Bears are Kind of Like Squirrels

Black bear and cub in YosemiteOur apartment complex is infested with squirrels. But we’ve learned to coexist. We all fill the dumpster with leftover food, like most Americans, and, in exchange, they don’t ambush our kids on the playground, or drop sharpened acorns on our heads from their nests.

One of our lord of the flies neighbor kids made a bow and arrow for squirrel hunting, but this hasn’t threatened our peaceful relationship.

Similar rules of engagement seem to apply when interacting with bears in the Yosemite valley and other high traffic national parks. On my last trip to half dome, I found this black bear mother and cub, minding their own business, not wreaking havoc or killing anyone. Like squirrels, these park bears thrive on our leftover trash, and they rarely bite the hand that feeds them.

But what about the wild, undomesticated bears? I know I sound pretty macho sometimes, but when camping with the kids, and not in KOAs, parks, or campgrounds, I tend to get a little nervous and super protective of my kin. Camping with the kids in the forest, I’m awake half the night listening for crunching leaves and snapping twigs, any signs of predators. So I’ve been doing some research, starting with bears, to ease my mind a bit.

Although bears can peel open a car like a can of sardines (warning from the NPS), dangerous encounters with humans are uncommon. There has never been a fatal bear attack in Yosemite (NPS – Yosemite), and fewer than ten have ever been reported in Yellowstone (NPS – Yellowstone), though two occurred in 2011 alone.

Wikipedia keeps a list of fatal bear attacks in North America

Some people misconstrue the numbers and suggest that we’re more likely to be struck by lightening, twice, than to be part of what the Discovery Channel calls a bear feeding frenzy. Statistically, it depends.

Like professor Harold Hill, you’ve got to know the territory. In most of the US it’s very unlikely that you’ll ever meet a bear who feels threatened enough destroy you. Parts of Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska are exceptions, especially if you’re baiting the bears with steak and salmon.

Like Ranger Smith of Jellystone Park, or Christopher Robbins of the hundred acre wood, you’ve also got to know the bear. Both black and brown (i.e., Grizzly) bears will take a picnic basket over acorns. But, unlike squirrels, they’ll sneak into camp, even into your tent, to get it.

So, outside the Rocky Mountain wilderness, do you need a shotgun, bear horn, ferocious dog, and can of pepper spray when you take the kids tent camping? Probably not, as long as you don’t use a jar of honey for a pillow. But, whatever helps you sleep at night.

The Due Date Margin of Error

2008 US gestation distributionWhether you want to schedule a last fling before the baby comes, or this is your nth kid and you need someone to babysit the other n – 1, knowing the margin of error on your due date would make planning a lot easier.

This knowledge can also give dads credibility in certain parenting circles and in baby-related decision making, which may help boost their confidence and moral.

Below are some US margins of error and a few other handy statistics that will quickly prove you are an engaged and caring father. Warning: also included below are some intimidating pregnancy words (e.g., gestation, menstrual, conception). Apologies for any anxiety they may cause.

Information and Sources

It’s hard for a dad to get good information when something like 98.6% of statistics are made up on the spot. Online are a variety of due date confidence intervals, from 12 days, to 18 days, to 4 weeks; so there’s a large margin of error on the margins of error. Also, someone said that 60% of people don’t credit their sources.

Tired of the confusion and in need of a moral boost, as we’re approaching n = 4, I decided to go to a pretty reliable source – the CDC birth data warehouse. The stats below are based on the latest CDC data set, a 3.2 GB file containing natality information on the 4.26 million births registered in the US in 2008.

Some Background

First, some background info that I recently learned. At the start of the pregnancy you have a due date – when the baby is most likely to be born, based on when the doctor estimates the baby was conceived. Once the baby arrives, you can translate this date into an estimate of gestation, the number of days or weeks prego, by counting back to the estimated date of conception.

Stay with me.

The standard initial due date estimate is 280 days from the last menstrual period (LMP; ask your wife if you’re confused), or about 266 days from conception. This estimate is sometimes adjusted based on ultrasounds and such, but it’s typically close to 40/38 weeks.

So – we’re interested in the average gestation for women in the US and the variability around that average. The average, 38 weeks, is what they tell us at the early prenatal visits. The variability is key, as it will tell us the likelihood of the 38 for a randomly selected case, i.e, for our next kid.

The Stats

The plot above shows the adjusted gestation distribution for single births, in percentages. And the table below contains the mean, standard deviation, skewness, kurtosis, and count, for the adjusted and LMP gestations in 2008. I removed extreme outliers, flagged records, and missing data, which brought the counts down to under 4 million. Note that the adjusted estimates are much more accurate.

Some Gestation Stats
Estimate Mean SD Skew Kurtosis N
Adjusted 38.59 1.94 -3.21 22.61 3665402
LMP 38.73 2.37 -1.77 12.82 3672562

The take home message: due date margins are like the big stretchy waist bands on maternity pants. Only 75% of expectant moms have their baby within 10 days of the standard due date; 85% fall between weeks 37 and 40, making a huge 28-day margin. Plan accordingly.

By the way: 4.26 million births? That’s 8 per minute!

Canoe Camping on the St Croix

Sunrise on the St Croix

We’ve had three successful canoe trips with the kids this summer – two with very reasonable crying/whining to fun ratios (Minneapolis chain, Phelan chain), and one with nearly as much crying and frustration as fun (we capsized – more to come in a later post). On average, I think we were all ready for our first overnight river voyage.

There are plenty of rivers to choose from in the land of lakes, but not many that met our requirements of being kid-friendly and close to the cities, with free camping. We charted a course on the St Croix, which creates most of the border between MN and the land of cheese heads to our east. The St Croix is contained within a national scenic river-way, so the campsites are easy to find and well maintained, unlike those on the Minnesota river (see here).

We convinced a friend to come with his son, which put the crew at two dads manning the oars, and three kids crammed in the middle of the boat with all the gear. Starting at Interstate State Park, near Taylors Falls, MN, we made it to the Eagles Nest group camp (pics below) just before dusk. The site was excellent, and we would have enjoyed an evening by the campfire, but no piece of foliage was dry enough to burn, not even the dead leaves and pine needles (not the first time it has happened – see here).

Add the lack of campfire to a thick fog of mosquitoes and we had a campsite that was really only worth sleeping in. But, the rest of the trip went well, with much more fun than crying. The kids enjoyed it, and that’s pretty much all that matters, right?

I’d do it again just to see the sunrise over the river – it gave me goosebumps, at least, I thought it did. They turned out to be mosquito bites.

Canoeing the St Croix

Eagles nest campground on the St Croix

Eagles nest campground on the St Croix

Vedauwoo

Vedauwoo, pronounced vee’-da-voo, according to a forest ranger who seemed pretty smart, has nothing to do with gris-gris (voodoo) or South Korean auto manufacturers (Daewoo). It has everything to do with beautiful campgrounds surrounded by strange rock formations.

On the first leg of our journey this summer from MN to CA, we covered Iowa and Nebraska – not the most exciting states of the union, at least from our perspective on the infamous highway 80. We pulled into the Vedauwoo campground at 7 PM, after 14 hours in the van. The kids legs started spinning, like wind-up cars, and we set them loose on the first trail we could find.

That night we hiked until sunset and then had a bonfire with the leftovers from the rocky mountain bark beetle infestation. The next morning we hiked until sunrise before hitting the pavement.

Vedauwoo sunset

Vedauwoo campground

Vedauwoo rocks

Vedauwoo hiking

Vedauwoo sunrise

I highly recommend it, especially to weary road trippers who want to save on lodging. The sites are clean and spacious (28 tent sites, potable water, vaulted toilets), the rate is low ($10), and the location super convenient (only a few miles from the freeway: Google map).

See the USDA website for more info.

Taking a Psychology Lesson From Our Kids

Care bear costumeOur kids are novice humans. We’ve been around the block like 30 times, and the only block they know is for building towers. Yet somehow they’re experts at manipulating us to get what they want. The worst part is, we encourage it, without knowing it.

Consider this common scenario involving a dad and his 3-year-old at the playground:

Kid, in his most dramatic whiny voice: Dad, can I go to Aladdin’s house for lunch? Please, please?!

Dad: Hmm… probably not today, since lunch was 6 hours ago and we’ve already had dinner.

[Kid produces an amazing fit of screaming and thrashing]

Dad: Buddy, I know you’re sad, but it’s not OK to act like that.

[Kid goes full bore into hypertantrum mode, which resembles a cross between the Tasmanian devil and Jack-Jack from the Incredibles]

Dad, embarrassed and worried his kid is going to pop a blood vessel and permanently damage vocal chords: Hey, if you calm down, maybe Aladdin can come hiking with us tomorrow. Otherwise, we’re going home right now.

Phew – disaster averted. Nice job dad!

What have we done?

Little kids are still learning to manage their emotions, so we should reward them when they’re able to calm themselves, right?

The problem is, in these situations we aren’t teaching our kids to manage their emotions. Instead, we’re teaching them to utilize their emotions to get what they want. Our kids have trained us to give them something, to reward them, in exchange for immediate cessation of all sobbing, whining, tantrums, and general misbehaving.

It seems like the hiking trip is a reward for potentially good behavior – that would be positive reinforcement of something we want our kid to do, manage their emotions.

But in this case the kid is in charge – they started the exchange by punishing us, with something that can induce a headache and cause grouchy-dad syndrome, while implicitly offering to stop under certain conditions. That’s negative reinforcement – taking away something bad so as to reward and encourage someone’s behavior.

What should we do?

In my opinion, the tantrum itself needs to have consequences, not the ending of the tantrum. If they freak out while doing something fun, all the fun should end. Ideally, we’ll have told them ahead of time what the conditions are for being at the playground or on the campout.

Sometimes they forget, and maybe we give them a second chance. Not a big deal. But we shouldn’t offer special rewards to get them to stop doing something wrong.