Having the Conversations

Tonight was an evening in which I pulled over the car to have a conversation with Youngest, who’s now old enough that testosterone is starting to course through the veins of both he and his buddies.  On one level, it was just another conversation to cull through the phrases and comments that he’s hearing and yet on another, it’s the conversation, the first of many that will occur over the next half-dozen or so years.  Even having had similar conversations with his older siblings, it doesn’t get easier and it still puts me so far outside of my comfort zone that returning to it sometimes requires a compass and map.  But having this kind of conversation is crucial because I’m certain that the kids are having their own conversations with both their peers and  the entertainment/media complex. 

We’ve made sure that the basics of birds and bees are clear with the kids from a young age and all of them knew the source of babies before they were in kindergarten.  But we left the mechanics alone and only went into further detail when they started asking or bringing comments home from elementary school; it was then that both my wife and I made the promise that I repeated to Youngest last night.  If you hear anything that you don’t understand, or have a question on the meaning of a phrase or comment that you hear, then bring it to me and I’ll answer it.  It will be factual and it will be correct, and after the actual definition, I’ll even toss in some of the slang so that you have a clue of what you’re hearing when you hear it.  The flip side is that it’s incumbent upon me to actually honor that promise; I might have to defer the question to another time – Honey, let’s answer that one when no one else is around – but it’s critical that it’s not only answered, but that I bring up the topic to the child.  Especially in the case of the boys, I added several additional comments:

  • When you hear your buddies talking, accept it as gospel that they’ve got lousy information and might not even know what they’re saying;
  • When you hear your buddies talking, accept it as gospel that even if they have a clue as to the concept, they have no experience with any of it;
  • When you hear your buddies bragging when they’re older, expect that they’re blowing smoke.

The conversations that our kids are having aren’t just with their peers however.  The entertainment/media complex has been having a long-standing monologue with them via the electronic media – television, music and video games – for decades now and the level of the conversation progressively coursens over time.  If you don’t believe it, consider the impact of MTV’s Jersey Shore and the subsequent behaviors of teens at the mall and on the street.  Pubescent teens strut down the street with loud and obnoxious swagger, proclaiming the most shallow nonsense but utterly ignorant of the most basic workings of the world around them. When the average American youth is spending about six hours daily in front of a screen, it’s especially important that you make the effort to have conversations of your own; it’s okay to tell them to turn off either a particular program or the entire device and make an effort to have conversations of your own.  What I’ve also found helpful is to quietly pursue my own inquiries into what’s out there, by checking out the lyrics of some of their favorite tunes and periodically checking out popular youth websites.  It’s fantasy to believe that I can stop the older kids from following them, shy of fully eliminating the electronics, but I can certainly be forewarned about what they’re encountering. 

The conversations aren’t always going to be heavily laden and not all of them are going to go well, but it ‘s crucial that the effort be maintained.  The kids might even roll their eyes, but the truth is that they want to have your attention and conversations; and it’s in everybody’s best interests that you do.

Boys Stink


I sat last week in a doctor’s office, someone with whom I’ve had enough experience to know that he also has three kids in the same age/gender mix – elder girl, two younger brothers – as my own.  It was one of those Spring days for which you desperately await, a time when you can enjoy the outside again.  He stated that he’d taken a very early morning walk and my response was that I’d actually thrown open the windows in the boys’ bedrooms before departing for the appointment; it was a day for which I’d waited, a chance to air out the stale odors that had taken residence over the enclosed winter months.  He nodded in agreement, commenting that the boys’ hangout in his basement smelled heavily of sweaty feet and stale sweat.  Geez, boys do stink, don’t they?  I remarked.  He responded Yeah, they really do.  Boys stink

The old axiom is that Spring is a time when a young man’s fancy turns to love.  When you have boys who are teens or tweens, the fancy turns instead to thoughts of opening the bedroom windows in order to blow out the accumulated stink of winter.  The pubescent years are difficult enough as the teens try on new attitudes, opinions and looks like a diva tries on shoes.  But boys provide a literal insult to injury with the accumulated odors that accrue in their rooms; they can bathe daily and use all manner of deodorant, but their personal den generally accrues enough poor hygiene habits that there is a perceptibly stale funk.  There are the standard components of dirty socks and underwear that somehow wind up behind furniture or buried within the closet and there’s a never-ending refrain of reminders to hang up the damp bath towels.  I once entered a child’s room and was immediately struck by the notion that there’s something wrong with this picture; after several minutes of searching around, I realized that a bedroom has three dimensions and looked up to find underwear dangling from the ceiling light.  Seriously, son?  The amazing part is that when I commented to him later, his account of how it got there jibed with what I’d expected when I first saw it. 

Boys are generally unaware of the details that surround them and the obliviousness reaches an absolute-zero boundary when they enter the teen years.  But even the oblivion can be pierced by environment and the results are, well…someday we’ll find them amusing.  In one instance, a boy decided to address the odors by spraying two drawers – full of clean clothing – with the larger part of a bottle of Axe deodorant while we were at the store; when we walked in the front door, the reek of Axe so permeated the house that we had to wheel about and exit the same door.  In another instance, a boy complained of a swarm of small flies in his room and when I investigated, I found an uneaten school lunch bag crammed into a clothing drawer, the flies drawn to the decaying fruit.  There are certainly other stories from this household which I won’t share and I know of many others from fellow parents who can only shake their heads in disbelief.  If you have boys who aren’t yet teens, you’ll certainly accumulate your own. 

The upshot is this. 

  • While we want our children to take responsibility for themselves and their personal environment, the path isn’t on an even grade and there are periods when they enter the teen years that you actually think that they’re regressing.  This is part and parcel of those years when the kids’ brains literally rewire themselves – thank you, MRI studies – and their thoughts apparently wind up lost for all of the dead-end synapses that no longer accommodate traffic.
  • There will likely be some conflict between the privacy-conscious teen and the parent who wants to come through and at least keep the room habitable, culling through debris, opening windows, clearing out drawers and changing sheets.  Decide what your limit is and stick to it. 
  • As they age, don’t assume that they automatically know what to do with antiperspirant, deodorant and body sprays – most especially in what amounts.  It’s self-evident to parents but conversations with boys can lead to expressions of enlightenment that rival their personal discovery of a fourth dimension or an answer as to why the Cubs just can’t seem to make it to the playoffs.   

The long and short is that we have to be prepared to continue to monitor and work with them, even when we wish that we didn’t have to.  We also have to make decisions as to what we’ll tolerate and what kind of conflict we’ll have to undergo as we help them grow through this period.  Our failure – and I know of parents who won’t stay on their boys to wash routinely and use appropriate personal care products – will lead to larger issues with the kids as they run into peers who aren’t shy about poking fun at their hygiene.  While the boys’ rooms can stink, it doesn’t mean that they have to as well. 

PracticalDad Price Index:  Little Change in April 2013

The PracticalDad Price Index of 47 grocery store items was finished and the Total Index of 107.29 showed little change from March’s level of 107.24 (November 2010 = 100).  When the ten non-food items are removed, the Food-only Index was likewise almost unchanged with April’s 113.46 up slightly from the previous month level of 113.35.  This is the second month of a slight recovery after the three month drop that commenced from the Indices highs reached in December 2012.

While the monthly survey of the three unrelated stores was routine, one thing did jump out and I’ll watch going forward to ascertain whether there’s something happening or if it’s just me.  There were two instances in which the typical products weren’t on the shelves; this doesn’t mean that the shelves were empty, but the shelf label that indicated that the item even existed on the shelf was completely missing.  This is on top of similar observations at isolated instances in the recent past.  With the knowledge that the median family income has dropped by 7.2% since December 2007  and the number of Americans on Food Stamps has now surpassed 50 million, there’s simply less available for spending.  Understand that the number of different products available in groceries has risen significantly in the past several decades with a much greater variety now than was available when our grandparents went grocery shopping; but there are production costs with each product and a food manufacturer is going to begin to cull out those products which don’t maximize profit on each production run.  Likewise with the grocer, who doesn’t want unsold inventory sitting around, tying up cash.  I do know that one of the three grocery stores no longer sells bulk size boxes of diapers in the size that’s used for the Index, although it keeps the smaller sized/higher margin product on the shelves.  This is the same store which stopped selling the Index formula (Enfamil Infant/23.4 oz) more than a year ago when it realized that the customer base simply wasn’t buying it in sufficient amounts to justify keeping it stocked.  The long and short is that as incomes continue to drop and money is drained from the system, the variety to which we’ve become used will drop as well.

Month          Total Index          Food-Only          Spread

1/13              108.01                 113.24                 5.23

2/13              107.81                 113.59                 5.78

3/13              107.24                 113.35                 6.11

4/13              107.29                 113.46                 6.17