Sunday, August 31, 2014

Market Research

A chatty cashier at the grocery store told me this week that 80% of people who bring their own bags to the store also use coupons.  I'm curious about whether his field research matches the preferences of CP readers.  There's a poll up in the corner of the blog.  Please take 12 seconds to satisfy my curiosity.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Picture Post: Birthday Boys

Really, I just wanted to make a picture post celebrating the boys' birthdays, but then while hosting our second party in as many weeks at one of these family fun centers - bowling, laser tag, arcade, teenagers apparently in charge - I noticed something. Parties at this place essentially consist of a series of feats of strength. Nobody's good at bowling, and that goes double for today's 8- and 12-year-old boys. So the party starts with boys hurling balls down bumper-aided lanes with no form at all to usually-unsatisfying results. The rare spare legitimately causes a huge celebration. Then it's on to just-better-than-school-quality pizza and pitchers of soda. That's the training table for laser tag. Because Charlie's group was shy of the mandatory minimum size for our party package, I played laser tag with the boys. Running around in the dark with a gun that ceases working for four extremely-long seconds after you've been shot is nothing short of terrifying and shattering. I now know what those guys felt like coming back from 'Nam. Finally, after the cake and presents ritual (a subtle competition in its own right at a friend party), it's on to the arcade with little baggies of tokens. Here, different priorities can be pursued, but the ticket-acquisition priority has also produces clear winners and losers. Some kids end up with paltry little stacks, while other kids struggle to manage unruly anacondas of tickets. Of course, virtually every single item one can acquire with those tickets is garbage that no parent wants to enter the house. Happy Your Friend's Birthday! My kids seem to enjoy these parties, but I wonder what psychological damage they inflict. 

For the record, Charlie invited four girls.  Unforch, none of them could attend.

Analysis aside, look how much fun everyone had!
Paige made a marble cake.  She writes more neatly with frosting than I write with a pen.
Charlie liked it.
Here comes a 7 with an impossible split.
Bumper violence on its way.
I didn't want to post photos of the boys' friends (because their parents didn't sign photo releases), but suffice it to say, they're nerds.  Their bowling names are things like as many digits of Pi as could fit and Doctor Who references.
Pride builds quality.  Quality builds pride.
Decorating in situ.
World Cup Fever!
Teddy requested red velvet cake.
Potential energy.
Kinetic energy.
Li'l Storm Trooper
Engage phasers!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Making Allowances

About a year ago, we changed the boys' allowance scheme.  They'd been getting something on the order of a dollar or two a week.  At that rate, we had to keep small bills and change around, and it wasn't adding up to money they could actually use to buy things they want.  We heard about an allowance scheme from a family at church that has raised at least two out of three responsible now-grown daughters.  (We know the oldest and the youngest but haven't met the middle one.)  They gave their children their age in dollars twice a month.  That gives the disciplined child a shot at being able to save up for something relatively valuable and promises a definite $2 monthly raise raise every birthday.  
We also set up some categories in a Google spreadsheet to help them think about how all money is not the same and that we can parcel money into different funds for different uses.  We distinguished between:
  • Spend - for purchasing anything from a snack to a toy, no strings attached.
  • Save - to be used only for an item that the child added to a list of savings target items.
  • Share - 10% for their tithe.
  • Presents - with increased funds comes increased responsibility to spend their own money to buy birthday presents for immediate family members (in addition to the Christmas presents they've been buying for immediate family and whatever extended family with whom we spend Christmas).
Ideally, I would now report that the influx of income and the carefully-constructed Google spreadsheet have turned them into shrewd resource planners.  Unfortunately, that's not true. They spend their money like NBA rookies.  As soon as money piles up to the point that they could buy something, they buy anything.  At 7, Teddy is especially prone to looking around for something to buy rather than planning and executing a purchase.  One of my favorites in this vein, was a little spreader knife with a silver lobster handle that he bought at the Stonewall Kitchen headquarters store in Maine.  He saw it, fell in love with it, had money burning a hole in his pocket (because we were on vacation) and bought it.  He still uses it regularly.  Other purchases like toys sold at tourist site gift shops have thrilled me less; the latest was a stealth fighter plane at the Wright Brothers Memorial in North Carolina.  I'm not sure he's touched it since vacation.

Wright Brothers Memorial gift shop
Charlie has not been much better; his money just accumulates faster.  On a school trip to a roller rink/arcade, he spent all seven dollars he brought on a game machine dangling an iPad Air as the halo prize.  Needless to say, he came home with no tablet and no money.  His discipline has increased more just this summer after nearly a year of the new scheme.  When the Target Nerf gun aisle didn't offer the gun he'd been looking at online, he kept his powder dry and saved his money for another day.

They're not the only ones that have had to adjust their decision-making and behavior.  We visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame in November, and I encouraged the boys to bring their money.  Charlie was interested in a collection of Steeler items including a rubber smaller-than-regulation football.  Something about the items he chose seemed like a bad investment to me; I thought he could probably buy the same things in a store around home.  I talked him out of the items he'd chosen.  He switched to several packs of football cards.  It all happened kind of quickly.  Football cards were clearly more banal and boring than the Steeler logo merch he'd first picked.  But I'd already talked him out of those items, so I didn't want to talk him out of the football cards.  Oops.  If the money belongs to him, and the point is for him to learn which uses of money are satisfying and which ones feel like a ripoff, I should have let him buy the things that first appealed to him. 

And that's the whole idea of this thing - to allow the boys to make their own decisions with small but not tiny amounts of money so that as the amounts grow in their lifetime, they'll have a framework for evaluating their own financial decisions based on their priorities, not just shininess. 

Another upside is that when the kids want something that I don't want to spend my money on - say a soft pretzel at a sporting event - I just ask them if they have enough money for it.  With the steady income they now collect, they ought to.  That means I don't have to weigh whether I want to spend money on that or not.

I'm curious about how other parents set allowance amounts and what input you then provide on your children's spending.

Friday, August 8, 2014

4 Reasons to Not Post Gleefully About your Kids' Return to School

First day of fifth and first grade
August on social media freaks me out by showing me the giant variation in first days of school around the country.  My southern-most friends have already posted their first day of school pics, so this post comes a tad late. I enjoy the ritual of the first day of school picture.  I do not enjoy the category of post that I'll call "My stinking children are back in school, and now I'm free!". I know summer is different and that children can be annoying.   But adults can annoy, too, and these posts are one of the ways.  I shall now state my reasons against posting that kind of thing.  

4.  It looks bad and selfish.  
This is probably the big theme here - that those who are responsible for raising children look a little ugly when we wax ecstatic about them going away.  This goes double for those of us fortunate enough to have primary home and parenting responsibility.  Not everyone can structure their family life in such a way that summer feels different because we're home full- or part-time to notice that the kids are underfoot when school's not in session.  It might be true that you're psyched to have more quiet or autonomy or whatever, but just keep that to yourself.

3.  Summer vacation is sweet and fleeting.  
As my coworker prepares to become an empty nester, I'm reminded of how short this period of our family life will feel one day.  Summer means our kids get to be a little bored, which seeds their creativity.  Summer means when they ask to play catch, I don't have to ask if they've done their homework.  Summer means no evening school events.  Celebrating the return to school means not celebrating the supremely unique chrono-province of summer vacation.  

2.  Some of your friends wish they had kids to annoy them.  
Those going through fertility issues (as we once did) find sour grapes posts by parents pretty hard to take.  Also, there are single people who would love to be married and have the joys and struggles of family life.  Those of us lucky enough to be parents would do well to stifle this impulse to dance on the schoolhouse steps for their sakes. 

1.  Children can read.  
This might be the only reason you need.  What if you were a kid and read over your parents' shoulder that they were so pleased you wouldn't be around so much now that school has started?  Would that make you feel wanted and loved?  If our kids posted "My parents are going away!  Yay!", we would use our authority over them to make them take that post down.  When we post, we're not even saying it to them.  We're saying it to other people about them, which can only hurt and embarrass them more.    

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cracking the Viagra Ad Code

In my college American Studies classes, we used to look at all manner of cultural artifacts from high culture literature to low culture like newspaper and magazine articles and advertisements.  We would analyze these artifacts from a cultural history perspective, articulating what the existence of these items at a given point in time said about the culture at that moment.  Even though I rarely need such skills these days, my brain is trained that way.

Even though I wasn't looking for it, I had a cultural history epiphany watching a Viagra ad the other day.  Among the little traditional TV that I watch, live sports predominate, which means I see a disproportionate amount of erectile dysfunction pharmaceutical ads.  Of course, the male protagonists of these ads are all men of a certain age with wives who represent the most beautiful age-appropriate spouses the industry can find.  Actually, that's not universally true.  In Cialis ads, our good lady with the beautiful smile appears up-front.  In Viagra ads, Ol' Jim Handsome is alone most of the time with the twangy guitar underneath the narrator.  More about how these ads end in a minute.  

The Viagra campaign, in particular, has this thrust (pun not intended, but also not edited out) about these handsome salt-and-peppers getting stuff done.  That's about as much as I'd paid attention until Sunday when I saw a more elaborate pattern.  Maybe the theme I'm about to unveil has been patently obvious to you, but it wasn't to me until the other day.

It's not just that Ol' Jim (maybe I should call him Ol' ED) gets stuff done.  It's that something that had been working suddenly stops working, and he's just the guy to get things back on track.  Once he gets things sorted, he heads home - in no particular hurry - to find the upstairs bedroom light on (or getting turned on if you know what I'm saying).  That saves money in the casting of beautiful forty-six-year-old ladies, no doubt.

Maybe you've already gone through the collection in your head, but in case you haven't, here are the ones I can think of:
  • The truck hauling the horse trailer gets stuck in the mud.  Ed gets out and hooks the horses up to pull the truck out and get back on the road. (see bottom of post for that one)
  • There's massive bridge construction with klieg lights everywhere...until they all go out.  Ed knows just which switch to flip to light the whole place back up.  That's apparently his only job because then he heads home.
  • The printing press is churning out some printed matter (inserts for prescription bags?) when something gums up the works.  Ed straightens out the machine, wipes his hands on a rag and goes home to look at the upstairs bedroom lights.
  • The lighter breaks on the beach while Ed's lighting a campfire with a tent in the background.  Is that gonna stop Ed?  Heck no.  He goes cave man, gets his folding knife, a rock and some dry tinder and lights that fire.  Once the narrator has told us about the side effects and when to call our doctor, the light goes on in the tent.   Mrs. Ed is actually silhouetted spreading out the sleeping bag in this one.  Seems like she's pretty tired tonight.
The message is clear.  This is nothing to be ashamed about.  Just push the right button with this pill, and everything will be fine again.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Obviously, from a genetic perspective, Paige and I contributed equal parts of DNA to our boys.  In some ways, we all four have a lot in common.  But there are some distinctions that up to now align Charlie with Paige and Teddy with me.  Thinking about things that differ between me and Paige and between the boys, I then made a McKinsey & Co.-worthy matrix.

This list felt a lot longer and more definitive before I actually stopped to write it down.  And yet, I still can't think of a single thing to put in the Paige/Teddy box.  I've been sitting on this for a while, but I'm not getting inspired with more entries.  So I'll just put it out there and let people (especially Paige) weigh in.

Parent-Child Attribute Alignment

Paige Jeff
Charlie needs glasses
thick hair that can be shaped
freaky good memory
puts ketchup on food 
sleeps in

likes Taco Bell
wears emotions on sleeve
soft, flimsy hair
perfect vision (so far)
gets up early pretty much every day

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Isaac, Behave

(A parenting poem in some jest)

When we're in church and you can't sit nice
And the scripture's about child sacrifice,
I cannot cope.

You should hope when I go to punch your ticket
That the Lord provides a ram in the thicket.
 It's your only hope.

Before church, I tamed your wild hair.
We stand for hymns and kneel for prayer.
It's what we do.

Yes, you have to wear church sandals.
Yes, they're going to light the candles.
Now sit in the pew.