From Kim and Jeff - FamilyEducation

From Kim and Jeff

What Do You Do When Your Kid Wants to Read Terrible Books?

-by Kim Bongiorno and Jeff Vrabel
Everyone can agree that encouraging our kids to read is important. But what if they’re reading total garbage? Do you intervene or thank the stars that they’re picking up books instead of a video game remote? Jeff and Kim decide what makes a book terrible, and what to do when your kid likes that kind the best.
What if your kid reads terrible books?

So What Is a Terrible Book, Really?

K: First things first. Let's define what a "terrible book" is. For me it could be bad quality, somehow negatively affects your kid, or just so dumb it hurts to run your eyeballs across the pages.

J: Yes, what you said.

K: So what do you do when they’re reading them? Distract them with shiny objects? Grab the books from their hands and toss them directly in the fireplace? Be glad they’re reading at all while you die a little inside?

"So what do you do when they're reading them? Distract them with shiny objects?...Be glad they're reading at all while you die a little inside"

J: My oldest son used to read these terrible Geronimo Stilton books—you know, that journalistic mouse who accidentally ends up on all these wild adventures? They were all cheese puns (and you know how I like puns—I’m very gouda them) but it was just like, OK dude, you're a smart kid, you whip through books, and you're burning time on this silly mouse series with annoying characters and unpleasant typography. But, was he was reading? And not playing Minecraft? Yes and yes.

Have you ever dealt with this?

K: Yep. I encourage the reading always, but then my son would re-read things that were pointless and well below his reading ability, when there are stacks of great books all around him in every room of this house to read instead of that garbage.

K: What about the cooler classics, like The Outsiders?

J: True, but here's the thing: Aren’t great books boring as hell if you're 9 or 11 or 13? I mean, I can see their point. I could either read a Star Wars book with bounty hunters and light speed, or I could watch someone try to teach me a lesson. That choice pretty much makes itself.

Taking a kid to the bookstore can be tricky

J: When we take the 13-year-old to the library, he gravitates right toward the Calvin and Hobbes / comics section. I don't feel like saying, "BUT NO READ THIS CALDECOTT MEDAL WINNING TREATISE ABOUT THE RICH HUMAN EXPERIENCE WE ALL SHARE" will do anything but make it worse.

K: You are correct. I suggested an award-winning book to my son and he acted like I offered him a cup of vomit. Then two years later he found it on his own, so I pretended I knew nothing about its award-winningness because I refuse to taint it once again.

J: Shoving lessons down anyone's throat never works.

K: Neither does suggesting anything, ever, apparently.

J: Do yours read books over and over again?

K: My son does. Like certain books are palate cleansers after he reads things with emotion or life lessons in them. Anything with "fart" on the cover is usually gobbled right up. Repeatedly.

J: About once a month I kick myself for not having pitched a book series about a farting superhero 15 years ago, at the dawn of the farting superhero craze. Or, like, a crime fighter who is identified by his underpants. So many missed opportunities.

K: Onto the next icky bodily function!

But, are books about bodily functions really that bad?

J: I mean, there is a place for that stuff, clearly. And if some mom blogger rolled up with a piece about How My Kid Only Reads Newbery Medal Award Winning Classics I would want throw applesauce at her.

K: Those are usually read when a very tricky school librarian talks them into reading things she wants them to read.

K: Honestly, I think a mix is good. Let the grandparents and the librarians put award-winners in the kids' hands, let the kids pick out stuff with "fart" or "butt" or "poop" in the titles. Let us put books that fall between fart and award-winning in their hands. Then pray for the best.

J: I think that's a solid approach. Rely on the school and the library to handle some of the Wonder stuff. Put books in front of them when you can. Be perfectly OK with Star Wars novelizations. And when they're at school, remove all the fart/poop/butt books into a garbage fire.

K: Perfectly reasonable.

And what about those wildly popular books with questionable topics?

K: What about books that just have terrible topics? Like, Hunger Games is about kids murdering each other, but "all the other kids are reading it." So do you let them, or not?

Kids reading Harry Potter

J: I was a little surprised to see that in the middle school classrooms, what with all the murder for sport and stuff. But then, how many classic books are about people going to war?

K: Approximately all of them.

J: And you have read The Outsiders, right?

K: You mean the fact that it’s full of gang violence, underage drinking, smoking, and crime, yet I’m suggesting our kids read it? Okay, so maybe I’m hypocritical on a book-by-book basis.

J: Would you have A Talk before your kids read those books? My oldest is sort of self-policing himself out of those. Little too bloody for his tastes currently.

K: My son usually hears about the gore ahead of time with books like that, because that’s the appeal: reading something that would probably horrify their parents. He'll usually ask me before picking a YA book up, since he knows I find these things out eventually, anyway.

So where do you draw the line?

J: This all said, I have drawn a line at Minecraft novels. Books about how to build more accomplished-looking castles and zeppelins, fine, sure, spend your allowance money. Novels about Minecraft people? No. Stop that immediately.

K: Oh, my son was soooooooo into those for a while. Go build things and make up your own stories, kid, WHICH IS THE SOLE POINT OF MINECRAFT.

Minecraft

J: I feel like I'm reasonably gracious about Minecraft time and interest. I like it just fine. He builds stuff. Building stuff is good! But it's like reading a novel about Pound Puppies, or Teddy Ruxpin: pointless.

K: I try to be open-minded, but at a certain point I drag everyone to the library or book store and use a combination of Jedi mind tricks and flat-out begging to get them to find something different. TRY SOMETHING NEW FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS DECENT.

J: Yeah, but that’s like anything else we do as parents with food, movies, music, whatever, you can't force anything on them, especially if it's Super Important and Will Teach Them the Importance of Sharing or Unity or Acceptance. Ugh. Boooorinnng.

K: Just before my son went to middle school, he was reading a TON of middle school themed books, and every single one of them focused on how shitty middle school is. Bullies and awkwardness and everyone's mean and the teachers are cruel and the homework will crush you so say goodbye to joy. I had to intervene, because he got scared that that was how it really would be for him. (I mean of course it kind of sucks, but it isn't QUITE that bad.) So I did put my foot down about reading terrible books about middle school until he was there for a while and could mentally balance it all out.

J: Middle school is pretty bad. I would have liked some of those books to give me more realistic expectations. Why didn't anyone write those books in 1987? Where was everyone? I'm very let down by this.

K: Well just know that future generations now have all the information they need.

Let’s talk about movie books.

J: If a kid's really into a movie book, I can be OK with that. I mean, I doubt he's gonna form any lasting emotional connection to the novelization of Jurassic World. Unless he does. We'll deal with that when it comes up.

K: Other than the great odds of being eaten, a job at a dinosaur zoo does seem pretty awesome. Does your older son ever want you to read to him anymore?

J: Oh yeah, but we don't do it all that often. We're crawling through Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles BUT that's only because we watched Sherlock, which was a violent and disturbing update of the classics. So, you know, I’m also a hypocrite.

K: Oh, but SHERLOCK.

J: Hey look! Parents are changing their tune based on a single personal experience, how crazy!

What about the occasional purge?

K: Do you ever, say, thin out the books your boys have in your house, so the cream rises to the top (and the terrible ones end up in the dumpster)?

"I quietly donate the ones I can get away with"

J: Well yes, inasmuch as I do that with everything in my house. I quietly donate things all the time. Yes, you are a purger

J: One day someone's gonna be like "Where's Mr. Bunny?" and it will be ugly.

K: I quietly donate the ones I think I can get away with, and the others I can admit to saying, "If you donate your beloved Crappy McCrap book, I will buy you a new book the next time I go to the store." Because I'm not above bribery to get them to read fewer terrible books.

J: Now that’s solid parenting right there. Oh – and I totally pitched all these Geronimo Stilton books, of course.

K: I support that decision.

J: Twist ending: my eldest is really good at puns now.

K: I guess every cloud DOES have a silver lining.

J: Stop joking. I'm being cirrus.

K: Please stop.

J: Whatever, I bet you make that cloud joke your Stratus update.

K: I have a thing at a place I need to get to now. [taps watch] So very late.

Kim and Jeff Give It to Us Straight: How Long Do You REALLY Need to Keep Your Kid's Artwork?

-by Kim Bongiorno and Jeff Vrabel
There is a chance that one of our contributors has emotional attachment issues and the other isn’t drowning in a sea of paste-scented kid art. Come watch this discussion turn into an intervention! Will it prove effective? Read on and see for yourself, while picking up some crafty organizational tips along the way.
Child's Drawing of Train

J: I have the answer and it is a genius answer.

K: Please don’t keep me in suspense.

J: I keep my sons' artwork for precisely as long as it takes to snap a photo with my phone and throw it away.

K: Okaaaaay…

J: Storage required: 0

Time required: .9 seconds

Thoughtful memories preserved: all of them

Do I have a folder in my Photos app called "Jake Art"? Yes, I do.

Do I have tubs full of awkwardly stacked cardboard pictures and pipe cleaners and googly eyes and glitter? HELLLLLLL NO.

All of the emotion, none of the hoarding. PLUS, my screensaver scrolls through photos, so sometimes I can see the poem he wrote in 3rd grade and be pleasingly surprised by it, instead of being like UGH MORE CRAP IN A BOX.

WE'RE DONE HERE.

K: Um, not yet, sir. I have questions. Do you ever print them to make one of those fancy collages I see people hang in their family rooms? Or make albums?

J:

LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

[pauses for drink of water]

LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

Yeah, that's what I do, I take one weekend every month and dedicate it to my Scrapbooking Station down in my home studio.

K: I have an inkling that you’re possibly being sarcastic.

J: Seriously, it's perfect. It allows me to keep the work my kids have done; things I will want to preserve and remember, but requires zero physical effort.

K: I like zero physical effort!

J: But let me escape the notion that I'm "throwing something away" – I’m not!

K: I’m pretty sure you are.

J: Okay, I’m totally throwing it away. But it LIVES ONLINE. And as it turns out, macaroni art rots and falls to pieces after about 10 years anyway. I haven't confirmed that scientifically, but that seems about right.

K: I have macaroni necklaces hanging in my jewelry case that are about 8 years old and they still look good. So. Many. Damn. Macaroni. Necklaces. My kids want to see evidence that I still have them. Your kids don't do this?

J: Nope. I think the instant throw-out is the key here. The pieces never make it to any semi-permanent spot in the house, so the kids rarely miss them.

K: Ah, yes, they don’t become a part of their environment. My system is a bit more...belabored than that.

J: I never hear things like, “OH HEY DAD WHERE'S THE POPCORN SNOWMAN I MADE IN FIRST GRADE?” because that stuff was straight pitched by January. If they can't make an emotional attachment to it, they don't miss it when it's gone, see!

K: I see, I see.

J: We take a similar approach to the fish.

K: Okaaaaay…

J: There are about 30 of them and they're all inbred, so neither kid can miss it when Flounder goes belly up or gets eaten, which totally happens, because fish are godless cannibals. We’re pretty sure they went straight Donner Party on the plecostomus.

K: Yeah, our one and only fish somehow lasted over two years. Wendy the Beta Fish's demise was devastating. We had a funeral and everything. He was buried in a bedazzled Lord & Taylor earring box. We might have attachment issues.

J: My mom once poured a dead fish down the garbage disposal, if that gives you any indication my level of genetic aquatic animal attachment. BLOOP. Goodbye forever.

K: That is kind of a glorious wet cremation story?

J: It was more of a wet chopping.

K: [Writes note to self to not let Jeff have any part in helping decide what happens to me after I die.] ANYWAY, before I tell you my "system" answer this: how often do your kids make art?

J: I have a 13-year-old and a 5-year-old, so the latter produces a solid stack of Forever Memories every week. They're under the sign that says PLEASE REMEMBER TO CLEAN OUT YOUR CHILD'S FOLDER EVERY FRIDAY. The subtext being, WE DON'T WANT THIS SHIT IN OUR ROOM EITHER.

K: THIS IS BEAUTIFUL NOW MAKE IT DISAPPEAR.

J: Incidentally, and I think this is worth pointing out, none of this is to say I'm sore at schools / daycares for doing this stuff and sending it home. I love that they do. We've been really happy with all of ours, for this exact reason.

K: Agreed. But holy crap, does it add up.

J: What is your system, and how dizzyingly complicated is this about to get?

K: My son's in middle school now so he's not quite so bad, but his sister more than makes up for it. She is a very creative person; making new shit I mean beautiful expressions of her heart every day. It was so out of control, that I gave her a section of the basement as her art area. She typically hangs canvas paintings on the wall over that table. Everything else she hands to me and genuinely expects me to keep forever. F O R E V E R.

J: So far this sounds like a nightmare. Keep going.

K: When they were little I emptied their Friday Folders into the school bins I have by the door. When they got full, I'd put most of that stuff in a black trash bag and hide it at the bottom of the cans outside under the cover of night, so they wouldn't accidentally see any familiar finger paintings before the garbage men arrived. Then I'd pick a few things to put up into the big storage bins in the attic.

This doesn’t work so well anymore, since my daughter is older now and remembers every. Little. Scribble. She. Ever. Makes.

J: So... tell them you can't keep everything? I mean, just throwing out ideas here.

K: I do! My son shrugs and wanders off to find something digital to look at, but my paint-smeared daughter stares at me with a teardrop in one of her big blue eyes asking why some of her art is more important than others.

J: You've already got a dedicated art area, maybe just tell her that's her space and once it's filled up she needs to clean it off?

K: Unfortunately “filled up” is wide open to interpretation in my 9-year-old’s opinion.

J: This is one of those things where parents elect to do something and then complain about it, like travel sports or PTA volunteering. You can, y'know, not do stuff—you have that power! As a parent!

K: I do make her clean it off and organize, and she—future debate team captain and world leader—will break down every argument: throwing scraps away isn't very green: it's wasteful, actually. Throwing art away is like throwing books away: something I refuse to do. Why can't I just mail it to family members? (I like them too much) It’s all so exhausting. I hate when she gives sound arguments to me just wanting to raze it all.

J: I like how you call guilt "sound arguments," that'll be fun when she's a teenager. While you get played by your child, I'll be here in my clean home.

K: So, how do I choose what to keep and what not to keep?

J: RULES:

1. Holiday stuff gets priority

2. Specific cards: Father's Day, Valentine's Day

3. Anything that's a complete story, poem or work

K: That's easy. Holiday stuff goes in the dedicated holiday bins in the attic and we can all look at it each season when I bring it down to decorate.

J: Toss everything else. Unless there's some magic specific meaning to it. Otherwise, I'll give you $100 to make everyone stop posting My House Is So Overrun With My Kids’ Art pieces because, not to belabor a point, you are electing to do this. OMG MY HOUSE IS FULL OF THE STUFF I DON'T THROW AWAY. (4,000 likes)

K: I GUESS you might maybe have a point sort of.

J: Of course I do.

K: We haven't talked about Boxy yet. Boxy is her friend that she made years ago out of a cardboard box, stickers, and colored pencils. She is creepy as hell, but how do I throw away her FRIEND?

J: No one's saying throw away the giant cardboard friend.

K: Because that would cross a line.

J: However, I will say that over time I have downgraded my eldest’s cardboard spaceships into more remote corners of the garage, and in the last spring clean up got away with folding them up and tucking them behind the paint. From there, they will quietly be one day recycled, and when brought up I'll say, “Oh, I needed to get rid of those to make room for your skateboard / basketball hoop / archery target / car.”

K: I have been able to work cardboard forts into the recycling bin over time. I'm currently working on removing a cardboard castle from the basement as we speak. It's in phase two: "I just put it in the utility room to make some space for now."

J: The Circle of Life. It's quite beautiful in a way.

K: So just to be clear, your Kid Art Boot Camp would look like this:

1. IMMEDIATELY photograph any and all art to "keep forever"

2. Then toss 90% of it out within a heartbeat (especially if it has glitter on it)

3. Keep only manmade BFFs and truly meaningful pieces

4. Purge the art table weekly

5. Remain diligent when it comes to rogue cardboard structures making their way out to the curb

Did I miss anything?

J: Here's the thing. Are you ready for the thing?

K: Hit me.

J: You keep kid art because of guilt. Because your wondrous magical aspiring debate president / world leader / POTUS is a pure font of creation who must be treasured at all times. Which is great as a parent, but you know as well as anyone that such things will get chucked in a box and forgotten for 10 years, or you'll keep revisiting that box, and telling yourself you need to throw it out, but you don't, and it sits, and it will keep sitting, and then in 20 years when you're downsizing to a condo in Fort Myers you'll send it back to her and say OH HONEY I SAVED THIS ALL FOR YOU and she'll think great what am I supposed to do with all this shit?

K: I feel like this is just a warm up.

J: NOW.

K: Here it comes!

J: This does not MEAN you shouldn't love and preserve your kid's art and WORK and SOUL. HENCE THE PICTURES. Which DO NOT HAVE TO BE STORED IN BOXES or MOVED INTO ATTICS or DOWN STAIRS or THROWN IN YOUR MINIVAN WHEN YOU'RE CLEANING OUT THE GARAGE BEFORE THE MOVE TO FLORIDA.

K: That’s a lot of places.

J: My dad rarely shows up here without some artifact from my childhood, and while I appreciate the emotional connection, my first thought is usually, shit, where do I put this old stuffed bear / Fisher Price cash register / chalkboard / lead-paint covered car? Some things should be kept forever. But not everything.

K: So if I followed your photograph-then-toss plan, I could—if I were so inclined—put her art pictures into simple albums to give my daughter so she can revisit all her creations without clogging up our attic.

J: You do you, Crazy. I've shown Jake some of his old pictures, and every once in a while he gets excited, and goes, "Oh I remember that for X, Y and Z." But usually he's like, “That's great, can I finish my new drawing now?” ("New drawing" = "Mario Kart 8")

K: I have one stuffed animal from my childhood, and a Through the Years school scrapbook thingy my mom kept up with that has class pictures and a few little stories I wrote. That's it. And I'm perfectly happy with just that. I should probably try to remember this when wondering whether or not to purge all the things my own kids make.

J: I have maybe three boxes from years 0-28. Four billion pictures, but three boxes. And the pictures don't take up any space in the hall closet. I've moved a bunch of times in the past three years. I've had a lot of time to think about why I feel a compulsion to continually shove plastic tubs into attics and crawlspaces. If you had a house flood tomorrow, what would you feel worst about losing? For me: pictures. Which all live on a magical space cloud in the sky.

K: Probably pictures, too. I guess this is a reasonable approach.

J: If you got suddenly relocated to China next week, and had one apartment to live in, what would you leave? Nearly everything.

K: I'd have a LOT of stuffed animals and paintings to put in storage until I could come back and deal with it all—FINE. Point made. I think we're done here.

J: I AM TOTALLY WINNING THIS ONE

K: I don't think we necessarily need to call you a "winner" here. If there's a good solution, we're all kind of a winner, right?

J: No. I'm the winner.

K: Let's not put labels on this.

J: Just one label. W, and it's on my shirt

K: [rolls eyes] Weirdo.

J:  W Victory Sign on Flag

Kim Blog Head Shot Kim Bongiorno is the author, freelance writer, and blogger behind Let Me Start By Saying. She lives in New Jersey with her handsome husband and two charmingly loud kids, who she pretends to listen to while playing on Facebook and Twitter. If she were less tired, she'd totally add something really clever to her bio so you'd never forget this moment. Learn more at KimBongiornoWrites.com.

 

 

Jeff Head ShotJeff Vrabel’s writing has appeared in GQ, Men’s Health, the Washington Post, Vice, Indianapolis Monthly, the official BruceSpringsteen.net, the official Indy 500 site and several angry Neil Diamond comment threads, because wow can those people not take a joke. He is currently the Guinness World Record holder for Most Bruce Springsteen Songs Identified By Their Lyrics in One Minute. He can be reached at the cleverly named http://jeffvrabel.com.

Bloggers Kim Bongiorno and Jeff Vrabel Break It Down: When Should You Take Your Family to Disney?

-by Kim Bongiorno and Jeff Vrabel
When vacation planning with kids, it’s natural for the conversation to eventually turn to that giant magnificently expensive magical castle/orb in the middle of the Orlando swamps. Kim and Jeff tackle the question faced by countless families every year: “So, alright, are we really serious about this Disney thing?”
Disney Parks Symbol

J: What's the earliest age that a Disney family vacation is worth it?

K: We went when the kids were 2 and 4 and it was painful. Sweaty kids who miss their naps and are too little to ride the rides they want to ride on is like vacationing in a migraine.

J: When my oldest was not even 2, we went the week between Christmas and New Year's, and it was basically like being in the pit at Bonnaroo, except the people were much meaner. We got in a human logjam in front of It’s a Small World, and it didn't move for 10 minutes. Some woman behind me kept bumping us with her jogging stroller, and we nearly came to blows. Have you ever gotten into a fight in front of It's a Small World? It’s a weird feeling. Anyway, we abandoned the park at 11:15AM since Jake was napping, so we monorailed to the Polynesian for cocktails. All in all, a pretty good day. Eventually.

K: Sounds…wonderful?

J: Point is, there's introducing your child to magic and wonder, and there's some expensive madness they won’t remember. I'd say the kids should be 5 at least, maybe even 7-8. For, you know, memories and stuff.

K: So when your kids are old enough to hold their own in a family vs. family amusement park fracas. Got it.

J: Aggressive mêlées aside, I really like it. I'm a huge Disney nerd, actually. If you stay in the cheap hotels, bring snacks to avoid the $14 feedbags of French fries, and bail in the afternoon, it's pretty great. If you don’t like interacting with other humans, go on marathon weekends. Everyone there runs a race in the morning and goes to nap at like 1 p.m., so the park is empty.

K: You almost lost me at “marathon,” but that is kind of a genius avoidance technique.

J: When you go, do you maximize all possible seconds of your day, arrive at the gate opening and stay until post-closing, or do you come and go and take breaks?

K: I prefer to get there upon opening, but my kids like to talk to whatever birds are on display in the hotel lobby for like an hour first. But once we get to the park, we stay until we're ready to collapse. Then we go to the hotel pool and order dinner there because putting clean clothes on at the end of a theme park day is exhausting.

J: My kids don't eat anything, anyway, so food is not an issue. We legitimately bring a backpack full of Clif Bars, juice boxes, granola and chocolate. We pack like we're starting Kilimanjaro, which of course would be less taxing. Maybe we have one meal on site.

K: Do you plan every moment? I bet you plan every moment.

J: My dad used to keep us there from basically Florida daybreak until the bleeding end; I remember attending the 11:55pm Hall of Presidents show one year, which I'm reasonably sure contributed to my parents' divorce. As a result we try to keep it chill. We plan nothing, except the Fastpasses.

K: Ah yes, the Fastpass! A glorious creation, indeed. Paying to be able to cut in line is a highlight of any theme park trip.

J: When we’re there, I try to stop about every two hours and ask my wife: Is this fun right now? That's a helluva lot of effort to not be fun.

K: I find that a popsicle/ice cream/margarita break every two hours keeps it fun.

J: When my oldest was littler, we'd just ride the monorail around. We did that once for hours. Got lunch in that hotel where the monorail rides through, it was his legit highlight. Total cost: $12. Well, it was a Disney lunch, so probably $85.

K: My kids looooooooved watching the monorail. Watching it. Not even getting on it. This is why I am so hesitant on dropping big bank on fancy family vacations: they like looking at zippy things and playing with cardboard.

J: So how do you decide if Disney is worth it?

K: 1. Do the kids really want to do it? 2. What do they actually enjoy in the real world, and can they get it there? 3. How easy can that vacation make my and my husband's life?

J: And your answer here would be...?

K: 1. Duh. They're kids. Of course they want to go. 2. If we see/do animal stuff (daughter) and do rides (son) and access lots of junk food (me and my husband), then yes. 3. We basically walk around watching our kids be amazed for hours, and at the end of the day they pass out in their hotel mac and cheese so we can hang out together to have adult conversation at the end of the day.

J: Sounds good to me. I've heard good things about Disney cruises, but I can't help but notice how on the "price" part is much higher than other cruises. I'm sure they're fantastic, but, yikes.

K: I'm on the fence here. I mean, on one hand, you walk on board and you're done. BOOM: all the vacationing is happening. On the other hand, not sure about being trapped on a boat for a week with my family. I like ground. And personal space.

J: Well, it's a large boat. It's not like you're on a catamaran – they have floors.

K: True.

J: The one-unpack thing is great. The not sweating food ever is amazing. The availability of on-site day care made me weep with joy for the first two days.

K: On-site daycare fills my heart with glitter and sunshine.

J: And you can be reasonably sure the kids are not gonna pop on a monorail by themselves.

K: But my kids tend to jump off of things. I would like that thing to not be the side of a boat into the deep dark ocean.

J: Maybe you could teach them to not leap off the ship? Maybe make that like 8-9 on the list of things to tell them before you go? 1. Check in regularly. 2. Don't lose your room key. 9. Don't leap off the balcony.

K: I mean, there's that, but it's my vacation, too. Why must I have to always be parenting? Vacation rules are the wooooorst. Also, jumping off the balcony looks really fun.

J: No. They have whales in the ocean

K: I like whales!

J: Whales are terrifying.

K: It's not like they eat HUMANS. They only eat krill and rogue, unfriendly fish. Stop overreacting.

J: Prove it

K: Finding. Nemo.

J: Turns out that's actually not a documentary. I also have bad news about The Secret Life of Pets.

K: SAY IT ISN'T SO. Question: do your kids run free on the boat? What's the visual on them?

J: Well, we had an 11- and 4-year-old, so we did most things together. A few times we left one or both of them in daycare, to eat a dinner/hang out with one or the other/because they asked, but for the most part, we had visual at all times. And we left the boat every day, which was good for — and I know this took place under the strict comfortable confines of Cruise Rules — exploring new places. New island, new taxi, new beach. Trying to show them how to get out and around in unfamiliar places.

K: But what if you miss getting back ON the boat? I could see us getting left on some island. We are not a particularly well-organized bunch.

J: You know, I'd say if you worry about returning all four members of your family to a large departing vessel, maybe a vacation at sea is not for you.

K: I think you might be right.

J: I admit that I was skeptical at first about cruises because 1. Expensive 2. Other people 3. Confined 19-square-foot room, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat. If you avoid the bars and pool deck, and do a little exploring, you can find plenty of quiet places.

K: Especially if I explore the on-site child care. And then explore a book and big hat and ear buds.

J: I mean, we hate talking to new people as a general rule, but it was easy to avoid them.

K: Vacation people can be VERY chatty, which is so very horrible.

J: Of course. See here's the problem: I would just go to a beach – just a beach – for a week. That's it. Nothing else.

K: Yes. I could do that, too. But do I have to bring my family?

J: If it's me, I don't want a park, or rides, or roller coasters, or boats, or tickets, or boarding, or Fast Passes, or road trips, or maps, or travel mugs, or excursions, or reservations. Just. Beach.

K: YES. Because beach requirements are as follows: 1. Sunblock 2. Books 3. That’s everything.

J: What's your stance on phone during vacation?

K: No screens unless we're in the hotel room, chilling out. Or unless you are reading a book on it.

J: Same. Although the 100% approval to use it during the entire duration of the trip so they stay quiet is still in effect. "Dad I'm" [shoves phone in face, returns to Delta Magazine].

K: Planes – yes. Long car rides – yes. Rainy days when we're stuck in a hotel for many hours – hell yes.

J: I'm just hyper-programmed and OCD by nature. Busy vacations, while fun, tend to not be especially relaxing. This year I think we're just unplugging 100%. Beach, the end.

K: I think we're going to do something in the middle. A week at a hotel by the beach with a pool, but that also has some entertainment for the kids (i.e. on-site childcare that isn't called childcare so my kids don't feel like they're being left with babysitters). Not as hectic as a theme park, but not as I-don't-get-a-break as a beach vacation. Maybe we’ll do Disney next year.

J: Done and done. That decision was easier than I thought.

K: You know there are a few other options we could consider. How about a staycation? People seem to like those?

J: That would probably work for lots of people, but I can't get out of the I'm At Home So I Should Do Home Things mentality.

K: So it'd be like bring-your-family-to-work-day every day, which sounds pretty awful. Agreed. How about camping? Nature! Fresh air! Roughing it!

J: Camping has spiders.

K: OKAY SPIDERS NEVERMIND. A cross-country trip? Rent a Winnebago, visit the sights, hours together with the ones you love on the adventure of a lifetime!

J: That would be fun, if we had a Winnebago. I don't think we have a Winnebago. Let me check. Nope, that's a tank.

K: FINE. Um, visit family? Like, hang out with people you are related to for a long stretch? That's fun…right?

J: I'm going to pretend you didn't just say that.

Kim Blog Head Shot Kim Bongiorno is the author, freelance writer, and blogger behind Let Me Start By Saying. She lives in New Jersey with her handsome husband and two charmingly loud kids, who she pretends to listen to while playing on Facebook and Twitter. If she were less tired, she'd totally add something really clever to her bio so you'd never forget this moment. Learn more at KimBongiornoWrites.com.

 

 

Jeff Head ShotJeff Vrabel’s writing has appeared in GQ, Men’s Health, the Washington Post, Vice, Indianapolis Monthly, the official BruceSpringsteen.net, the official Indy 500 site and several angry Neil Diamond comment threads, because wow can those people not take a joke. He is currently the Guinness World Record holder for Most Bruce Springsteen Songs Identified By Their Lyrics in One Minute. He can be reached at the cleverly named http://jeffvrabel.com.

Panic Mode! Bloggers Kim Bongiorno and Jeff Vrabel (Hilariously) Discuss How to Survive a Snow Day

-by Kim Bongiorno and Jeff Vrabel
Jeff and Kim are both parents and reasonable, mature adults. Until there is a snow day, because they both work from home and are terrible about planning ahead for these sorts of things. Here is a typical snow-day conversation during which they barely panic at all while trying to come up with solutions for this problem.
Kim Bongiorno and Jeff Vrabel headshot

K: HELP. I got the robocall this morning that school is closed. You?

J: Same here. Remember when you'd have to listen to like morning FM radio to find out if your school was closed? And put up with lots of boring ads for mattress stores and traffic reports and Belinda Carlisle songs to find out if you had school or not? Robotexts are so much more efficient.

K: Heck yeah. Hey, um, I have too much work to do today for the kids to not be in school.

J: I have to entertain a 13-year-old and a 5-year-old. They can play Super Mario Kart 8 and watch Phineas and Ferb together, but that fragile peace isn't gonna hold all day. At some point they're gonna need food and/or attention.

K: I’d just let mine take of themselves, but that’s a dangerous scenario. The last time they made breakfast, they almost lit the kitchen on fire. But I can't not work today. I even have a video call, so I need to be showered and background-noise free.

J: Showering and a lack of background noise won't happen here. My 13-year-old will come in every six minutes to tell me about something he saw on Honest Trailers, something he read in a Charlie Brown book, to ask where the Pop-Tarts are. I mean, I feel terrible, because he's looking for attention, you know? It's not like they're fighting all the time, or he needs me to open food. He's just bored, and lonely, and 13 and WHOLLY UNABLE TO READ THE SIGN ON MY OFFICE THAT SAY I AM WORKING AND THIS OBJECT NEAR MY FACE IS A PHONE, THAT'S WHY I'M TALKING INTO IT, SO I'MMA NEED YOU TO NOT OPEN THE DOOR AND TELL ME WE NEED BACON.

Do signs work for you? Mine get good grades at school, but seem genetically unable to process the words "Do Not Disturb" Is there any way you can get out of work? Honestly, on days like this, I usually end up having to punt by 10AM.

K: Signs are just materials on which kids file formal complaints under my office door. And, nope. Deadlines. I need to distract my kids for the next six hours or so.

J: Three words: screens, screens, and Pop-Tarts, and then more screens. Four words. All our usual screen time rules are hoisted delightfully out the window on such days. Unfortunately, I can't be a good dad and get a day's work done at the same time. I think a lot of folks feel like they're obliged to do just that.

K: I feel no such obligation. Over summer break I had a set daily task list for my kids to keep them busy while I worked. I had binders with printable worksheets at grade-appropriate levels. Plus reading assignments and book reports, i.e. “bad mom.”

J: OK, so [makes notes] summer is not fun at your house, got it.

My approach to snow days is usually: 1. See if there's any remote chance I can call off my work day, because one way or another, once the robotext comes in I'm already screwed. 2. If I can't call off, get comfy next to an outlet, kids, and happy jamming your face into a device all day.

K: My son is happy to disappear with a device, but my daughter is more…adventurous. Oooooh here’s something my kids could do today while I worked: go in the snow! It would only take me a solid hour to find the gear and get them out the door into the yard.

J: Ah, but these things involve our participation. Do you think it's better to maybe not tell them we're busy? I mean, telling kids "I'm busy" is like sending up 200 flare guns saying, “COME TELL ME NOW ABOUT WHAT YOU THINK HAPPENS AFTER DEATH.” If you just put on a movie and quietly scuttle away, it's not Letting Mom Work, it's just watching a movie on a snow day, which is SUPER FUN.

K: I do have one trick. It is called The Doo-ti-doo." I'll be in the room with the kids and when I see they are settled and distracted, I casually slip out all DOO-TI-DOO and sneak to my office to get back to work.

J: Please tell me you actually say, “doo-ti-doo” when you leave.

K: In my head, of course.

J: Do you think that this is a problem with our parenting? That our kids can't exist for a few minutes without us? I mean, I don't remember hitting up my mom to play games or see stuff every few minutes. It would have interrupted her People's Court time.

K: Um. Maybe? I remember one summer day my mom just was so done with my brother and I so she locked us out of the house and yelled through the screen window to go play. That was it. We were about 7 and 9. We survived!

J: I should organize with a friend and do something like a You Take My Kids for the Morning and I Take Yours for the Afternoon sort of thing. And when a 5-year-old waddles in and climbs on my lap and snuggles on my shoulder it's not like I need to be all, “BEGONE CHILD, I TOLD YOU DADDY HAS A WEBINAR.”

K: I like the trading thing, but most of my friends have 4 kids and I am ill-equipped for being that outnumbered.

J: If there's an upside, it's that most of my interview subjects/employers/people I need to chat with during the day are unfailingly understanding about this sort of thing. "Hey, it's a snow day, apologies if I'm briefly distracted" is a pretty solid excuse.

K: True. So I guess I’ll just print out some worksheets and bribe my kids to leave me alone or else they’ll get more worksheets. Oh -- and keep an ear out for the smoke detector. What are you going to do?

J: [looks at watch] I’ll likely give up trying to focus on work in about 45 minutes, so let me go so I can make sure all the screens are charged.

K: Maybe we should plan better for next time?

J: You mean plan to charge the screens when I hear a storm's coming?

K: Yep.

J: Done.