PracticalDad:  Permitting Self-Defense

Is there a point at which it’s morally correct to permit a child to take off the gloves in dealing with a bully?

The local school district teaches my children that violence isn’t the answer and that it’s wrong.  I agree with that and teach it as well.  But the school teaches that it’s so wrong, in fact, that anyone found participating in violence will be dealt with summarily and harshly.  This includes the child who didn’t start the altercation, has a back against the wall and is forced to throw a punch in self-defense.  Middle once asked the elementary school guidance counselor, what if I’m against the wall and being beaten?  Can I defend myself?  The counselor’s response was no, yell for an adult to come help.  Well, he continued, what if there’s no adult around?  The response was the same:  yell for an adult to come help.  Here is where we part ways since there are moments when the adults aren’t immediately available and if they are, they might not be effective in dealing with the issue. So while I fully agree with the district that violence must be addressed, and forcefully, is there ever an instance when violent self-defense is actually acceptable?

First, how can I say that adult aides might not be present or effective?  There are certainly playground aides charged with maintaining the peace, but we’ve got first hand experience with playground aides simply saying stop that and then turning away as the mayhem continues.  To be fair, this wasn’t in this school district but at a Christian school at which playground aides would tell out-of-control boys to stop doing something and then pray for the budding axe murderers as the pain-inducing behavior continued.  The disorder led to my conversation with the principal and my wife’s discussion with the teacher – whose son was one of the bullies – when some order when finally restored.

The adults prayed as one of my kids was victimized, so yes, I can attest that adults might not be effective.  Even in this district, there are children whose recurrent behavior is violent and disruptive, apparently resistant to school discipline.

Violence should be roundly condemned, but again, is there ever an instance in which it is acceptable?

It’s not an academic question for the household, especially with Youngest, whose class attracts Hell’s spawn like honey draws flies.  Every classroom has problem children with whom teachers and children alike have to contend, but Youngest has already had to learn to deal with a child who hired an older boy to beat him up and that was in first grade.  To his credit, he managed the immediate situation better at seven years of age better than many adults would have in similar circumstances.  But this year, a true troublemaker not only came to Youngest’s class, he also moved into a nearby abode so that at midyear, he was not only at school, but wandering through the neighborhood and annoying all of the kids.  The child – a third grader – would simply stay at someone’s house and refuse to leave and one set of parents simply let him spend the night since he refused to go home.  They were scared to deal with him and simply let him stay.  Why this didn’t become a situation for social services is beyond me. 

His school record was even worse and Youngest had to testify to the school administration when he heard the child make threats against other classmates, some of those threats being sexually aggressive.  He routinely threatened other children and even grabbed Youngest and threw him into lockers, threatening to punch him out.  At this point, Youngest’s response was simply go ahead and punch me.  Youngest is significantly larger than the child and the kid pulled back; Youngest had no real further problems with him after that, so much so that the child began showing up after school in our driveway to shoot basketball. 

It was clear that any parental oversight was minimal and we knew from another situation that he’d been locked out of his apartment with literally nowhere to go.  The family line became that he could shoot hoops with Youngest if either myself or Middle – a middle schooler – was present but that he couldn’t enter the house and had to adhere to family rules, such as controlling the language and it was here that he was warned off on several occasions by both Middle and myself.  After more language issues, he was warned off and I told him one night that he finally had to go.  Youngest made it clear as well that he was no longer welcome at the house and the basketball sessions ended and the most that we saw of the child was when he’d cut through the yard to go elsewhere in the neighborhood.  Since then, he’ll try to chat with Middle but cusses out Youngest and insults both him and our family and he sees no conflict in this contrariness. 

Yell for an adult.  While I’m generally around, Youngest is now old enough that I’m comfortable leaving him for a short period to run to the grocery and it was during one of these instances that he came around the back of the house to find the bully hiding in a corner of the garage behind the sports/toy rack, which he’d been rifling.  Youngest told him to leave and he did so immediately.  When describing the situation to me upon my return, Youngest stated simply that if it happened again, he’d punch him out.  My response was a simple, curt you won’t have any problem with me on that.  Since then however, we’ve made it a point to keep the garage door closed if we’re not outside and the kid has simply walked past the house.

I am bothered by the response however.  I believe that the school’s zero tolerance is understandable, but that it ultimately breeds victims, people who spend their time searching for someone else to handle the bullies that come through.  We have the right to defend ourselves and our property and the reality is that "adults" aren’t always going to be around.  The alternative however, is that this kid truly is a budding sociopath for whom there are no qualms about escalating violence with a peer and this is where I’ve gone back to Youngest.  Should it happen again, then call for me first and let me handle the issue.  Even if the kid takes off, I have no qualms about confronting parents and have done so before; I’ll be the "bad guy" here.  But if I’m not around, then he’s clear to do what he thinks is necessary at the moment and I’ll support him, even if that means that he’s throwing a punch. 

If it ever comes to that, I guarantee that Youngest will be painted as the villain.  I also guarantee that I’ll support my son to the hilt when it comes to this particular problem child.



PracticalDad:  Honey, I Shrank the Empire (About Damned Time, Too)

In a recent speech, retiring Secretary of Defense Robert Gates noted that with significant cuts in defense spending, American influence would diminish and wane in the future.  My only response is, yep.  But I’m not clear if that’s such a bad thing. 

Our nation has been around for 235 years, but we’ve only been in imperial mode for the past several decades.  Our forefathers purposefully wanted us out of foreign entanglements and I’ve come to conclude that they were correct; the only time that our forefathers were involved internationally was the Barbary War, when we fought pirate states to preserve American trade and even then, some argued that paying tribute was still cheaper than building and maintaining a navy.  Jefferson, Madison and Washington would be spinning like tops in their graves if they could see the status of our military establishment and foreign agreements.  Human nature being what it is, being #1 – woot! – places a giant target upon your back and the target has been getting rather heavy after several decades. 

Everybody wants to be #1 with their giant foam camoflage fingers jutting into the air, but good thing or not, the reality is that we can simply no longer afford the extensive global military establishment.  Let’s be honest, the defense spending is only one – smaller – part of the fiscal picture as the bulk of the federal budget is tied up in entitlement programs that need to reworked with the social contract.  But it is still spending that begs the question, do we really need this?  Do we really need forces remaining in Europe?  Do we really need bases in more than 100+ different countries?  In a far more low-tech series of opponents, do we really need the exceptionally costly, high-tech weapons systems?  What about the Chinese? 

Folks, the Chinese have their own problems with which to contend.  Besides, they’re so busy tying up natural resource contracts globally that if we really wanted to have a war with them, we’d be borrowing barrels of oil from them within the month just to run our planes.  Think about it:  there’s a decent chance that a future war would be about obtaining natural resources that would be principally used in wartime by our military.  We’ve had more than 35 years since the first oil crisis to recognize that we’ve got a problem, and we’ve done nothing to truly address that problem.  Sorry, but while I truly do support the military – I didn’t serve since my Korean War veteran father talked me out of it – I see no reason to sacrifice our young people for oil, resources, or peacekeeping someone else’s family feud.  The great majority of Americans can’t recall who won Super Bowl XXXIII but there are those around the world who remember exactly who stole the family goat in 1598.  We don’t need to send Mike and Austin to settle the goat feud. 

A significant part of our economic problem is that we simply spend too much for foreign merchandise while they buy far less of our stuff.  The balance of trade data also shows that much of our imports aren’t even for the crap sold in Walmart; we spend it on oil purchased from other nations.  If we were able to put significant dents in those oil purchases, that would be money that could be used for other purposes – or even better, not spent at all.  There would be less worry about oil supply lines which would diminish the need for the overwhelming foreign involvement and voila!  A positive cycle is born.  There’s no conceivable way that we can simply decide to cut out $1.2T without huge pain; it would be akin to saying that we can lose that pesky forty pounds by simply amputating the right leg.  But there can be significant and phased changes made to actually help.  A greatly lessened dependency upon foreign energy sources would lessen the need for the military force structure.

  • Establish clear goals on energy usage and oil purchases.
  • Determine what’s required to meet those goals.
  • We are capable of acting in the common interest if properly led.  Time is running short and any plan would require a Manhattan Project/Apollo effort to meet the goals that steer us away from the overwhelming energy usage and subsequent dependency on foreign oil sources.  Take the money spent on defense and put it into energy, and projects that are usable now.  Why not a new energy infrastructure?  Ninety years ago, the mantra was a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage; why not solar/wind on every house? 
  • Start now with the kids – always, always, always the kids – and begin to talk constantly about the need to both conserve and think outside the energy box.  They are the ones who are going to inherit an America that’s very different than that with which we were raised and the more that they hear about it, the easier time that they’ll have to adjust to it. 

 Our choices ahead are going to be painful as we renegotiate the social contract.  What do we owe our senior citizens and what do we owe our children?  What do we owe a generation that has been terrible in preparing for the future and how do we wean ourselves of a consumer mentality that’s akin to a locust swarm in it’s willingness to devour everything?  The real money available to us is going to become very dear and if we spend too much of our wealth maintaining what is arguably an empire, we’ll be consumed by the cancer that’s grown within.

And for the record, Mike and Austin are real young men entering the military. 


Old Dog, New Sports

Fatherhood is frequently an exercise in living outside of your comfort zone and as kids grow, new situations keep kicking you out of the zone just when you think that you’re finally in it.  Much of that is due to the variety and prevalence of youth sports. 

Kids want to try new things and with only a few guidelines – you start the season, you finish the season whether you like it or not – that’s what we encourage.  There are a wider variety of sports available now than when I was in high school and that means that more than a few fathers are on a learning curve as the nascent high school programs begin building rec league feeder programs to develop a pool of upcoming players with skills.  Those few fathers with experience step up and help coach, both the kids and the other fathers who don’t have experience. 

This was the case this weekend as we trooped to a high school in another county to watch MIddle participate in a volleyball tournament at the middle school level.  Because that level is only a club sport in our area, there are few teams and in this particular instance, we entered the high school gym to find that the other two teams were the individual grade teams for the host school district.  Each was composed of the same number of boys as Middle’s team while Middle’s team also includes several very talented upper elementary school boys who are already developing wicked serves.  My own previous experience was limited to smacking a ball around with neighborhood kids and in my twenties, watching female beach volleyball on ESPN.  I’ve at least expanded my knowledge base since – unlike with women’s beach volleyball –  I’m actually watching the course of play and have managed to puzzle out certain rudiments of the game such as general positions and why net serves can actually be playable.  It’s also refreshing to see the kids slap hands and buck each other up when things don’t go well, a far cry from my own scholastic days of Helen Keller could’ve caught that pass, you dumbass.

As the small cadre of families entered the gymnasium and sat down, we were able to look at the various sports history banners that decorated the walls as they do at every high school.  The Boys Volleyball banner revealed that this school had championship teams back to the early 1960s, when they still had to inflate the balls with blacksmith bellows, and I wondered whether I’d have to find a local pharmacy to purchase first aid supplies for what promised to be a ritual bloodletting.  As boys and families watched this volleyball machine run through it’s clockwork drills, one father commented that they needed to start since our guys were getting psyched out watching this display of efficiency and I could only concur.  It was like watching the visiting University of Nebraska football team warm up prior to gametime with your kid’s team at Hooterville Community College.  As one midwestern university student pep club banner once read in the early 1990s, Maintain Dignity Against Nebraska.

The first game was a walkaway and a clinic for Middle’s team but as play continued, gears began to mesh and actual volleys took place as players found their groove and began playing as a team.  Adjustments were made after the first two games and suddenly, scores became respectable and games were actually won as the other side proved that they were middle school boys as well.  Man, that girl in the third row is smokin’ – what ball?  By the end of the afternoon, there was grace and fluidity on both sides of the net and as one father commented to me, you really have to watch it to appreciate and understand it. 

So I’ll go outside the comfort zone again, as I did with basketball and baseball.  I won’t pretend that I can handle the physical and coaching side of the house, which is what often happens with so many sports as fathers step up to spend their evenings watching instructional videos and reading Idiot Guides.  There are other opportunities to help and one of those opportunities will be filled somehow.  Rules will be learned and games dissected as happens already with soccer and baseball. 

Who knows?  Perhaps someday, Middle will find himself helping drill rudiments into a pack of small kids, slapping their hands when they smack the ball in the direction of the net. 

PracticalDad:  The Kids’ Friends

If there’s anything that gives me heartburn, it’s the concern about the choices that the kids make for friends.  It really is true what they say:  you’re judged by the company that you keep and one bad apple can spoil the barrel.  I used to think that it was just my own parents’ old school cynicism and closed-mindedness, but I now accept it with the same faith that I acknowledge the sun’s rising in the east.  How do I manage to keep tabs on who’s coming in the door next and how do I somehow separate them from someone who really is a rolling, bleeding, god-awful trainwreck?

Let me start by saying that over the years, I’ve come to believe that in many cases, the problem isn’t necessarily the children so much as it is the parents.  Absentee parents, lackadaisical parents, parents-who-are-trying-too-hard-to-be-buddies, no-accountability parents – there are a plethora of bad parents out there.  I’m not perfect.  I tend to crankiness and impatience and I don’t suffer fools as easily as I once did.  When talking with a child’s friend about why he was failing a class, the response from both child and friend was that the teacher had it out for the friend ever since his marriage went on the rocks and he couldn’t find a good woman.  My response was so let me get this straight.  You’re failing a class because your teacher can’t get laid?  For the record, both are teens and sometimes, an earthy response will cut through layers of nonsense.  Regardless, I’m witnessing any number of kids whose parents are not serving them well and I know this because my own kids are bringing them home.  It used to be that there was common ground amongst parents and most kids were raised in a manner with common values and common expectations; this has degraded enough so that kids are doing things that were once considered – at best – inappropriate but they’re clueless because no one has actually taken the time or effort to teach them otherwise.

So how do I work through the heartburn?  After all, it only increases as they age and my ability to monitor and control correspondingly decreases.  As they age and grow, their friends do the same and they all come under the wider influences of the outside world via increased media exposure, older siblings and even families that break apart over the course of time. 

  • Listen explicitly for names and through discussion and further listening, determine who these various children are and the context in which I’m hearing about them.  Even if I don’t hear their names for awhile, I’ll resurrect them in conversation just to hear what’s happened with them.  It’s through this that I’ve learned who’s transferred out, who’s wound up in the principal’s office and who’s even starting to go with whom.
  • If certain names crop up repeatedly, actually find a reason to visit the class so that I can put a face with this name and take some measure of the child.  Given two particular names that I was hearing through the Fall semester, I happily agreed to join Youngest for his school lunch so that I could put faces with names and behaviors.
  • Chat with neighbors and other parents to cross-reference stories on children and teens and learn more about them.  It sounds sneaky at times, but having grown up in a small town, I guarantee that both my parents were cross-referencing with other parents to gain a better sense of who’s out there.  I was passing along information to another parent the other evening.  On one level, it sounds like gossip but the reality is that we’re talking about behaviors and things that have happened, which was the tenor of the most recent conversation.  Because the schools are rightfully prohibited from discussing individual student behaviors, then comparing notes with other parents is about the only other way to keep tabs.
  • Encourage the kids to bring their friends home to play so that you can put faces to names and learn their personalities.  Our old house had a much larger yard with swingset that was conducive to outdoor play but the present house has a small, sloped yard that isn’t kid friendly so Youngest heads across the way to play with buddies.  Consequently, we invested in redoing the basement and it’s common to have kids spending the night on weekends.  The point is to have the kids here as much as possible in order to put a face with a name and gain some sense.
  • Take notes, especially if a child becomes a major concern.  When a child develops a friendship with someone, even a trainwreck, it’s difficult to have to force a breakoff and the more ammunition that you have the easier that it’ll be.  It’s easier when they’re little but becomes more difficult when they age.  In one particular circumstance, I had notes documenting seven particular instances in which the particular child had either lied, wound up in the principal’s office or set another child up to fail and in a spectacular fashion.  Instead of telling my kid that I don’t trust this child and he’s trouble, I just walked through the instances and then stated that there would be no further contact outside of school.  While I expected argument, the response was muted and acknowledged since there were no arguments to counteract what were real events.  I wasn’t working on gut or feelings, that kid had screwed up royally and my own could mount no defense.
  • I try to keep my own commentary about a friend as calm as possible – which can be difficult – in order to keep my own child’s defensiveness under control.  There have been a very few instances where my own comments have gone over the edge but I work hard to control derogatory remarks or unpleasant remarks; the point is to try to keep the lines of communication sufficiently open that I can continue to gather what facts and observations that I can.

Friends play a huge role in a child’s development and there’s no way that I can – or should  – pick all of my child’s friends.  I can listen and observe and then work to help them make good choices.  I can even, on occasion, forbid further contact with someone else.  But they have to be able to learn to make good choices now and without some guidance, the odds of that happening are less than great. 

And we can’t guide them when we can’t see who else is out there on the horizon.

PracticalDad:  Paying the Kids?

As the kids age and want more financial independence – but are still bound by child labor laws and a slack summer labor market – how much should a parent participate?  Each of our kids receives an allowance, commensurate with age.  But they also want more as they age and that doesn’t mean that we’re just going to fork over more dollars, so how do we handle it given the parameters outlined? 

In our case, we’re "fortunate" to live in a house with an exceptionally  demanding yard.  Frankly, I’ve never bought a house with yardwork in mind but if I knew then what I know now, I’d have thought twice about agreeing with my wife about purchasing it.  The previous owner was a gardening fanatic who did exquisite work, especially with the heavily sloped backyard.  Unfortunately, he spent all of his time on the yard and with three active kids, that simply hasn’t been the case here.  The back was filled with a runner ivy that has simply overwhelmed and choked out everything and things are officially a mess.  While hiring a lawn service to handle the yard and keep the back under control would be the easiest alternative, it’s also the most expensive and one that teaches the worst possible lesson to the kids – that unpleasant tasks can be farmed out to someone else and that money solves everything.  In a country whose economy is changing and income stagnating, it’s the worst possible lesson of all.

In this case then, I decided to hire the kids to work alongside me.  From a conversation with friends this weekend, they thought that I was nuts since it was something for which they would clearly expect the kids to help.  In their view, such projects are part and parcel of the family and home life, where if you want something nice, then you have to help keep it that way.  While I appreciate the view, there’s something about the scope of this project that takes it into a different category.  There are other aspects that led me to propose payment.

  • If the kids want some extra money but I don’t want to just shell it out, then they can earn money through hard work.
  • The work will be done regardless, and the amount that they earn is a function of how much time that they’re willing to put in on the project.  They want more, then they earn it and learn that pay depends upon performance.
  • I’m still saving money on the deal.  When we had someone lay mulch three years ago, it cost almost $2000 and took three grown men two full days to just lay the mulch and didn’t even touch tearing out the existing foliage.
  • This is a project and there will be a semblance of order to it, from start to finish.  It’s important for the kids to see that there’s a method to doing something apart from just arbitrary tasks such as emptying trash and mowing the lawn.  This will also be a learning experience, much as Eldest’s work to refurbish the god-forsaken fish pond that abuts the back deck; it needs some annual maintenance but the savings from her tackling it – and while we did it together, she did the lion’s share – were in the range of about $3500.
  • Holding payment over their heads helps to keep me in the position of "boss".  Kids can and will become a bit contemptuous and shifting myself temporarily from father to boss will cut down on the backtalk and argument.  This is why I’m doing this but if you really disagree, then don’t get paid.  That’s life, kid.

This is going to be a major project and will entail a significant amount of work.  It isn’t going to be cheap but it will be far, far less than if I’d hired an outsider to do the job and frankly, if the money is going somewhere, I’d rather that it stay within the family.

The Gas Price Hits Home

With the average gas price now at $3.99/gallon and the average monthly gasoline bill at $368, families are starting to have to consider how to handle driving and this family is really no different.  But there are some things that are beyond our control, such as driving to work and getting to various activities.  Today was one of those examples.

All three kids are in different sports – soccer, volleyball and baseball – and for the first time in years, the soccer field is within two miles of the house.  Volleyball is at the high school, also near the house.  Baseball however, is played by the local Little League at practice and game fields located all over Hell and half of Georgia and there are no fields within even a relatively close distance and there’s no option but to drive.  Today’s situation arose as Eldest had a friend spend the night and our understanding was that the friend would come along to the game with us and we’d return her home afterwards.  With a half hour drive to get to the field, we needed to leave at noon and at 11:55 AM, we found that the friend had to be home at noon.  Despite Eldest’s insistence that we could just drop her off and then go to the game, it was necessary for me to leave first with Youngest for the game while Eldest and my wife took the friend home and then to the game separately.  We were consequently forced to use two cars to get to a single event when one would have been sufficient with decent planning.  This has now been hammered into Eldest’s head.

It’s ironic that Eldest has begun her driving career as I began mine – at a time of high gas prices.  She was surprised to find that I filled up my tank the other day for $95 and it was reminiscent of my reaction when I found what my own father paid for a full tank in 1979.  But she and her peers haven’t seemed to have caught on to some of the rules by which we played in the late 1970s.  The first rule is that if someone is driving someplace, it’s appropriate for members of the party to help chip in for the gas.  The second rule is that people don’t drive separately when carpooling is available.  It wasn’t uncommon for someone to volunteer to drive and then pick up others.  These simple rules are ones that she and her peers will have to take to heart.

So what else will we try to do to keep things under control and below $368 a month?

  • Have more explicit conversations about details before making a final decision, such as the exact time a friend needs to be home.  A few extra questions would have saved an extra car trip to the baseball game.
  • Send the kids on bikes or walk more often to local, around-town errands or destinations.  My mother recently gave me a pull cart with which to pull bags of groceries and this week, I’ll start using it to walk to the local grocery for food and milk.
  • Decide whether certain trips even need to be made and if so, whether there’s alternative means.  Carpooling, maybe even buses?  Although to be honest, our area is not terribly well served by public transportation.
  • Once Eldest actually has a regular paying job, decide whether she’ll become responsible for the gas for the car.  At this point, she’s wrapped up in schoolwork and volunteering and doesn’t have the money for $95 in a gas tank.

Gas prices have gone up and down through the past thirty years.  But with the question of peak oil and the stagnant American family income, I’m doubtful that it’s going to be coming down again anytime soon so we’ll have to think through the scenarios and adjust accordingly.


PracticalDad Price Index:  Synopsis of Monthly Results

Since the Price Index’s inception in November, 2010, I’ve provided monthly results for each item for that month as well as the two preceding months.  Following is a synopsis of the monthly results for the PracticalDad Price Index marketbasket of 46 items, both in nominal and index results.  Now that there is a sufficient number of months data collected, I’m also including a three month moving average of the index.


PracticalDad Price Index Monthly Summary
Month $ Cost Index 3 Month Moving Average
11/2010 178.39 100.00


12/2010 180.30 101.07


1/2011 179.51 100.63 100.56
2/2011 179.50 100.63 100.78
3/2011 180.51 101.08 100.78
4/2011 181.91 101.96 101.22
5/2011 182.10 102.08 101.71

 Moving forward, this information will be included in the monthly update articles.

PracticalDad Price Index:  Index Rises to 102.08 as Coffee Keeps Perking Along

The PracticalDad Price Index (PDPI) rose slightly in May to 102.08 as both coffee and canola oil – a cooking oil akin to vegetable oil – posted gains of 7.2% and 4.9% respectively from April.  While these items had significant gains, the PDPI only increased slightly from April’s 101.97 due to offsetting price decreases in several items.  This constitutes a 2.08% rise in the 46 item food basket since its inception in November of 2010.  

Comments on the May pricing:

  • The coffee increases were purely in price alone with no stealth inflationary practices of holding price constant while decreasing package sizing.
  • Canola oil rose again on the back of increased demand from biofuel producers as the cost of crude oil remains high.  Canola oil is used in baked products and since crude oil began to rise, the price of bread/rolls has risen more than 8% since November; these products had no price changes this month, however.  
  • Flour continued flat while sugar, a commodity which has risen in cost in raw form, showed it’s first sign of change with a small increase of 1.9%.  If sugar continues to rise, expect to see price increases in corollary food products containing sugar, such as the store brand "Frosted Flake" item.  
  • Orange Juice also showed an increase of 3.8% as one store raised price while maintaining the package sizing.
  • Store brand hot dogs rose 4%, the first bump in that product since the index inception in November.
  • The per pound cost of a roaster chicken rose 1.9% while the cost of eggs jumped 8.8%.  Eggs have fluctuated in price however and are still below the high of $2.01/dozen in December, 2010 while the per pound cost is also below the high reached in February, 2011. 
  • The cost of a box of trash bags dropped by 8.5% with decreases noted in two of the stores.  In the past several months, I’ve noticed that these two stores have introduced ultra-low cost household products into their stores.  These are typically the types of items that could be purchased in stores such as Dollar Tree or Dollar General and it could be that the grocery stores have introduced the lines to retain the customers who might otherwise take those purchases to the dollar stores.  In this case however, the bags continue to be store brand as they were before so it’s possible that they’ve found new, cheaper producers for their products.


PracticalDad Price Index – May 2011
Item Size Category 3/11 Avg Price 4/11 Avg Price 5/11 Avg Price
hot dog rolls (ct) 8 bread 1.14 1.18 1.18
loaf, wht bread, store brand (oz) 20 bread 1.22 1.22 1.22
spaghetti, store brand (oz) 16 bread 1.18 1.21 1.21
child cereal, sugar flakes, store brand (oz) 17 cereal 2.90 2.90 2.90
cereal, rice chex, store brand (oz) 12.8 cereal 2.74 2.74 2.74
oatmeal, one minute, store brand (oz) 42 cereal 3.21 3.21 3.21
milk, 2%, (gallon) dairy  3.68  3.68  3.68 
butter, unsalted, store brand (lb) dairy  3.49  3.49  3.49 
vanilla ice cream, store brand (qt)  dairy  1.94  1.99  2.01 
grated parmesan cheese, store brand (oz)  dairy  3.08  3.08  3.08 
American cheese, deli (lb)  dairy  5.52  5.52  5.52 
peanut butter, store brand (oz)  28  grocery  2.96  2.96  2.96 
grape jelly, store brand (oz)  32  grocery  1.82  1.82  1.82 
kidney beans, dark, store brand (oz)  15.5  grocery  .87  .87  .87 
can green peas, store brand (oz)  15  grocery  .92  .92  .92 
can diced tomatoes, store brand (oz)  14.5  grocery  .94  .94  .94 
can cut green beans, store brand (oz)  14.5  grocery  .92  .92  .91 
can corn, store brand (oz)  15.25  grocery  .92  .92  .92 
spaghetti sauce, store brand (oz)  26  grocery  1.13  1.13  1.13 
cola, store brand (L)  grocery  .92  .92  .92 
caffeinated coffee, store brand (oz)  13  grocery  3.71  3.87  4.15 
diapers, store brand, (ct)  100  baby  17.82  17.82  17.82 
formula, Enfamil Premium, Lipil (oz)  23.4  baby  22.94  22.94  22.94 
child ibuprofen, OS, store brand (oz)  4 hlth/bty  4.96  4.96  4.96 
adult ibuprofen, store brand (ct)  100  hlth/bty  6.72  6.72  6.72 
shampoo, Suave (oz)  22.5  hlth/bty  1.71  1.71  1.71 
pads, long, Poise (ct)  42  hlth/bty  16.09  16.09  16.09 
bath soap, Dial (ct)  hlth/bty  5.39  5.39  5.39 
aluminum foil, store brand (sq ft)  75  hshld  2.97  2.97  2.97 
kitchen trash bags, store brand (ct)  26  hshld  4.15  4.11  3.76 
paper towels, 2 ply, store brand (ct)  hshld  7.26  7.69  7.26 
hot dogs, meat franks, store brand (oz)  16  meat  2.46  2.46  2.56 
ground beef, 80% lean (lb)  meat  3.32  3.32  3.39 
eggs, large (doz)  meat  1.72  1.69  1.84 
lunchmeat, deli ham, chopped (lb)  meat  4.06  4.06  4.06 
chicken, roaster (lb)  meat  1.59  1.56  1.59 
fish sticks, Gortons (ct)  44  meat  7.86  7.86  7.86 
tuna, water packed, store brand (oz)  meat  .78  .78  .78 
bananas (lb)  produce  .58  .58  .59 
apples, Red Delicious, bag (lb)  produce  3.59  3.76  3.76 
carrots, bag (lb)  produce  2.12  2.39  2.39 
OJ, non-concentrate, store brand (oz)  64  produce  2.66  2.66  2.76 
potatoes, Russet (lb)  produce  3.99  3.99  3.99 
sugar, store brand (lb)  staple  3.26  3.16  3.22 
flour, store brand (lb)  staple  1.99  1.99  1.99 
canola oil, store brand (oz)  48  staple  3.66  4.09  4.29 
rice, white, long-grain, store brand (lb)  staple  1.67  1.67  1.63 
              Total     180.52  181.91  182.10 


Yes, Babies – and Children – Are Hard

The Wall Street Journal is not the place that I’d expect to find an article detailing the challenges of a baby to a marriage, Andrea Petersen’s article is a good synopsis of the impact that children can have on a marriage.  My question however, why is this surprising?  What has changed in our society that we now think that it’s not a challenge and considerable work to raise children?  Ms. Petersen does a good job of explaining the difficulties and providing some tips on handling interpersonal issues, but it doesn’t go to the deeper issue.

Let’s be frank, children are work.  I’m the father of three and have been home with them since Eldest’s birth, and I’ll attest to the fact that they are work and can create considerable stress.  The nature of that work changes as they age with the physically intensive, demanding activities occurring when they’re very young.  They grow and learn and can start handling more of the physical aspects themselves but the work becomes more intuitive and cerebral as they enter the world and begin to interact with other children and the remainder of society.  Accountancy can be as tiring as digging ditches, just in a different way.  Children can be great sources of joy, but that joy sometimes comes with considerable effort.

Why are we surprised at this simple reality of nature?

  • Caring for babies and raising children is not only a physically demanding job, but one that entails considerable mental stress, especially in families where both parents are working.  Who’s going to get Junior from daycare?  I’ve got to get this laundry folded and put away, assure that dinner’s cooked and that’s after I spend time playing with Junior.  People sometimes forget that play is an integral part of the parent’s job that provides tremendous value to the child’s development and that it really is part of their parental job.  The juggling can be stressful and requires constant vigilance to assure that things don’t fall apart.  This juggling is made more difficult by the fact that you’re dealing with children who simply don’t see reality or think like adults with several decades of experience.  Stress can come from having to be somewhere and the small child decides to pitch a tantrum because the socks don’t feel right or doesn’t want to turn off the television program.  And I say this from not having to worry about covering multiple children along with a job.
  • Media bombards us with images showing the glossy images of children playing with parents, neat houses and happy families sitting down to mealtimes.  These are superficial however, since they don’t show the laundry being ignored while Mom plays Chutes and Ladders, the constant picking up of toys and strewn clothing, and the time spent cooking the meals for those happy mealtimes.  There’s much work involved in running the household and managing the family and this isn’t shown anywhere apart from commercials for cleaning items.  One of my complaints about shows such as Supernanny is that the disciplinary interventions are briefly discussed in the alloted timeframe and then there might be brief clips showing the parents putting them to use.  The reality of discipline however, is that it can take a long, long time to train the child to stay in the timeout spot as children will test the parent repeatedly.  They certainly don’t show the desperate, often emotionally exhausted parent overcoming the urge to strangle the child.
  • Not only do we tend to fall for the images in the media, but we’ve been sold shallow definitions of home and family.   In a society that prizes time management and quick gratification, we’ve forgotten that a home isn’t a physical thing or place.  A home is a sense, a belief and a feeling.  It arises from our cumulative actions and attitudes instead of the workmanship of the carpenters and plumbers that completed the structure.  They simply provide the physical structure from the elements but we take that structure and create a home in which to raise our children.  Homes are made, not built.  Likewise, if we accept the modern notion that a family can consist of more than two parents and biologically related children, then a family is something that is truly crafted and not just thrown together pell mell.
  • With divorce so prevalent amongst American marriages in the past two generations, many of today’s young parents simply don’t have a template upon which to model what’s involved in making a home and marriage work.  Women do have a biological nesting instinct that, in a sense, predisposes them to understand what’s involved but many men simply don’t have that.  Since most children stayed with the separated and divorced mom, daughters had a model upon which to base their own home and household experience.  More importantly, nor do men have the involved, active father figure upon which to model their own efforts and are, as a group, struggling to find themselves.  Honestly, people don’t recognize that enough factors have come together to make it difficult to be a young and involved father in today’s society.   
  • While Americans work hard, we live in a leisure based society and that breeds self-absorption.  It took me awhile to understand that there’s a First Law of Fatherhood and that’s that it’s no longer about me, but about these children that depend upon my wife and I for their survival and upbringing.  It’s a mindset that takes some work to adopt and there are still moments when I’d like to pack a bag and catch a train to New York for the weekend, but that means that the responsibilities to wife and kids are uncovered.  I can still take an occasional getaway by myself, but that’s only after working through the logistics ahead of time.

For everything that I’ve just written, please don’t think that I resent the kids.  They are a blessing and I simply cannot conceive of a life without their presence for what they bring to me.  But there is a realistic understanding that’s come about from considerable effort and work, much of which was generated by these blessings.