How To Say No To Your Child

I don’t know any parents who enjoy saying no to their child.  The reality however, is that children need to hear the word as it helps them understand that they can’t have everything that they want and that the world doesn’t revolve around them.  In reality, parents with small children have to pretty much revolve around them but the kids don’t have to know that.  So here are some things to remember about telling your child no.

  • Be clear and firm with your voice when you say it.  Kids aren’t stupid and will note any indecision as much as sharks smell blood in the water.
  • Take a few seconds to think about things before saying it and be ready to have a simple and legitimate reason.  With multiple kids and multiple activities, I’m prone to reflexively saying no in the moment and then have to go back and reconsider if the child responds with a good point.  That few seconds of thought can save you from the reputation of going back on a decision. 
  • One parent taught me that if you’re saying something to stop a child from engaging in a potentially dangerous activity, use stop instead of no.  Some kids do understand that the word stop has safety issues involved while the word no has the automatic impression of Dad just saying it because that’s what he says.  I’ve tried it and it actually does make a difference.
  • Don’t take it personally if the kids respond with attitude or appear not to like you.  Part of being a father is remembering that you’re a grown-up and it’s your job to look at the larger picture.  It’s irritating, but I can go for days without being liked – C’est la vie.
  • Be prepared to repeat yourself and don’t be afraid to apply consequences if the nagging doesn’t stop.  If you have a legitimate reason, stick with it.
  • That said, as the kids have aged, I’ve tried to offer alternatives when the situation allows.  It teaches the kids – over time – that there are other possibilities that can be explored and found acceptable.  No, Johnny can’t spend the night because we leave for Grandma’s early tomorrow morning.  But he can come by for a while this evening and I’ll take him home.

Kids want what they want and that’s the nature of children.  But it’s our jobs as fathers to temper their wants with the reality of daily life around us. 

Fiat:  A Car and a Currency

Fiat Currency.  Global Reserve Currency.  Gold Standard.

You’ve heard terms like these on the news and in the paper, but what exactly do they mean?  How does the mess in Greece and Europe relate to what’s happening here and why should I even care?  We’re going to spend some bytes in the next several articles laying out the basics of the ongoing financial crisis – no, it never actually went away – and what it means to us.

But first, let me share a true story.

My father once bought a third car because his eldest child, my sister, was now driving.  Since he was having what I now recognize as fully blossomed mid-life crisis, he pulled into the driveway one evening in a sporty, low-slung, forest green convertible, proud that he thought he’d bagged a two-fer.  This car was a 1973 Fiat Spyder and it looked fabulous, the best that he could afford with the money available.

We soon learned the joke that Fiat was an acronym for "Fix It Again, Tony" and it was a car that demanded unrelenting vigilance and discipline, more than any other vehicle we’d owned.  It was a mechanically unforgiving auto and if it wasn’t assiduously maintained it would wind up at the shop.  There were still times that it was in the shop despite my father’s best efforts.  Because the engine didn’t like the Pennsylvania climate, he kept it in the garage and covered the engine itself with a canvas tarp in cold weather.  so the morning routine was the enter the garage, lift the hood and remove the tarp, recite a Hail Mary and then turn the ignition.

This car remained in the family until one winter morning when Mom needed to drive it.  She was running late, so she drove the Spyder for a quick run to the local bank.  She sat waiting in the drive-thru lane when she noticed the window teller banging on the glass and yelling at her while pointing furiously at the hood.  Mom glanced ahead to see that smoke was billowing out from under the hood where the tarp – which she hadn’t removed – was burning.  After the tarp caught fire, the engine soon followed and in a quick few minutes, there was a toasted Fiat blocking the bank’s drive-thru lane.

Fiat:  A Currency As Well As A Car

The dollar, as are all of the world’s currencies, are fiat currencies;  it isn’t an acronym, but actually the Latin term for "faith".  Each is considered a fiat currency because it is backed by the globe’s faith and confidence in the ability and will of that particular country to support it in terms of competitive ability, resources and capacity to service its debt.  That faith is demonstrated in the daily global transactions involving the buying and selling of the various currencies.  All manner of entities engage in currency transactions – companies, banks, hedge funds, individuals and central banks – and it’s the number at which buyers are willing to pay versus what sellers will accept that the valuation occurs.  And with world-wide networked computers, valutation occurs quickly and globally.  Because the Norwegian Krone is used by a country with solid governmental finances and an oil exporting economy, the world demonstrates its respect by valuing that currency higher than the Argentina’s, whose government burned international investors by defaulting on its debt.  It takes far more Argentinian Pesos to buy one Krone now than it did ten years ago.

And that’s the key to my father’s Fiat and today’s currencies.  Fiat currency is based, to a significant degree, upon the perception and faith of others.  Maintaining that faith and supporting that perception requires self-discipline and vigilance on the part of the owner to assure that it continues to be deemed worthwhile by others.  If a country’s currency gets a poor reputation, like the Italian car, then the global economies vote against it by valuing it less than other currencies.

How Did We Get To a Fiat Currency?

For most of our history, the dollar – like all of the other currencies – was backed by gold and silver and its control was mandated in our Constitution.  What that literally meant, after paper notes were issued, was that somebody who held a dollar was able to go into a bank and trade that paper dollar for a fixed amount of metal, either silver or gold.  People learned to accept the dollars because the amount of the metal was fixed and also because it was simply easier to carry paper bills than deal in gold.  Because the dollar bill was backed by the metal for which it could be exchanged, it had a steady store of value that buoyed the people’s confidence in it as a currency.

This gold standard was a staunch enforcer of discipline upon the international markets.  For instance, if America purchased more from England in 1866 than England purchased from America, then England could take all of the dollars that it had received and return them to the US Treasury for an equivalent amount of gold from the American government’s vaults.  Consequently, the US government would have less gold than could support the number of its own dollars in circulation, running the risk of default should enough citizens trade paper for bullion.  Dollars would have to be withdrawn from circulation and the result would be less money around for the citizenry.  So countries had to live within their means or develop new ways to garner wealth.

We’re not finished with the gold standard yet, but we need to cover something else first that makes the final days of the gold standard understandable.

What’s a Global Reserve Currency?

Many live by the rule that simpler is better and that runs to international financial transactions as well.  To keep from having to constantly recalculate the value of one currency to another in these transactions, banks and merchants long ago opted to assure that international transactions were usually handled in one currency only.  This is referred to as the Global Reserve Currency (GRC) and it’s a role presently held by the dollar because it serves as the medium of exchange for almost all international business transactions.

The status of GRC is bestowed by the world upon that currency which, it is view, is the steadiest and best able to weather the various storms – political, economic, natural – that occur.  The dollar became the GRC at the end of the Second World War after a meeting of allied financial ministers at Bretton Woods, after which the subsequent agreement was named.  At that time, the US was literally the last country standing after a second global war which devastated dozens of nations and exhausted the country with the existing GRC, Great Britain.  It was agreed that going forward, all international transactions would be handled in dollars.

Remember something.  The dollar was now the GRC but it was still backed by gold.  The dollar’s status as the "anointed one" was only peripherally related to its backing and it had not yet become a fiat currency.  At that time, the US had roughly 20000 tons of gold in the government’s vaults.

This system lasted for almost thirty years.  And in that time, the country began to persistently run trade and government deficits so that we were sending more dollars overseas than we were bringing in from elsewhere.  Our standard of living rose dramatically and we dreamed big dreams and tackled big projects but that meant that periodically, our gold flowed out of Fort Knox.  Financing the Vietnam War, the Great Society and Apollo took huge sums of money and those dollars printed were returned by foreigners for gold. 

And this was where the gold standard ran into problems.

Gold to Fiat

Somewhere around 1969, the government acknowledged that the US was going to run out of gold if things weren’t brought under control.  There was yet another meeting of international finance ministers and they hashed out what’s now referred to as Bretton Woods II.  The dollar – still the biggest kid on the block – continued as the GRC but it was agreed that all of the currencies would "float" in valuation against one another.  Gold would no longer be used to back the store of value as it once had.  Those valuations would be set by tracking transactions within the global markets and updated by computer, which now made this possible.  The dollar’s value now floated against other currencies, which was good because we’d lost over half of our gold reserves in the preceding thirty-odd years. 

The flip side was that if our country didn’t pay attention, exercise discipline and maintain our fiat, it would eventually become toast as others punished it in the global marketplace.

So What Do You Need To Remember Going Forward?

  • The dollar is a fiat currency with a value based solely upon the willingness of people to accept it.  That means that perceptions, beliefs and biases play a major role in how well it holds value – especially to pay for things like oil.
  • The dollar is the Global Reserve Currency, which means that almost all of the world’s business transactions occur in the dollar.  It also means that the dollar’s value is determined not just by folks in this country, but by others throughout the world.
  • Financial systems can change and if there’s a pressing enough reason, change relatively quickly.  We went through two major changes – Bretton Woods I and II – within a thirty year period.  It might seem like a long time personally, but it’s a blink of history’s eye.
  • Covering a Fiat with a tarp is ultimately bad for the Fiat.

Coming Soon:   Rising Debt – I Have To Repay This? 

Thanks to Jesse at Jesse’s Cafe Americain for reviewing this article.  All errors are mine and mine alone.

Thanks also to Kay, Molly and Burt for their input.

Fathers and Fear

Dad, do you ever get scared?

I recall asking my own father that question one night before bedtime.  My world was scary even without the constant news of inflation and threats of nuclear war with the now-dead Soviet Union.  I had a test for which I really hadn’t studied and there was some neo-neanderthal who made my life miserable in the hallways.  My gut was twisted and I dreaded bedtime because I knew that immediately afterwards I awoke to a stressful new day.

My own father seemed to be made of an iron core that nothing shook.  He took surprise with great steadiness and simply acknowledged the ongoing mantra of doom with equanimity.  I might even see him jump on the bed to Motown – a truly surreal moment – but I never once saw him scared.  Concerned, perhaps, with his face set in a neutral mask when something really big happened.   But I never saw him scared. I was surprised to hear him answer that question with Yes, at times I am.  Everybody gets scared, but I think that things are going to be alright.  He talked about fear as being something that everybody – everybody – had but he then added that if you stepped back and considered, the fear was generally overstated.  It was one of those conversations upon which you later look back and consider as special.

You had to really be there in the mid 1970s to appreciate it.  Rising prices and job losses that struck repeatedly.  School thermostats turned low enough that I routinely wore my coat in class and even occasionally my gloves.  And in the midst of all of this, I asked my father if we would be alright or if we were going to lose our home.  His response was that we would be fine and come through this, so you take care of school and let me worry about this.  I actually did go upstairs to bed feeling relieved and reassured that things would be alright.

It wasn’t until my adulthood that I learned and understood more of my father.  Being forced to move in with his grandmother during the Great Depression when his own father had a heart attack and lost the house.  Of the decades-long nightmares that routinely awakened him, a Chinese infantryman charging him with a bayonet aimed at his stomach; of having his full set of teeth removed by an Army dentist upon his return from a year in Korea and wrapping himself around a scotch bottle because there wasn’t adequate pain medication available.  And yes, the scotch bottle was given to him by the same dentist.

It’s especially during stressful times like this that I miss the old man and what he taught me.  It’s fine to be scared and it’s okay to even admit it to our own kids.  But it’s our job to master ourselves and reassure our own children because they both need and deserve to feel secure.  Part of that is because they’re our children and we love them and part is because what we teach them by our behavior, our response to adversity, will be passed along to their children.

After our eldest child was born, we took her to visit my folks at our old house.  Dad excused himself from the kitchen and several minutes later, returned with a bundle wrapped in a blanket that actually went clank when he put it on the table.  He unwrapped the parcel to show three 100 ounce silver bars that he’d purchased in the mid 1970s and kept stored away as insurance in case the economy went to hell.  It never did and the bars sat in the attic until he figured that there was a good need for his own grandchild.  And that was the final part of the lesson:  after admitting the fear and reassuring the kids, work to offset the problem as best you can.


PracticalDad:  An Off-Topic Side Note

As a matter of course, I try to stay on-topic and focus on the message that fathers should do more – and can do more – with the kids and household.  I might throw in some family/personal economics and the occasional general economic article but my focus is kids and family.  But today is the occasion where I’ll cross that line and touch upon something important but only peripherally related to family and kids.

Despite the absense of greasy smoke and widespread destruction reminiscent of the Second World War, there’s a massive battle being fought in Europe.  It’s a battle waged with electronic bytes and digitized currency transactions but it’s a massive battle nonetheless, waged between the financial elites and the European governments.  It’s a battle over who possesses real control of society, the sovereign governments or what some refer to as the Plutocrats, as engendered by the financial elites of Wall Street hedge funds and global investment banks.  At stake presently is the European currency, the Euro.  While much of the damage to the Euro still results from the issues that were never resolved at its creation, the fact remains that the currency is under attack by the plutocracy and their various financial instruments.

Why should you care and be aware?

  • The Plutocracy – Senior global corporate executives, Wall Street executives and global bankers – believe that they have gained control of significant levers of power within our own government and are able to manipulate our own currency and regulations.  The weakness of the SEC and Congress’ agreeing to TARP despite the huge opposition of the American people gives weight to their belief.
  • The Plutocracy is greedy and seeks to gain wealth at the expense of the people.  Removing the Euro removes a currency that threatens the status of the dollar and hence, the power of these Plutocrats.
  • If European governments cave in to the Plutocracy, they will be emboldened to finish their project of gaining full and effective control of the currency and economy in this country. 
  • This means that the great mass of our children will become nothing more than the financial equivalents of modern-day serfs, working at low-wage jobs to support a credit-driven society that ultimately enriches the few who control the banks and funds that govern the country through their paid-for representatives.

If you had told me two years ago that I’d be writing this, I would have honestly said that you were nuts.  But my children – our children – deserve better than what is promised by such a future.  And there is precedence for such a struggle in our own history.  The Depression of 1837 – notably remembered by the song Hard Times, written by Stephen Foster to describe the suffering –  was a result of the conflict between President Andrew Jackson and a banker named Nicholas Biddle, who controlled the Bank of the United States.  The Sherman Anti-Trust Act was later wielded by President Theodore Roosevelt to assault the Robber Barons, who controlled railroads and industry instead of banks.

So start to pay attention and exercise your right to speak and vote as you see fit.  Understand that there’s going to be real economic hardship ahead and that it will be our responsibility to bring our families through it. 

But this isn’t the first time this has occurred and if we’re fortunate, it won’t be the last either.

PracticalDad’s Crap-o-meter:  Teaching Critical Thinking Skills

Some people say that common sense – which I define as the ability to think critically – can’t be taught and to an extent, that’s true.  But while some are more blessed with a healthy dose of common sense than others, fathers can help the kids learn to exercise critical thinking skills throughout their youth.  Part of my job is to help the child develop their own native crap-o-meter, or what my own father delicately referred to as the Bullshit Detector.

I marvelled at my own father’s ability to dissect an issue, idea or advertisement and never found myself able to reach his level.   My mother was also blessed with a broad streak of common sense but didn’t express it as analytically as he did.  But after years as a commercial multi-line claims adjuster – an adjuster who specializes in property, liability and worker’s compensation losses – I realized that listening to enough truth-bending and outright lying developed my own detector to a level that approached my father’s.  You might say that it’s just an unhealthy skepticism and disbelief but to get at the heart of a matter, you have to move past skepticism and ask whether something actually makes sense; if not, where’s the failure?

I started when they were at an early age by messing with them when we talked and making outrageously non-sensical comments.  Gee, Elmo’s looking rather green today.  He’s not?  How can you tell and what makes you right?  This has progressed through the years so that the kids are usually able to tell when I’m bluffing even if they aren’t sure why.  Well, two of the three but even that one’s making progress.  And occasionally, I’ll come across something that makes me scratch my head and decide to bring it up for educational purposes.

Tonight’s foray into PracticalDad’s Crap-o-meter is a Yahoo article about Sears/Kmart’s new offering of a cash-for-gold service.  In an effort to make their products continually affordable to cash-strapped consumers, Sears Holdings is offering a service in which spare gold jewelry and items can be sent to a vendor in return for cash.  They’ve thoughtfully provided pre-printed envelopes for the items as well as a tracking mechanism to assure that the transaction doesn’t get lost.  But my questions and the resulting conversation will hopefully touch upon certain points.

  • Why would Sears/Kmart offer such a service and why does the cash delivery have to occur within the confines of that particular store?  Because they want to provide money for folks who need it.  And some of those needs can be met within their store.  If not, impulse buying will hopefully occur because that’s why there’s target marketing.
  • oodles of goodwill and maybe some sales?  Well, how does the gold vendor make money?  And if they make money on a percentage cut from the transaction, will they have to share some of the cut with Sears/Kmart for the privilege of making it available within the store?  And how much bigger does that cut have to be to make it worthwhile for both parties involved?
  • For that matter, is all gold even created equal?  Gee, do you know that the amount you’d get for the 10k bracelet is less than I’d get for the 14k wedding ring purchased from a high-end Virginia jeweler? 
  • What’s gold worth anyways?  It’s increasing in value or what it might be buy if it were dollars?  If that’s so, why would you trade it in to purchase items at a Kmart?

My goal is to actually make them answer the questions, even if there’s silence for a bit.  I might have to explain some things but the great effort is to have them talk and not just sit listening while Dad carries on a monologue.

The larger idea of picking apart and reviewing an idea or program isn’t likely to take root immediately.  But with time and persistence, they’ll get the hang of it and hopefully avoid some of the mistakes that snag so many others.

Outsourcing Fatherhood:  Passing Along Knowledge

Sometimes it takes tripping over one small tree to make you notice the forest around you.  In this particular instance, a game of Fiki football was the catalyst to realizing just how many small activities and skills are being lost due to the failure of fathers to pass them along to the kids.  And believe me, business has noticed as they’ve taken up the slack and made money in the process.  We’re outsourcing fatherhood.

Fiki – Flick It Kick It – football is a cheap little game available at Five-Below, a glorified dollar store that caters to tweens and teens with individually minimal amounts to spend.  Along with a thinly stuffed leather triangle is a plastic football goalpost attached to a base.  The point is to take turns flicking the triangle across the table and if the triangle stops with any part of it extending over the opposite edge – your opponent’s goalline – then you score a touchdown.  Then kick it through the uprights and you score the extra point.  What struck me was that this is the exact game that we played on the cafeteria table after lunch thirty plus years ago.  Almost any of us could make a triangle out of notebook paper, with the ends tucked into folds, and proceed with play.  The goalpost was made by touching the opposing index fingers then holding the thumbs upwards.  But this never made it to the next generation and now some enterprising nebbish is profiting from it.

Other companies are profiting from this loss of institutional fatherhood knowledge.  Home Depot and Lowes regularly have Saturday morning classes for kids, showing them how to do basic woodcrafts like birdhouses and pinewood derby cars.  Things are nicely arranged and laid out in the workarea, typically located near the tools that the farsighted marketers hope to eventually sell to the 3 – 5% of kids who take up this type of hobby.  Kids might be there with a parent or they might be left in the charge of the employee while the parent shops.  If the kid has a parent there, it’s probably a parent – father or mother – who has minimal access to tools and/or little knowledge of what to do.  Likewise, there was recently a series of books for boys and girls with activities that were fun, cheap and popular in previous generations.  Authors and publishers have realized that there’s money to be made here and are pursuing it.

Not all of this loss can be pegged to fatherhood alone.  There was a time when kids were together enough that they passed childhood’s institutional knowledge to one another, and that amounted to the imagination and games.  But other knowledge isn’t being passed along by fathers, either due to not having learned it during their own youth, fear or self-absorption. 

This is why we’re outsourcing fatherhood and turning it over to those who largely have no interest apart from profit.  The divorce rate in the past several decades, climaxing at nearly 50% of marriages in the early 1990s, has left many men without the fatherhood model upon which to draw in their own experience as a father.  Their lack of a father to share this knowledge has deprived them of that same knowledge to pass to their own children.  This is compounded by the fear that their own failed efforts will lead to embarrassment in front of the kids and the self-absorption of many men in their own activities.

Fathers have to do more with the kids.  This doesn’t mean that they should pick up tools with which they have no familiarity and have at it, but instead focus on what they do know and work on sharing that.  Sports, hunting, tinkering, whatever it takes – just utilize it and pass it along to the kids.  And as to fear, follow the old adage that if you don’t mention you’re unfamiliar, they won’t notice unless you say something. 

Then go out and improve as you go.



I Can’t Right Now, I Have to Work:  Playing With The Kids

As kids grow and the schedule tightens, it’s easy to say ‘no’ to a child who wants to play.  There is a long list of items to be checked in a finite period of time and that leaves little room for play.  But the reality is that playing with your child might be play for him – or her – but it’s actually an important part of a father’s responsibilities.  Well, mothers as well but it seems to fall more into the realm of fathers.

That was the case this past Saturday morning as I sat at the laptop and tried to write for the site.  We have guidelines on when the Saturday morning television can be turned on and I came downstairs to find Youngest ensconced in front of Cartoon Network.  After I said something, Youngest turned off the television and approached, asking if I wanted to play Fiki Football with him.  My initial response was a firm no but as I looked at his face and considered that I was sitting in front of a laptop on a Saturday morning, I changed my mind and cleared the kitchen table for the game.  It lasted for the better part of a half-hour and the accompanying conversation veered to school and classmates as well as the best technique for kicking the football.

Making sure that you play with the kids is actually important for multiple reasons.

  • It reinforces the sense that they do matter and are important, which is crucial in these days of harried schedules and blown-to-hell family meals.
  • It builds a bond that can help move beyond the communications problems that often develop as they age and push their limits.  On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself playing Horse at the driveway hoop with Eldest after undergoing several hours of parent/teen tension. 
  • The conversation that results from shooting hoops or playing a board game can be revealing to what’s inside their heads and lives at the moment.  In Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie writes in the first chapter about the typical mother’s habit of tidying up the child’s mind after bedtime and removing or placing the clutter.  The point is that this provides you the opportunity to see what’s on their mind.
  • A regular habit of playing with the kids creates an opportunity for them to unburden because they feel more relaxed with your presence.  More than one conversation about sex and behavior has arisen from just playing some game with the kids.
  • It helps you teach good manners and honesty when they’re young.  You can address cheating and sportsmanship issues early so that it doesn’t become ingrained.  I realized that if I was called away to the phone during a game of Candyland, one of my kids would reshuffle the card deck so that the next card that I drew was Plumpy while her card was Queen Frostine.  I became suspicious after two occurrences and finally confronted her when I was comfortable that that was the situation.
  • It helps you determine what areas of development need addressed.  How are the fine motor skills – drawing and using scissors – versus the gross motor skills?  Is there an issue with vision or balance?
  • It’s simply just fun.  Spending time with a board game or basketball helps them learn to pass the time without having to spend money or involve themselves even further with electronics which are sometimes both violent and/or noisy.

It’s important to keep a roof over the head and food on the table.  But raising the kids well is vitally important and play is an often neglected part of that job.



“Do I Have To Go?”  Taking the Kids Along

By the time the kids are in preschool, they’re starting different activities and sports and it’s a no-brainer to take the other kids along.  They’re also young and they have no choice in the matter.  But as they age and finally reach a point at which they can reliably be left home alone – and trust me, I’ve heard some hilarious stories of teens at home – they’ll assume that they don’t have to go along.  And you’ll hear the ageless query do I have to go? when you suggest that they go too.

What are some guidelines on whether to take the older kids?  Here’s what we do.

  • If the child is old enough to be alone and it’s a practice, then we let them stay home.  The proviso is that any homework must be done (and checked) and if there’s a chore to do, get it done.  If you have to stay – which happens with the baseball practice due to distance – then you’ll just be reading or doing paperwork anyways.
  • If the event is an actual game or concert, then we overlook the rolled eyes and have the kids come along.  They might not actually pay attention during the event, especially if it’s an outside sport with room to run, but they’ll usually check in to ascertain how sibling’s doing before returning to play.  If it’s a concert, then it’s another opportunity to learn how to sit quietly and learn the art of patience.  The idea is that they at least become used to the idea as a way to show support, even if they initially – and realistically – aren’t.  But as the habit sinks in and they age, they’ll spend more time watching and actually cheering for one another. 
  • When the child is older and it pertains to a younger sibling, I’ve even provided a rationale that was hard to resist.  There’s years between the two of you and as he ages, you won’t be here to see and cheer.  He’ll miss you and you’re going to miss everything that he’ll do through that time.  But every time that we come to see what  you’re doing, he’ll be along so take advantage of these events nowIn both cases of elder siblings, they’ve nodded and acquiesced to coming; they even cheered.

It’s irritating to have to contend with the deep sighs and rolled eyes.  But it’s important to hold the family line because kids need to know that they indeed matter.  Like many things with children, these practices take considerable time and attention before they actually take root into a deeper sense that holds a family together as it grows and ages.

Managing the Chaos:  Food

With three kids and three separate sports – soccer, volleyball/dance, and baseball respectively by age – the spring season is simply chaos.  So how to manage getting everybody fed in a decent manner, especially if Eldest is a serious vegetarian?

Yes, there are nights when fast food is simply the only alternative, but there are times when the wallet and body need a break from that alternative.  So yesterday was a rummage through the fridge to see what was available and the following plan ensued.

1.  Yesterday:  Thaw and cook a frozen turkey breast, cutting the meat off and freezing the majority while reserving some for sandwiches and soup.  The turkey carcass was wrapped in plastic and saved until this morning.  I also noted that there are 8" tortillas and cheese slices in the fridge along with lettuce.

2.  Today:  Using an easy recipe found online, toss the carcass in a large pot with a quartered onion and garlic salt and boil/simmer for about 90 minutes.  Then precut all of the remaining vegetables and add the spices in a small bowl for later addition to the soup after the carcass is removed.  As for vegetarian eldest, save some chopped vegetables and add to the lettuce so that the mix can be used with the cheese and tortilla to make a vegetarian wrap.

So as the various parties come and go, the food is ready for easy eating before everybody hits the door for where they have to go.  It’s not pretty and the traditional sit-down family meal is blown to hell and back, but it’s cheaper and healthier than a constant diet of fries and burgers – and fish sandwiches for the vegetarian.


How Much Of My Youth Do I Share With The Kids?

Kids are egocentric and so far as they’re concerned, your old life died with their birth but as they age, they can become more curious.  They want to hear stories about the family and knowing family history strengthens their sense of self and being a part of something larger.  But just  how much, especially with this parental generation’s use of recreational drugs and casual sex, should you actually reveal about yourself?  Because somewhere in that adolescent brain, your past activity will be viewed as a tacit approval for dangerous or unacceptable behavior.

This was brought home by one of my kid’s questions last week:  Dad, were you a playah?  When I’m surprised – and I really was at this one – I always try to determine what’s prompting the question.  Why would you think that I was?  The subsequent exchange revealed that it was rooted in an earlier conversation between my boy and his best friend, who’s akin to an adoptive son as well.  In the course of family conversations about dating, I’ve been frank that I was raised with the attitude of "date ’em all".  I’ve also been clear as they aged that dating isn’t synonymous with sleeping with said dates.  But this part has been selectively forgotten and now I had to go back and clarify things again.

I’m fortunate that my past is pretty clear.  I was the guy who got more than one woman out of trouble in college by assuring that she was removed from a situation before there were even greater regrets and I was typically "the brother figure" to many women.  I reiterated this to the teen but he kept hammering on the question of being a "playah" and it occurred to me that the other part of the question pertained to virginity.  I resisted the question further but as we went back and forth, I began to fear that failure to respond in this age of "friends with benefits" would be tantamount to confirming that I was sexually active as an early teen.  The mental compromise was simple.  Because you won’t stop, all I’ll say is that I was much older than you are.  His response was dramatic, demanding to know why I’d tell him that and that he didn’t want to know.  I’d cracked the box and given him a glimpse of a father as a man before his children came into the world.

How you answer questions about your past is your choice.  I know people who have lied to their children about their past and I even have a family history of forebears lying about an out-of-wedlock birth.  I also know those who have been open about their experiences and accepted the discomfort that comes with acknowledging past behaviors.  Whichever route you select, remember certain things.

  • Kids want to look up to their fathers and respect them, unlike what’s depicted on television and in the media, so always consider what you choose to reveal about your past behaviors and habits.  I didn’t know until I was an adult that if my own father were my son, I’d have had him shot.
  • Expect to spend time out of your comfort zone when talking with the kids about issues, especially when it pertains to sexual behavior.  This is conversation that you must have since they won’t receive any moral perspective discussing it amongst their peers.
  • Always offer a moral perspective to any conversation that you have with the kids.  It isn’t just about being religious, it’s helping them build a framework through which they can make the value judgments which are part of life.
  • Always offer a practical assessment of the risks that can arise from situations.  Teens have a notoriously bad ability to assess risk and considering potential consequences with them can be instructive for both of you.

Since then, I’ve reiterated with my son that I won’t provide answers to specific questions since it’s none of his business.  And he’s learned that if you don’t think that you’re going to like the answer, perhaps you shouldn’t ask the question.