The Dinner

So tonight (mostly joking) I asked my kids: “So… are you going to make dinner tonight or should I?”

The answer I got was somewhat unexpected: “Seriously? Can we?”

“Err…. Um…. Sure. But it has to be a meal of healthy choices.”

Your Kids Will Be Tested In Life

So you might as well make it on your terms. In this case, the test was not dangerous (well, I had to eat it too and I have to say I was a bit nervous). So the questions were: can they make the right choices? Do they know the requirements of a healthy meal in the first place? Sure, we’ve tried to instil an understanding of protein, carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, etc. But the real bottom-of-the-line-question: did they hear it?

It was better to find out tonight than years from now. Then when they ignore the advice sometime later in college you can hope they’ll pick it back up again a few years later.

The Happy Meal

I wasn’t allowed into the kitchen while the meal was being prepared. About a half-an-hour in (which was right about our normal dinner time) I was asked if I would authorize the use of cookie cutters. My first sign that maybe our little whispers of health had not been heard. It took another half an hour before I was allowed to come to the table.

The results would take a lot of words to describe, so I’ll use pictures instead:

Cheese, Apples and Ghrams

Cheese, Apples and Ghrams

Peanut Butter Animal Shapes

Peanut Butter Animal Shapes

Buttered Animal Shaped Bread

Buttered Animal Shaped Bread

Apples, Celery, and Carrots

Apples, Celery, and Carrots

I think they passed! They had representations of pretty much everything important. Now, mind you I don’t know how old the celery was that they found (but I ate it anyway). And they had actually gotten the single, very-small, carrot from the garden. I am hoping it was washed well. All said and done, my kids get an A+ for effort, an A+ for presentation and an A+ for content.

Dinner Conversation

“What did you cut up the fruit and vegetables with?”

“A knife”

“errr…. a sharp knife?”

“No, a normal one” (pointing to a butter knife).

“You cut up a raw carrot and celery with a butter knife???” (they were thin slices!)


Grade Change: A++ for effort!

I can’t believe I didn’t take a picture of the bowl of “left over bread pieces” though. Picture it in your mind: take a piece of bread, cut an animal-shape out of it using a cookie cutter… What do you do with the rest? Put it in a bowl of course!

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Coining a New Parental Phrase: Stubborn Block

We all get mind-blocks from time to time. Sometimes it’s just from sleep deprivation where we can’t think any longer. Sometimes it’s from a lack of creativity (e.g. “writers block”). Sometimes it’s from simple lack of will to do something tedious (“procrastinator’s block”).

But with children (and admittedly some adults) there is also the “Stubborn Block”. This block occurs frequently with homework and house-hold chores. This one takes hours out of your child’s life because they simply because they’d rather be doing something else. The problem, though, is that with a child who is rebelling against the very notion of doing something you want “simply because” there is no logic that will prevail. Statements like “if you would just buckle down and do it it would only take 10 minutes” has no effect and the stubborn block will instead result in a 70 minute ordeal to get the 10 minute task done.

I have no solution to this one. I surely wish I did. I simply don’t know how to function when logic stops having any effect at all. When a “stubbon block” appears within the confines of my house, I end up in a “frustration block”.

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A Different Type Of STAR Test

My children teach me things on a regular basis.  They don’t realize it most of the time, as most of life’s little lessons you can only learn by being caught in the moment.  Sometimes I learn things because I have to relearn things, like tonight when I had to recall the statistical definitions of median and mode. Every time I learn something from them it’s always a treat and frequently a surprise.

The other night, as I was tucking our daughter in bed, the two of us came upon a discovery.  Above her bed (which is a lofted bed and close to the ceiling) she has glow-in-the-dark stars.  When you turn out the light they glow, of course (hence the name).  Their effect is amplified, though, by the fact that you’re left amazingly blind right after the light is turned out and they’re the only things that you can see (assuming the room is dark enough of course).  In this environment is where we made our scientific discovery. (And no, that picture on the right is not of a glow in the dark star that we’re talking about. It’s a glow in the dark ball but it just looks cooler than a little dot on a wall would have looked and I just like the picture).

Right after the light was turned off, my daughter and I decided to reach out and touch the stars.  What we found was we couldn’t.  Or at least we couldn’t without multiple attempts.  When you can’t see your fingers (because your eyes adjust so slowly to darkness) and the only thing you can see in the star you’re trying to touch, it turns out that your brain just isn’t sure exactly where in space your finger is.  The end result is that you’ll likely miss the star and your finger won’t land right on it.  In fact, you’re sense of where-is-my-finger is so bad you’ll likely get it wrong multiple times in a row (at least until your finger passes between the star and your eyes and gives you a clue). It’s an amazingly frustrating and simultaneously fascinating experiment to try.

Somewhere there is a research paper, or better yet, a school science project waiting to be written on this subject.  Probably involving a large number of study participants randomly poking stars in a dark room and seeing how many times it takes them to really touch the stars.  And somewhere, of course, in the results will be an interesting bunch of statistical data.  Probably involving median and modes.

I expect a mad rush on glow in the dark stars because of this article. It’s an experiment you should definitely try. Preferably with kids, as they’ll make it much more entertaining.

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A Day in the Life of a Parent

What’s the real cost of parenting? How much time do I spend managing the lives of those I’m responsible for?

For a long time I wondered “where does my day go?” I mean, I know that I spend a lot of time working and a lot of time parenting and a lot of time cleaning, but it still seems to slip away from me with seemingly little to show in the way of filled in checkboxes on my growing list of personal goals. So I decided to check how much time I spend parenting.

Thus, today (2009/06/18) I decided to write down all the little things I do as a responsible parent to see how much time it adds up to. Now mind you, I probably missed a few little things here and there and I am estimating much of the time sync, but I suspect it’s fairly accurate (at least within a 5-10% error rate).

Why did I pick today? Well, for a few reasons. One, I’m acting as a single parent today which I figured would make me look even more like a super-parent. Ok, I probably shouldn’t have admitted that. Also, it was a day I was going to try and get as much work in as I could as well (fortunately, I work from home). It was a beautiful summer day where there was no transportation requirements (adding trips to and from school is a huge time sink) and it was a day where I didn’t do many other house-hold tasks that would have been an even bigger time sink (laundry, vaccuuming, deep cleaning, napping, …). IE, the only two goals I had for the day were parenting and working. In that order.

Now mind you, I try to be a decent parent. There are two extreme views of parenting: let them fend for themselves (they know where the cereal is darn it, why are they bugging me) and complete micro-management (no, move that sock to the left side of your drawer). I try to balance nicely in the middle and be responsible but encouraging self-sufficiency when possible. I made them breakfast and ate with them to interact before I started working (more) and they made their own lunch while I made mine to teach independence.

The Tally

I thought one computer typed set of notes (when it was in front of me) and one piece of note paper would be enough. I underestimated that a bit.

Time Spent Parenting Today
Time Seconds Description
7:02 20 Good Morning conversation to first awake child walking by.
7:44 780 Make Breakfast (cereal and oatmeal)
8:02 45 Poured a glass of milk
8:35 180 Applied mosquito repellent liberally to children’s skin
(Oddly, I don’t consider it acceptable for them to touch the stuff even though I put it on thickly)
8:39 30 Explained how to be a more kind older sister
(Hint: don’t yell as much)
9:20 60 Answered questions about going outside, eating crackers, etc…
9:30 60 Son: “What are you using that computer for daddy?” (noticing me typing so quickly)
Dad: “sending email for work”.
10:17 60 Took pictures of my cute kids playing in a stream.
10:23 30 Answered questions about snack choices
10:32 15 Daughter: “What was the hand movement to the a-ram-sam-sam song again?”
Dad: [:shows movements he learned during her pre-school class ages ago:]
10:34 60 Reapplyed bug spray now that a sweatshirt had been taken off and the arms were exposed
10:56 20 Walked outside
Yelled “stop throwing sticks at each other.”
Walked back inside
11:26 20 Walked outside and shouted “stop shouting.”
12:03 60 Dad: “Want to pack a picnic and go on a hike for lunch?”
Daughter: “Yes, but check out the cool rocks I found!”
12:14 300 Directed and participated in the lunch making process
12:22 30 Tied a yellow string in daughter’s hair at her request because her normal hair tie appears to be missing
13:05 60 Applied more mosquito repellent for the afternoon outdoor shift.
13:10 60 Son: “I just wanted to tell you I’m going to put on shorts so you need to put more insect repellent no me.”
Dad: [:reaches for bottle:]
14:46 10 Dad: “Don’t forget to wipe your feet on the rug please”
14:49 30 Daughter: “Dad, can I grab something out of the car?”
“Yes” and [: handed off keys :]
14:50 10 [: Put keys back in pocket :]
14:50 10 Son: “Can I have some graham crackers dad?”
14:54 20 Son: “Dad, how can I get this dirt off my arm?”
Dad: “It’s probably sap and that’s why it’s so hard to clean off. Rub really hard and Good Luck.”
14:55 30 A longer discussion ensued about how I’m wrong and it’s not sap. Oh, and my son proceeded to inform me that hand lotion and soap mixed together make really good soap.
15:21 60 Instructed children to pick up their dirty clothes and then supervised with a threatening look when they failed to follow instructions.
16:19 30 Admonished kids who fell down the stairs that they need to be more careful
16:20 60 Tasking assignment and instructions: “Please water Mommy’s bulbs using these containers”
16:29 180 Patched up kid who ran chest first into out-stretched window frame. Apparently the 16:19 lesson didn’t stick.
16:43 30 Dad: “Did you water both sets of flowers?”
Children: “No. Where’s the others?”
16:55 60 They’re yelling loudly again. Oh, and climbing on that stack of wood isn’t safe. No, swinging from that very thin branch isn’t either. I don’t care if it’s “bendy” it’s still not safe.
17:30 60 Advised about the two minute dinner time warning and answered various questions fired back at me
17:35 1320 Made the promised pancake dinner. Since I don’t like pancakes all of this prep time I’m charging to them (but a promise is a promise, so I made them). I had eggs, which I made later.
17:40 0 (In the midst of the above)
Son: “I can’t get all this sap off.”
Dad: “Holy cow, what were you playing with?”
Son: “Sap”
Dad: [: Grumbles :]

18:13 600 I did the dishes. It actually took me 15 minutes not 10, but 1/3rd of them were mine.
18:36 10 Checked up on teeth brushing status.
18:37 600 Read to son: “Oh the things you can think” by Dr. Suess
19:24 660 Tucked son into bed
19:24 180 Dealt with the ‘Spilled water on Pajamas’ catastrophe
19:39 120 Dealt with the ‘Spider catastrophe’.
Unfortunately it was a catastrophe even though I meant to harmlessly catch and release him
19:57 2100 Read to daughter: Harry Potter
(boy that was a long scene that I couldn’t stop in the middle of)
21:21 180 Tucked older child in and replenishing the night time water supply.

The Results

How much time did I spend being a parent? It turns out to add up quickly:

Seconds: 8250
Minutes: 137.5
Hours: 2.29 (rounding up slightly, but I deserve it)

Now, before you jump in there and say I’m an uptight parent who just spent the day yelling at his kids, I have one important distinction to make about the results: That’s just the time I spent being a responsible parent. These are just the things I felt I “had to do” and there was no choice in the matter. That summary does not include the hour lunch I spent eating with my kids on a rock by a river and watching a butterfly land on my kids outstretched hands (which was really really cool). It doesn’t count the 30 minutes I spent playing sequence with them, or the game of pool I played with my daughter. I only counted the get-through-the-day time. Not the “Quality Family Time” time.


When I was a kid I learned that every essay should have a good introductory paragraph, and solid body and a conclusion. My conclusion from all this is that it takes a lot of time to be a parent. When I signed on to the job I knew it was a commitment that couldn’t be broken and a responsibility I would hold for life. But I’m not sure I truly understood the time sink. In the end, it’s still worth it, of course (the hugs and the laughter alone are worth it). But now I at least understand why I don’t get much accomplished in the other aspects of my life.

It’s my bed time now. Tomorrow it all begins again. Technically I’m being risky posting these totals before midnight.

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The Best Parental Plans: None

A while back I discussed some parenting plans that came back to bite me in the end. This time, I’m writing up the results about the time I planned nothing. Just to see what would happen if I planned absolutely nothing.


dpns 8th street siteBoth of our kids went to the
Davis Parent Nursery School
(DPNS), which is an amazing preschool here in Davis. One of the responsibilities of being a parent of a child attending DPNS is that you have attend a certain number of “educational seminars” (which are usually worth the time even though you dread going).

One such seminar professed the benefits of letting your children control the schedule sometimes. I.E., rather than swimming at 3:30, 4:15 for soccer, followed by a 5:38 dinner you should provide them with a block of time where they got to pick any activity they want. And yes, the parents have to participate too and follow the direction of the child (while still providing the obvious acceptability boundaries).

Background Part 2: Daddy Days

geocachingThe other regular event in my life at the time was something my kid’s had entitled “Daddy Days“. My wife was having regular meetings in our home and rather than try and keep my kids from politely, but continually, offering the guests pretend sandwiches and hamburgers from their diner of delectable plastic foods, I opted instead to take them somewhere fun. We’d go to the zoo, or to a science museum, or go geocaching or to the Nimbus Fish Hatchery or whatever I felt like concocting for the day…

On to Doing Nothing

So of course I had to test out the theory that planning nothing was beneficial. I mean, it was a statement by the lecturer with no data or references to back it up. The scientist in me couldn’t let it go at that, so I selected a big green area on the map in Sacramento and we headed out. When we got there it turned out to be a big grass field with no playground infrastructure: just soccer fields and a big pond (complete with geese).

So, I turned them loose. “What do you want to do?” I asked realizing
there wasn’t much there to choose from. They, undeterred by the lack of brightly colored plastic, picked things like “walk around the pond” and “watch soccer” and “walk over there”, … Four hours later after we had walked everywhere, looked at everything, climbed on random objects, spent 30 mind numbing minutes dropping grass down a storm drain and another 30 shouting down one storm drain while someone listened to another I finally uttered words I’d been waiting to say for 3 hours and 52 minutes: “well guys, it’s time to go”.

My daughter reached out and grabbed my hand, looked up at me and enthusiastically said “this has been the best day EVER“. Mixed emotions of surprise, parental happiness and the serious need of some coffee mixed together and left me with nothing but a huge smile and a wonderful hand-in-hand walk back to the car. To this day (4 years later?), that was the only time I’ve ever heard that particular phrase.

Lessons Learned

(no science paper would be complete without them)

People constantly think you need to supply kids with lessons to learn. This isn’t actually true: you need to supply them with lessons only when you want them to learn the lessons YOU think are important. They can happily study social interaction (soccer), communication (yelling) and physics (the terminal velocity of falling grass blades) without your direction. The trick is keeping your eyelids open while their experiments run their course.

Parents get to pick the agendas for most of a child’s life. But how can children become world leaders if they don’t practice leading themselves once in a while.

Looking back, it was an experiment that I’d highly recommend to anyone when interacting with kids. I learned a lot from my kids that day as I still think frequently of the day I set out to do nothing.

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The best laid parental plans taste awful

The Plan

A while back I considered ways to get my son to try a few new foods. So I came up with this plan: take ingredients he liked and put them in a matrix that he could put stickers on. Some fun ingredients and some wacky ones. IE, something like this:

  Bread Graham Crackers Ritz Crackers

And then we’d try new combinations and put stickers in the squares we liked, and Xs in the squares we didn’t.

The execution

“This’ll do it” I thought to myself. Well, stop laughing all you seasoned parents. The result was my adventurous daughter was eager to fill every square. My reserved son (the one I was trying to impress with this whole setup) refused to try any combination he hadn’t tried before.

Don’t get me wrong: kid’s are different. I was wrong in thinking I could influence them. They each have their own personalities. I love the fact that my daughter points at a ridge and says “lets hike there”. I love the fact that my son has shot goals past me in soccer because he’s had me laughing so hard there was no way to defend myself. They each have their own special talents and attributes. I’m the one who has learned to adapt to them, not the other way around.

The recent results

Meanwhile, years later, my Daughter has been begging me to do another “try it” meal. So I gave in again (we’re up to a count of about 4 at this point) and we gave another whack at it tonight. My son, who started complaining immediately, got oatmeal and other random things for dinner since I the rules say you don’t force a kid when it comes to food. My daughter and I embarked on a episode of trials and tribulations. So here are the two winners(?) for the night:

  • Best Combination: Graham Crackers and Yogurt. Holy cow batman. This one surprised me. I mean, I knew it would be good. But this is like dessert-quality good, not just “good”. My daughter and I both agree.
  • Worst Combination: Pears and Ketchup. Holy cow batman. I knew it’d be bad, but this is really really really really bad. Insert a few infinity-signs before the “bad” in that statement. Oh man. I mean bad. I mean don’t try this at home bad.

Tips for Parents

Try fun but simple adventures some times. You’ll be amazed how profound of an effect you’ll have on your kids, regardless of whether it was the effect you intended or not. Either way, they’ll gain something from the experience.

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