Category Archives: Family


What I am going to be talking about here is freedom. Not in the sense of Preserving Our Liberties and Fighting The Great Government Conspiracies, but the things that really impact our personal lives.

Not that government encroachment on our traditional liberty isn’t a worrying trend, and I may touch on it now and then, but for the most part family, careers, and our personal decisions have a much greater impact on what we can and can’t do. Not even the most repressive totalitarian government is going to lock down your life like a new baby will. It’s not unusual now for people to spend more hours working than sleeping, which doesn’t leave much time for anything but work, getting ready for work, getting to and from work, and sleeping. And if you’re working and have a new baby, may God have mercy on your soul.

How do you balance the obligations of friends, family, and work, and still find time for yourself? Have you ever seen a year go by and realized at the end of it that you didn’t reach any of the goals you had set yourself? These are important questions to me, and I think to other people as well. For over a year now I’ve been trying to balance the demands of my consulting business with my own desire to spend as much time as possible with my son, not always with great success. I don’t claim to have any special wisdom, but I’ve learned a few things in that time and I hope to learn more in the future.

This blog is something of an experiment. I’m going to ramble here as I have time and something to say, and I hope that some people may find what I have to say useful. I don’t have comments enabled here, for various reasons, but anyone is free to email me at I may quote you in a future post, so if you don’t want that be sure to say so in your email. I hope to hear from someone other than spammers.

That light you see….

I think I have the site looking more or less how I want, so it’s time to start working on some content.


See, we’ve got this little 14-month old ninja tornado rampaging about the house right now, teething like a whole pack of beavers on amphetamines (he’s getting in eight–eight–teeth all at once), and that doesn’t leave much time for anything else. Even with cutting my sleep back to about four hours a night I don’t have lot of time for such luxuries as reading, writing, or eating.

I’ll have more to say about this later, but right now I think I’m going to go take a nap, before he wakes up again.

Who Will You Be When You Grow Up?

It has been nearly 18 months now since my son was born and I am still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up.

I know what I am. I’m a dad. No job, no career, will ever be more important than that. Unfortunately, while very rewarding in its way, the pay isn’t very good and the bills still have to be paid. For a year and a half now I have been juggling, trying to spend as much time as possible at home, with my family, while still making enough to support us. The results, so far, have been mixed.

I’m self-employed, so to a certain extent I get to set my own schedule. If I don’t have anything scheduled for a given day I can stay home, and Nathaniel is delighted to have Daddy around all day. On the other hand, sometimes I get called out to work on a Saturday afternoon and I feel a certain resentment at missing that precious family time, but I do it because I can’t pay the bills with baby pictures, no matter how cute they are.

I’m luckier than most fathers, who may have to leave the house at 7:00am or earlier, and may not get home till 8pm or even later. They might spend little or no time at all with their kids during the week. Some of them may make more money than I do, have a bigger house and nicer things, but does the price in time that pay for that material wealth make them happier?

No one ever lay in bed at the end of their life and thought, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.” For me, the family time is worth giving up a few gadgets and sweating a little more trying to make the finances work.

I write, I work with computers, but I’m not a writer, I’m not a computer technician. Those are things that I do. But what I am is a dad. Solving some computer problem may be satisfying in its way, but it’s nothing compared to my son running to greet me at the door, yelling, “Da’y, Da’y!” and throwing his arms around my legs.

Call me greedy, but I’d like to find a way to spend even more time with the family, while still paying the bills. It’s something that our society doesn’t make easy. Something that is actively discouraged, in fact, but I plan to do it anyway. If I can figure out how.

How about you? What brings you the most joy in your life, and how do you plan to spend the most time possible doing that?

In The Beginning, So At The End

We all start our lives with a very narrow focus. First the womb, than which it doesn’t get much narrower. Even after make it to the outside, our worlds are narrowly focused on eating and breathing. We can’t even move, just lie there and hope nourishment is brought to us. Our parents keep checking to see if we’re still breathing, so precarious does our grasp on life seem.

As we get older our world slowly expands, each tiny step a monumental landmark. Rolling over, to change our view. The first hesitant movements that let us inchworm or scoot around a tiny patch of floor or playpen. Then, with the discovery of crawling a whole room can be our domain to explore. Walking will bring the rest of the house into play, and eventually the yard. Outside! Gradually we explore an entire neighborhood. My son is at this stage now, not yet two years old and scurrying around the neighborhood with great enthusiasm.

With the start of school whole new territories open up. Most of then turn out to be horrific, but through the school years the world in our reach expands to include the whole town and maybe more.

Adulthood opens up most of the planet to us. We can, if we chose, go nearly anywhere, meet people from all over. Our jobs, if we are fortunate, give us the opportunity to accomplish real things, change other people’s lives. Most of us mate and begin producing additional human beings.

Then, gradually, our lives narrow. The responsibilities of job and family cut down on travel and adventures. Old friends move away or die and may or may not be replaced by new ones. Retirement comes along and the world of the workplace disappears. Some people are fortunate enough to be able to take up traveling in their retirement, but most are not.

With most of our friends gone, with no job to take us out of the house, life narrows down rapidly. We might get together with a few friends now and then, or get involved with a hobby. Or maybe not. My grandmother only left her house a handful of times in the last fifteen years or so of her life.

As our bodies wear out, even climbing upstairs in our own house may be beyond us. Like an infant, we are back to a world that consists of one floor. But the stairs are no longer a challenge to be overcome; the barrier is now permanent.

All too soon, for most of us, comes the hospital bed, the recliner we can no longer get out of, the struggle for one more breath to try and stay a little longer in a world that has narrowed down to nothing more than that; hoping someone will bring one more meal, while people check to see if you are still breathing.

We have come full circle. Everything that life has given us, it has taken away again.

Napoleon once said, “The time we have for war is short.” Strike the words “for war” and what he says is true of everyone. The time we have on this world is painfully short, and you never know just how short it may be. Napoleon also once said, “Ask me for anything but time.” He knew what he was talking about. Time is utterly unforgiving.

Make the most of every day you have on this Earth. You don’t know how many of them you’re going to get and once you have lost one you can never get it back.

Diversify Your Paycheck

I haven’t had a job since the end of 2000, when the Dot-Com I was working for dropped dead by the side of the road.

That sounds a lot worse than it really is. I have a long history of making money that doesn’t come from an employer and after a few months of trying to find a new job I gave up and haven’t tried since. Instead, I went back to being a tech-for-hire, a computer consultant, a techno-mercenary. The upside of that was that it was work I could do, and I had just enough contacts to get a marginal start. The downside was that I had to work with computers (and users) all day long, and I had just enough contacts to get a marginal start. The most technically adept consultant in the world will starve if he can’t find clients willing to pay for his expertise.

Fortunately, I had time to build up a client base because my wife was working full time. I had a pretty good base built up when, two years ago, my son was born and that all changed. All of a sudden, my dubious and variable consulting income was the sole support of my entire family. It was unsettling.

Two years later, though, there’s still food in the pantry and money in the bank.

Some people would consider it very risky to have a family depending on the uncertain income of the self-employed. You’re too vulnerable to loss of clients, or simple slow-downs in business, where there may not be much work for weeks at a time. The stability of a ‘real’ job is much more desirable.

Perhaps at one time that was true, but I don’t think it is anymore. The so-called ‘real’ job is no more stable than being self-employed. Sure, you have a steady, unvarying, paycheck coming in twice a month…for as long as it lasts. If your employer goes bust, or simply decides that for whatever reason they no longer need your services, you suddenly no longer have an income. (This has happened to me numerous times.)

Financial advisors are always talking about diversifying your investment portfolio, but you never hear them talking about your income portfolio.

As a consultant, if one of my clients goes bust, or decides for whatever reason that they no longer need my services, or re-locates out of the area (and this has also happened to me numerous times), I still have the income from all my other clients. The money I make being self-employed may not be as steady as a regular job, but it is much more fault-tolerant. If one client goes offline, I can keep running on the others; my money comes from dozens of businesses and individuals and it would take a lot for me to lose all of them.

The feast-or-famine cash flow does take some financial discipline to manage, but now that I’ve gotten used to it I like it better than a single paycheck. Perhaps I just have little faith left in the stability of employers, but the diffuse nature of my income is comforting, not worrisome.

It may be useful to you to think, not in terms of earning a paycheck, or an income, but rather of multiple sources of income. That might mean adding investment income to your salary (which could be as simple as interest on your bank accounts), taking up selling things on Ebay, or even a second job. Besides the financial benefits, adding sidelines exposes you to people and experiences that you might not otherwise have encountered. If you are currently between positions (don’t feel bad; that’s going to be more common in the near future, as the economy sags) consider becoming your own employer rather than selling yourself to the highest bidder. Maybe it isn’t right for you, but you might be surprised. Keep an open mind, at least; if you’ve been laid-off then you certainly know how fragile the so-called steady job can be.

In this modern, globalized economy, we’re all freelancers. Think about what you can do to protect yourself from the whims of the market. Your boss might be adding your name to a list right now.

There’s a Bad Moon Rising

As I mentioned last week, the US economy seems to be headed for the crapper, and it is very possible that much of the developed world will be dragged down with it. Many of you may be too young to have seen it before, but this sort of thing happens every now and then.

You may not be affected much; there are some people who do well even in very bad times. (The people who had jobs during the Great Depression were quite comfortable. There were very, very many people, though, who did not have jobs, and it was brutally hard for them, for many years. And when I say brutally hard, I mean like dumpster-diving behind department stores to scrounge discarded wrapping paper to use as toilet paper. Think of that when your life seems tough.) If your job is secure and your company is solid, or you are already wealthy, maybe you have nothing to worry about.

If the economy does get as bad as nearly every economist thinks it may, though, you could be in for some hard times. Probably not Great Depression bad, but bad enough. If you are already established in your career (and spending habits), you may suddenly find yourself struggling to maintain your lifestyle. If you are a college student about to graduate, you may find yourself stumbling right out of the gate, unable to find the sort of job you would like. As a student, you have an advantage over the thirty-something who was just laid off in that you’re used to not having any money. On the other hand, you’ve got all those student loans to pay back, and you were probably unwise enough to accumulate some credit card debt too. Good luck.

It has been a while for me, but all of my childhood and much of my adult life were spent in…financially adverse conditions. I don’t like it, but I’ve done it before and I can survive it again. Even better (for you, you lucky devil you), I can pass along some advice that may be helpful to you after your boss stops by your cube to drop an ominous, “Could you come into my office for a minute?” There’s nothing earth-shaking here, and any truly poor people reading this are probably going to be thinking, “Damn, these well-off people sure do whine a lot,” but I’ve seen first-hand how poorly many people respond when faced with a downturn in their financial status. Maybe this will help.

The important thing is to adjust your expenses to fit your new income. That may seem like common sense, but it is exactly what most people don’t do. If you take nothing else away, remember that. Everything else is details.

(You may not have much choice anyway; banks are tightening up and credit isn’t going to be as easy to come by as it used to be. Even if you (foolishly) want to keep spending and racking up debt, you may not be able to.)

If you were foresighted enough to have saved up an emergency fund, this is where it pays off. You’ll still want to manage your expenses carefully, to get the most out of it, but you don’t have to worry as much about losing your house or car, or putting food on the table, as someone who doesn’t have one. Congratulations. Just remember that you should only dip into the emergency fund to pay for essential expenses. If you use it to pay the cable bill or buy a new TV, you may find yourself unable to pay your mortgage down the road.

Preventative Maintenance

It wouldn’t hurt to periodically evaluate your finances even if you’re not having any financial difficulties. Do it the next time you have an hour or so free. You may be surprised at how much you’re paying for some things, possibly things you aren’t even using anymore. Sometimes just making a few changes can save you some money without cutting back at all on what you’re getting in return. For example, I recently made some changes to my phone, TV, and Internet services which are going to save me about $110 a month, but get me overall better service. That’s $1300 a year, just for spending about half-an-hour on the phone. A couple years ago I shopped around my home and auto insurance and ended up getting better coverage while cutting my bill by several hundred dollars. Don’t assume that the great deal you got years ago is still a great deal today. Shop around.

If you can do it painlessly, why not save the money now? Someday, in the not very distant future, you just might be glad you did.


The first thing you want to do when you find yourself with a sharply reduced (or non-existant) income is to take a hard look at all your expenses. The essentials are food, utilities, housing, transportation, and possibly certain debt payments. I include phone and Internet service (both very important these days if you want to get another job) in with utilities. Everything else is secondary. Make a list if you have to. Write down everything you spend money on in a given month and organize it into two columns: Essential and Not Essential.

Now, look at the non-essential stuff and see where you can cut back. Do you have to eat out five times a week? Do you really need the top-of-the-line cable package, with all the hi-def movie channels? Try eating out just once a week, and basic cable. Hit the liquor store instead of the bar and buy your booze by the bottle instead of by the drink. Maybe you can live on one new pair of shoes a month instead of five. You get the idea; cut out or cut back on the things you can do without. Don’t cry too much if you have to say goodbye to HBO; with any luck you’ll be able to get it back again in a few months or a year and if you missed anything good you can catch it in repeats or on DVD.

Every dollar you save by cutting back in the non-essential expenses is another dollar that you can spend on the stuff you have to spend money on. HBO you can live without. (Yes you can. Really. Be strong.) Groceries, not so much.

If money is so tight that you’re not sure you can even pay all of your essential bills every month, buy food first. Your money will go farther if you can cook — frozen dinners are handy, but a lot more expensive than making your own meals — but whatever; buy the food first. Screw the mortgage company and the phone company; you have to eat. If you don’t even have enough money for that, give serious thought to calling your parents and seeing if your old room is still available….

After you’ve stocked the ‘fridge and pantry, pay your utility bills. You have to have electricity to live (quite literally in some cases; here in north Texas a number of people die every summer because they don’t have air-conditioning) and you’re going to have a hell of a time finding a new job without a phone. The water bill, if you have one, is no place to cut corners. You may be able to save a little here, by downgrading your phone and Internet service, for example, or being more careful about wasting electricity, but in general don’t mess with the utilities. Pay them if you have any money at all left after groceries.

Only after you’ve put food on the table and kept the lights and water on should you worry about paying the mortgage (or rent). Yes, you have to have a place to live, but the thing is, it takes a long time for the bank or landlord to throw you out of your home. It won’t make anyone happy, but you can run a month or two behind and still survive. Lack of food and water is much less tolerable.

If you have a car payment, you’ll have to use your judgement as to whether it should be prioritized above or below your housing. That will depend on how essential a vehicle is in your area and how quick you think the bank will be to repo it if you fall behind. I usually ranked the car payment as more important than the rent. Putting gas in the car and fixing it if it breaks is more important than making a payment. If you need a car it’s not going to do you any good just sitting in the driveway looking pretty.

Credit card and other debt payments are last of all the essential expenses. Bad things may happen if you don’t pay them, but you probably won’t be deprived of a place to live. (If you owe money to the certain people, of course, you may lose more than your home. Or certain other people may provide you with a place to live, but one you probably won’t like.) Try to make at least the minimum payment on your credit cards, and as you watch the balance pile up resolve to get rid of those credit card balances forever once the money starts flowing again.

There is some slight of hand you can do with credit card debt, like opening a new card and taking advantage of their low-interest balance transfer option, and I’ve had to resort to that in the past, but you can only do so much of that. That is another reason to carry as little debt as possible.

Ramen Again?

I could go into a lot of detail on specifics of where to save money on this or that, and maybe I will sometime, but the important thing is to think in terms of trying to save money. The wrong mindset is what will do you long-term harm. Studies have shown that most people, faced with a financial setback like losing their job, don’t change their spending habits. They keep right on as before, but either draw from savings or go (deeper) into debt to make up the shortfall. (Same thing, really; drawing money out of savings is just another kind of debt; you’re borrowing from yourself.) Maybe you’ll have to do that even if you do cut back on your expenses, but wouldn’t you like to minimize that debt?

You could think, “This isn’t going to last forever; I can afford to run up the credit cards and pay them off after I get a new job.” Or you could think, “This isn’t going to last forever; I can live without the HD cable sports package for a while.” Guess which one is going to leave you with an empty bank account, and maybe a foreclosure notice from your bank?

Who knows; maybe you’ll find you enjoy cooking your own meals, and you might find some good books to read. The best things in life may not be free, but they can be cheap.

Investing Starts At Home

If you have read many of my past entries, you may have gotten the impression that I am in favor of living in a hovel, huddling in the dark around a bare lightbulb for light and warmth, and eating only room-temperature ramen noodles, while saving every penny for a possible future emergency.

Even my wife would admit — reluctantly — that that’s an exaggeration. The fact is, that just wouldn’t be any fun. I am a strong believer in saving money now so you’ll have it later, and I have been since I was very small. (I remember loaning my mother money when I was nine years old, and insisting on getting interest on it. Not enough — my mother was a very poor risk — but I was young.) I also believe, however, that there is enough misery in this life without inflicting more of it on ourselves than we have to.

As it happens, we live in a nice house in a quiet suburb, have numerous computers, TVs, and other personal electronics, drive good cars, and dine out as often as is practical with a two-year old in the house. It’s not a fancy life, but it’s a comfortable one.

There are, of course, qualifiers to the above. The nice house is in a good neighborhood, but not one of the local ‘prestige’ suburbs. A similar house a few miles to the east would have cost us another $30,000. It wouldn’t have been a better house, just one with a more prestigious address.

I bought a good home theater system ten years ago and it still works great. Someday we’ll upgrade to a big flat-panel TV, but there’s no hurry.

We tend to buy new cars and keep them for a long time. Mine is ten years old now and due for replacement (As I’ve talked about before.) but my wife’s is only a few years old and good for many more. She wanted an SUV, but instead of looking at one of the big, fancy gas-guzzling ones that would have been too big for her to be comfortable driving anyway, we got a modest little Honda CR-V. It runs great, does everything we need it to, and she likes it. All for half the cost of a fancier truck.

Our biggest luxury is probably that we have someone come in every couple weeks to clean, and a crew of guys who come every couple weeks to mow the lawn. No excuses there; that’s pure laziness, paying other people to do things we don’t have time, or don’t want, to do ourselves.

If you are above the poverty line it’s almost certainly possible for you to live a comfortable lifestyle within your means. Simply don’t spend more than you make, and judge the merits of the things you purchase based on how they will serve you, not on what other people will think of them. Bragging rights are expensive and if every month finds you a little deeper in debt, you can’t afford them.

Don’t be stupid in what you spend your money on. My wife was at our bank a while back and one of the bank officers pounced on her, trying to get her to take out a home equity loan. “You own your own home? Why don’t you take out a home equity loan and go on a vacation?”

A vacation? THAT is the sort of thing people are taking out second mortgages on their houses for? No wonder foreclosures are at their highest rate since the Great Depression.

Just to be absolutely clear, borrowing to purchase necessary durable goods, like a house or a car, can be a good idea. Borrowing to finance something as transitory as a vacation is just plain stupid.

People do it, though. I heard a news story the other day claiming that in the past ten years the American consumer has spent $3 TRILLION dollars more than he has earned. The amount of debt that some people have accumulated in order to finance a lifestyle they can’t afford is staggering. Don’t be one of those people. You can only write bad checks for so long before they start coming due, and for a lot of families across the country they are coming due right now.

But, there is no need to suffer either. In THE MILLIONAIRE NEXT DOOR the authors talk about the research they did into the lifestyle of the average millionaire. They go on at great length about how these millionaires are typically working-folks who have simply accumulated a lot of money by the simple method of not spending much. They live very simply and save a great deal of their income.

What the authors don’t talk about, though, but what jumped out at me was why these people are saving. Almost all of them said that they were saving all that money so that their kids could live a more affluent lifestyle. In other words, these millionaires did not see their own frugal lifestyle as something to aspire to, but rather something to suffer through.

My wife and I have a tradition, going back about twenty years now, of going out to eat on Friday night. Sometimes we go out to a nice restaurant, sometimes we order in Chinese or pizza. Sometimes, if we’re sick or the weather is bad enough, we’ll go out for breakfast on Saturday instead. Since our son was born we’ve done more fast food than fancy dining out, but the point is we do something. It’s an expense that the truly cheap would avoid, but I consider it money well spent. Guys, your wives will put up with a lot if they know they’re going to get that night out at the end of the week. Trust me on this.

Small luxuries like our maid service and the weekly night out are important. Having some nice things in your house will make living there more enjoyable, and watching your child play with his new toys is its own reward.

Keeping your family happy is more important than adding a few dollars to the savings account. It’s not an expense; it’s an investment. The most important investment there is.

Decisive Action

My son has what many people would consider a surprising, and probably inappropriate, amount of decision-making power. He is, as likely as not, the one to pick what we’re going to eat on Friday night. He picks out nearly all of his own toy, and always has. He has some say in where we go for family activities.

It’s not a lot, and we phrase the questions simply when asking for his input, but then he is only 25 months old.

From the very start of his life, I have done my best to involve him in what was going on, rather than simply doing things to him or making him do things. When he was only a few weeks old I would explain the diaper change process to him while putting him up on the changing table. “OK boy, what we’ve got here is a toxic waste spill in your diaper area. We’re going to have to open up your onesie, remove the befouled diaper, and send in a specially trained HAZMAT team to clean up the area. Then we’ll get a fresh diaper on you…oh, and a fresh onesie too, looks like. OK? Good, let’s get started.”

He would stare up at me, giving every indication that he was listening intently. I don’t know if he understood a word I was saying, but it helped him stay calm (he hated laying on the changing table).

When he was about six months old, and we started introducing those little containers of vile mushed vegetables into his diet, he picked out his high-chair. We narrowed our selection down to two possibilities and then asked him which one he liked better. He made his selection by grabbing one of the trays and trying to eat it.

That was about the age when we let him starting picking out his toys, too. Or perhaps he was a month or two younger then. (That first year is a blur, a blur probably familiar to any parent. My mother asked once at that time, “What did you used to do before Nathaniel was born?” I replied, “Sleep.”) At any rate, we would carry him over to the shelves of toys and he would grab at the ones that caught his eye. Some he’d put back down again, some would hold his attention. Those, we bought.

Hardly any of his toys sat idle. He played with them all.

Now that he is talking fairly well — well enough to get his opinions across — he dictates most of the TV viewing during the day and is quick to veto any unfortunate music selections while in the car.

He doesn’t have completely free rein, of course. We will most likely ask him what he wants for breakfast, but his choices are limited. If he asks for ice cream or pizza, we present him with an array of options. “No, I’m sorry, we can’t have ice cream for breakfast. How about some toast? Or cereal? Eggs?” And he’ll — usually — pick something from the approved list. If he picks the place for our Friday night-out dinner, we give him a list of places we’d pick from anyway, so what’s the harm in letting him pick? If nothing else, it serves as a tie-breaker between my wife and me.

In short, he gets to make a lot of decisions that are important to him, but which have very small stakes from my and my wife’s perspective. If we’re going to buy a high-chair or toy anyway, why not let him pick which one we get? If he wants to watch DIEGO or SUPERWHY, why not let him? If we have other plans, well, his decision gets overridden, but there’s generally no harm in letting him have his way on these small matters.

(Not that they are small to him, of course. Which cartoon he watches, or which toy cars he takes upstairs at bedtime, for example, is utterly trivial to us, but of tremendous significance to him.)

The point of all this isn’t just to spoil the boy. Keeping him happy is important, of course, but there is a more important issue at stake, a matter of deliberate policy.

I want him to absorb at the earliest possible age, to have rooted deep in the fabric of his personality, the habit of making decisions, and the idea that he has input and influence over the course of his life. To most people, that probably does not seems like something that would have to be specifically cultivated. Perhaps for most people it isn’t. Perhaps my own background is causing me to overcompensate with my son.

My parents took the opposite approach, you see. Any idea that my opinion mattered, that I had any say at all in what happened in my life, was beaten out of me at an early age. I was simply dragged from one place to another and told what I was to do. I didn’t want to be an astronaut when I grew up, or a fireman, or doctor, or President. None of the usual childhood ambitions. The highest pinnacle of accomplishment that I could imagine was simply to be left alone.

I remember the moment, in 7th Grade, when I realized that at some point in the future no one would be dictating my schedule, requiring me to be in school for X number of hours five days a week. Yes; I was about twelve years old before I realized that I would ever have any say in what happened in my life. It would be years more before I really absorbed and internalized that concept. Even now, thirty years later, I tend to drift, pushed by events rather than taking charge of them, unless I concentrate on taking control.

Parents, involve your children in the decisions that affect them, no matter how small they are. Let them decide. Let them learn from the earliest possible age that they can act on the world around them, and not only be acted on by it. Teach them that they have choices. You may be doing them a tremendous amount of good. Order their lives for them, and you may never know how much harm you have done.

Freedom is choice. Teach your children to be free.

Let’s Do The Time Warp Again

It’s that time of year again, when most people in the United States waste time resetting clocks. I always get a reminder the day after the time switch; my two-year old son’s sleep schedule is thrown all out of whack. He sleeps late and is cranky in the morning, and doesn’t want to go to sleep in the evening. This makes me and his mother cranky as well. It takes about a week to get him settled back in.

Daylight Savings Time is one of the greatest boondoggles ever put over on the American Public, right up there with trickle-down economics (which was at least honest; Reagan pretty much came right out and said that the rich would trickle all over the poor). It is supposed to save energy, though everyone knows it doesn’t, and now there’s proof. Hell, DST kills people, when an already sleep-deprived American public takes to the roads the following Monday.

Daylight Savings Time. It actually causes people to use more energy, it disrupts people’s sleep schedules, causing traffic accidents and an incalculable amount of misery and grouchiness. (How many more mistakes do workers make on the Monday following the ‘spring forward?’ Would you want to buy a car built on that morning?) So, then, why do we stick with it? Who benefits from all this extra expense and misery? As near as I can tell, only one group. Only one group of people is wholeheartedly in favor of Daylight Savings Time.


Yes, golfers. No matter what price other people may pay, they have an extra hour of daylight and can get in an extra hole or two of golf.

Keep that in mind as you blunder your way through the day, wishing you could take a nap. If you happen to meet a happy golfer do all of us a favor. Kick him in the balls.

Golf balls, of course. What did you think I meant?

Toddler Lockdown

Having a baby limits your personal freedom more than just about anything this side of a prison sentence. It’s a life sentence too, with the possibility of parole after eighteen or twenty years. If you’re lucky.

Those of you with children know what I’m talking about. For the benefit of the rest, I will elaborate.

Your first few weeks with a new baby are a blur of diaper changes, howling, and being covered in disgusting bodily fluids. Your baby will probably sleep for most of its first week on the outside and you may begin to think that this is not so difficult. Don’t fall for that. It’s a trick. Once the baby wakes up she or he will, it seems, not sleep again for several months.

Infants have only one means of communication. Crying. It’s your job to try and figure out what the problem is. You’re as likely as not trying to solve that riddle at 2:30 in the morning, after having only slept for a total of three hours over the past two days. Good luck.

Things that were very easy before, like jumping in the car and running over to the store, suddenly become major productions. Not only are you tethered to a baby that may, at any moment, start howling like a fire engine, but there is a whole caravan’s worth of support hardware that you have to haul around. At night, someone always has to be available to cover nighttime feedings and other crises. (After the first few weeks I had, much to my wife’s disgust, learned to sleep through the routine nighttime wake-up crying. A few times, though, our son managed to get his leg caught between the slats of his cradle and woke up with an entirely different “Daddy, daddy, something’s got me!” cry that would snap me out of bed instantly.)

In short, your entire life now revolves around providing support to a tiny, helpless, human being who is entirely dependent on you. It affects everything, down to taking time to use the bathroom.

It gets a little easier when he begins sleeping through the night, but there is another trap out there waiting for you. Not long after that your helpless little baby becomes mobile.

The one saving grace of the early months is that the baby will stay where you put him. Lay him on a blanket on the floor for a few minutes while you go to the bathroom and he might start crying, but at least he’s going to be there when you get out. Once he becomes mobile, though, you have a whole new set of problems. Now the whole layout of your house might have to change, especially if you have stairs. (Our boy could climb stairs before he could walk.)

Toddlers become very mobile. They won’t even stay with you in the store. They’ll hare off to the other side of the store, where they remember finding toys the last time you were there. They’ll hide on you, or run around obstacles in a deliberate attempt to lose you. Elevators and escalators are fascinating new toys.

They are also endlessly curious. Any sort of container is liable to be opened and dumped out, just to see what’s in it and if it’s any fun. Or tastes good. A cup of water is almost as likely to be dumped on the table (splash, splash!) as to be drunk. A moment’s inattention to what the little imp is doing might cost you twenty minutes in cleanup.

As of this writing, my son, Nathaniel, is two and a third years old and our life revolves around him as much as it did when he was one month old. Getting him dressed is usually a tag-team wresting match and shopping is a major expedition (and likely to result in the purchase of more little toy cars, regardless of what it was we were originally shopping for). He can climb like a monkey and has to be watched carefully to make sure he isn’t getting into something dangerous that he couldn’t reach the week before. He is as demanding as ever of our attention and has a broader vocabulary with which to tell us what he wants. Even what kind of car I buy is determined primarily by the fact that a toddler is going to be riding in it. Now, though, instead of crying endlessly he’s scampering around the house, or demanding to watch Wow Wow Wubbzy one more time, or pushing me down behind the couch with instructions to “Hi’n’see’.”

Being the parent of a young child is, in many ways, like being a prisoner. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

I am luckier than many parents in that I am self-employed, which means I have some flexibility to set my own hours. I try to make a little time every morning to play with him before I leave for work, and I try to be home every evening not later than bath time. Sometimes I am lucky enough to have a day when I can work from home and spend much of the day with him. He loves that.

Most days, though, I leave in the morning and get back around suppertime. When Nathaniel sees me getting ready to leave in the morning he knows he’s not going to see me all day and he gets quite upset. He will run to me and throw his arms around my legs and if I pick him up he will wrap his arms and legs around me and resist any effort to get him to let go. Eventually we get him pried loose and I drive away, with him still sobbing, “Da’y, Da’y!”

Under the circumstances, it is hard to work up any enthusiasm for heading off to work.

The last couple of months have been very busy ones for work, with me frequently working six out of seven days a week. I have very mixed emotions about that. On the one hand, of course, the money is very welcome. On the other hand, I hardly saw my son at all.

Toddlers are toddlers for such a very short time, and watching them discover the world, all bright and new in their eyes, is such a joy, that I begrudge any time away from my family. Right now, I am still a superhero to Nathaniel. It won’t be very long before he’s a teenager and I’m a public embarrassment to him. As far as I’m concerned, every hour is precious.

But the bills still need to be paid.

It’s an irreconcilable situation and I have no particular words of wisdom for anyone else who may be struggling with the same balancing act. We all have to set our own priorities and find our own paths.

I’m sleep-deprived and my house looks like it’s been carpet-bombed with toy cars. I’m giving up my two-seater pop-top roadster for a sensible family car. My library is still mostly in boxes because we don’t have money to spend on expensive bookcases and Nathaniel would just pull all the books off the shelves anyway. We hardly ever get to go anywhere because by the time we get out the door it’s his naptime and he falls asleep in the car. If we’re lucky. With all the germs the kids pass around on their playdates, I’ve been sick more times in the last two years than in the whole ten years previous.

And I’m a superhero. Da’y, da’y!