfectant label to determine how long the cleanser has to sit on the surface to truly disinfect it.
  • Disposable latex gloves.  These can be used to clean up the truly nasty messes.  While having a sick child increases the likelihood that you’ll catch it, there’s no reason to guarantee it by snorkeling in contaminated body fluids.
  • Boxes of tissues.  They’re more durable than toilet paper and won’t aggravate the skin of the nose as readily as paper towels.
  • Disposable cups.  Many kids grab a drink in the bathroom, so letting the kids throw them out to stop the germ spread makes sense.

Basic Medicine.

  • Extra supply of childrens’ ibuprofen and childrens’ acetaminophen (childrens’ Tylenol).  These help to control higher fevers and limit discomfort, but they don’t actually cure the virus.  That said, if you have one or more kids sicker for a longer period, then you can kill a bottle faster than you can kill the virus.

Food Items.

  • Pedialyte and Gatorade.  Children with flu might have to be hospitalized for no other reason than to address dehydration, so working to avoid this is imperative.  And while additional amounts of water at home might provide hydration, the water doesn’t replenish the electrolytes and minerals lost to volume vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Clear broth, weak soups and applesauce.  Even if nausea has relented, the wrong kinds of foods can aggravate the stomach and cause a recurrence.  Cream based soups – those with dairy content – and those with lots of solid ingredients could create problems, so it’s best to stay with bouillion and weak soups.
  • Apple juice.  It’s not a thick or highly acidic fruit juice that could exacerbate nausea and vomiting and is helpful to mix with Pedialyte, which some kids find to have an unpleasant taste.
  • Plain crackers, such as saltines.  It’s easy to run out of bread, but a package of crackers can last among sick kids for much longer.
  • Clear carbonated drinks, such as ginger ale and Sprite. 

This isn’t a comprehensive list and doesn’t address every last contingency.  But it can provide a basic level and a departure point for families to consider.


Clothes Shopping with the Kids

There are few things as intimidating for a father as clothes shopping with the kids.  Minding antsy children, assessing appropriateness and checking what fits can scare most guys.  That doesn’t even touch the fear about crippling your kid’s lifetime self-worth with a poor choice of fashion.  But there are some things to remember – and do – that can make it more manageable and less fearful.

Setting the Stage

Shopping for clothing doesn’t begin when you walk into the store.

  • Before you leave the house, know what you need to buy.  That means reviewing the clothing that they have so that you aren’t spending hard-earned money on yet another pair of jeans or hoodie.  That also means knowing where you want to shop and how much time you have to reasonably accomplish what you want.  If it’s too long, be prepared to go on multiple trips.
  • If the kids are older, set groundrules on what’s acceptable school clothing and what’s not acceptable.  If you’re not certain about a school’s policy, check the district website for their clothing standards and if necessary, take a copy in your hip pocket.  Then go over your own family’s standards.  In the PracticalDad family, that means no low-slung pants, no shirts with messages, no ripped clothing – no, if ripped jeans are cool, we’ll stop at Goodwill and I’ll slash them myself, thank you – and no skulls.  I can live with black jeans or a stylish black shirt, but goth is as much a mindset as a fashion.
  • Do the kids even need to come along at all?  Some families I’ve known with very small children practice "hit and run" shopping with the parents swooping in to buy what looks like it will fit, then returning the non-fits after trying things on at home.  There are two disadvantages to this:  first, a child who is sensitive to how things feel – I hate this collar, my shoes are too tight, I don’t like how these socks feel – should come along so that you can determine whether something is going to create problems.  Donating never-worn clothing to charity is a frustrating waste of money.  Second, you have to really maintain control of the receipts and know which stores provided which items.
  • Like Dirty Harry said, a man’s gotta know his limitations.  It’s one thing to go for the daily wear, but if you have a limited sense of fashion-sense, then let your mate worry about the high fashions.  If my eldest went with me, she’d be perpetually dressed in a habit and wimple.
  • Kids do better when they know their expectations, so go over behavior groundrules with them beforehand.  The first rule is that there’s no hide-and-seek at all.
  • Then make sure that they know the consequences of misbehavior.  Loss of promised rewards – if I don’t have a problem at Kmart, then we’ll stop at the toy section – is better than the hoopla and public angst of having to remove a favorite toy. 
  • Let the kids choose favorite toys or books to take along so that they can be occupied while there.

At the Store

  • If you have multiple children, consider the age-order in which you shop.  Smaller children have a shorter attention-span – and fuse – and won’t last as long as older kids.  Additionally, the older kids can even chip in with finding clothing.  Understand that you’re going to be interrupted and feel like a pinball but this is just another of the ways that you’re teaching the kids.  I’m now finding that the older ones can point out what’s unacceptable in school culture; and if it fits within the school and family parameters, then why not let the kids be fashionable?  By the time that kids are in middle elementary school, even the boys are starting to pay attention to what’s in.  Please Dad, can I get some boxers?  I hate the tighty-whities!
  • When you’ve finished shopping for the younger ones, they can read or play with their toys while you attend to the older kids.
  • Find a spot in which you can keep an eye on the kids while you attend to the clothing.  They’ll simply have to move with you to an extent as you can’t afford to let them to wander.  A missing child is absolutely terrifying, trust me. 
  • Follow through on the pre-set guidelines about behavior and consequences.  Warnings and reminders about consequences can help keep kids in line, if they believe that you will follow through.
  • If the kids are old enough to follow and remember, take the opportunity to teach them about clothing and determining what fits.  What are pleats?  How do you tell if a pair of pants fit?  How do you find what shoebox goes with the cool sneakers on display?
  • Intersperse the shopping with treats.  Many large malls have play areas and a trip there during the shopping is a decent break for the kids and the parents, even if you have to monitor the behavior of the other kids there.
  • Don’t be afraid to cut the expedition short.  It’s better to have to come back than create a dread of something that just has to happen.
  • Take the opportunity to have a quick economics lesson at the checkout.  A credit card doesn’t mean that we don’t pay.  See how much we were able to save by doing this? 

Then yes, take some of the savings and get them a treat.

And remember that you’re going to feel like a pinball, but it’s a manageable feeling.

PracticalDad:  Needing a Mancave

A full summer with three boys.  I’m going to have a drink.

– Mother overheard by PracticalDad on the first day of school

You’ll love them and you’re willing to die for them.  But understand that the more time spent with them, the more likely that you’ll need a break from them. 

Children are many things, but you don’t often hear the reality about them either.  The large majority are born as egocentric narcissists and you are charged with the task of helping them grow into something better.  It isn’t easy and it’s only been in the past several years that TV shows like Supernanny and Nanny911 have brought the lowlights of screaming, misbehaving children to the screen.  Granted, these are culled from the worst for your viewing pleasure but there’s a truth in there that sitcoms and other shows don’t discuss.  Raising children isn’t easy – they can be petulant and random, testing their boundaries on a daily basis – and even the best parents can lose their temper. 

Which is why you should have a place of your own, a mancave.  Even Superman had a Fortress of Solitude, a place to go when he tired of having to deal with another falling airplane or Lex Luthor for the umpteenth time.  And it occasionally appears as though the kids are trying to push your buttons as frequently as Luthor did with Superman.

There was an article several years ago about the decline and coming demise of the average guy’s den.  There were fewer and fewer guys with their own retreat rooms, places where they could go to get away from the noise and fracas.  These places might look cruddy and dingy, but they reflected the inner guy.  My father’s retreat was a dank basement workbench that smelled of smoke and discouraged childhood attendance.  But with more men stepping up and pitching in, these retreats are fading as the guy sticks more closely to the main living area, decorated by the mate and strewn with the debris of childhood run amok.  One of the few exceptions is Brian, the father of Youngest’s friend, who tells his son that he’ll be in the mancave watching sports on the big screen.

And with the slow demise of the den, the need for another refuge rises.

So what can you do when the kids have pressed you to the limit?  How do you get a break?

  • Banish them to their individual rooms for a period of time.  Letting them stay together only asks for further trouble as they pick and annoy one another, further driving you to the breaking point.  And don’t guilty about it since a temporary Dad’s time-out is infinitely better than the alternatives.
  • Pop in a DVD acceptable to the kids and head to your room or some other place in the house.  Electronics will usually keep them in thrall to the Pixel God long enough that you get the break you need.
  • Schedule a regular time for a get-away from the kids.  It can be a night that the mate or a sitter takes the kids while you pursue what interests you.  Poker, pool, bowling or a good book.
  • It’s counter-intuitive, but let them invite other kids over to play.  Children don’t want to cannibalize playmates as much as siblings, so having someone else to hold their attention can buy you the time you need.  Understand however, that you are now binding yourself to maintain control of your emotions and actions.
  • Incorporate a regular time into the kids’ schedule for quiet, whether it’s listening to music, quiet play or reading/looking at stories.  That’s why I truly miss the naps that the kids took daily.

So there are alternatives when you don’t have a mancave available like Brian.  But I still gotta get me one of those.


Why Isn’t It Done?  Pinball

What makes me most crazy about raising children is the issue with estimating the timeframe on completing tasks.  Having one children is akin to playing "If you give a mouse a cookie", but the presence of three makes it damn nigh impossible.  The constant back and forth amongst kids adds considerable time to any particular task, especially if you’ve curtailed the electronics.

Today is a case in point.

Chores are delayed in order to play taxi for Grandma, who’s having her eyeballs dilated.  After toting, hauling and having lunch with her and Youngest, I get home to find that Eldest is just returning from a babysitting gig and Middle is back from the pool.  Meanwhile, the rest of the yard needs mowing, the bathrooms cleaned, dinner cooked, Youngest must review flash cards and Middle needs to start a for-pay household project before eating and being delivered to a work session for an Eagle Scout project.

The scene commences with Eldest and Middle commencing to their tasks while I start cleaning the master bath.  With one ear-bud dangling to keep tabs on the activity, I get to the commode when I hear squawking from Youngest.  He’s responding to tart language from cleaning gloved Middle, who’s reacting to Youngest’s repeated play with a stuffed monkey that emits a nails-on-blackboard recorded screech.  Middle has repeatedly asked him to stop, but it’s a challenge to see if Middle can be delayed in his task.  That’s about three minutes of eavesdropping, quizzing, and separating the irksome brothers.  Since this isn’t the monkey’s first offense, he’s sent to the high-shelf hoosgow for a five day sentence.  I return to my meeting with the toilet.

Right after getting back, Eldest interrupts with the news that the mower and gas can are parched and have been since Middle didn’t tell me yesterday that they were suffering when he finished the front part of the yard.  Because of days of rain and growth, the yard needs done today lest I then have to adjust the mower height upwards and move up the next week’s cut.  So it’s off for a twenty minute jaunt to the convenience store pumps so that the lawn can be done.  I again return to my friend and then move on to the bathroom counters.

Now I hear the sound of a brewing riot downstairs as Middle and Younger bicker.  My policy now is to ignore it until the tenor reaches the level of incipient violence, at which point I descend downstairs again.  Charge and counter-charge are leveled until a comment is made about an earlier situation that requires additional investigation.  I’m moving from attempted assault to Conspiracy and more time with Eldest reveals further behaviors that require correction.  The child in question requires discipline but since it can’t wait any longer, more time passes as I handle the offenses. 

Unfortunately, since part of the discipline requires writing apology notes to the offended siblings, I now need to help him spell what needs to be said. 

Damn, another five minutes shot and the clock ’til dinner is running.  Note to self:  no more apology notes until they can operate Spellcheck.

I manage to finish the counters and move onto the shower when the phone rings and it’s my mate with the need to talk.  Some things can’t wait and I settle into the dining room chair to discuss things when she blurts out Oh God, Middle has the Scout session right now.  And I won’t be making it home for dinner.  I hang up and run upstairs to find that Middle is happily cleaning off in the shower and has to be chased out.  After several more minutes – with no dinner on the horizon – I grab the other two and we proceed with Middle to the meeting site.  Because this locale is much further away than the usual place, Eldest and Youngest fetch the ball and some gloves from the van – every well-stocked minivan now carries a ball and multiple gloves – to toss for an hour until Middle is finished. 

After which, we scoot to a nearby McDonalds for fast food and to hell with the home-cooking.  We arrive home near dark to find my mate – their mother – on the phone for business and fixing a quick meal, which I finish preparing for her.  Now the evening routine has to play out with bath, catch-up conversation and dogwalk.

And tomorrow, I plan to actually finish the bathroom.  And feel as though I’ve accomplished something.


PracticalDad Solution:  Basic Math with Graph Paper

Education matters, and don’t be surprised to find yourself working with the kids on spelling, science, history and math.  Especially math.

For many younger elementary kids, it isn’t necessarily the actual addition or subtraction that gets them, but the constant inability to keep digits in the proper columns.  It’s something that made me crazy for awhile until a teacher shared an idea that I still use years later.  Math problems on graph paper.

This gentleman suggested that when the kids are doing math problems, they do so on graph paper.  Each numeric digit gets a single grid on the graph paper and the next number goes into the grid immediately below it, so the kids can see that all digits in the ones place line up, as well as those in the tens and hundreds place.  The result should be a decline in errors made by carelessness and haste.

And it was, which is why I keep a pad or two of graph paper available.

Using Code Language with the Kids

My wife and I use signal language with the kids as a way to surreptiously know that they’re crossing a behavioral line, but a speaker at a middle school orientation keyed us into another use of language:  codewords to signal for help from Mom and Dad.

Nobody likes to take grief from others, and kids are especially susceptible to peer pressure.  The idea is to provide a ready reason for refusing to go along with whatever dubious idea that some kids have concocted and letting the folks be the bad guys in the entire affair.  Your kid is removed from a bad situation and manages to save face in the process.  A win/win.

Most kids now have cellphones, or at least access to one.  Work it out with Junior that if he has a situation that makes him uncomfortable, he should get you on the phone on the pretext of letting you know about a change in schedule because of the idea.  Once you’re on the phone, he can use the predetermined codeword as he lets you know of the assumed schedule change.  When you hear the word – and you have to train yourself to actually respond when you hear it – you put on a huge fuss, chewing him out for something and ordering him home that instant.  Junior can then bow out of the situation on grounds that he’s dead meat at home and has saved face in front of the other kids.

A worthwhile idea, and one that I’ve now put in place.  Because your kid might be concerned about what others think, but that’s the least of your issues as a father.

Teaching Time Management

A large part of a father’s job is teaching, but much of what has to be taught can’t be done in a sit-down, teaching style.  And much of this teaching will happen over a lengthy span, by example, correction and a lot of conversation.

A case in point is teaching your kids about basic time management skills.  Time management is, to an extent, a skill set that you either have or you don’t and I know plenty of adults who are terrible at managing time and commitments.  But because it’s something that I had to struggle with while some younger peers handled it easily, I concluded that it’s something that I have to explain and model for the kids.

So how do I approach it?

  • Keep a large family calendar clearly displayed and make it a habit of referring back to it when a child wants to know if Philo can come play.
  • Talk with the kids early in the day about what has to happen and when it has to happen.
  • Keep an openly accessible to-do list and update it in front of the kids.  Let them see you doing it so that they learn by osmosis and example.
  • When the kids are old enough, make sure that they have timepieces so they aren’t depending on others to know the time.  When Middle went to scout camp last month, I made certain that he had a decent – not expensive, just decent – watch in order to keep track of time.
  • When I goof, I openly talk about what went wrong and what I could have done differently.
  • When the kids bring home a planner issued by the school, make sure that I sit with them after school to go through it and see what’s on the horizon.

Some things will come quickly, like how to use a screwdriver.  But others will take a long time, so be patient and prepare yourself for the long haul.  This is one of those things.

PracticalDad Solution:  Handling Abuse of the Plumbing

A life raising kids is full of trials and tribulations.  One of the unexpected tribulations of kids is the stress to the household plumbing and you’ll be amazed at what is going to go into the pipes.  Excess wads of toilet papers, paper and cloth towels, clothing and toys – Daddy, he threw  my bunny in the potty! – will gum up the works.

So what helps in the plumbing department?  Surprisingly, just two plungers.

Wrap your head around the fact that as a father, you’re going to experience about every bodily fluid and will develop a stomach for most of what comes your way.  But any other kids you have will freak when they see the same plunger used for the toilet used in the sink.  So take the opportunity to purchase a separate plunger solely for non-toilet uses.  You can label it with a sharpie to distinguish it, but you should consider getting one of a separate color; smaller kids might not understand the lettering and bigger kids will simply not pay attention to lettering.  That way, there’ll be minimal fuss over using the sink/bathtub after it’s been plunged.  You should still clean the sink or tub after plunging, but the kids’ squawking will be largely eliminated.


August Preparation:  The Family Calendar

While it won’t be finished in August – it’s actually never completely finished – the family calendar will receive a new batch of attention starting in August as the kids gear up for a new school year.  And don’t think that it’s not important just because your little ones are only in a three year-old preschool class.  The scheduling starts that young and the earlier the kids get a basic handle on time-management, the more adept they’ll be later on.

Because time-management is an acquired skill, not an inborn one.

How and Where to Start

Simple.  Get a monthly planning calendar from an office supply store, large enough to be readable and with enough space to handle multiple entries.  The wall-mounting simply means that it has a permanent home; kids have a stunning ability to make movable objects disappear and anything left on a flat horizontal surface will acquire enough stains to remind you of a Jackson Pollock painting.

Once you have the calendar, start listing all of the information that you know.

Since most activities for younger kids don’t commence until after the start of the school year, the logical starting point is the general school calendar.  These dates – showing vacation, early-dismissals and in-services – are typically available on the school or district website starting in July.  The great majority of school districts then supplement these bare-bone efforts with a complete calendar that’s delivered several weeks before the start of school.  Use this calendar as the starting spot for the planning.

Calendar Basics

You have the option of just keeping everything together and putting it the family calendar at one time, but you’re better served by building the family calendar in a layered fashion.  This means that you’re continuing to build upon the basic structure as the information becomes available; you have a better grasp of how activities and events interplay so that as new things crop up, you can mentally compare the times with what you know is already there.  It also lets you begin to work through the logistical requirements of how to get meals served and children One and Two to activities A and B.  And even decide when the particular activity has to be discarded because of excessive strains upon the kid and family time.

Once you’ve got the information on the family calendar, be sure to keep the original calendar – and subsequent activity schedules – in the schedule folder as backup when disputes and questions arise. 

As each new activity schedule comes home, make certain to add it to the schedule and then move it to the schedule folder.

Calendar Techniques

As kids are added, aged and involved, the family calendar will have to be adapted to meet the family needs.  What can you do to keep it working for you?

  • Use pencil so that any changes don’t make the calendar ultimately unusable.  If it helps – or you’re just that retentive – assign each child a color and make the additions in the appropriate colored pencil.
  • Get in the habit of a uniform response when the kid asks about being able to do something or go somewhere.  What’s on the calendar?  The kid can get into the habit of reviewing it and learn to actually make it a valuable tool.
  • Make it a routine to update the calendar or at least thoroughly review it on a regular basis.
  • Use the calendar as a guide for menu preparations.  Some nights are crockpot nights because of kids eating at different times, while other nights cry out for pizza because there’s simply no way to even prepare food.
  • Make it a practice to keep the old calendar for a period in order to refer back to it as the need arises. 

Don’t get flustered if the kid occasionally misses a practice or appointment.  The calendar is a constant work-in-progress but consistent use will allow you to add at least one more ball to the daily juggle.  And even the greatest jugglers occasionally drop one.

Temporary Dad:  Other People’s Kids

The more time that you spend around kids, the more time that you’ll spend around other people’s kids.  I typically refer to this brand of child as Opie K (OPK), or just Opie.  This raises the issue of how you’ll respond when Opie states that in his house, he’s allowed to:

  • drink Mountain Dew at 11:00 PM;
  • play Grand Theft Auto at the age of seven;
  • jump on the furniture;
  • raise holy hell until the cows come home.

And the first three are not theoretical examples, but have happened to me within the past nine months.

Do you want to be the nice guy who wants his child to get along with the other kids?  Or do you want to maintain some standards in the face of child protest?

I’ve persistently chosen the latter, and for the following reasons.

  1. Children lie.  When many younger kids find out that something they want is verboten, they’ll flat out lie in the hope that you’ll back down when you see that everybody does it and you’re really out of touch, so if you don’t want to mess with my daddy, you’ll let me continue.  The problems with this are that first, the other Daddy might completely agree with you and second, it’s not that kid’s house.  It’s yours.  And constantly bending rules to different kids leads to confusion and mixed messages.
  2. Children press and test.  They’ll knowingly say things to see how you respond and measure the distance they can take.
  3. It provides your own child with a sense of certainty about what is and isn’t acceptable.  There’s no question as to whether something is okay when the friend, Billy, says it is (but really isn’t).  The litmus test becomes simply, would Dad allow this?
  4. If their houses really are that permissive, then it also provides a glimpse of a household with expected behaviors.  They might not realize when they’re younger, but they perhaps will when they’re older.

Over the years, the various friends find that this PracticalDad tries to be consistent in acceptable behavior.  And that excuses about levels of acceptable behavior don’t fly but are instead met with resistance that can include banishment from the house.

For the record, Opie had to return the Mountain Dew to the store cooler and get something else.