Monday, December 22, 2008

Sacrifice and the Fight Against Time

Being a parent is the most important, most rewarding thing I have ever done. It isn't even close. But like all parents, I'm sure, I wish I had a little more time to myself sometimes. There just doesn't seem to be enough time to take care of B, clean the house, read the paper, play guitar, work out, try out new recipes, read books, watch movies, etc. etc. etc. So something's gotta give. But what?

Here are a few things I've tried to buy me some extra time. You may think I've gone too far, or not far enough, feel free to discuss.

1) TV is for suckers. Really. Stop watching TV. Now, this is pretty much impossible, but bear with me. B has two shows that he likes to watch, and he is allowed to watch them whenever they're on. That's about 40 minutes of tv a day for him, every other day. An average of 20 minutes of tv a day, I can live with. I don't watch any new tv shows, and I don't watch anything that requires me to know a backstory or will be continued the following episode. That limits me to Family Guy, American Dad, Mythbusters and not much else. I'll also watch 2-3 basketball games a week during basketball season. That works out to about 6-8 hours of tv a week, or on average, an hour a day. Considering that the average Canadian watches a tick over 3 hours a day, and the average American watches over 8 hours of tv a day, I've got between 2 to 7 more hours in my day than the average North American.

As an added benefit, not watching tv makes me not want to watch tv. I'm now looking at cutting cable channels for cost savings of about $75 a month. I'll use $60 of that for the NBA League Pass and then pocket an additional $840 a year.

2) Organize your downtime. When B goes to bed, I have a set schedule of things that I have to and like to do. Laundry, dishes, blog post, and about 45 minutes of net surfing to catch up on the day's news. Remember to organize yourself a bit of time where you don't have to do anything at all.

3) You can't do it all. I'd love to work out more often. I'd love to have more time for guitar practice. I have a list of books that I'd like to read, and movies I'd like to see. It's ok to long to have more freedom, but I've found it beneficial to dwell on the here and now, on having a healthy toddler, a happy family and a good job, and not to wish for the time or the possessions that I don't have.

4) Attack chores a little at a time. Ever sent your child on a play date and looked forward to a relaxing afternoon, only to realize that the house is a mess and either spent the day cleaning, or feeling guilty about not cleaning, and ended up feeling worse off by the time junior gets home? I spend, depending on B's level of cooperation, between 20-40 minutes a night on chores. B can help doing dishes and laundry, and the more he gets used to seeing mommy and daddy cleaning up, the more eager he is to do his part. In all honesty, he keeps his room far tidier than we keep ours. By doing a little at a time, your home never falls into a state of complete and utter chaos, and if you take a day off of chores once in a while, it isn't the end of the world.

5) Do your groceries and shopping...once. Make lists to keep from forgetting things, as additional trips to the store are wasted time. I am admittedly horrible at this.

6) Got a family of three? Cook for six. Warming up leftovers takes a lot less time than cooking a full meal. Thinking of relying on frozen boxed dinners to save you time? Well, they don't. A well-planned, healthy dinner shouldn't take more than 20-30 mins to prepare. Sure, I love frozen pizzas once in a while, but preparing your own meals is cheaper, healthier, takes less time, and sets a better example for your child.

Do I do all of these things well? No. I'm pretty good at a few of them, but the others are still works in progress. As an added bonus, cutting a bunch of stuff out of my life has really simplified things for me and I'm starting to find that I no longer want what I haven't got. I don't miss tv. I squeeze into 15 minutes of guitar practice what I used to do in 90. I'm getting better at making use of the stuff in my pantry. I'm never bored. And I feel like I'm devoting the most energy I can into being a good parent, which I feel is the right thing to do.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Having a toddler can make us rethink a lot of things. Gone are the days where we can simply crawl out of bed, dunk our head in the shower, grab a banana to go and shuffle off to work in the morning. Now, bus schedules, work schedules, daycare schedules and extra-curriculars have to be planned with the utmost precision. And if you're like me, thinking that hard in the morning is not the easiest thing to do.

Now, getting ready in the morning involves the planning, patience and discipline of a top military commander. If we liken the whole morning routine to a military operation, we have the following structure:

Parent #1: Commander-in-chief. This is the parent responsible for planning the morning. Can be either mom or dad. Assigns tasks to all parties, including him or herself. In my household, I take this role, since my wife, despite a whole slew of wonderful qualities, is quite unfortunately chronologically challenged at the best of times. Since we're expecting a second child in late February, we are quite understandably not in the best of times.

Parent #2: Field commander. This is the parent responsible for reporting to the commander on anything that could mess up the schedule. Commander-in-chief and Field commander must be a tightly-knit group and work together to resolve potential conflicts or hazards.

Toddler: Double agent. When adhering to a strict schedule in the morning, your toddler can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. Trouble is, you have no idea what you're going to get on a given day.

The morning routine for us involves my wife getting up and showering and getting dressed, then drying her hair and putting on make up while I shower. She gets B out of bed while I'm getting dressed. We eat breakfast together. She gets B's diaper changed and gets him dressed while I assemble the pre-made lunches. We all brush our teeth together, I get B's boots and coat on while she gathers up the things that need to be brought to work. I get B into the car while she gets her coat on, I drop her off at the carpool lot so she can catch her bus, I drop B off at daycare, and I drive to work. And it happens all nice and neat like that about one day a month.

I wasn't the best at getting up in the morning when I was single. When my wife and I moved in together, it didn't get any better. Now with a growing family, it's a huge challenge. But I've found some ways to lend some sanity to the whole debacle:

1) Start the night before. Make lunches, pick out clothes, put things like wallets, watches and Blackberries out where you can find them. Make sure dishes are washed for breakfast and make sure that everyone gets a good night's sleep. That means at least 10 hours for baby and and least 8 for you. Doing this saves crankiness and surprises.

2) Flexible start times. Mom and dad likely have their individual morning routine down to a science by now, with shower times, shaving times, make-up times, etc. But little ones, even though they are supposedly creatures who crave routine, rarely have two identical mornings. I've found that it's easier to let B sleep an extra 20 minutes and have him up and alert than try to get him out of bed when he doesn't want to. So plan beforehand what will happen if your child gets up on time, half an hour early, or half an hour late. We are able to get our two year old ready for daycare, in a worst case scenario, in 12 minutes, from crawling out of bed to coat and boots on and in the car. Breakfast in that case consists of dry cheerios and banana slices that he eats in the car on the way, with a sippy of milk or juice. Not recommended, but better than nothing.

3) Don't waste time (over)dressing your child. I'm not advocating sending your child to daycare in a diaper, but honestly, how much sense does it make to dress your child up in snow pants, coat, boots, hat, scarf, mittens, extra sweater, etc., when they have to go from your house to your car in the garage, then 20 feet from the car to the daycare entrance? They just end up sweating to death in the car, get fussy, then catch a chill when they are taken outside right after being hot and sweaty. We dress B up in his warm winter coat, boots and a toque. Scarf, snow pants and mitts come along for the ride in case the daycare needs them, of course. You save time at home, you save time at the daycare, and you get a generally happier child.

3) Pick your battles to win the war. On those mornings when junior is clearly not on your side, sometimes a 5-minute detour can save a 20-minute tantrum, which nobody wants. In my experience, 2-3 year olds want something really badly and will go through hell or high water to get it, but then they have it for 5 minutes and they want something else. So if junior is adamant about wanting to colour in his colouring book in the morning, for heaven's sake, let him. If he wants to bring a favorite stuffed animal along for the car ride, fine. The alternative is yelling and screaming if he doesn't get his way, and that's not a good way for anyone to start their day. Just keep getting ready as he colours, and in 5 minutes he'll get bored and join you.

4) Keep everyone involved. Find little chores that your toddler can do in the morning. It makes him feel important and part of things. B is responsible for distributing toothbrushes, putting his bowl and plate on the kitchen counter, and picking his clothes. Yes, he picks interesting combos sometimes, but that's not the point. We've let B make his own choices since he was a baby, and he's getting pretty good at it. Those with younger children might want to limit their choices to two things (banana or yogurt?), then gradually increase the options.

5) Manage expectations. Given that I am in charge of keeping everyone on schedule, my goal is to get everyone out of the house 20 minutes before I absolutely have to. If I get to work 20 minutes early, great. Even if we leave 20 minutes "late", I can still get to work on time.

6) Don't expect perfection. Every morning brings new challenges and surprises, but we stick to the game plan as best we can, while knowing to call an audible when things really get out of hand. Sometimes when things are going really badly, the best thing to do is to call into work, say you'll be a few minutes late and will work a bit extra at night to make up for it, and take the time you need to get things on the right track. Getting to work on time as opposed to being 5-10 minutes late is not worth getting into a huge fight with your spouse or child.

7) Lots of hugs, kisses, pleases and thank-yous. When things are going badly, I have an overwhelming desire to just start barking orders at everyone. First, this sets a bad example, and second, it gets on everyone's nerves. We expect junior to say please and thank you when he wants things, so we have to set the example. Again, we've done this with B since he was little, so when we ask him to do something with a please and a thank-you, he'll do it most of the time. Hugs and kisses and pleases and thank yous also lighten the mood in the morning, and remind us that even though we have a schedule to keep, there's still a tight family bond that doesn't get set aside. B really thrives when he gets his hugs and kisses, so we make sure to keep encouraging him and showing him that we love him, even though he grates on our last nerve when he insists on going out with his two feet in the same pant leg.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Does it seem that life just keeps getting more and more complicated? The last 10 years seem to have brought a whole new complexity to existence: the Internet, Blackberries, Asset-Backed Commercial Paper, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, work-life balance, HELOCs and NEG-AMs. While many of these products and concepts existed, it seems as though they are dominating our everyday lives like never before.

Parents don't have it easy. We have to raise kids and hold jobs, and heaven forbid we let one negatively affect the other. Then, there's pressure to save for our kids' educations, our own retirements, and in some cases, our parents' retirement homes. In addition, the financial crisis is causing hundreds of thousands of people their jobs, just as much of Generation Y is trying to cement a foothold in the workplace. With this much complexity, I find it therapeutic to get my thoughts out on paper, and if I put them in a blog and can help people with the same problems, all the better.

Many blogs talk about money, or kids, or work, or the economy, but I'm going to try to cover a bit of everything, and have a little fun doing it. Firstly, because all of these issues impact one another so they should be examined as parts to a larger puzzle, and secondly, I'm not really an expert on anything. I just spend time with my family, care about my job, read the paper, and muddle along as best I can.