It’s summer now and I know what you fear. You fear that your kids will rain down armageddon the likes of which would inspire images of the Four Horsemen. You fear that the phrase “bull in a China shop” would seem grossly inadequate after you and your children have gone on the adventure that you had planned. You are afraid that whatever place you have destroyed, including kid puke on the priceless work of art, won’t take a personal check to cover all the damages. And as you stalk away with your head hung very low, you are afraid that the mothers present, the administrators and your god will judge you as a horrible father. What kind of mother left her kids with you?
That’s your fear, I know it and you know it. But you got to get out of the house my man, you have got to get up and get out in the world and you have to bring the kids. To do otherwise will make you grow a beard, move to the mountains and adopt a teddy bear that you will call Herb. You like Herb because he doesn’t break anything when you go out but you secretly know that Herb thinks you are a wuss.
Herb and I, and hopefully some of the other father’s that wish to comment, are here to help though. We are going to give you some tips and tricks for adventuring with your kids this summer. The sun is shining, the clouds have passed and you have an opportunity that not a lot of fathers have. Get out with the kids. Once you decide to do it though, the question becomes How to do it. Let’s be honest, many younger fathers or new SAHDs lack the confidence that a lot of moms have. There isn’t as much support and at one point or another someone will briefly think you are a deadbeat pedophile because you are at the park at noon on a Tuesday.
Tip 1: Embrace the fear. There is no other way to get past it my brothers. You have to just accept the fact that what you are afraid of will happen. Your kids will break something expensive at one point. They will puke in a public place, probably on the officer who’s giving you a ticket for speeding. Your kids will blow out a diaper and you will discover that you have no back up clothes. It’s going to happen. And once you know it’s going to happen, it doesn’t seem so scary anymore. Sure, everyone will judge you and everyone will ask you why your wife isn’t with the kids. But here’s the kicker to that, they will ask it no matter what you jobless bum.
Tip 2: The Bag. Pack your own man bag. Don’t let anyone else pack it for you. Do you let someone else load your gun? Nope, and it’s the same with the man bag. You spend all day with your kids, you know what’s needed. Each kid will need something different depending on age but a good rule of thumb is A) something to wipe stuff up with B) some change of clothes to change what was puked on C) Something to eat and drink in case you have to make a run across the desert while evading the mob D) Multi-use tool to fix or cut whatever is needed and E) bribe money because you never know when you’ll end up in a Mexican prison, or need five bucks to buy an emergency snack.
Tip 3: The Car. This is your mobile base. This is your sanctuary from the troubling world. This is where you can convince your children that you are not a bad father and that glass bowl had it coming. So it would be in your best interest to make this a place of comfort. So first things first, try never to let the gas get below 1/4 a tank when you go out to adventure. Say you are going to the zoo, and the zoo is just beyond a sketchy neighborhood. On the way back, you have to get gas because you don’t have enough to get home and you forgot. Soon you will be explaining to your children why that group of men wanted your hubcaps. Second, keep a blanket in your car. This has come in handy so many times that I am going to name my 3rd child after it. We have done impromptu picnics with it, we have used it at a beach, we have used it to cover up in the rain or protect us from the cold. Just throw it in there and pull it out when needed. Finally, I would suggest having a few extra supplies such as wipes, diapers (if needed by your kids) or a set of clothes. Never take them out of the car and use them when needed. If you find that you bag was packed by someone else (gasp!) and they forgot the wipes, you’ll never be without.
Tip 4: The Phone. For the love of God make sure the phone is charged. I still have this problem which is why I now have a car charger for my phone. Nothing is worse than not being able to make a call or look at a map or text while driving.
Tip 5: Distractions. This is meant to be a good thing, not a bad thing like being distracted while texting and driving. No, what I am talking about is always keeping a few easy “distractions” available in the bag or the car. They come in handy more often than not and only bring them out when you absolutely need to. Make sure the kids know it’s special and not an everyday thing, this makes it even more special and wanted. Sometimes you just need 5 minutes to talk to the park ranger, or camping guide, or police officer. Sometimes when out at museums people will insist that you watch a 15 minute video, even after you politely decline. Depending on the age of your kids, a quick toy or something else they might like comes in very, very handy. Once I was trying to talk to a very nice lady given me directions and saving me from a very rural country dirt road. And while I appreciated comments like “We’re hungry!” or “hurry up Dad!” I found that my mind was tough to focus on what I actually needed to do to save us from certain mountain folk that you see in Deliverance. A quick pull out of a special coloring book solved the problem as I just heedlessly tossed them at the kids. I understand that every kid is different and a coloring book won’t do much for a 12 year old, but you know your kid, adapt.
Tip 6: Back-up plans. Try to have them. Sometimes you are going on an adventure that you may not know much about, say a certain fire house museum that decided to close even though the website and phone call assured you that it would be open. This could devastate a kid when he’s been looking forward to it all morning. But if you can have a back up plan in place, you can quickly adapt and not lose your whole day on a hour drive out of town. Take a little time the night before to do some research about the area you are going to. Locate the needed spot on your route and then see what else is out that way. Also try and plan for a lunch, either a picnic at a local park or some place local (that’s just a KCDADS thing though, we always try to eat at a local place to get the full flavor of where ever we are at). But 30 minutes research should save you some headaches and some time.
Tip 7: Accpet that it may suck. Not every place you go is going to be awesome and not everything you do is going to work out well. Sometimes you will find that you drove an hour to a historical jail that turns out not to be historical, fun or educational. You may be thinking that a kick to the groin was a better way to go. This is part of going on adventures, to discover and to explore. It’s the journey and the time you get to spend with your kids that truly matters. Sometimes that means that what looked good online or over the phone, isn’t so much when you first show up. But here’s a truth–the kids don’t really care. They are with you, they are adventuring and that is the fun part. It will make a great story later.
Tip 8: Go for the unexpected, bizarre or off the wall. Don’t limit yourself to just museums, kid friendly runs or big tourist attractions. A little bit of research and some imagination will turn up way better trips that you could have hoped for. We did a tour of a grocery store that was awesome. We found the oldest church in Kansas that was even better, especially when the caretakers were shocked that someone showed up to visit their site. I’m not saying to skip the big name places or destinations, I’m just saying to open your mind a bit and go perhaps somewhere off the beaten path. The crowds are usually smaller, it’s cheaper and you will find the staff unusually helpful and attentive.
Tip 9: Use the SAHD moniker to your advantage. Don’t be shy about telling people that you are an at home dad. You will be amazed at some of the courtesy and help you get this way. I have gotten free admissions, I have gotten special perks and discounts, I have gotten back into “staff only” areas by telling people that I do this full time when they ask me if I am baby sitting. I don’t get offended at the question, I use it to my advantage. Admittedly this works best when you are in a group of 8 or so dads but I’ve gotten some perks just by being by myself and being friendly. I know the reason why sometimes I get the “special” treatment, it’s because they think that dear old dad is in over his head. Sometimes I know it’s pity. I don’t care, I don’t need to. I’m not doing this for them, I’m doing this for us. And if I can snag a free ride for my son in a soap box car, all the better. However, most of the times it’s just the novality of them meeting a group of SAHDS. For some reason, people seem to dig it. I run into a lot less judgement than you would think. It brings personal attention during museum tours and sometimes free swag for the kids. I dig free swag. Jason’s deli once gave us free lunch. I like this.
Tip 10: Know your schedule. This is a good rule of thumb for kids of any age. Know when your kids are the most alert (morning for us), know when they get tired, know when they usually get hungry and then plan in advance for dealing with these things. You know that they get hungry at 12, normal time. Start your lunch run at 11:30 so that food is on the table at 12. You know that your child needs a nap at 1, plan to be in the car at least by then so they can sleep on the way home. You know that your preteen loses interest halfway through, put them in charge of picture taking. Sounds simple and common sense, I know. But we also know what happens when you get a 4 year old that is either tired or hungry. It’s not good man, it’s not good at all.
Tip 11: Budget. Life would be much simpler if we all had a ton of money that could be spent on gas, food and assorted crap. But we don’t and in fact, we are all single income families. So know your budget and plan around it. Perhaps this month you’ve got to conserve money for that broken dishwasher. Fishing it is then! It’s cheap, affordable and you can provide your own dinner and ease the grocery budget. Perhaps this week gas is 4 bucks a gallon and you can’t drive as much. Hit a local museum, local hiking trail or maybe have lunch with Mom at her office. The budget will truly dictate where you can go and how often. Try to budget in your adventures and realize that you have the whole summer to get to them. Finally, use your “consumer” power as a group if you have one. Have one of your members call places before hand and arrange a discount. We have done this and it’s nice to get discounts so that you can pay admission to the psychiatric museum. If you can’t do that, then I would also suggest a garage sale in early spring with the idea that the profits will fund admissions for the summer.
Tip 12: Attitude. I am going all the way through 12 because I hate lists that stop at 10. Happens all the time, this way I get to be different which makes me unique and not a weirdo without a job. Going out with your kid is all about your own attitude. If you are gun-ho, then so will your kids. If you see this as a mighty adventure the likes of which will make Coronado proud, your kids will carry that excitement to. They will WANT to be there, they will WANT the victory. Every adventure we start off with the chant “Adventure!” and “Victory!” I know it’s silly but it gets everyone in the proper state of mind. The state of mind that says “hey, things are going to go wrong but when they do, we will whip it until it begs for mercy.” Eventually, your kids will do this on their own and soon you will be knighted by the Queen. It has gotten to the point where my kids are disappointed when we just go to the store. That’s life I tell them, another important lesson. And at the end of it, you and your children can go home and tell Mom of your epic journey to pick blueberries at the farm that had only peaches.
I’m sure that there are plenty more pieces of advice that can be given and I’m not an expert at taking your kids out and about. But I’ve done this for four years and I’ve been through many of the heartbreaks and this is what I’ve learned. Feel free to add any other pieces of info that I have overlooked or that your own experience has taught you. And when you are ready by July 9th, meet us here: Twine