Merry Christmas!

After about an hour, and 50 tries using the camera timer, we managed to wrangle the kids and keep their fingers out of their noses for one decent family photo:

happy family

The 49 others went something like this:

crazy family

We’re just grateful our son got really dizzy and split his eyebrow open on the piano after the family photo frenzy. At 9 PM, Christmas Eve, we were in the ER:

stitches on Christmas Eve

Excessive spinning might have become a cherished family tradition. Oh well. With four kids, the odds are good that at least one is going to need stitches. Of course, that goes for any family activity, even the more sedentary ones. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone got injured reading The Lorax. One kid might pretend that they’re the super axe hacker, and that another kid’s head is a truffula tree.

[Last Christmas – so much simpler.]

While it was stressful, and our son might be missing a left eyebrow for the rest of his life, we tried to look on the bright side: it was his brow, not his eye, and pianos tend to be flat on the front, not spiky.

Merry Christmas!

big kids

Camping Gifts for Dad

sillyband tentIt’s the season of shopping and you may be wondering what your family will get you. If you don’t think of something reasonable, soon, you’ll end up with more emblems of your favorite, losing, sports team, probably on a pillowcase or license plate holder.

Or, maybe you’re out of ideas for your husband, and he pretends he already has everything he needs.

Either way, dads never have everything they need. They always need more camping stuff. Dads are responsible for teaching their family to survive and enjoy the outdoors (see here). This requires lots of gear, including different variations of the same tools and equipment.

Assuming that the bigger, more expensive items (e.g., tent, sleeping bags and pads, hiking packs) are either out of the budget or already taken care of, here are my top ten most important pieces of camping gear for under $50:

  1. Knife/multitool
  2. Camp stove
  3. Hatchet
  4. Headlamp
  5. Things for lighting fires
  6. Mess kit/cook set
  7. Ropes and cords
  8. Gear box
  9. First aid kit
  10. Camping chair

Because they’re so basic, most of these items have a pretty low “that’s not the one I wanted” factor – variations across brand/make/model are minimal.

If you have to choose between them, I recommend the hatchet – it’s guaranteed to increase the toughness and ruggedness of whoever wields it.

For more gear ideas, see here.

Having More Kids: Scaling Up

Kid difficulty functionIn the last year of my PhD program I took a course on entrepreneurship in the business school. The professor described entrepreneurs as people who create organizations, in the face of risk and uncertainty, with the goal of producing something valuable.

You could think of parents as people who incorporate themselves into families, despite substantial financial risk and psychological uncertainty, with the goal of producing valuable, successful humans. So, parents are entrepreneurs. Some might even be considered start-up junkies. I’m not sure what to call the octomom, or the Duggars. They’re following the Starbucks model.

As with a supermarket or restaurant chain trying to expand, if the first kid seems to be working out, scaling the family up is a simple, logical next step. Parents develop a prototype child, and, depending on the outcome, they build the business by replicating their initial concept.

So, how bad would another kid be? It depends, of course, on things like your company’s debt-equity ratio and current assets, but, on average, each additional kid should be incrementally less difficult than the last as you learn from previous mistakes and build your diaper-changing and nose-wiping skill sets.

What is your goal for scaling up?

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We recently reached n = 4 and the data seem to support the kid difficulty model. The first is always craziness. Parents aren’t used to the stress of keeping a small, fragile human well and safe. We don’t know which of the standard health guidelines apply at the micro level. As a result, we become hypersensitive to any change which could indicate something serious.

Why is he breathing like that? Was that a burp, or just a baby grunt? So, should I keep burping him? Aren’t you patting him a little hard? You’re supposed to keep your palm open, not in a fist. No, that’s kind of slappy. Seriously, that would hurt my back.

So, he’s been crying for almost 20 minutes – something’s wrong. Is he hungry again? Didn’t you just nurse him? Maybe you should stop eating spicy food, and chocolate. Really? Maybe he’s cold? Turn on the heater. Or hot – check his temperature. 98.7? He might have a fever.

Oh, he probably needs his diaper changed – it’s totally your turn. What?! Is he eating algae? Green? Wait, now yellow!? Again? Where are all these bright pigments coming from? Is that normal?

After the first, you realize that most everything that appears strange and wrong is actually nothing to worry about. He’ll be fine. You’ve made most of the important decisions and the classic mistakes, like letting him sleep naked because he has a diaper rash. You know what to do when he swallows a marble, and, hopefully, you’ve been through the valley of the shadow of potty training. You’ve also learned that kids are pretty resilient to the basic parenting blunders.

Of course, scaling up is only the beginning. It just occurred to me that we’re going to have 4 teenagers, at the same time. I’m afraid.

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!