Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Coughing Up Ethics

I woke up today to the sound of Zack coughing. Not just clear a tickle from his throat coughing, but a fairly gross, hoarse voice cough. I hate when my kids get sick, but not for the altruistic reason of how much pain they must be in. No. As always, it's about me. (At least I'm honest about my self-centeredness.)

Specifically in this case, the question is how much do I have to cancel. Or, what places can I get away with taking a sick kid. The fact that he's in a great mood, not outwardly sick or miserable makes it worse. If he was feverish and laying on the couch, it's obvious I couldn't take him anywhere. I do have some amount of compassion, after all. But when he's bouncing around the house, perfectly healthy except for coughing about once every 30 minutes, it muddies the waters for me.

I think this is a question that every parent faces. You can't go into complete lockdown for every sniffle. And obviously you're going to stay home if the kid is too weak to get off the couch. But the inbetween illnesses? Is it a matter of how important the activity is, that determines whether bringing an infectious child is worth it? Or do you only keep them home if you'd be faced with public scrutiny by other adults for taking your kid out in that condition?

Accidental public exposure is a different matter, I think. Every parent has a story of underestimating a child's sickness and sending them off to school, only to have them throw up during Social Studies. (Or, in Brad's case, having his ear drum burst and pus leak out of his ear during preschool. Fun times.) Those things, I firmly believe, you can't avoid. But you can avoid spreading around your grimy germs when it's obvious like a cough.

So, pop quiz. Which activities would you cancel for a coughing child, who is otherwise in perfect shape? And would your answer change on day 5 of the cough, when you've been stuck at home for so long that you forget how to start your car?

- day care at the gym
- grocery shopping
- preschool
- attend a birthday party
- family vacation
- clothing store
- piano lesson
- church nursery
- outdoor playground
- fast-food playground
- friend's house

Here's the schedule I had in mind for today:

10:30 - gym
12 - Costco
4 - birthday party at Chuckie Cheese's

I'm going to cancel the gym, because there's a ton of kids there in tight quarters, including babies, and he could really spread the germs around with all the different toys he's touching. Plus, there are adults there who would know that I'm leaving a sick kid. I don't underestimate peer pressure.

I might take him to Costco, though, because he'll be confined to the cart, not around other kids, not likely to get anyone sick. And if he does get anyone sick, it's not like they could point the finger at my kid. Someone catching a cold from a random kid at Costco is just one of those things. (Don't judge me for this train of thinking - I have a feeling that I'm not the only one to think this way, just maybe the only one dumb enough to admit it.)

It's the birthday party at Chuckie Cheese's that has me on the fence. For one, we had to RSVP and it might cost the birthday mom money if we don't show up. Zack'll be disappointed if we don't go, but he's young enough to get over it. I personally hate missing fun things, and I also hate last minute cancellations when I'm throwing a party. Plus, and here's a big part of it, isn't a place like Chuckie Cheese's exactly the kind of place that's already swarming with germs? Aren't you not too surprised when your kid comes down with a cold a few days after a visit there (or any kid-centric place)? How many other kids are running around there with snotty noses and coughs and who knows what? Is there some assumed liability on the part of every other parent there, that they are knowingly taking their kid out in public where they might catch a cold?

Ryan's opinion was, dope him up on some cough syrup and hope he doesn't cough during the party. That way he still gets to go, and as long as he doesn't physically cough he's not spreading his disease. And at a current rate of one cough every 30 minutes, he should only cough a few times during a 1 1/2 hour party. But that might be pushing logic a little too far. Plus, writing a blog entry kind of takes away any perceived innocence on my part. Still, the cough syrup route might work. If only to dull my own sense of right and wrong.

**Post-Party Update: I decided to take Zack to the party, and wouldn't you know, he didn't cough the entire time we were there! I'm so glad I didn't keep him home. But you never know, do you?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Very Brief School Update

I promised to keep this semester's whining to a minimum, and I think that's a promise I'll be able to stick to. I'm only taking one class this semester - American Literature after 1865 - and it looks to be a good one. One paper due, a few tests and quizzes, a 10 minute presentation, and other than that just a lot of reading. That, I can handle.

So I don't expect to be overwhelmed by this semester, and I don't expect to whine too much. About that, anyway. I reserve the right to whine about being bored, and regretting only taking one class. Just so you're all aware.

Oh, and P.S. - I got A's in both classes last semester. Apparently the whining was worth it. :)

Another Successful FHE

I wrote a blog entry a little while ago about a family Marshmallow War that spontaneously erupted one night during Family Home Evening. It was the most fun we've possibly ever had as a family. Last night we had our second runner-up in Funnest FHE Ever.

We played a simple game of Follow The Leader, except that, unbeknownst to her, Darcey was the leader. I sat her on the floor in the living room, and the rest of us sat a few feet away facing her. She didn't know what to make of us all just sitting there, so we all sat still, staring, for a really long time. Then she giggled. So the five of us giggled too. Which made her laugh, which made us laugh, and in a minute we were all laughing so hard that no one could breathe. When she stopped laughing, we quieted down too...for a minute, until she laughed again. We did this over and over, and it was hysterical. We were laughing at her, but she was laughing at us.

After several minutes of just laughing, Darcey pulled her knees up to her chest, and was surprised to see all of us do it too. That's when she started to get the game - she flopped her legs back down, and so did we. Up with the legs, down with the legs. Over and over. Stop for a laughing break. More legs. More laughing.

At some point she got bored and stood up. So did we. So she dropped to the ground, and so did we. Up, down, up, down. She added laying flat on the ground to her repertoire, and Ryan and I wondered why we had gone to the gym that day. She rolled on the ground a little, then stood up and twirled in a circle. At one point she walked over to a toy and put her hand on it, so we all followed and touched it, too. You could see in her face just how weird it was to have everyone copying her, but she clearly loved it.

After 15 minutes or so, Ryan and I were exhausted (although the 4 kids could have gone on forever, I think) so we called the game off by giving Darcey a giant round of applause, which of course she loved. She looked a little sad when no one copied her anymore, and then she was whisked off to bed shortly thereafter. But the rest of us agreed that this was the second most fun game we have ever played.

The concept of Family Home Evening is to have a night reserved just for family. The generally agreed upon format for the night usually includes a lesson, some songs, maybe reading a scripture or telling a story, and ending with an activity and refreshments. For us, the beauty in the program is not in the educational opportunity of the lesson, but in the family bonding. Having a regular time to spend together has given us the chance to have spontaneous fun. If we had just been sitting in the family room watching The Biggest Loser, we might have still enjoyed each other's company, but having some time dedicated to being together as a family in a low-key way has given us some amazing memories.

I am starting to love Monday nights. You can't plan this kind of fun, you just need to get out of your normal routine and allow it to happen. I plan so many family activities, where fun is expected, but when I get out of my own way and let things happen, that's the most fun. I can't wait to play our new game again. Although, not right now, or I'd have to smear Lucky Charms in my hair.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Well, Since You Asked...

I'm not a very political person. Mostly that's because politics tends to be a hobby for people - a spectator sport, with Monday morning quarterbacking and full emotional involvement. The casual politics-watcher is never going to understand every nuance of each politician's actions unless they commit to having a CNN-style news ticker running across their field of vision, and that's something I'm not willing to do.

I get most of my political news from the morning paper (Deseret News) and Google News, which is my homepage, but I only take in enough news to understand the jokes in Jay Leno's monologue. Any more than that and I'm teetering on the verge of political overload and with it a precipitous descent into complete cynicism. Frankly, I'd rather stay uninformed.

But being uninformed has never stopped me from having opinions. Far from it! This is America, after all, the land of the free and the home of the opinionated. Any yokel with a blog can spout whatever kind of drivel their deranged minds can come up with. And this yokel doesn't want to be left out.

Stephen King, that author known for his pithy comments and also gruesome murder scenes, said, "I write to find out what I think." That is so true. And pithy. Sometimes it takes writing thoughts down in order to get them nicely organized. And while I don't see myself ever being an avid political junkie, I think apathy is more likely to damage our country than either extreme's policies. So to stave off my apathetic thoughts, here are some of my opinions on the latest political happenings.


On the one hand, I hope his election lifts the hearts of minorities in this country who don't believe they have a future. It's easy enough for me to sit here and say "With enough hard work and a little bit of luck, you can do anything you want to!" I totally believe it, and I hope that Obama's election if nothing else takes away a reason to be victimized.

On the other hand, I feel bad for Obama. I've never seen someone so idealized, and there's only one way down for the guy on the pedestal. People seem to forget that he's mortal - talk change all you want, but Washington is too established to change much, especially when the qualification for being an advocate for change seems to be "worked in the Clinton administration." Obama is being painted as the country's Messiah, and you know how that ended for Jesus.

The Bailout

I hate the bailout. Hate it with every single sentient part of my being. I most especially despise the attitude of politicians that they know better than the rest of America what the result would be if their desired actions are not taken. It's not just a Congressional thing, either. Governor Huntsman (who I generally like) approved state funding for a professional soccer stadium that the general populace, the mayor of Salt Lake County, an independent financial consultant, a Debt Review Committee, and every economist with a pulse declared was a bad investment. Why does one person think they know so much more than the country as a whole?

When the bailout was first proposed, the people said no, it was too expensive - and Congress appeared to actually listen. But no, as it turns out, they just need to be bribed with a little pork. Now half the money has been spent, no one knows on what, and the political answer is "Spend more!" There is some basic logic missing here; namely that we got into this mess when people spent more money than they had. At some point the bill comes due, and that's when the house of cards comes down. If the government thinks it's bad now, just wait until we have to dig out of $1.5 trillion in bailout spending. The only way to shed debt is to - wait for it - SPEND LESS! Amazing! If only someone had mentioned that before the first bailout was approved! The economy is going to need to retract, and throwing money overboard like that's the thing causing the boat to sink is a bad idea.

Regular people get the idea - that's why we're all spending a little less, and as the demand for stuff goes down, the prices are going to go down, until we just can't take it anymore and we start spending. If some companies go under, then they were probably the least efficient companies to begin with. And it's not like the assets of those companies are going to disappear into thin air - some new, more efficient company, maybe a younger company with a better handle on technology or at least less encumbered by old, bad decisions - that new company will buy the assets at a discount, paving the way for a new, better company. Do you really think that if GM went under, someone else won't be there, ready to buy a discount factory to employ all of these unemployed workers, also at a discount? Maybe we don't need a Big Three - maybe this country only needs a Big Two. Handing failing businesses money will cure them in exactly the same way that handing failing schools money cured them. Oh wait, that didn't work either.


Man, what a mess. What it comes down to is this: Do all people have the right to live peacefully, in a land with no threat of violence? Israel says yes - Hamas says no. The Palestinians don't belive that the Israelis should be allowed to exist. For them, it's not a matter of finding the correct dividing line between an Israeli and Palistinian state, it's about wiping Israel off the map altogether. Israel has made concessions and given up territory, but nothing seems to satisfy Palestine other than Israel's non-existance. How can anybody defend this? Why do some people think that's okay?

The latest flare-up between the two groups only muddles the issue for some people. Palestine sent rockets into Israel civilian territory. Israel responds by bombing the crap out of them. The media starts comparing numbers, making the agressors look like the victims. After all, the reports claim, Palestinian rockets only killed three Israeli civilians. Really? So, a terrorist act is acceptable if it only kills a few people, is that it? If it had been ten dead Israelis, would it have been okay to retaliate then? How about fifty?

Let's put it into a situation that's a little closer to home. The government of Toronto decides that they hate America. They decide that America is evil, and should be destroyed. So they launch a rocket over Niagara Falls and it hits a neighborhood in upstate New York. It only kills three people. Toronto is unrepentant, and in fact will continue to lob rockets over the falls until their supply runs out.

Is there an American alive who believe we would just take that? No! We would beat those Canadians into submission - they'd be wishing they'd never heard of New York before this was done. If the 9/11 terrorists had been Torontoans instead of Muslims, I don't know if we Americans could have stopped ourselves from marching up there with pitchforks. The only reason we, as a country, didn't take revenge on Al Qaeda is that the Middle East is a really long plane flight away. Plus, they seem to be hard to find. But in any case, my point is this - we wouldn't put up with someone killing just a few Americans, and bombing the crap out of Hamas seems to be the only answer. Pacifism hasn't worked, conceeding hasn't worked, fences haven't worked. If someone has to go, should it be the Israelis or should it be Hamas? I think the bully in this equation is Hamas. And as kids everywhere know, it does matter who started it.

Well, I think that's all the political opinions I can muster for one day. I was going to also discuss gas prices, but that might have to wait for my next diatribe. I'd love to get your thoughts in the comments, but keep in mind, I'm just some yokel with an opinion and an internet connection. I think that's the textbook definition of "blogger".

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Joy Units, Revisited

Christmas was only 10 days ago, but I think I have enough hindsight to start analyzing our Christmas experience. Because after all, you can't know if you had a truly "merry" christmas without a quantification and labeling of said merriment. Last year I came up with Joy Units, which is my way of determining which presents are winners and which are losers. Joy Units are earned by doing things like playing with the toy, and if a toy does not garner enough Joy Units to meet the Expected Joy amount, then it will have Negative Joy Units, also called Pain Units. Here's a quick example from last year:

Brad asked for an Eyeclops roughly 20 times, with an outrageous cost of $50, giving the Eyeclops an Expected Joy amount of 70. He played with it three times, and his siblings wanted to play with it too, earning 6 Joy Units. It was then never touched again. I was so frustrated by the -64 Pain Units of the Eyeclops that I threatened to sell it, which gave it another -10 Pain Units. It now sits in the back of the entertainment center, threatening me with additional Pain every time I think about how expensive it was, and how cheap they are now. This Christmas Brad asked for Eyeclops Night Vision (or some such redo of the original). The Pain total of the Eyeclops is so high that I can barely calculate it.

On a positive note, I bought a hoodie from Costco last year that Brad never asked for and cost $30. He loved that sweatshirt so much that he wore it basically every single day for the entire year, including many days in the summer. He frequently slept in it. By the end of the year the sleeves were shredded and the coat was full of holes - holes of love. We called it his Second Skin. That coat earned hundreds and hundreds of Joy Units, possibly enough to balance out the Eyeclops.

Here are some highlights from this Christmas:

I had low Joy expectations from Darcey, because she is only 18 months old and is too young to ask for things (thank goodness). She is also too young to do much real playing with her toys, so most of what I got earned it's Joy from me being able to buy girl toys for the first time. She got two babies, a baby stroller, and various other toys. She likes the baby my mom gave her more than the Cabbage Patch baby I bought, but that's fine - I mostly bought it for me. :) I'm going to call Darcey a win overall, and probably neutral in Joy Units.

Zack was super easy to buy for this year, and his Joy Units total is sky high. Most of what he received were Playmobil guys and Lego guys, in an effort to prevent him from stealing Lego guys from every kid in the neighborhood. The stealing had gotten so bad that one day I randomly asked him what kinds of things he likes to carry in his pockets and he said "Lego guys that I steal." We replaced the Lego Indiana Jones that somehow got left behind in Paris (making each one that showed up in our house one more strike against the Lego Bandit).

Zack's big winner was the Kidizoom Digital Camera by Vtech. He didn't ask for it, and it cost about $40, so I was aiming for at least 40 units of Joy to break even. He loves this camera! It is super easy to use, and Zack was able to turn it on, take pictures, use the special features, and look at the pictures he's taken all before I could wrench the user's manual from the packaging. He's used it every day (10 units), his brothers and father have all used it (another 10), we've had to download the full memory and the batteries are almost out, so we are very close to breaking even already. By the end of January, we'll be positive Joy Units on this one. Definitely a winner.

Brad's big winner was also a camera - he got a Kodak Digital Video Camera. He had asked for it many times, but was convinced that he wasn't getting it because they are so expensive. I found this one refurbished on Overstock, and as with all good deals, the good deal alone earned some Joy Units. He's been using it a ton, has also filled the memory card and gone through some batteries. Plus he was so excited to get the camera that his reaction earned a lot of Joy Units too. As long as he keeps using it, this will be earning Joy Units for a long time.

Noah didn't fare so well, Joy-wise. He was hard to shop for this year, since he's kind of outgrowing toys and not quite ready for older-kid things. His list was sparse, especially after we crossed off the things we weren't willing to buy, such as motorized scooter and Nintendo DS. (Side note, our days of fending off video games is coming to an end - at some point, there won't be anything else to buy our kids other than video games!) He ended up asking for an iPod Shuffle, to replace Ryan's antique mp3 player that is so large it requires a fanny pack to carry it around in.

We got him the Shuffle (again, refurbished so not too expensive) but sadly, he doesn't seem to care about it. He's used it once or twice, and the last time I saw it, it was at the bottom of his duffel bag from our trip to St. George. I would be ticked off about the abject waste of potential Joy (nothing brings me more Joy than Apple products) but the poor kid seemed a little let down by Christmas, so I mostly feel sad for him. We had also gotten him a hoodie like Brad's, a little briefcase with a combination lock (which he loved), and a watch, but I overheard him telling Brad that day that he didn't have anything to play with. And I guess it's kind of true. After Brad and Zack opened their cameras, Noah went to open the iPod and said, "I bet this is MY camera!" Ohhhh, that felt so bad to hear. Fortunately, Noah's birthday is in January, and he immediately started making a list of what he wants for his birthday. Not many kids do that on Christmas Day. Chances are, we'll be getting him everything he asks for (not the motor scooter) just to assuage our guilt. I should say, my guilt - I don't know how Ryan feels about it. Unless the iPod makes a sudden comeback, I'm expecting it to stay in the negative Joy Unit range, but it's not the kind of Pain that I got from the Eyeclops.

Lest you think Noah was completely shortchanged this Christmas, let me assure you that he adores his new hoodie. I bought a new one for Brad also, to replace the worn out one from last year, and the two of them wear them literally everywhere. Those are definitely into positive Joy Units, although the fact that I've already had to tell Brad not to chew on his sleeve gives me a little Pain, it shouldn't reflect on Christmas.

The surprise winner of Christmas was a present of Brad's. Ryan picked up a Boy's Doodle Book, which is basically a coloring book with most of the picture missing. It'll have an outline of a cave, say, and it'll say, "What's in the cave?" And Brad will do the job of the illustrator, who is sitting on his couch, raking in the royalties and gloating over how little work he did and what suckers people are. But somehow, Brad doesn't seem to mind. In fact, for $12, this little present has earned the most Joy Units of all the presents anyone received. He's taken it to friend's houses, on car rides, he'll draw in it constantly and we had to tell him he couldn't take it into church. Hands down, this was the very best present of Christmas.

The beauty of Christmas this year is that we tried to scale back a little. Every year I get to the end of my shopping list and think, "This just isn't enough presents!" And I get one or two more things for each kid, blowing the budget and then on Christmas morning I look at the ginormous pile of presents and say, "What was I thinking?? We'll be here all day!" We tried for a quality vs. quantity approach this year, and other than Noah's notable misstep, it worked out really well. We spent substantially less on Darcey than the other kids, which is the kind of thing that normally gets my fairness-hackles up, but she was happy with what she got and that's all that matters. And with fewer last minute add-on toys, chances are most of the toys the kids got will eventually earn some positive Joy Units. None of the toys are so neglected that it is causing me physical Pain (yet).

So after totaling up all of the potential Joy, Earned Joy, and Negative Joy, I believe that this Christmas can officially be called Merry. It is my opinion that the winners surpassed the losers by quite a margin, and Ryan and I can relax for another year until the Joy Unit contest begins again. Because nothing brings the Christmas spirit like a nice round of Present Analysis. If you'll excuse me, I have a Cabbage Patch kid to play with.