PracticalDad and Black Friday

With the news that the 2011 Christmas shopping season opened with Black Friday sales up about 6+% from last year, it might be interesting to compare – on a personal level – how this Black Friday compared with previous Black Fridays.  For more than five years, I’ve been one of those folks who showed up in line for the earliest sales in order to get the sales items under the Christmas tree and with the older kids, it’s become a family tradition to go out in the middle of the night with close family friends and tagteam different stores and sales.  This year, the kids are getting older and we’ve made it abundantly clear that our summer family vacation was the big gift, so I almost didn’t go; Middle asked so that he and a friend could do some shopping on his very limitied budget and I agreed and spent my time people-watching with a cup of coffee.  So what’s different this year?

The first difference is how the marketing gurus and retailers are now playing up the shopping with advertising and the sales of "loss leading" items to get people in the doors.  I rarely shop at Toys R Us anymore but was there  one morning last week and in a chat with the sales clerk, she commented that instead of opening at midnight like other retailers, they were actually opening at 9 PM on Thanksgiving night and that she’d be there even earlier.  She shook her head and simply said, they’re taking our holiday from us.  In the moment, she meant her employer while I saw it as the entire economic machine.  Throughout the days prior to Thanksgiving, the media was filled with ads and reminders about the offers that would be available and how the earlier hours were there to be even more hospitable to the customer.  While the ostensible thrust is great deals and savings for the debt-laden consumer, the reality is that this is purely another way to gin up sales figures for the retailers, another in the panting gasps of the consumerist mentality.

Second, there were far more small children out than I recall seeing when I first started going out years ago.  Seven years ago, the stores that were open at 4 AM had lines snaking through the cold outdoors and were populated entirely by adults, more than a few of whom were grandparents.  This year, the doors to the mall themselves were open by midnight and when I wandered through the food court about 2 AM, the child’s playarea had at least a half dozen small children running and playing.  Are the parents so strapped that they’ll take the kids out at those hours in order to help assure that the tree has gifts?

Third, there are far more stores opening at the early/late hours than there were eight years ago; so much so that the mall itself opened its doors at midnight.  When I first started going out, there were only a small handful that opened at 4 AM and a line would form outside a mall entrance, people prepared to enter when the mall doors were opened.  By the time that I left at 330 AM for breakfast with the kids, roughly half of the mall stores were open and the place was crawling with more people at that hour than on a typical weekend evening.  What’s also of note is that a number of those stores open early eight years ago are now consigned to the retail morgue – Linens N Things, Circuit City, KB Toys – and I wonder, how many of these stores now opening at these hours are also not long for this world?

Fourth, despite the news reports of shopper violence, it’s apparent that the retailers are pushing to maintain control.  Walmart now staggers when certain items are put on sale and those interested have to come early for a ticket and then return later to a predetermined line.  Other retailers have staff outside beforehand helping to maintain order and there was significant police and security presence at the Walmart and mall.  It left a bitter taste in my mouth as it reinforces the notion that we consumers exist solely to enrich the corporations and must be controlled as they happily take our money.

Even after Black Friday had ended, the retailers were ginning up the sales machine for what they refer to as Cyber Monday.  You don’t want to go out because you’re working the next day?  Not to worry since you can now get all of the deals online!  Because we have a UPromise credit card and take the rebates as they’re needed, my wife went online last night and noted that at some retailers, such as Sears, the rebates were not only higher at 10% of the sale price, but that using the credit card for the purchase would yield rebates of 21%.  Rebating one fifth?  It’s telling about the health not only of the retailer, but also of the credit card bank, which is Bank of America.  The credit card rate is in the teens – we usually pay ours off monthly – and with most cardholders carrying a balance, the drive is to keep the balances high and collect the interest and fees for the bank’s bottom line.

What’s happening is a huge exercise in what financial types call pulling the demand forward.  The premise is that there’s an organic demand for merchandise as people replace what they have or either shift upwards or downwards and that offering such deep discounts will cause them to buy what they need or want now instead of waiting until later.  But the problem is that once that demand is pulled forward, what’s going to sustain it in the future?  With declining real incomes and uncertainty as to jobs, people are likely to grab what they can now, but the wallet will be closed later.

And my spending through this year?  With the kids growing and the checkbook shut, my purchases were minimal.  The bulk of my time was spent nursing a cup of coffee and enjoying a very early egg breakfast with Middle and his friends.  My expectation is that next year, it’ll simply be the breakfast.

PracticalDad Slang:  Of Opies, Forcepushing and Duckpecking

Every job has its own slang and over the years, I’ve heard any number of words and phrases to describe childrearing.  Here are some of my favorites.

Blowout (n)

A blowout is anytime that an infant or toddler defecates in such volume or force that the mess escapes the diaper and travels throughout the clothing.  The worst blowout occurs with the mess traveling up the back and soiling the clothing; since much infant clothing involves something that’s pulled over the head, this type will throw a wrench in the schedule as removing the clothing – and mess – will almost certainly get into the hair, requiring a bath.

Junior’s blowout was so massive that I almost called in the National Guard.

Colt (adj, n)

The stage in development in which a child’s body has outgrown it’s own capacity to adequately control and manuever it, marked by outsized hands and feet.

(After watching Junior trip twice and fall once enroute to the curb)  Junior’s looking rather coltish this morning, isn’t he?  See Also:  Now that his shoe size is higher than his ability to count, he’s officially in the colt stage.

Charlie (n)

The spoken part of the phrase, the unspoken first part being "half-ass".  Half-ass Charlie refers to those kids and teens who will do the most slapdash job possible just to say that it’s done.  This term was used by a school custodian in a conversation about students who’d been tasked with helping to clean as discipline for misbehavior.

She should know better than that, that job’s the work of an absolute Charlie.

Duckpecking (n, v)

Source:  A mother who was commenting on the parenting of teens, it’s like being pecked to death by ducks.  The repeated and sometimes infuriating practice of being hounded by ‘tweeners and teens who persist in their interruptions and requests, even despite having been consistently given an answer already.

When Junior doesn’t like the answer that he’s given, he goes right into duckpecking mode.  See Also:  He’s a nasty little duckpecker, ain’t he?

Facepalm (adj)

The physical reaction of rubbing one’s face with the hand out of sheer disbelief at what Junior has just done or said.  This is sometimes a precursor to a massive headache or mild stroke.

Mike had a facepalm moment when he walked into Junior’s room and found that the boys had used the wall for knife-throwing practice after practicing their signatures with permanent marker on the bedroom’s hardwood floor. 

Force Push (n, v)

An action, typically used by kids and tweeners, to keep annoying people away.  When the user is being bothered by someone, he either spits or heavily licks his palm so that it’s copiously wet and then sticks it in the face of the annoying party, thus repelling him backwards to avoid having spit rubbed in his face.  The term is inspired by the Jedi of the Star Wars films (although I’ve never seen a clip of Obi-Wan hocking a loogie into his hand). 

Randy wouldn’t stop looking over my shoulder during free reading so I did a force push to get him to go away.

Monkeyhammering (adj, v)

Based upon the premise that if you give a monkey a hammer, that’s what he’ll use for every problem and challenge.  This is the situation in which a child of any age uses what they know to achieve the task at hand, regardless of the damage done to the item.

Several days after reading this and mentally noting the phrase on Zerohedge just last week, my wife and I got to experience it first hand.

The kids really monkeyhammered the KitchenAid Stand-up Mixer; when I asked them to clean the dried batter off of it, they tossed it into a sink full of hot, soapy water and then rinsed it off with the spray nozzle.

Opie (n)

Name used to describe any (O)ther (P)erson’s kid.  Even if the kid winds up spending more time with you than at their own home, they’re an Opie.  Likewise, your own kid is someone else’s Opie.

I went to pick up Junior after practice and ended up giving rides home to three other Opies.

Waldo (n)

A child with a tendency to wander away, as in Where’s Waldo now?

Oh great, I’m chaperoning Fiona during the field trip.  I hear that she’s a Waldo.

Windowlicker (n)

A term once used by another father as we discussed the upcoming Kindergarten year for our respective sons, who are two weeks apart in age.  It refers to a kid who, while not retarded or dumb, is simply odd and spastic.

Y’know, every father’s fear is that when the bus pulls away on that first morning, his kid’s gonna be the windowlicker.  The one kid who, while all the other kids are waving goodbye, is licking the back window instead.

I still laugh when I think about that particular remark.



Some Thoughts on Becoming a “Stay-at-Home Dad”

What should I be aware of if I’m going to stay home with the kids?  It’s a move that’s being increasingly made by men, whether by choice or by necessity, via job loss.  Whatever your situation, there are certainly things to be considered since the overwhelming majority of men were never raised with the thought that they’d be the primary caregivers for their children and it was never in their top 25 list of occupational choices when they were kids.  So what should you consider?

What is your timeframe?

Is this something that you’re doing while you’re looking for a paying job or is this a more permanent role?  It matters because it impacts how you structure the day with the kids, and with kids, structure is crucial.  Children thrive when they have some sense of structure and routine because this creates a sense of security and with this sense, they’re more likely to actually feel more secure and confident of their ability to handle life. 

If you understand that this is a one year gig, then give serious consideration to maintaining a bedtime/morning routine that reflects the fact that your child will have to arise early enough to make it to daycare in the future.  This doesn’t mean that every morning has to be up and moving by 6:15 AM, but if you get into the habit of letting the kids awaken later, then you’ll have to be prepared to gradually work them back into that schedule when the return-to-work date becomes closer.  Kids can be flexible but most will do better if they’re eased into something over a period of time.  If you’re staying home with the kids while you’re looking for a job, then try to take the kids into account as you do the followups.  If the kids need to be quietly occupied while you handle phone calls, then  consider when those calls have to happen and build the television time into that time frame; early afternoon calls dictate that screen time occurs in the early afternoon.  Bear in mind however, that having the kids in front of the television or computer for the average six hours daily is probably one of the worst things that can happen so you also have to structure other activities for the morning and late afternoon.

How do you handle being the odd-man out?

Everybody’s talked about job discrimination for women and it’s a legitimate issue with true grievances, but most aren’t aware that the issue has also existed for men who are at home with the kids.  While it’s certainly better than it was and there are many women who have happily accepted my children and I into their lives, the fact is that there have been some who aren’t comfortable with their children playing at the home in which the man is the primary caregiver.  While it’s not an issue now that my kids are a bit older – and we actively encourage our kids to bring their friends here – there were definitely periods when they were very young that I, and my kids by extensions, was the odd man out.  When Eldest – now a high school senior – was very little, I had a real sense of being isolated as neighborhood mothers that I met at the park would balk at establishing playdates when they discovered that I was the one with whom they and their kids would be spending time.  In the moment, it was terribly frustrating as my toddler was unable to play with her peers outside of the park.  Was it because of me personally?  Were there concerns about the appearance of any sexual impropriety?  Were they uncomfortable with the fact that a historically female role was now being filled by a man?

Do you and your mate have common expectations?

The blending and shifting of parental roles has really grown in the past quarter century and while it seems like a long time on a personal level – I wasn’t even married then – it isn’t a long span on a societal level.  We’ve now had roughly two generations of women who have been raised with the idea that they are every bit as capable as men professionally, but the offset is that we’ve only had about one generation of men who have begun to literally decide that they are every bit as capable raising children as their mates.  Does it make the women bad mothers?  Absolutely not.  Does it mean that men are automatically great fathers?  Absolutely not.  But it does mean that there are very different levels of expectations by both parties on what’s involved in raising the kids and running the household.  It also means that there’s real potential for anger, miscommunication and discord on the part of both of you.

Where’s the balance between housework and hands-on childrearing?  Who’s responsible for paying the bills and the everyday finances?  Who’s responsible for the longer-term financial planning?  Is it one of you or do you  share?  Who decides the menu and does the cooking?

Even if and when you and your mate answer these questions, consider what the expectations are within each of the categories and even whether the expectations are achievable by the parent charged with the role.  This is especially the case regarding men and housework since most men were never purposefully taught about housework by their parents, either what should be done or how it’s done.  The result is that working women returning home are frustrated that one thing or another either hasn’t been accomplished or else is poorly done with the woman doing it herself to much exasperation on both her, and the man’s, part.  Honestly, this is an area which has periodically plagued me and it’s only been through considerable effort and time that my wife has come to realize that housework simply wasn’t something that I was ever taught;  I’ve had to learn to acknowledge that questions borne out of frustration are simply that and that I really should learn so that’s it done properly in the first place.

Do you define your value to the family in terms of money alone?

Men have historically been the breadwinners and have come to very narrowly define their contribution to the family in terms of how well they provide, and that’s measured in dollars and sense.  Women have viewed their role in a wider sense apart from money, although that’s also been included to some degree as economic necessity dictates.  Spend some time deciding how you view your role/contribution to the family and whether you actually believe that there’s more to it than money alone.  Just as I’ve met women who didn’t quite know what to do with a male homemaker, there have also been men who’ve been dismissive because I have no income so you’re going to periodically hear it from both genders.

How comfortable are you with uncertainty and doubt?

This sounds odd and it’s taken me some thought to consider whether to include it, but raising children is an uncertain proposition.  The uncertainty starts early – why is she crying?  What’s going on with her teeth? – but is localized to a specific area bounded by the child and the immediate vicinity.  But as the child grows and moves out into the world, and that’s precisely why we’re raising them, the circumstances and the reasons for the uncertainty change from the physical and concrete to the mental/emotional and the abstract.  How is she developing?  Who are his friends and how is he interacting with them?  Because men have historically directed themselves outwards, it’s been the women who’ve focused on these aspects and these questions and concerns.  Now that women are increasingly spending their time and attention with the outside world, it’s up to the father to begin taking up that particular slack.  These are questions for which there are no easily discernible answers and it’s a world of grey.  Understand then, that if you’re going to take much greater responsibility for the childrearing, then you have to be both willing and able to consider these amorphous areas.

Becoming the primary caregiver – the "homemaker" – was never something on my radar and when my wife first suggested it years before the birth of our first child, my response was incredulity.  But despite the challenges and trepidation, it’s been an experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world; in a sense, a journey in a country largely unexplored by many of my male peers.  Like any successful expedition however, the trick is to have a sense of what lies ahead and some decent preparation for what’s to come.




Object Lessons

Keep talking, they’re listening is a constant refrain in my head with my kids, even if the eyes roll and the response is an exasperated FINE!  But that only goes so far and even if they’re listening, they might simply choose to ignore it.  In that case, when should I stop simply saying anything at all?  Is there value in the object lesson and is the potential severity of an incident such that there’s benefit in there’s actually greater value in an object lesson learned?

Parenting is partially a job in assessing risk – what can go wrong and just how bad can it be – and reacting to it accordingly.  In the child’s early years, the great majority do everything possible to protect our kids.  There’s an entire industry built around safety devices and we buy into it accordingly.  As a former claims adjuster, I remember the times when Eldest was napping in her crib and I dropped to hands and knees to survey the world from the baby’s level, asking myself what are the hazards here?  At those ages, the child simply doesn’t recognize what can hurt her and it’s my job to protect her.  But as she grows, she begins to understand and put things together and can actually modify her actions to Dad’s instructions and that’s where the fun starts.  If I take her to the park and she persists in doing something stupid, at what point do I simply decide to let her have an object lesson?  What could go wrong and how bad could the likely results be?  There are no clear answers and what one father perceives can be very different from another father.

The nature of the situation changes as the kids age and grow, but it continues to exist.  By a certain point, you can’t protect them from their own stupidity all of the time because you’re simply not around and you can’t wrap them in a bubble, but there are other ways to teach the object lesson; it now goes more frequently to the concept of self-responsibility.  In my case, it goes to the world of school and the ubiquitous permission form because as I’ve told Middle repeatedly, Dude, these exist for a reason apart from killing trees.  It’s been often enough that deadlines have passed simply because no form was ever delivered and in some cases, never even remembered that forms were even handed out; the resulting angst as we scramble to keep situations under control creating sufficient uproar that it becomes apparent that jawboning simply won’t work. 

Hence the object lessons.  The beauty of the internet is that we can surveille what’s happening via the school district website and see what’s on the horizon and that was the case several months ago as the word went out Remember to have your forms in by April 1 in order to attend the end-of-year field trip to the Amusement Park!  Given the repeated situations, the decision was to sit on it and sure enough, the form wasn’t turned in and Middle missed the field trip.  However, since his option was to then sit in a classroom for an all-day study hall, I kept him home and he did significant yardwork.  We thought that the lesson was learned but sure enough, the missed form occurred again last week as a Fall play cast party was thrown in doubt and when I responded to another parent that he probably wouldn’t attend because of a blown form, her response was that it was a harsh lesson.  Since I’d also stated that I suspected that there was a permission slip out there that I’d never followed on, the comment was directed at me. 

Is it harsh?  Probably so since the kid truly did an outstanding job with the show.  But I, like many parents, tire of the constant picking that occurs because the kids can’t or won’t step up to the plate on issues of responsibility and when the opportunity to let the system teach a lesson, I’m going to grab it with both hands and ride it for all that it’s worth.  The kids will learn that a favored activity isn’t going to happen not because Dad didn’t make it happen, but because they didn’t make it happen.

As it went, Middle did make the cast party since he found out that the form was due at the door and had it to me that morning before the final show.  Frankly, they were nicer than I’d have been.

Playing the College Numbers Game

Eldest leaves this afternoon with her mother for the last college visit, an out-of-state overnighter and with that, it then becomes a game of wait-and-see.  Wait and see who finally accepts her – although she’s a rocket scientist, like her mother – and wait and see what the final numbers are for the cost after the financial aid packages are received.  But does it have to be a wait-and-see scenario or can she just acknowledge an acceptance and be done with it before Christmas?

The biggest lesson that we’ve learned from watching others in the past several years is that you should never, never, ever apply to a school early admission and that is because it’s a question of timing.  The typical early decision process is meant to be completed in the November/December timeframe, which is at least weeks in advance of when the standard FAFSA financial aid paperwork is due from the families to the institutions.  Any student who applies early decision is contractually locked into attending without ever knowing what the financial aid package is going to be and we’ve witnessed multiple situations in which the final package from the early decision institution wasn’t what the teen and parents expected.  There are occasions when early decision isn’t an issue, but the implications can make it problematic.  The consumer advice given to parents has been that early decision should be largely avoided, with the student and parents using the various aid packages as negotiating levers to improve the financing from the favored college.  If you can shift $5000 from Parent Loans to grants, then Fiona can make it as one of your incoming students and boy, what an asset she’d be!  She’s a poster child for Ol’ Wassamatta U and can’t you just imagine that tousle-haired, cross-eyed, gap-toothed smile on the cover of your 2014 recruitment brochure?  The institutional rejoinder is that the demand for their services is high enough that there are other students who can fill that spot, as though our kids are cogs in the Big Ed machinery.  But the drumbeats about the college debt are sinking in as my wife learned in a recent admissions lecture that the number of schools being applied to by high school students has increased significantly in the past several years; the upshot is that the colleges are no longer certain how many students will actually accept offers and these institutions are in business, with seats to be filled come September.  So it’s still worth the effort to take a shot at negotiating the package.

In our case, Eldest is interested in a college that is upfront about this early decision dilemma.  Their practice is to give the families a best-guess estimate on what they could expect from an aid package should their child want to enter via early decision.  The caveat is a quid-pro-quo in that the family provides a non-FAFSA financial statement in the Fall and the school provides an estimate of what to expect with an aid package in the Winter/Spring.  There’s some uncertainty on both sides as the family numbers might not be what in January what they were earlier and the aid package might not be exactly what was promised, but the numbers might be enough to actually make the case on whether or not early decision should even be on the table.  This past weekend, my wife and I sat down with the financial paperwork to complete this college’s process and we’ll now see what the prospect looks like.  If it’s out of the ballpark, then we’ll have to consider whether the application is early or regular decision. 

So it’s still wait-and-see.



If you’re like me, you sometimes think if I had said that to my old man, he’d have had me against a wall.  Such was the sense the other evening as an encounter with my teens and a few of their peers blossomed into a surreal fencing match over Seth McFarlane’s Family Guy.  The point of the conversation was whether I was (huh)whipped, and if you watch Stewie, you get the reference.

For the record, I find Family Guy to be screamingly funny even if it does occasionally veer into the realm of the insensitive; McFarlane’s parody song about Terry Schiavo is a case in point.  My wife however, finds it utterly distasteful.  Consequently, I – and the older kids – have watched it in her absence but make it a point to keep it off when she’s around out of some respect for her opinion.  Years ago, I even purchased Season One on DVD but after realizing how much she hated it, I put it away in a secure place and have never actually watched it, again, out of respect for her real dislike of the program.  I’ve never actually gotten rid of it because I’d forgotten about it.

The situation occurred when the two teens, along with several of their peers, asked if they could watch the DVD collection and I refused to get it for them.  They persisted – no self-respecting teen stops at the first shot – and when I held my ground and explained that I’d put the set away out of respect, was informed that I was whipped.  The sparring continued and in reference to the fact that it was Family Guy, I corrected them by stating that I wasn’t whipped, but actually (huh)whipped (for the uninformed, when a word starts with "wh", Stewie pronounces it by saying "huh" in front of the "w" and hence the joke).  My initial thought was that the comment was truly disrespectful and I admit to almost losing my temper, but decided in the moment to pursue the discussion.  My goal was to make them think about adult relationships and the question of what a couple owes one another.  This multi-level, multi-player conversation continued on one level, funny, and on another, deadly serious as different scenarios were explored.  What does it mean to be "whipped"?  Several of you have boyfriends or girlfriends – if you refuse to do something out of respect for them, does that make you whipped?  How do you feel if your significant other does something, knowing that you really detest it? 

The encounter lasted for several minutes, about what you’d expect from a pack of teens looking for a few yucks, with the result being that they settled on another movie and they then disappeared downstairs. 

The points are these. 

  •  Parenting is going to take you outside of your comfort zone as you’re challenged by kids who are pushing the boundaries in their testing of independence.  It’s much easier to somehow simply slough off the topic but it’s our obligation as parents to swallow our bile and stick through the unpleasantry just so that the words are out there.  The kids might not like it, but I guarantee you that they’re listening and processing if you’re willing to proceed.
  • The kids will learn about how to manage their relationships by watching you and how you consider your mate.  Each adult relationship has its dysfunctionality and the kids will pick up on that, but they’ll also pick up on the good things that you do and how you choose to honor your mate.  In that moment, to allow myself to be manipulated by a pack of teens so as to not appear (huh)whipped by my spouse would have taught horrendous unspoken lessons.

And for the record, I’m throwing out the Season One DVD set when I can remember where I put it.

The King is Dead, Long Live…?

The King is Dead.  Long Live the King!

The classic lines were to be uttered by a Royal Chamberlain to announce the death of a monarch, followed by an oath of fealty to the new king.  These words stay with me as I consider what’s occurring around me, and I’ve actually paraphrased them to my older children as we talk about financial issues and money.  The old model is dead, long live whatever it is that’s coming, but I’ll be damned if I know.

For the past several generations, our economic model has been predicated upon end-user consumption.  That’s us, folks, as we spend unbelievable amounts on stuff and then in a few years, try to sell it at a garage sale to make some more to either cover the bills that should’ve been paid in the first place, or else buy a bit more stuff.  But with the wall of debt that’s been built over the past 25 years – personal, corporate and public – there’s simply no way that we can continue with this model, and all of the drama in Europe is ultimately about the realization that there simply aren’t enough productive assets to support their Picasso’s version of a Jenga tower. 

I’m not smart enough to foresee what’s coming and frankly, don’t believe anyone else who states that they do because much of the policy response is being made up on the fly.  But it’s become very clear that this model of economic growth based upon consumerism is dying, and doing so quickly.  That’s the message that I now try to hammer into the heads of my children as they grow into a very different economic environment.  The principal lessons?

  • Learn to live on less and save your money.  There’s presently a war on savers as rates are kept excruciatingly low, but rates swing on a pendulum and at some point, they’ll be forced upwards again.  Those who will do well at that time will be those who have learned how to live within their means now and the psychic adjustment will be much less difficult.
  • Understand what your priorities are.  Do you want a home of your own?  Then work towards that.  Do you want to educate the kids with little debt?  Then work towards that.  But remember that despite what the advertisers proclaim, you can’t have it all.
  • Figure out what really matters yourself and then actively share that with the kids.  Share with them that there are people who don’t have such basics as a secure home and food, then share with them how important these things are in comparison to new cars or the latest electronic gear.  Frankly, when I pray with Youngest at night, I purposefully give thanks for food and four walls and a roof; he learns that if I’m thanking God for that, then it must be important.  If you’re not a believer or don’t pray, find another way to get the message across.
  • Teach the kids about needs versus wants.  Talk with them about the concept of friendship and help them determine who really cares and matters.  Dad, isn’t it cool that General Mills will donate a dime of each cereal box sold to our schools?  Well, Daughter, if they really cared about education, then they’d just go ahead and donate the money anyway, wouldn’t they?  Why does a multinational corporation need my help to support education?  We’re not so much a society anymore as a multi-dimensional marketing cohort.
  • Learn to pay attention to the world around you.  Observe what your peers are doing and ask yourself, does this make sense?  It’s a wildly difficult concept for most teens, but talking about it helps to lay the groundwork for the future and that’s what this whole process of childrearing is about, preparing them for the future.  My own father would talk to me about things and in the moment, he sounded as if he were speaking Greek, but it then began to register and things made much more sense.  You are, in a sense, planting seeds.
  • Make it a point to start telling your child no.

Economic models don’t change immediately and certainly not quietly.  But if you can recognize things and at least begin to prepare the kids for the future, they’ll be ahead of the pack when push comes to shove.

Co-ed Sleepovers

This only happened to other people.  People who didn’t provide clear guidelines to the kids as they grew and who didn’t pay attention to what was going on.  People whose kids obviously didn’t know what they would say on a particular question.  And yet, it happened to me and it was stunning.  Within a two week span, each of the older kids asked if they could attend a co-ed sleepover.

For the record, most of the comments in the above paragraph are snark although the requests did have me asking them do you honestly think that I would even consider saying yes to this?  The reality is that no matter what you do in raising the kids, no matter how clear the expectations and how insistent you are upon those pesky, stupid values thingies, the kids will frequently want to go do something that is contrary to what you believe is right, let alone proper.  Coed sleepovers are just one more instance of the ongoing conflict between the family’s values and society’s values. 

The separate questions led to a reasoned conversation with one child and a more testy exchange with another who didn’t like the exasperatedly blunt no that came in response to the question.  And I admit that I could have handled the question better in the moment.  Regardless, why would I say no to such a request, especially since the parents are going to be there?

  • Parents are older and at some point, are probably going to sleep and when that happens?  Well, gasoline, meet match.  Teens in groups are frequently combustible with a noxiously potent stew of testosterone, estrogen and poor judgment and putting a bunch of them in the room together for a prolonged period without supervision is asking for major trouble.  It doesn’t mean that there will be issues or problems, but it ranks up there with – as PJ O’Rourke once wrote – giving whiskey and car keys to a bunch of teenage boys.  Remember, the teen battle cry is What Could Go Wrong?
  • Are the parents even going to be there?  Teens are exquisitely sensitive to perceptions of parental overinvolvement and any infringement upon their growing independence and will actively discourage any contact between parents, whether because they’re actually plotting or just hate the concept of checking up.  There is an active divide and conquer strategy among some teens and it can become unpleasant for parents who override their wishes.  That said, I’ve never had a poor exchange with another parent and have actively defended parents who have come to our front door for pickup or dropoff.  Four minutes of facetime doesn’t mean that Frank can tell whether I’m an axe murderer, but it does give a decent insight into what’s going on in the household.
  • There’s also the question of propriety, the increasingly antiquated noun which the root of (in)appropriate.  What does it matter what a bunch of people think of what I do?  These are the same people that might be called upon to hire you for a part-time job, write a job or college recommendation or even wonder whether they want you to date their own child in two years.  Honestly, it also bears upon my own reputation and I have no intention of placing my reputation in the hands of a tribe of teenagers. 
  • Everyone does it and besides, almost all of the kids there are either lesbian or gay.  Really?  And are you lumped into that category by the other kids trying to finagle their folks into agreeing to this?
  • Finally, it simply isn’t right.  When the kids are adults and on their own, then their actions are their own responsibility and they live with the consequences.  But as a parent, I do have a say in what’s considered to be acceptable behavior and letting legally minor children cohabitate, even for one night, isn’t right.

The question hasn’t been raised again but I suspect that it might and once again, it will probably be a tense exchange as the kids test the boundaries and limits.

November PracticalDad Price Index:  The Market Basket Cost Declines

For the second consecutive month since the 47 item market basket peaked in September, 2011, the cost of the market basket actually declined.  The November market basket cost was $188.31, down from October’s $188.34 and September’s high of $188.57.

In each month, there are a number of items with price changes, either higher or lower, but what’s notable about the November pricing is that for the first time, the number of items with price decreases was larger than the number with price increases.  For the record, 12 items dropped in price versus 11 items with increases; this figure is double October’s finding of only six items with price declines.


PracticalDad Price Index – Cumulative Results
Month $ Average Index 3 M Mov Avg
Nov 2010 178.39 100  
Dec 2010 180.30 101.07  
Jan 2011 179.51 100.63 100.56
Feb 2011 179.50 100.63 100.78
Mar 2011 180.51 101.08 100.78
Apr 2011 181.91 101.97 101.56
May 2011 182.10 102.08 101.71
Jun 2011 184.07 103.18 102.99
Jul 2011 184.82 103.71 102.99
Aug 2011 187.05 104.85 103.91
Sep 2011 188.57 105.71 104.76
Oct 2011 188.34 105.58 105.38
Nov 2011 188.31 105.56 105.61


















PracticalDad Price Index – November 2011

Item Size Category 9/11 10/11 11/11
hot dog rolls (ct) 8 bread 1.20 1.20 1.20
loaf, wht bread, store brand (oz) 20 bread 1.26 1.26 1.26
spaghetti, store brand (oz) 16 bread 1.21 1.24 1.25
child cereal, sugar flakes, store brand (oz) 17 cereal 2.90 2.90 2.97
cereal, rice chex, store brand (oz) 12.8 cereal 2.74 2.74 2.82
oatmeal, one minute, store brand (oz) 42 cereal 2.92 3.29 3.36
milk, 2% (gallon) 1 dairy 4.04 4.06 3.81
butter, unsalted, store brand (lb) 1 dairy 3.49 3.49 3.49
vanilla ice cream, store brand (qt) 1 dairy 2.01 2.01 2.01
grated parmesan cheese, store brand (oz) 8 dairy 3.08 3.08 3.08
American cheese, deli (lb) 1 dairy 5.59 5.59 5.52
peanut butter, store brand (oz) 28 grocery 3.09 3.16 3.59
grape jelly, store brand (oz) 32 grocery 1.99 2.01 2.01
kidney beans, dark, store brand (oz) 15.5 grocery .92 .95 .95
can green peas, store brand (oz) 15 grocery .96 .99 .99
can diced tomatoes, store brand (oz) 14.5 grocery 1.01 1.06 1.06
can cut green beans, store brand (oz) 14.5 grocery .96 .99 .99
can corn, store brand (oz) 15.25 grocery .96 .99 1.02
spaghetti sauce, store brand (oz) 26 grocery 1.26 1.21 1.21
cola, store brand (L) 2 grocery .96 .96 .94
caffeinated coffee, store brand (oz) 13 grocery 4.36 4.36 4.39
diapers, store brand, size 3 (ct) 100 hlth/bty 18.70 17.70 17.70
formula, Enfamil Premium, Lipil (oz) 23.4 hlth/bty 23.59 23.59 23.59
child ibuprofen, store brand, OS (oz) 4 hlth/bty 4.96 4.96 4.86
adult ibuprofen, caplet, store brand (ct) 100 hlth/bty 7.41 7.41 8.12
shampoo, Suave (oz) 22.5 hlth/bty 1.86 2.09 1.96
pads, long/medium, Poise (ct) 42 hlth/bty 16.09 16.09 16.42
bath soap, Dial (ct) 8 hlth/bty 5.84 6.14 6.18
aluminum foil, store brand (sq ft) 75 hshld 3.01 3.03 3.09
kitchen trash bags, handletop, store brand (ct) 26 hshld 4.31 4.31 4.31
paper towels, 2 ply, store brand (ct) 8 hshld 7.26 7.26 7.26
hot dogs, meat franks, store brand (oz) 16 meat 2.69 2.69 2.69

ground beef, 80% lean (lb)

1 meat 3.46 3.52 3.46
eggs, large (doz) 1 meat 2.08 1.98 1.91
lunchmeat, deli ham (lb) 1 meat 4.06 4.06 4.03
chicken, roaster (lb) 1 meat 1.59 1.56 1.56
fish sticks, Gortons (ct) 44 meat 7.49 7.79 7.51
tuna, chunk lt, water packed, store brand (oz) 5 meat .81 .81 .81
bananas (lb) 1 produce .59 .59 .59
apples, Red Delicious, bag (lb) 3 produce 4.32 4.09 3.76
carrots, bag (lb) 2 produce 2.39 2.36 2.36
OJ, non-concentrate, store brand (oz) 64 produce 2.79 2.79 2.79
potatoes, Russet (lb) 5 produce 4.66 4.32 3.66
sugar, store brand (lb) 5 staple 3.22 3.26 3.27
flour, store brand (lb) 5 staple 2.29 2.29 2.26
canola oil, store brand (oz) 48 staple 4.39 4.39 4.39
rice, white, long-grain, store brand (lb) 2 staple 1.81 1.73 1.85
                                      Total     188.57 188.34 188.31


Another Look at the Report Card

The marking period is just ended and when the report card comes home from elementary school, I’ll think twice about which segment my eyes run to first – the grades or the social development/class behavior comments.  This is on the heels of a conversation that I had with another father as our boys got ready for a Fall baseball game, and the father, Scott,  presented me with a viewpoint on an issue that I never truly considered before.

Although the format might differ, almost all elementary schools break out their report cards into two sections.  The one section pertains to the grades that were earned while the second covers the social development and behavioral aspects of Junior’s time at school.  The teacher usually also provides a brief written synopsis of how Junior’s developing and interacting with the teachers and peers.  I can’t speak for other districts, but our elementary report card lists the grades on the left hand side of the page, which are then followed by the development/behavior aspects in the remainder; the teacher’s assessment paragraph is written on a separate sheet of paper.  As we read from left to right, and the grades are placed on the left side, they are naturally the first thing to be seen.

Scott’s take on the report card was that he really went right past the grades and focused on the developmental/behavioral aspects of his son’s school experience.  In his view, the more important aspect at this level of school was how his son was developing and interacting with his peers; grades certainly mattered, but a poor grade could flow from simply not understanding the material or else from something that was discussed in the development/behavior section.  In the case of the former, measures could be taken to help the child understand the material better and bring the grade up.  In the case of the latter, then it didn’t matter what you did with assistance and remedial work, but would still require more intentional – and usually more difficult – work on the question of behavior and development.  Drilling a kid on the multiplication tables to improve performance is far easier than trying to parse through why Junior behaves a certain way or whether there’s something else coming into play in development.

This viewpoint was simply something that I’ve never considered.  Ours is a grades first household – You want to try this?  Then show me the grades, first. – and while the other aspects are indeed just as important, they were something that I went to after I’d satisfied myself that the grades were in order.  The father has a legitimate point in his comments.  Grades are frequently symptoms of a deeper, underlying issue and even if the immediate issue of the grade is corrected, the developmental side can fester until it erupts much later if it isn’t addressed early.

When the report card comes out of the backpack in about a week, I’ll be remembering his comments before I read the report.