Thursday, May 6, 2010

Flying with Kids

Travelling as a family is almost a cultural thing. Either your family is in to travel or it isn't. Ours is. The EveryToddler has traveled on over 20 airplanes in her two short years. Fortunately, it's gotten to the point now that she enjoys the experience and even looks forward to it when we hype it for her.

Getting on a plane with kids is always an adventure, sometimes even a fun one (see the aforementioned enjoyment). A certain measure of the experience is out of your control. For example, we've noticed that a very important X factor is the relative surliness of TSA staff and the flight crew. Nothing is more stressful on a flight than trying to get the kids settled while the flight attendant is insistent that the seat belt be buckled now. Not 30 seconds from now. But now.

Anyway, we have learned a few things that make it a lot more pleasant and are looking for more ideas to make flying with small children a bit easier.
  • A lot of it is in your head. If you convince yourself that it's not going to be that bad, it's probably not going to be that bad.
  • Show up early. TSA always tells you to be there at least an hour early, but keep in mind that everything takes a little bit longer with kiddos. Keep in mind that their fluids need to be dealt with (most of the time, TSA will need to do whatever it is they do to check out baby bottles, for example) as well as any carry-on stuff you bring for them. If you've got a baby, skip the shoes because, yes, they will need to be removed for security.
  • Pack light. 'Nuff said. Bring a day's worth of diapers and buy more when you get there. Consider leaving any extras at grandma's house for next time.
  • A lot of people have different feelings about strollers. (I saw a family with a Chariot double stroller at the security checkpoint the other day!) If you're by yourself with the kiddos, you've got to keep in mind what you're willing to deal with. A lot of people swear by the cheap-o umbrella strollers for airplanes. We go with our everyday stroller even though it's a bit bulkier, though not as much so as a Chariot. Our thinking is that umbrella strollers don't do anything to help you tote stuff which, let's face it, can be almost as useful as their ability to tote the kids. It's a bit more of a pain to break down and get onto the conveyor belt, but it's well-made and we feel safe having it stowed down below. Also, when going into a potentially unpleasant, out-of-the-ordinary situation, there's some measure of comfort in having what you usually have.
  • We swear by movies on planes. We try not to watch too much TV at home, so it's part of what makes planes special.
Anyway, the EveryMom's prowess will be put to the ultimate test this summer when she takes the EveryFamily worldwide without me (though she'll be flying with her family).

What works for you all?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Get Your Girls in Sports

The EveryDad has high hopes that the EveryDaughters will be interested in sports someday. I'm very happy that the EveryToddler knows well who the Dodgers and Lakers are, what golf is, and is mesmerized by watching girls soccer when it crops up on ESPN and other networks. When her attention span surpasses 10 minutes, it'll be time to take her to some live sporting events featuring men or women, but probably women.

I hope that the girls have lots of interests, but I'd like sports to be among them. And now I have some more ammunition to rationalize what might be a somewhat irrational desire of mine. Apparently, according to this study, playing a high school sport increases a young woman's odds of graduation by 41%. That's either a really strong correlation indicative of an already motivated young woman or there might be a causal relationship there.

The study's authors do control for other factors including parents' income level and education, school quality by other metrics, etc., so at least there's that. They also postulate the increased discipline that sports require bleeds into academics, to stay nothing of the incentive to stay academically eligible. They further cite this as justification for preserving and promoting sports when faced with the need to cut extra-curriculars from the budget.

The EveryMom and I aren't sure how to "help" our kids get into one activity over the other, and I'm sure we'll have some rough spots with piano lessons, practices, or whatever, but we both really valued our sports experience and others. Anyone out there have any ideas about how to encourage our kids in one direction or the other?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Man Skills

Every dad needs to have some basic man skills, if for no other reason than because it's valuable for kids to see their dads working about the house from time to time. I think it can go so far as to provide a sense of security to kids. On a subconscious level, it's probably reassuring for kids to see dads investing of their free time, skill (or whatever substitute they have), and creativity in the family home. If Dad's spending this time and money on fixing things up, making things niftier and more useful, and adding his personality, he must be in it for the long haul.

On another level, we dads don't often do well just taking our kids aside and saying, "Let's talk." If we were to do that, our kids would probably be so freaked out that they wouldn't know what to say anyway. But kids are generally fascinated by how things happen. The EveryToddler is fascinated by "Dad's Garage." She knows it's dad's garage and there are strange things in there. She loves it when I tinker around in there and loves to just watch. This is the same fascination with how food is prepared or how the vacuum works translated to the man skills environment.

But more than that, we generally do better talking to our kids while we're doing something else. Working together provides a great venue for those conversations. Even toddlers can be useful helpers when asked to help in the right tasks. The EveryToddler, for example, is a great thrower-away of things. She's also a thief of tiny screws, but that's my fault for putting those interesting things in her path.

Economically, there's another benefit to doing little improvements around the house. I make no claims that it's cheaper to do it yourself as most of us have botched enough things that it could have been cheaper and quicker to outsource, but there's a psychological return on investment at play here. The EveryFamily is currently renting, but we're not ignorant of the plight of homeowners who have seen the equity in their down payments fall victim to plummeting home value. No longer able to trade up, families are finding a lot of value in making their current home more the home of their dreams. Good call.

What do you folks see as the man skills that every dad should have?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Article for EveryDad-Teaching Kids About Money

Every dad sweats about money to some degree. No matter how much we make there's always the worry that it won't be enough--enough to satisfy the desired lifestyle, enough for Christmas, enough for the mortgage, the car repair, the future college tuitions, retirement, etc. Every dad has lost sleep on the subject at some point.

One stress is how best to teach kids about money. EveryDad had an allowance that consisted of two parts:

1) What EveryGrandpa described then as "being a boy money." Call it a base salary with no incentives. There were a certain degree of unpaid chores to fulfill as part of my role in the family and there was an expectation that the EveryParents would rarely if ever foot the bill for anything deemed discretionary. They weren't arbitrary about it so this was their way of ensuring that I had some capital to burn without having to ask for handouts.

2) What you could describe as bonus money. This was particularly important when saving for things like new baseball gloves, bigger-ticket items, souvenir money on vacations. There were jobs that could be done around the house that they probably could have expected me to do anyway (mowing the lawn, washing the car, vacuuming, etc.) but that we decided together as a family were worth an extra lump of change as part of my allowance, probably due to their only-semi-regular nature and extra investment of time.

My only gripe looking back is that they didn't more strictly regiment my savings, so as a result I developed a poor appreciation of it that was challenging to overcome. Maybe they could have incentivized it some by contributing a percentage of every dollar saved at the end of a given period. I didn't have a bank account until much later and so no way to grow my savings except by watching it pile up in my wallet.

Also, there wasn't very much talk of forecasting apart from leading up to family vacation time. As a result, I was often met with a "No" a week before the opening day of Little League when the hand-me-down glove didn't seem quite right or the week of the beach trip when I just had to have a new body board because I hadn't saved for it. I suspect that some of these needs could have been anticipated as a family and budgeted for.

Regardless, the EveryMom and I each have tremendously different backgrounds in terms of how family finance was handled during our own childhood, and as a result there's a lot of work to be done as our children get old enough to learn how to handle money. It's a good conversation to have, and probably no less important than discussions about family finance generally.

I suspect that it will be more and more important to give kids some sense of their credit rating and the potential damage that mistakes with money can cause to that rating. With online banking it can become a lot more practical to teach kids about credit cards, debit cards, savings accounts, etc. than it ever was when we were growing up.

Along that vein, the trusty Wall Street Journal's Personal Finance section provides tons of advice on the subject that the EveryDad has been filing away for future reference. Here's a recent article entitled "The 15 Money Rules Kids Should Learn." Highlights include:
  • Spending money only happens after you earn it.
  • Let your kids make mistakes that they can learn from.
  • One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is your own financial security when you're old.
What works for your family? When do you think it's a good time to start teaching kids about money? What do you wish you'd done differently or what have you learned from how you grew up?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Every Dad

Every dad has a moment, usually early in his days as a parent, where he says the word "yucky" in normal, adult conversation. It's particularly embarrassing among co-workers.

What's worse, every dad has probably had plenty of those moments that they don't even remember because it slipped right by them.

For every dad, this is a moment where he realizes how fully invested in his parenting he's become. He realizes that the man he was 2, 5, 7, or 10 years ago used to laugh at guys just like him. At the guys who never seemed to have much to say beyond what tricks their toddler was doing. At the guys who seemed to just be waiting in the conversational line with other dads not to swap stories per se, but to state with some measure of authoritativeness and no measure of conversation just what it is that "We do with our kid."

He steps outside himself and sees just how he's changed. Maybe a part of him feels a certain measure of loss when imagining that guy of 2, 6, 7, or 10 years ago who was maybe a bit more fit, had a bit more disposable income, and seemed so much cooler. But in general he's content, because he realizes the gift that his children are.

But every dad goes it more alone than he needs to. He listens to every mom talk about the stories she's heard of other parents and their kids--the funny ones, the ridiculous ones, the ones that spark intense family policy discussions, etc. When he has questions about being every dad, he's not exactly sure who to talk to.

Let's face it. It's easy for every dad to get to the point to where he has more friends-in-law than friends (Your wife's friends' husbands). Every dad finds himself with less time for the kind of friendships that got him through high school, college, and those days of bachelorhood.

Well, this blog hopes to be a place where every dad can pop by, swap stories, good books, advice, whatever. There might even be time to talk sports, movies, or other such only-quasi-dad-related subjects. Hope you enjoy.

Article for EveryDad-Bromances

EveryDad does research, so here's a good read from the Wall Street Journal's Jeffrey Zaslow entitled, "Friendships for Guys (No Tears!)." I liked it because it talked about why male friendships are inherently different than female relationships. That sounds like a "duh!" statement along the lines of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus stuff, but it makes some good points.

The EveryDad has often had some interesting conversations with the EveryMom after returning from trips to visit with buddies. As is expected and not unwelcome by any means, the EveryMom will ask the typical questions: "How are things with Kevin? What did you guys talk about?" My answers are usually eerily like this commentary from the great Jerry Seinfeld:

Or, as Zaslow puts it:

A woman from Wisconsin wrote to me recently to say that she effortlessly shares intimate feelings with her friends. That's in great contrast to her husband. He recently went on a fishing trip to Canada with four longtime friends. And so she wondered: What did they talk about for a whole week? She knew one of the men had problems at work. Another's daughter was getting married. The third man has health problems. Her husband said none of those issues came up. She couldn't believe it.

She told him: "Two female strangers in a public restroom would share more personal information in five minutes than you guys talked about in a week!"

I'll not have seen my buddy in a year and topics include: memories of high school football (yes, we're all that guy), interesting movies we might have seen recently or want to see, or, shocker of shockers, what we're actually doing together that instant. And that's the key--we're doing something even if it's just watching TV.

Zaslow cites a research subject describing it thus: "Our conversations deal with the doing of things rather than the feeling of things," calling to mind the contrasting image of women at "book clubs," at lunches, or even on the phone talking about fears, insecurities, important events in peoples' lives at any given moment, etc.

Hence, while a woman's friendships are face to face, men's relationships are side by side.

This is nothing to shy away from as we derive great strength from those interactions and they're awesome. It's also valuable to model those relationships for our children as well as acknowledge the differences both for the everymoms out there and for the everydaughters. We can teach them about the interactions that are most valuable to us while acknowledging their needs and attempting to meet them as best as we can.