An Abiding State of PACE


Perhaps it should say long-leggedy teenagers, instead. 

Ask any middle-aged parent about teenagers and the response is liable to be an audible sigh accompanied by a visible shaking and dropping of the head.  They are capable of things that are utterly breathtaking to the parents – where in the hell did that come from? – to be immediately followed by an equally breathtaking lapse of the most basic common sense.  As I pause on the threshold of having three kids within the teen pipeline, Youngest on the verge of entering and Eldest on the verge of exiting with Middle in the…middle, it occurred that I exist in a perpetual and abiding state of PACE (Perpetual Annoyance and Chronic Exasperation), far different from what I recall during their early years when it was a given that the onus of most personal care and thinking fell upon me instead of them.  

It was easy to remember when they were tykes that the burden fell upon me for the majority of their care.  But the tykes grow into more adult-sized bodies, albeit often disproportionate with feet and/or hands placed upon the extended limbs that don’t quite mesh the rest of their forms.  The result is a sense, and I freely admit unfounded, that this life-size ersatz adult should be able to think with the structure of an adult mind.  This isn’t to say that I expect them to understand much about the adult American world since most adults don’t seemingly comprehend it either, with it’s opaque financial and cultural structures that defy understanding and increasing security structures that discourage even questioning.  It’s a common recurring misconception of mine, that believes that possessing size 12 feet also confers a degree of common sense when the reality is that the visible body’s size is wholly unrelated to their ability to think and use even a minimal degree of common sense.  Seriously, I’d expect that such a possibility would even remotely cross your mind…as my blood pressure increases over the short period of time.

But what happens to the teenage brain over the pubescent teen years is far different.  Feet grow and body hair develops, but the child’s brain is doing things that have taken the breath of neuroscientists away.  With the development of the MRI and CT-scan machines, someone had the bright idea of doing periodic brain scans for the same children – akin to snapshots – at regular intervals over the course of years.  The upshot of these scans was the realization that the brain of the typical kid was literally rewiring itself with new pathways being formed over the course of years.  When I first learned this, my response was so when I told her to take out the trash on three different instances, it didn’t happen because the requests were stuck in synaptic construction traffic.  This knowledge is a sop to the frustration when clothing is strewn about, milk left and requests/commands ignored; but the accumulation of stuff still drives my blood pressure upwards and leaves me wondering, what else to do?

But for all of the teeth-grinding frustration, there are moments when I realize that despite the haywire thinking processes, the kids are developing character and making choices that reflect a growing awareness of the world and their place within it.  This character, and the understanding of the difference between right and wrong, is something that I consider even more important than the developing ability to think.  This is the literal framework within which they will think as adults, the lens that focuses their decisions reached after thought, consideration or perhaps the occasional coin toss.  Until they’re on their own, all that I can do is try to bite my tongue – or not bite theirs – and hang onto the knowledge that this too shall pass when their brains catch up with the rest of their bodies.  The effort until then is to talk with them and try to help them develop the structure with which they can think their way through problems and questions.  It should also go without saying that the character work has to continue as well.






The Virus Cocktail

I must be slipping.

This morning saw a quick early morning run to the grocery store for the ingredients of the PracticalDad family virus cocktail, apple juice and Sprite.  They are the ingredients that for years,I kept on the basement storage shelves precisely for the moment when I heard the night-time Siren’s call, I’m not feeling well and think that I have to throw up.  Which is what my wife and I heard from Youngest in the middle of last night as he entered our room.  We both got up with him and after settling him back into bed, I took disinfectant wipes to the touchable surfaces in the kids bathroom; I then settled into the Eldest’s vacant bed in the room next to his in the event that there were other issues. 

Each family seems to have its own magic elixir for handling illness and ours is the virus cocktail.  We adopted it for multiple reasons, not least of which is an effort to at least keep the sick ones hydrated and away from an emergency room IV drip for dehydration and excepting one occasion amongst three kids, it’s worked.  The non-acidic apple juice contains much needed vitamin C to help bolster an ailing immune system and is supplemented by the Sprite so that the antsy stomach isn’t out-and-out assaulted by the juice; when we’re fixing it, we even stir it before delivery to remove the carbonated bubbles so that again, the stomach is spared.  The fact that it’s tasty also makes sipping it less of a chore than water, which an ailing kid is likely to look at with an unspoken blecchhhh crossing the face. We also kept a spare bottle of Pedialyte on the shelves to help correct the sick child’s body chemistry but found that the taste was simply unappealing and after a horrendous session years ago, coaxing a sick child to take in some nutrients only to meet them again within 15 minutes, the option was to stick with the cocktail.

When the kids were very small and I knew that my better half was leaving on business, it was a point to assure that we had at least two bottles of each within the house.  We seemed to live under a curse that left one or more kids simultaneously – or sequentially – ill with one thing or another and with her gone, any sickness left me housebound to manage until their recovery or her return.  Within two days of either, it was a given that I’d be in the same boat as the now-healed children.  But as the kids have grown and learned to cope with the illnesses, the practice of stocking for the cocktail has fallen into disuse so that this most recent event left me ill-prepared. 

It’s easier now that the kids are a bit older and not so physically incapable of caring for themselves.  There’s no panic with sickness and a sense of routine – okay, here we go again so just stay to my room, nap and let it run the course – and sure enough, when Eldest was sick the other week in college, my wife received a text announcing the stomach virus with the news that a roommate had already been dispatched to the nearby grocery for…apple juice and Sprite.  Eldest then took to her room with her cocktail and let it run the 24 hour course.  On the refrigerator door is a note to remind me to pick up the replacement ingredients for the cocktail on my next trip so that I’m not caught unprepared again.

Which reminds me, I need to stock up on more hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.


Surviving Jack:  Is There a New Fatherhood Meme Starting?

My wife and I were sitting in the family room watching the evening tube when Fox ran a commercial promoting a new show, Surviving Jack, with Christopher Meloni.  After watching Meloni’s character, Jack, in the promo, she looked over at me laughing and simply said you’re going to want to see that.  She was correct and when it finally aired about a week later, I did.

Meloni’s character, Jack, is happily married – insofar as that kind of guy experiences happiness – to the mother of his two teenage children in the halcyon days of the early 1990s.  He is a physician who steps up to take a larger role in raising the kids when his wife returns to law school, much to the fear and trepidation of his high school freshman son.  It is this character who is the present-day narrator of the story and is loosely based upon the upbringing of author and creator Justin Halpern; those who recall the name understand that Jack is also based loosely upon Halpern’s father, who Halpern made famous in his hilarious S*!t My Dad Says.  I’ve watched two episodes of the show and will continue because it’s funny and also because it’s frankly fascinating as to the points that can be made about fatherhood if one chooses to consider them.

The first point is that Jack doesn’t view being an active and engaged parent who’s now responsible for the daily care of teenagers with trepidation.  The popular media view of most fathers over the past twenty years has been that they are, at worst, idiots and at best, well-meaning but ineffective in their ability to parent the kids.  Granted, Jack’s kids are now teenagers and he’s through the stage where he’s changing diapers and managing the When You Give a Mouse a Cookie chaos of small children.  But teens present a wholly different challenge that is, as one mother described to me, far more mental and emotional than the physical of small kids.  Jack’s wife is hopeful that he’ll manage but concerned how her hard-nosed husband will handle the challenges; she has to let go of her own desire to micro-manage – and yes, mothers, many of you do tend to micromanage Dad – and trust him.  In an early instance of teen nonsense, he simply says don’t worry, I’ll handle this and proceeds to do so in a way that is foreign to most women but common to many men.  And to her relief and surprise, it works.

This leads to the second point, which is that women and men have a fundamentally different view of not only the role of parenting, but also the goal.  Jack’s wife talks to classically self-absorbed teen daughter and tells her that she wants her to avoid the same mistakes that she herself made and be happy.  Jack’s vision of what he has to do is prepare the kids to make their way in a world that is competitive and more than a little unfriendly.  Happiness is something that comes after a person has shown himself capable of managing what life throws at him and in Jack’s view, the objects thrown include everything up to and including the kitchen sink.  When his son is on the mound trying out for a place on the varsity baseball team, he has to pitch to his best friend, who desperately needs to get hits in order to make the team as well.  After lobbing a pineapple that goes for a hit, Jack actually interrupts the game and goes to the mound to tell his boy to stop half-assing and pitch the ball.  Son gets the message and proceeds to school his friend in the art of baseball.  While the circumstances have been different, the term half-assing is one that I’ve actually used with all of my own kids.  Son/Daughter/Whoever you are, I will support you in whatever you wish to participate.  But if you’re going to try it, then do your best and go all in.  Because if I even think that you’re half-assing in there and wasting my time, then that support goes away and you’ll be done.  Period.  And to the pleasure of my wife and I, each has gone all in and given their best effort.  It might not be the best out there, but soccer forwards are chased down, hits run through to first base and music practiced for the garage band to the point that it legitimately sounds good; and when a song sucks, it gets canned from the upcoming show’s playlist.

The third point is that Jack is actually respectful of the structure that his wife has created with the family and stays within it, showing that he’ll uphold his wife and maintain a solid front.  When his son, and buddies, come to him for help with their baseball skills, he takes up the challenge in comically over-the-top fashion.  He scares them and when his off-screen wife overhears him state that he’ll be picking them up at 5 AM and that they should expect to skip school in order to practice, she steps in and commands that school shall not be missed.  Jack’s response isn’t an argument with her, but a simple change of plans so that he respects her stance that school attendance is inviolable.  He might offer a different opinion of a situation to his daughter than one rendered by his wife, but again, he maintains a united front. 

Will this replacement show last?  I have no idea and frankly, my track record on calling the survival of television shows is spotty at best.  But despite the broad caricatures drawn by the creator and writers for comedic effect, the upshot of the show is that for all of the quirks, Jack is a blunt, old-school father who is actually an effective parent.  He refuses to accept the position of Bucky, the Sidekick Parent that’s taken by the large majority of on-screen fathers.  His perspective on fatherhood is to-the-point and survival oriented, as much as that of a father raising kids on the American frontier.  Men do have a different perspective on their role than women and it’s honestly time that it’s acknowledged to be as valid as that of the more tender-hearted mother.



PracticalDad Price Index – April 2014:  Wishing It Was April Fools Day

The pricing for the 47 item PracticalDad Price Index grocery basket took place on April 1 and when I calculated the results, I could only wish that it was actually an April Fool’s experience but alas, it’s not. The Total Index rose by a full .87 points, from March’s 109.41 to 110.28 in April (November 2010 = 100).  This was powered by the rise in the 37 item food-item portion of the basket, which suffered a one month gain of 1.53 points – equivalent to a single month rise of greater than 1.5% – from March’s 112.06 to April’s 113.59 (again, November 2010 = 100).  For our purposes, the cost of a 47 item grocery basket has risen 10.28% since the Index’s inception in November, 2010.  For a list of the items that have been monitored monthly since November 2010, see here.  When you remove the 10 non-food related items such as aluminum foil and bath soap, the remaining 37 items have risen by 13.59% from November 2010.

Note that the Food-Only Index is still below that Index high reached in December 2012, when it reached it’s high of 114.33.  The Total Index, which also comprises the ten non-food items, is continuing to set new highs as time moves forward; but now the food is again the driver. 

I was curious as to the results given the late March news that the Commodities Research Bureau Foodstuffs Index has risen 19% since December, 2013. This was especially since the movement of the PracticalDad Food-only Index in the past several months has been downwards and I’ve seen multiple food items actually drop in price over that same time frame.  So if the CRB Foodstuff Index is rising while the grocery basket index is flat or declining, what does that mean?  It’s helpful to understand what each index is and what each measures.  The CRB Index has been around for decades and measures 10 agricultural commodities only: 

  • hogs
  • steers
  • lard
  • butter
  • soybean oil
  • cocoa
  • corn
  • Kansas City wheat
  • Minneapolis wheat
  • sugar

These items are input items into the food system, used frequently by consumers sooner or later, hamburger in the former or as sugar processed for kid’s breakfast cereal in the latter.  The commodity foodstuffs are frontloaded in the food pipeline, so to speak.  They are influenced by multiple factors. 

The PracticalDad Price Index however, is measuring the prices of commonly used foodstuffs at the retail end of the food pipeline.  Hamburger and hot dogs, canned and fresh vegetables, common dairy items that we use in our daily cooking and food consumption.  While I haven’t done any real examination, it would appear that there’s a general lag of several months in the food pipeline and the behavior of the PracticalDad Index is basically lagging the CRB Index.

So what’s the takeaway here?

  1. That the PracticalDad increase is only the first of further to come as the CRB commodity increases work their way through the food production and delivery pipeline.
  2. That while the commodity increases might be outsized, they’ll be somewhat contained – although still exceptionally painful to a population in which over 47 million are on food-assistance – since the market basket is composed of other items as well.  But on the whole, this is still a bad, bad thing.
  3. Expect that as weather and drought related conditions exist, there won’t be a significant improvement unless demand for some of the foodstuffs decreases as to force producers to control prices and accept a lower profit margin…and good luck on that one.

And one other note about this.  The commodity inputs now are largely weather/drought related, and I’ve seen significant increases in the dairy segment of the PracticalDad Index; as the weather changes and herd sizes increase and crop production increase, the commodity prices will drop – as they did for example, in mid – 2011.  Will these decreases also feed through to simple price declines in the grocery store?