Category Archives: Father Knows Best

FKB: Father of the Freakin’ Year

I've made some pretty boneheaded parenting moves over the last month.

First: I left the baby sleeping on the bed while I went downstairs to get breakfast for the other kids. She seemed completely out. Of course she woke up a short time later, and didn't make a sound until she fell onto the floor. I think she probably had a mild concussion, given the way she was acting for the first half hour or so after the fall. I had a thing scheduled at work and I made plans to take her to the doctor after I got back from it, but she was back to her old self by the time I got home. Still, it was kind of horrifying.

Second: It took me more than a month to really respond to Aquinas' complaints of bullying before I took action. And it seems like that action was much needed, and has gone a long way towards correcting the problem (thank goodness for the fact that they're first graders, and still open to being good kids instead of blaming the one who told on them). My fear of ruffling feathers was too strong and my kid paid the price.

Third: And yet, in communicating about this issue, I may have inadvertently sent some signals that didn't exactly endear us or my kid to the teacher. I'm not quite sure why we can accurately observe that one kid is faster or stronger than a different one, but we can't observe that one is smarter than another? (I didn't straight up say anything like that, but I fear some unintended implications were taken (look, the class isn't particularly rigorous, and there is some classic "things are going too slow for him" stuff going on (I don't say this to brag about Aquinas, only to observe that this class is moving really slow. Halfway through the year and he's still doing math work that he did at this point in Kindergarten.)(also, he's absolutely going to keep getting 90% on everything you teach, no matter the difficulty, let's not act like 100% is needed to move on...))).

Fourth: Here's the biggie... I forgot my kid. I usually pick up Aquinas from school. If I can't, I arrange for him to take the bus to daycare. Well, I had a hearing out of town and... I forgot. So he walked to my office, per usual, only I wasn't there and the door was locked. So he started walking to the daycare, which is about a mile out of town. On the way there someone - a stranger to him (and us, but not other relatives) - stopped and offered a ride. He happily accepted because, as he put it, "he was tired of walking." The stranger brought him right to daycare (and apparently has done the same for other kids), so in a way it's a "no harm, no foul" situation. Except that my kid accepted a ride from a stranger. So... big time foul.

Anyway, I'm working at this parent thing. This morning I built a huge pillow barrier around the baby as she slept on the bed, and still went up and checked on her just about every other minute, and caught her just as she was waking up 6 minutes into me leaving her there... And I remembered to have Aquinas take the bus when I was gone on Tuesday. And I bribed him, so he got 100% on his spelling test last week. Maybe by the time they leave home I'll feel like I'm on the right track.

Father Knows Best: Boredom

Things have been rough lately, mostly because at least two people at any given time have been sick in this household--sometimes all four of us--since at least Thanksgiving. It's exhausting. But at least it's fairly simple to figure out what you need to do to get through each day. I think about when Henry was a baby. I was tired constantly; some days I could barely keep my eyes open. But while I was by no means confident in what I was doing, I knew pretty much every decision was around eating, pooping, or sleeping. Not that complex.

I'm not nearly as exhausted these days, which I won't complain about. But I'm more frequently being faced with probably the hardest part about being a parent so far, which is boredom. That sounds harsh, but I don't know how else to explain that agonizing feeling when Henry wants to read the same book 12 times in a row, or play the same game (in the wrong way, of course) for an hour straight (and I only barely tolerated it the first time because he was being adorable), or the same routine day after day after day because with his autism it takes tremendous effort to talk him into deviating from original plans. I've learned that sometimes the only way to get him to do something I want to do is to just do it without asking, which works okay if we're going to a new park, but usually not well when it's playing with a new toy.

I know that in six or seven years he might barely ever want to play with me at all. He certainly won't want to hang on my leg or beg me to pay attention to him. Nor will he say, "I love you Daddy," genuinely but with an ulterior motive of getting a cookie. So I want to enjoy every second. But too many nights I just can't wait until he goes to bed so I can do something interesting. And I feel horrible about it.

So, what advice say you guys? How do you keep focused and interested in toddler time night after night after night?

Father Knows Best: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet

The terrible twos have come a few months early!

Now, normally, this is actually not that bad a thing. As long as he's happy and content, watching him run around like a hellion and play toys and body slam his giant plush BB-8 is actually a joy to behold.

I'm just wondering how well that energy is going to work when we have to contain it for three hours on a plane.

Continue reading Father Knows Best: Nightmare at 20,000 Feet

And Then I Stuck the Sidecutters in Her Mouth

It was Friday evening about 5:30 and I was in the kitchen when I heard my daughter scream.

She was in the next room and when first cried out, I thought it was nothing, but her next breath brought more urgent and louder screams. I moved to the dining room to check her out. My heart sank. She was laying on the floor and blood was everywhere and pouring out of her mouth. She had slipped and fallen, my beautiful baby girl with impeccable balance on the ice had fallen on the wood floor and hit her mouth on the edge of our dining room table.

At first, I was confused. What happened? How could she possibly be bleeding like this? Did she lose her teeth? All I could see through the blood was that her braces were dislodged. My mind was blank, but I soon was able to think. I screamed to my wife, we're going to the emergency room! I had divined that at this time of day, no dentist would be available and the volume of blood was such that we needed to get her to the hospital.

Damn it. I worked from home after a ten day trip and I hadn't showered. Hadn't even dressed, I was still in my pajamas. I raced to my bedroom, shucked off the pajamas bottoms, grabbed a pair of jeans and socks and was dressed in 20 seconds. It was snowing like crazy, but I got Miss SBG to the car, with her mother in back and we took off.

We got out of our subdivision and neared the county road when Miss SBG said she wasn't bleeding. I asked if she had all her teeth. She said yes. We decided since she wasn't bleeding to go back home and re-evaluate before heading to the hospital. I took her up to the bathroom. Only one of the four brackets of her braces was in place. The wires were lodged in the inside of her cheek and her mouth and gums were battered. I went to the basement and grabbed my sidecutters. I cane back up, pulled the wire out of her cheek. She screamed and fell to the floor. I raised my voice to get her attention. She calmed and opened up. And then I stuck the sidecutters in her mouth and cut the wires. She screamed and said she needed to go to sleep. I reached in again and cut off the other side. No more wires in her cheek, at least.

We took her to urgency care. The teeth looked good but three were loose. We needed to get her to a dentist within 24 hours for an evaluation. It was possible that the teeth and/or bones in which the teeth sat were broken. She might need oral surgery.

Poor Miss SBG had a fitful night. She was in considerable pain. I stayed with her all night. She woke in the middle of the night and I spent about an hour awake with her as she suffered.

This morning, I called her dentist office and got the answering service, who put in a call into the on-call dentist. She called and my wife answered (I was out shoveling snow) and she indicated that we didn't need to come in today. My wife let her get away with that. I called her back and told her that I was told by a doctor that she needed to be seen and that I'm going to trust someone who has actually seen her over someone who hasn't. In other words, if her face was broken, I wasn't waiting until sometime on Monday to find out. She said, I can see her by 10:30. We had to drive 45 minutes to get there because of the snow-pocalypse (I think we got almost a foot).

She got some x-rays and the news was good. Structurally, there was no damage. She told us that it was like a sprain. She also said that the braces might have saved her teeth -- a sentiment that Miss SBG herself echoed on Friday night. Of course, they may darken and she might even need root canals. We will have to wait and see. But, for now, she's got a sore mouth and two of the fattest lips you will ever see.

I realized, again, that I'm like a mama bear. The instinct to protect her is as strong as any instinct I have. I may not have made a friend with that dentist -- and my wife thought I was too mean -- but when my daughter is threatened, I'm not aiming to make friends. Protecting her is the only consideration. It's no fun to see her suffer, but at the same time, the basic drive to protect is a profound and awesome drive.

A Series of Questions on Parenting

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Here's the situation. I will soon have a 16 and 14 year old. It feels like we've hit a point where parenting strategy has to shift. Less telling them what to do and more picking them up after they fall. This doesn't seem as obvious as parenting younger kids. I didn't have to think much when a toddler was grabbing an electrical cord. It was pretty obvious what I should do.

Should I monitor digital communications with her friends?

Should I let her use social media?

Should I tell her I know she has a second "secret" Instagram account?

How much input should I give her on classes she chooses?

How much input should I have on college?

Do I encourage her to start looking at colleges or just sit back and wait?

Do I suggest any schools she should visit? What if I think she's going down the wrong road? Do I really know the wrong road for her?

Should I give any advice on her major? What if she thinks she wants to go on to get a PhD?

If she's watching Netflix on her Kindle after she's gone to bed, do I punish her or just explain why it's a bad idea?

Should she have a bed time?

Should I push her to get her driver's license?

We haven't gotten to the dating thing. What do I do then? I picture myself like the coach on Friday Night Lights where I say and do the wrong thing most of the time.

How much do I "warn" her about boys?

How much do I talk about safety and avoiding bad situations? (I have a pretty cautious daughter. The hesitance to get her driver's license comes from a Driver's Ed course that focused on car crashes as a "Scared Straight" strategy. It scared her straight out of the vehicle.)

Thanks for reading and any suggestions!

FKB: Financial Planning for Idiots

Not sure if this is a Father Knows Best post, or if it belongs under whatever we called the Nation's recommendations (like what kind of refrigerator, cell phone, pocket knife, stereo system, etc. we use or recommend... we had that, didn't we? [updated! thanks sean]), whatever, I digress. I owed the basement a FKB post in July and didn't make time to do it. This is about midway between Philo's Oct. posting and Nibbs' November posting timeframe, so I'm dropping it here.

My wife and I have been working through some of the adulting items recently highlighted by hj and others. Over the past 2-3 years, we've managed to knock out quite a few major items (started 529's, got the life insurance and retirement accounts up and running and last week we finalized our estate planning (will and health care directives). I've found the citizenry's conversations about kids & college, aging parents, home purchasing and personal finances in general here to be very useful. The conversations, coupled with the encouragement to tackle these now rather than later (by those further along in the process of growing up) has been a catalyst to my willingness to actually get started (so thank you).

I consolidated and shared that most recent discussion with my wife. For clarity, I eliminated attributions, unrelated/side-bar lte's, and the spoilered FZ stuff and made some minor edits and deletions. (Any mistakes/errors or misrepresentations are mine.) She had trouble following the conversation (doesn't know how conversations work in the basement) so I set it so that each new indent represents a response to the previous comment, and those aligned left represent a "new" piece of input.

She responded with her notes from a financial planner presentation her employer brought in. I'm sharing both here for posterity.

WGOM DISCUSSION THREAD

Important #1: if your company has a 401(k), start putting money into it now, especially if there is matching. Every time you get a raise, kick it up another 1%

Important #2: pay off your credit cards and don't use more than you can pay off each month

RE: #1. The only thing I'd caution is that, if there isn't matching, sometimes it can be more valuable to pay down debt now first. If you can afford to do both, do. But if interest on debt > rate of return on 401(k) (or even less, depending on credit score effects and desire for future borrowing, i.e. mortgage), then it makes sense to pay down debt first.

Agreed. but don't put off 401(k) long -- the earlier you start, the better.

That's one thing I did do, though I only contribute the minimum to get the maximum match from my employer.

Right, and if there's an employer match, that's always the better way to go.

Index funds are your friend. They are the closest thing to following "the market" there is and have incredibly low fees. I can't comment on which one to pick as my expertise is very limited.

401(k)s are generally your friend, at least to the point that ostensibly your company is helping you. Or maybe it sucks and you're screwed. John Oliver featured them a few months ago on his show. You can skip to the end for his (swearing!) video containing tips. Another option would be Roth IRAs.

That's all I've got.

Aye.

If you have high-interest debt, pay it off first. This is a low-interest environment. If you are carrying balances on your credit cards, pay them off ASAP and pay in full every month. Brown bag your lunch.

Then, what sean and others have said. If you have a match on a 401K, that's free money. Take as much of it as you can and put it into no-load index funds. If a Roth 401K is an option at your work, take advantage when you are young and your marginal tax rate is lowest. Dollar-cost averaging is your friend. Ditto on 529 accounts for the kids. Start now. If you have loose change left over after these things, then Roth IRA.

Being a quasi- government employee, I'm paying into a state retirement system. The required contribution is 13.2% of gross earnings (6.6% contributed by employee & employer). The employee percentage is deducted pre-tax. Assuming my state retirement system still exists when I retire (shakier than I want to admit given who runs the state right now), should I still consider other sources of retirement income (401k, IRA)? There is a TSA program , but it doesn't have an employer match. I guess what I'm really asking is, should I be thinking about socking away additional resources for retirement, or putting things away for the Poissonnier's education?

I don't know if you have the option for a 401(k) because I recall they are employer sponsored. I could be wrong. That leaves you IRAs. Roth is a popular option but you're limited to $5,500 of contributions a year (this applies to traditional IRAs too but there are still differences). Looks like a primary difference between the two is that an IRA can have tax benefits for that year but you get taxed when you withdraw while a Roth has no tax benefits that year but withdrawal is tax-free (broadly speaking, limitations still apply). You can convert a traditional IRA to a Roth but not the reverse. You do get taxed but you can do it at a time that is advantageous to you. I recall either now or recently there were some tax breaks about that. If you think your tax rate today will be lower than the future, a Roth makes more sense. If you think your tax rate in the future will be lower, then a traditional makes more sense.

Note, I am not a fiduciary and only play one on the internet. If it were me, I think I would opt for a Roth IRA and a 529. How much goes into either is up to you. I think I would bias it to the IRA.

There's a lot of really helpful thought in that answer. I can understand why biasing toward the IRA makes sense. Unless I move into an administrative position my earnings are going to max out at a level where some financial aid is still pretty likely, which perhaps lowers the pressure to put more into a 529 to offset the hit from our expected contribution at a higher income level.

As a government employee, I view my pension (and corresponding university pension, since I am a former member of the liberal elite) as a highly stable baseline of retirement income, similar to Social Security (which I also will have). So my allocations to other investments should be read in light of that low-risk baseline. I'm pretty much 100 percent in stocks via index funds, using the pensions and social security as my asset type diversification in my portfolio (I own several different kinds of index funds).

Your mileage may vary on the risks associated with government pensions. For example, last year I extracted all of my money from the Illinois university retirement system and put it into an IRA, because I was worried about bankruptcy in that state.

I have a 401k (no match) and my wife and I both have Roth IRAs, in addition to my traditional IRA. I expect that our retirement income will not dip all that much from our current income, so the Roth makes more sense than a traditional. Plus, you don't have to draw on it at all if you don't want to in retirement (and thus can use it in estate planning). I will probably look to roll over chunks of that traditional IRA once the Girl is done with college and off the dole.

We invested heavily in 529s for the kids. Both went/are going to Fancy Pants schools, and our income is too high for Pell Grants. 529s are the best vehicle for someone like us to minimize the product of portfolio management headaches, fiscal discipline and tax exposure in planning for college. Whatever you do, try to avoid putting any money in UGMA/UTMA accounts for the kiddies. That is a recipe for minimizing financial aid. Just keep those assets in your own name until they are college seniors, then gift them startup funds if that's what you want to accomplish.

more on 529s vs UGMA/UTMA for saving for college.

You can't go wrong with 529s when there is any doubt. In MO, we even got a state tax break

The 529 contributions are deductible in Wisconsin as well. I have money taken out once a month for each kid automatically, which makes it easier to get it in there.

I think even the earnings were state tax deductible on withdrawal, too

From my reading of this article it seems like you can recharacterize from a Roth to a traditional only for a limited time after recharacterizing the traditional to a Roth. And, the always correct Wikipedia lists an advantage of traditional IRAs as recharacterization to a Roth. But I could be wrong!

Yea, I think you are right. Recharacterization is basically an "undo" of a conversion from traditional to Roth. Thanks for clarifying.

Or. Or.

Through a Roth recharacterization, you either change a contribution from a Roth IRA to another type of IRA or nullify a previous Roth conversion. It's as if the contribution or conversion never occurred in the Roth IRA.

Vanguard reports a recharacterization on Form 1099-R as a distribution from the Roth IRA and on Form 5498 as a contribution to the non-Roth IRA. In Box 7 of Form 1099-R, you'll see an "R" for a contribution or conversion made for 2015 and recharacterized in 2016 or an "N" for a contribution or conversion made for 2016 and recharacterized in 2016. Contributions and conversions for 2015 that are recharacterized in 2016 will be reported on 2016 tax forms, which will be distributed in 2017.

You can still recharacterize contributions or conversions for a tax year on or before your federal tax return filing deadline for that tax year, including extensions, even if you already filed your tax return. However, you may need to file an amended return for the tax year in which the original contribution or conversion was made.

Towards my original question though, any thoughts/tips on using professionals?

There may be some value in seeing a financial planner once, to get some general analysis and advice. But brokerage fees and management fees from actively managing your portfolio? Not so much.

The best advice you can probably get: (1) start investing as early as you can, even if small. (2) dollar-cost average. Don't get caught up in short-term market fluctuations unless you like to entertain yourself that way. (3) focus on no-load index funds. (4) don't frick with your investment strategy. More people lose more money by buying and selling too frequently than they do by letting investments ride.

Here's some sage advice from Time's Money Magazine:

Shop locally. As long as you have at least $250,000 to invest—a typical minimum—see what a local financial planner charges. That face-to-face help may be less or no more than what you’d pay for a fund investment advice program. By the end of 2015, Vanguard’s Personal Advisor Services, which costs 0.3% plus costs of underlying investments, should be widely available.

Pay for advice once. If all you need is guidance at the starting gate, you can hire an adviser by the hour instead of spending 1% to 2% a year. You might pay $800 to $1,500 for a one-time plan.

But the scale there should tell you a bit about when it might be worth having such an advisor. IMO.

Agreed. Financial advice early on is good; financial advice later on is a necessity

We absolutely have a financial advisor, and have for over fifteen years now, although we use them more actively the past few years. Of course I'm 10 years or so from thinking of retirement. You don't necessarily need one early on, but keep socking that retirement/college money so that when time comes to start thinking retirement your financial advisor will have something to work with.

If you can find a good financial advisor (when the time comes), definitely do it. It can make a big difference when it comes to when to draw SS or from your IRA/401(k), etc., as well as balancing your investments for the long haul.

I have used a professional for the last seven or eight years (we set up a retirement account for her and rolled over my 401k from my old employer in the beginning, we've added on some other accounts since then: rainy day fund, potential college fund, etc). We've been happy with it, in that our guy (don't know cost, I'm afraid) has kept an eye on things so that our actual interaction with it can be relatively minimal (twice yearly appointments and reading the balance sheets when they come to us). We're good with basic finances, but actual capital 'I' investing is something that neither of us want to put in the time to being good at.

B: Jack Bogle might have some useful things to say about basic investing.

Yes you should use a professional financial planner. Do your parents? Siblings? In-laws? Ask who they use. That's a place to start. Do some research on fees and ask them questions. Find one you feel comfortable with, and hopefully through recommendations, feel like you can trust.


NOTES MY WIFE TOOK (yes ... this is how she actually takes notes. In this regard, I'm proud that she puts me to shame).

Personal Finance Philosophy – 5 things

  1. Earn a decent living
    1. This equates to the ability to cover your mortgage, car and vacations
    2. Once you reach that tipping point, making more money will not make you happier
    3. Making less money will make you less happy
  2. Spend Less than You Make
  3. Take Money you don’t spend , save and invest à make your $ work for you
    1. Avoid being ‘Financially Fragile’ (i.e. not having enough liquid savings to cover large unplanned expenses)
    2. Max out your 401K (match)
    3. Save more when you can (e.g. years with larger bonuses)
  4. Protect financial Work (or was it worth)
    1. Life Insurance (not when single, but when married and/or with kids)
    2. Disability Insurance (especially when single and/or when sole earner)
    3. Basic Estate Plan (again, critical with kids. . . should cost $1000 or less) – includes:
      1. Will
      2. Healthcare Proxy
      3. Durable Power of Attorney
      4. Healthcare Directive
  5. Give Back
    1. Volunteer, Donations etc.

Investments

  1. Control what you can control
    1. Investment Expense (i.e. “Fees)
      1. Index Funds and/or ETFS
    2. Amount of Risk you’re taking
      1. Reduce your risk over time. . . . . especially close to the life event (e.g. retirement/collected)
      2. If you invest in “Target Date” funds (e.g. Lifepath Funds) invest all or none – don’t go halfsies

Term vs. Permanent (aka Cash Value) Life Insurance

  1. Start with “Term” Life Insurance
    1. Covers your bases until you accrue enough in retirement accounts to cover your bases
    2. Or Covers your family until they are independent
    3. Max out the Group Term Benefit (e.g. Target allows you to add up to 6X salary, do that – it’s cheap)
    4. Look at Life Insurance Worksheet online to determine “How Much)
  2. Permanent
    1. Use when your need for Life Insurance won’t end (e.g. when you have a disabled/dependent child)
    2. Jean is not a fan of Permanent Life Insurance as an investment vehicle
      1. Exception = Immediate Annuity – e.g. to manage income during retirement

Savings for College

  1. Retirement should come first
  2. 529s generally better than Roth IRAs (for this purpose)
    1. 529s can save more $
    2. Roth IRA – can choose to use for college OR retirement
    3. Both grow tax free
  3. Research 529s à find the best one
    1. Savingsforcollege.com - - ranks 529 plans
  4. In general better to ‘Divide and Conquer’ your savings
    1. You are more likely to meet your goals if you have different savings buckets for different goals

More on Retirement Savings - Steps

  1. Emergency fund – always have a minimum of $2000 liquid
    1. Save 3X monthly expenses for Dual Income
    2. Save 6X monthly expenses for Single Income
  2. Max out your 401K first – at the “Match”
  3. Pay down debt that has an interest rate higher than your savings returns
  4. Invest everything else in the future
    1. Max out total 401K to Yearly Limit (in 2015 = $18K)
    2. And/Or invest in Roth
  5. Automate everything you can (savings, investments, debt payments)
  6. Guidelines for how much you should have saved (per “Fidelity)
    1. Age 35 = 1X current salary
    2. Age 45 = 3X
    3. Age 55 = 5X
    4. Age 65 = 8X
  7. Other:
    1. Longevity rates are going up
      1. Plan on Living to 95
      2. Plan on needing 85% of Pre-Retirement Income

Pros and Cons of EDCP (Executive Deferred Compensation Plan)

  1. More than $18K allowed and not eligible for IRA
  2. Longevity rates are going up

 

Financial Planning – When and How Often?

  1. 1X year – basic financial physical
    1. What you earn, vs. Own. Vs. Owe – review that these are all moving in the right direction
    2. Progress on Retirement Goals (calculate)
  2. 3X year – check credit report
    1. Look for Identity Theft and take action ASAP
      1. Annualcreditreport.com
      2. Read/review your statements
    2. Know your credit score (but don’t need to check as often) 720 = Good; 760+ = Great

 

Saving for College – Should Kids take the Loans or Parents

  1. Have the kids borrow some of the money (if you haven’t saved enough already and/or financial aid doesn’t cover)
    1. Have them borrow no more in total than what they expect to make in their first year
    2. Borrow w/ Federal Loans when possible
    3. You can help repay their loans.

Aging Parents

  1. Unlike Kids/College, - ‘We’ help b/c there is no other choice (e.g. ‘Financial Aid’)
  2. Important to understand their ‘need’
    1. Open and Honest Communication
  3. Have a Social Security Strategy
    1. Delay tapping into Social Security as long as Possible
      1. Grows @ 8% from age 62 to 70
    2. This is a point where it makes sense to pay for advice
      1. Review: maximizemysocialsecurity.com
      2. There are social security estimators available; seek them out

Risk Adverse? Where else to save

  1. Credit Unions à interest bearing accounts
  2. Government Bonds
  3. Note: Regular savings accounts equate to losing money after inflation/taxes, etc.

 

Using 401K or Personal Investments for Debt Reduction

  1. BAD – have to pay $ back within 60 days if leave company (whether by choice or not) – otherwise pay tax penalty
  2. Better to ‘pull back’ on regular contributions and pay back debt that way

What to do if I’m a Named Guardian

  1. Understand financial responsibility; Do the Parents have life Insurance?

Kids, Finances and Allowance – when to start, how to structure and how much?

  1. Start at age 5
  2. $1 (week)
  3. Add $1 every year
    1. Think of things you want them to start buying themselves
  4. Help them with “Give, Save, Spend” parameters
    1. Always save 10% - get them in this habit early

Buying and Selling Stock – when?

  1. The advisor doesn’t manage $ this way - -- - she invests in diversified funds
    1. Other investors sell when stock price drops 10-15%
      1. Exception is when price is affected by an exaggerated news story
      2. And/or the Entire Market drops

When do you go to a Financial Advisor?

  1. When do you go to a Financial Advisor?
    1. When your financial life gets more complicated
      1. Kids, homes, raises/promotions,

She Works Hard For The Money

This post is partially about parenting, partially about work. In this case, they are intertwined.

My wife has always had a pretty good job and has always been pretty career-motivated. We talked a little about having me stay home when we first had kids. In the end, we decided that it wouldn't work for us. I wouldn't like it (or be good at it) and she would have been jealous of my time at home. She ended up going part-time down to a 3-day per week schedule. She worked downtown at the time and would go in early so I'd be the one to get the kids ready for daycare three days per week. We did that while we had two children.

When we had the third, she switched jobs to a small firm that was five miles from our house. It was still 20-24 hours per week but she went to an hourly wage. She could come-and-go without a ton of guilt. When the kids were in daycare, she'd work three full days. Once they were in school, she'd work four 6-hour days.

It was the perfect job for our family. She would go in to work after the kids got on the bus and would get home right before they got home from school.

Now she has decided to stay home full time with a 15, 13, and 10-year old. From the outside, it looks a little insane. She's worked all this time to get to the point that the kids are old enough to be a little more independent and now is the time she's decided to stay home? If you're going to stay home, why not do it when the kids are young? But I think she made the right decision.

A few things factored into the decision. My mom passing away last year at the age of 67, my wife's lingering affects from a concussion suffered last fall, and my daughter's rehab from a broken leg all played a part in it.

We only have three more years of all of them under one roof. Life is short and the clock is ticking.

A look back

So, I originally thought I was going to be doing a FKB in November, and started writing something up.  Then, someone else did one, and I sort of forgot about it, and now I’m up for reals.  But, since I wrote up a bit of a post a few months ago, I though it’d be interesting to see how things have changed in the past three months.  This was a pretty enlightening exercise for me, seeing how much things have changed in what seems like such a short period of time.  Then again, to a 2 year old, 3 months is a pretty substantial chunk of his life, so maybe I shouldn’t be quite so surprised.  To try to make it clearer which section is from which time, I put what I wrote in November in normal font, and today’s in italics.

(As a background, we have two boys; one is 4.5, and the other just turned 2 in January.)

Then vs. Now

Then: In general, they are both great kids.  The older one is amazingly helpful to us and his brother, and rarely does much to cause any big problems.  Of course there are things that could be better (still having frequent accidents and lying are the two biggest), but he’s always been such an easy kid to deal with.  I see how he acts compared to his classmates in preschool, and am constantly amazed at how mature he acts.

Now: It took a very long time to get to this point, but the frequent accidents from our 4-year-old seem to be mostly done.  In November he was still having accidents at least 3-4 days per week at school, but today it almost never happens.  I had always hoped we could wait this out, and turns out we did.  As for the lying, that also seems to have been a bit of a phase.  I think he figured out at some point that he could sometimes get away with not telling the truth, and was sort of testing it out for a while.

Then: However, lately we’ve been having a lot of difficulty with our almost 2-year old.  Whenever he gets bored, or we aren’t paying attention to him, he acts out.  That includes throwing things, dumping everything from a bookshelf onto the floor, intentionally hurting his older brother, just general crappy kid stuff.

Now: This seems to have mostly passed as well.  He still certainly has his momentary tantrums, but they are now far less often, and far less destructive.  His newest move is to pour his (or his brother’s) cup of water out on the floor or table.  Certainly annoying to have to clean up, but not that terrible a thing to do.

Then: Plus, bedtime has become a huge problem, which I could believe is the cause of these issues, or an effect of the same phase.  As recently as 2-3 weeks ago, bedtime with the young one was so easy.  We’d read him a book, lay him in bed, turn on his music box, and he’d go to sleep.  Easy as pie.  Then, for whatever reason, everything changed.  Instead of going to sleep, he would open his door, bang the door against the wall, and yell.  There’s a baby gate in front of his door, so he can’t get out, but he sure can be a huge pain.  We had already put up the little door stoppers that attach onto the hinge of the door, so that he couldn’t actually hit it into the wall.  Well, he managed to push the door hard enough to break a hole in the hollow door, which then allowed him to break a large hole in the drywall with the door handle.  Good times on that one.

Now: We’ve adjusted bed time regimens, and it has certainly helped.  Rather than leaving right after reading him a book, we stay with him for a while.  The downside is we now end up laying in his room for 20-30 minutes most nights, waiting for him to fall asleep.  It still beats holes getting punched into the wall, but I’d rather not be spending that much time sitting in there, waiting for him to finally go down.  I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to keep improving this part of our day-to-day routine, and hopefully getting where we can leave while he’s still awake.

Then: I’m pretty sure these bedtime tantrums will pass (hey look, I was right!), but I worry a bit about how we are dealing with it.  It seems like between my wife and I, there is always at least one of us that has been stretched to (or past) our limits.  That leads to too much yelling, too much anger, and too much escalation, which of course never helps the situation.  When we’re both available, we do a pretty good job of tagging the other one out when we see that they’re in too deep, but that’s of course not always possible.  Dealing with this, along with a ton of extra duties at work, have stretched us both pretty thin.  It’s almost the end of the semester (my wife and I are both professors), so I can at least see the end in sight.  But while we’re in it, I know I’ve been too quick to anger, and I don’t like the way things go after that.

Now: This is still an issue, but we’re getting better at it.  The triggers have changed, but I still feel like we don’t deal with our emotions as well as we could.  We’ve both been frustrated to no end by both kids just flat out ignoring us lately.  Having to say everything over and over just eventually drains me, and leads to poor results for everyone.  My wife and I are both making a big conscious effort to get more/better sleep, and I feel like this is helping.  If we can keep up this better sleep schedule, hopefully we’ll be able to keep ourselves from getting quite so overwhelmed.

 

Well, I feel like I’ve rambled on enough, and hopefully others will find this retro account interesting, too.  For me, writing this all out helps me remember a bit better that, whatever is going on with the kids now is temporary.  For better or worse, things will change.

Of Tech and Togetherness

“Among our closest friends and family members, we operate furtively without even trying to, for no reason other than that we are using a nearly omnipresent, highly convenient tool, the specific use of which is almost never apparent.”

—Susan Dominus, “Motherhood, Screened Off”

 
I am pretty sure I didn’t always love family gatherings, but I started loving them around the time I went off to college. There’s something wonderful about being in a crowded kitchen, everyone preparing a different side dish as we chatter about the minutia that make up our everyday lives.
 
I am not at all good about keeping in touch with family members other than my own parents, so holidays are one of those rare times when I have a chance to connect with extended family. Growing up, I was close to my sister (we’re just two years apart), but after she got married and started that all-consuming thing known as medical school, we mostly followed our separate paths.
 
On a vacation to a cabin up north this past summer—which involved my parents, my sister, her husband, and their three-year-old son, plus Mr. NaCl and our two kids—as well as during a Thanksgiving spent with Mr. NaCl’s family in Iowa, it seemed to me that the nature of our interactions was different than it had been in years past. At the end of a long day that involved some combination of cooking, dish washing, and keeping the exuberant children well occupied, the adults were tired. Both families include a good number of introverts, so after the kids were all in bed, evenings offered a chance to recharge. 
 
I come from a family of readers, so it used to be that we would all gather in a common space and each curl up with a book (or perhaps some knitting, for my mom and me). Conversation would happen in fits and starts; someone would start laughing at something they read and then share it with the rest of us. But now, the evenings are spent with each person absorbed in his or her own electronic device. I couldn’t really put my finger on why that bothered me until I read the essay from which I quoted at the beginning of this piece. That’s it! Our devices obscure what we’re doing from each other even when we’re all in the same room.
 
Despite all this, there’s something to be said for the brief moment of respite provided by escaping into a screen. Someone might have emailed me in the last ten minutes! Or perhaps someone at this very website said something witty that I really need to see right now! But it’s so easy to slip into something more than a quick check of a website. The minutes pass by and suddenly a child is calling my name and I’m responding, “just one more minute.”

I’m not on Facebook, but every month or so I’ll use Mr. NaCl’s account to check what my sister has posted. What I love about her is that she does not document her life’s highlights. Instead she notes every sickness (her son is a puker), every flat tire, every vet appointment for her aging dog.

Our screens keep us apart, our screens bring us together. I’m not sure I have any answers here, but I feel certain that years from now, what I remember most about the time spent with my extended family will not be those times when we all sat around looking at our devices.

The next time I’m with extended family, there isn’t any reason that I couldn’t propose that the adults all play a game together one evening—the kind of game played on a board or with a deck of cards. The fact that the kids are young right now restricts what our options are, both in terms of their limited attention spans and in terms of their relatively early bedtimes. So I realize we won’t always be in circumstances that require us to be engaging in quiet activities at home starting at 8:00 in the evening.

I don’t think technology is the enemy—some of my closest friends are people I know “from the Internet.” And I don’t think that family interactions must be entirely devoid of tech devices. But I am trying to figure out how we can overcome the lure of our individual screens and really connect with one another on those occasions when we are all together. I’m more than a little curious to hear from others here about how technology has affected your family gatherings and what you make of this brave new world of screens.

Отцы и дети, or A Dad Named Sue

I had two dads and four grandfathers when I was growing up. Sometimes keeping everyone straight was an adventure. I share the same first name with my dad and his dad, which lead to sometimes-comical attempts by one family member to get the right one of us to respond. While I was never put out by this, it did impress on me the importance of names. When I was about twelve I chose a different nickname than the one my dad and his dad use, which caught on with some – but not all – of the family. I even have relatives who still call me a diminutive form of my nickname that I stopped using in elementary school. Now that I’m old enough, I find being called that name endearing.

For many years, I called both of the men who raised me “Dad.” When we finally became close in adulthood, my stepdad became “Pa.” That development came around the same time that I began mending my relationship with my dad (who, contrary to my WGOM shorthand, I never called “Pops”). I don’t think it’s a coincidence this distinction between them emerged during the time when I was establishing a healthy, adult relationship with each of my dads.

With four grandfathers the naming convention challenge multiplied. My grandfathers though remarriage were both “Grandpa” – one “Grandpa Lastinitial” and the other “Grandpa SurLastFamilyname.” My maternal grandfather was “Papa,” as his parents were still “Oma” and “Opa” to my generation of the family. My paternal grandfather, the only one of my grandfathers still living, is “Gramps.” (In fact, he’s the Gramps-iest Gramps to ever Gramps: a baseball-loving, Buick-driving, Cold War Navy vet who taught high school business & sold shoes. He likes burnt toast, black coffee, and Winstons. He doesn’t drink much anymore, but when I was a kid, he drank Schmidt. Before that, it was North Star.)

Mrs. Hayes & I are both third-generation Americans, our families heavily Americanized but still aware of our ethnic heritage. Papa’s third language was English, which he learned when he went to elementary school; he spoke German & Hungarian at home. My mom & her sisters get by in German to varying degrees. I speak just a little German, but understand a little bit more. To my dismay, we’ve lost the Hungarian. The other side of my family lost its Polish & German even quicker. Mrs. Hayes’ family has held on to their Greek heritage a bit better, mostly thanks to the ethnic dynamics of Orthodox Christianity. While nobody speaks much Greek in her immediate family, the culture’s customs are observed to varying degrees and greetings & blessings are still given in Greek.

Our child’s language acquisition is a priority for both of us. Mrs. Hayes & I both agree on what we would choose for a super power: the ability to speak other languages fluently. Our hope is to have her learn bits of a few languages: Greek and Russian (to communicate with my best friend’s family) for certain, and then whatever we can manage or build beyond that. I would love to send her to an immersion school if we have the opportunity, though that’s many years down the road.

But in the next two month I have a very personal decision to make. Who am I going to be to this little person? Figuring out my new name has consumed my thinking recently. What name do I choose? We agreed on a name for this child for nearly a decade ago. What I never considered is that I'd need to settle on a new name for myself, too.

Because I lost both my dads when they were fairly young, I don’t feel comfortable assuming either of their names in a couple months. At the same time, because we've functionality lost our mother tongues, I wonder if I have the right to claim a non-English name aligned with my child’s ethnic heritage. Do I become Apu, Vati, Tata, or Μπαμπάς? Do I choose Папа, given that’s drawn from the foreign language I speak best and hope to pass on? I honestly don’t know what’s right. But I know whatever I choose has to last two lifetimes.

How did you decide who you were going to be to your child(ren)? Has that name become as much a part of your identity as your given name?

If you speak (or wish you spoke) another language, how did you go about integrating that language into your child(ren)’s life?

Finally, this one goes out to my dads:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dmt7wo0Tnr8