Friday, August 28, 2009

Thanks TSA

Generally, the TSA rules about liquids on flights have been a huge inconvenience to parents. Of the 119 items required for any movement with children, a huge percentage are liquids (yoghurt, lotion, nips of vodka - for me) that are now banned on flights. So be it. But during a trip to LA, these rules were just a tiny bit helpful.

As usual, the kids spent more time at the museum gift shop then we did at the La Brea Tar Pits.

This may have partially been my fault. The educational film about animals getting caught forever made a big impression and my own jokes tossing them in made the little Goofs a little nervous. Also, at the site, the major tar pits are fenced off, but there are little tar pits bubbling up all over the park so the chance that they would stumble into one and be trapped seemed all too real. (Truthfully, the only real danger is that Mama Goof would yell at them for getting tar all over their shoes - but that wouldn't have been a sufficient deterrent on its own).

At the gift shop, Goofboy selected this little flimsy plastic bag filled with colored liquid - an item almost certain to (like a bomb) burrow its way into our luggage and explode. But, thanks to the TSA, I could tell him we couldn't take the thing home. Rulings emanating from me may be arbitrary - but he respects the airport men in uniform and put the thing away and instead bought a bag of multi-colored rocks.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Trouble with Travel - Sleep Wars

So one thing about our regular trips to visit the in-laws that I do not look forward to is the sleep deprivation. The four Goofs share a hotel room, one parent and one child to each bed. In a previous life I had a cat that always slept in the exact center of the bed - perfect to disrupt the sleep of any human being foolish enough to intrude on his space.

My children, as sentient reasoning creatures, do the cat one better and apply advanced calculus to determine how best to use their small bodies to occupy as much bed space as possible.

My son is particularly ingenious, twisting himself into ever more complex angles. Already crammed into a small portion of bed, I spend nights with him being kicked and prodded as he seeks to become a human tesseract.

Fortunately I have developed a solution. If Goofboy wants to play territory all night - bring it on. My counter-strategy can be summarized in two words: pillow fort.

I sleep in peace, protected by high soft walls. It does, however, provide ready ammunition for the morning assault.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Asymmetric Information & Parenthood

I've discussed the economics of babysitting in the past. Basically, we parents are so desperate for baby-sitters that the teenagers have us over a barrel - hence the steady rise in price for baby-sitting services.

The one advantage that adults have is that the teenage babysitters don't recognize their own market power. But a wise commenter pointed out:
Better watch whose hands this information might get into. As the father of a babysitter, I'm just saying...

Also, you might want to warn people that sitters with older siblings have a very good idea of the market. So watch out.
The only advantage we old people have is based on asymmetric information - that is they don't know what we will pay and act as price-takers. If they truly formed a cartel, then they could be price-makers and we would be at their mercy. There are limited substitutes (duct-taping kids to the wall while we go out is cheaper but could result in fines or imprisonment - which carry high opportunity costs). My commenter points out that this process has already exists between sisters. This is an old story - King Lear, to be specific, in which a pair of sisters depose their aged father... I'm just saying...

Broader Implications
But this discussion got me to thinking that asymmetric information is really central to parenthood itself. This is what we've got on them. They can't read so we can tell them what is and isn't on a restaurant menu (for example.) They don't know that I won't really let them run away or that there are no dental police that will haul them off if they don't brush their teeth. (Those old Crest commercials have come in handy!)

They don't know that they toy store isn't really closed or that I can in fact afford whatever thing they want - I just don't want them to have it.

It isn't that they aren't smart - within their limited range of experience children quickly develop models of how the world works. Once, when I told my then three year old son that I didn't have enough money for something he wanted he said, "Yes you do, you have money."

"Not for that."

"No, I saw, the money from the pizza man."

He didn't understand change (he doesn't always handle the other sort well either) and just assumed grown-ups transferred cash to each other under some arcane rules.

But there are huge realms of information that they are simply unaware of and I can always draw on these vast unknown realms to re-direct their demands.

As they get older and understand more, my abilities to rule through information dominance will decline. They will know that I can get money from the ATM anytime and that computers do not actually bite if they don't get enough sleep. They will learn to operate telephones on their own (although other, more useful, appliances like dishwashers and vacuum cleaners will undoubtedly remain mysterious.)

But then they will make their way into the great wide world, where they are pummeled by information asymmetry. Hopefully, my parenting strategy of lies and deception will have properly equipped them for this cold harsh reality.