Be prepared. In every way, a parent has to be prepared. From the daddy diaper bag to the Swiss Army knife, a parent has to expect the unexpected and be prepared for the unimaginable. If you are, you will never be surprised and your day will always be saved. (Side note: saving the day ALWAYS makes you a hero and you’re SO loves a hero… Just saying.) If you live with a well thought out plan and a constant state of readiness, parenting will be less stressful and therefore a much more pleasant experience for you. Here are some simple tips and tricks I used thru 4 kids to always be one step ahead of the world around me, one step ahead of my kids, and always able to adapt my day to keep it fun for them. As a dad, I have written this from the fathers perspective, but the lessons here are useful to every parent.
First, Always pack a bag. If your child is young, you will need a diaper bag. I didn’t want to carry a pastel plastic sack around all the time. No condemnation if you do, but I opted not to. There are lots of options for guys that are good looking, handy and masculine. From Coach brand backpacks to tactical daddy bags, the market is full of great options; some meant to be diaper bags and some that are simply great bags. There is no rule about what you have to carry so don’t feel like you are stuck with pink and purple pastel flowers. I carried a nondescript single strap sling style backpack that was purpose-built to be a daddy diaper bag. It was great; It carried warm bottles in pouches that kept them warm, it had a changing pad built in so those tailgate butt changes were a lot easier for me and way more comfy for the little one. It had lots of extra space, so I used it as a “possibles bag.” A term I stole from the patriot minute men that were always ready to act within a minute, and which stood for a bag that contained “anything one might possibly need and everything else possible.” I carried an electric bottle heater, several chemical heat packs (the “just add water” US Army MRE style heater), hand warmers, disposable towels, shelf stable baby food, extra disposable diapers. There was a spare cloth diaper (these are immeasurably handy), extra clothes for the little one and an extra tee shirt for me, along with all the actual diaper bag items that are listed on every baby site and you are just required to have. In short, I was prepared. While my kids all managed to do something sometime that left me unprepared, for the large part, most trips to town and most important outings were saved by something in that bag no matter how serious a blow-out one of my children mustered.
Now, I still carry a bag, but its contents have changed. I still carry an extra change of clothes for my nine-year-old, but for the most part, those extra clothes days are over. I still carry wet wipes/baby wipes as these are simply the single handiest item to ever come from parenting. They are also the best-kept secret from most young people. Baby wipes can get unholy green toxic poo off a baby’s sensitive skin without damage; they can, therefore, get anything off anything without hurting anything. They are great when your seven-year-old drops dark chocolate on your tan leather seats; baby wipes to the rescue! No kidding.
The list of other things that I pack in that bag now includes calorie dense foods like I use when backpacking, nut butter packs (be careful with these due to other people’s potential allergies). Granola, drink mix packs and bottles of water. These are all handy when someone has a snack attack. A quick calorie dense, healthy snack with a good long shelf life tucked into the bottom of my bag has saved the day more than once. One last thing I always keep tucked away somewhere is a small bit of Mom’s favorite snack. In our case it is Reese’s peanut butter cups, my wife loves those and if she is feeling a little off or upset, pulling one of those out can not only be a “chocolate-to-the-rescue” moment, it also is thoughtful and specific. Sometimes just showing her that I think about her and care enough to keep her snack in the bag too is a huge step toward a brighter day.
The second thing I always have with us is a pocket knife. These are great for EVERYTHING, from opening snacks to taking tags off new clothes bought in a hurry because the bag doesn’t carry those anymore, to opening hastily sourced beach toys on a hot summer day, a knife is a must. I use one that not only locks open but also locks closed. This keeps the little fingers in the car from being shortened by that knife when they are digging in places they are not supposed to and find it.
The third thing I always have with me is something I mentioned several times above, a change of clothes. Only you can know your family well enough to know which person will be the most likely to need that extra shirt or whatever. Make sure you have one. I have a small roll of clothing tucked into the back of my car that just lives there; it is a button-up shirt for me, a tee shirt for me, and a shirt and pants for my middle son. Why him? Well, simply my oldest two kids don’t need extra clothes on the regular anymore. My youngest two do, and I can cover either of them with a change of Thing 3’s cloths, they are a little big for Thing 4, but they work in a pinch, and that is the only reason they are there.
The fourth thing I always have with me is a $20 and a low limit credit card. Why? Well there was this one time a long time ago when I had to go in the lake quickly and unexpected to help one of my children who was doing something they weren’t supposed to do, in a place they weren’t supposed to be, and when I got back out, I found that my pockets were empty. At that point, I was away from home, with children, soaking wet. I had no ID, no keys, and no cash or cards. That ladies and gentlemen is the definition of panic. That situation was worked out with a little help from a friend, and since then I have always had a small bill and a small card back in the car or the bag. I have a photocopy of that specific card back in my desk at home, so if it ever does go missing, I have all the info I need to cancel it. To go with that, I also used to keep a small magnetic box to hide an extra car key on my vehicle. I know this is unsafe from a theft standpoint, but the boy scout in me needs to be prepared. Lately, with the addition of a new vehicle that has a call-in unlock service and remote start, I do not need the hidden key, but I mention it as something to consider if you do not have those features yet.
Lastly, I will list a group of handy things I never leave home without: These are a battery bank and at least one cord to charge our devices, a small first aid kit, insect repellent, sun-screen, a small wad of duct tape, a small compass, matches and small pill bottle of tinder (not the app) and a few safety pins. I know this is an odd list, but I will explain each, in order of mention.
A handy battery pack can rescue the day and stop a fight in the car like nothing else. (Bear in mind, all my kids have devices). Even if you don’t need the battery for your kid’s toys, it is a lifesaver when your own phone dies halfway through that special outing. The battery bank and cord is the single most handy item on this list from a daily use standpoint. I keep mine plugged into the car thru one of the console USB’s that way it is always ready when we need it.
The small first aid kit is because I have kids, and they play. There have been so many times that just having a small band-aid stopped the crying and made the boo boo go away, keeping the situation from escalating and saving the moment. It can also be a literal lifesaver if things ever go wrong.
Insect repellent and sunscreen, these should be no-brainers. Your kid’s play, they are active. As you go through your day taking them with you, the bugs are going to come to get them, and the sun is going to bake them. Protect them. Sun exposure is a leading cause of cancer, not to mention, an afternoon sunburn can make an uncomfortable little person that will, in turn, make everyone around them unhappy. Same goes for the repellent, bug bites hurt, and they can carry nasty things with them. Everyone enjoys the event better without all the biting bugs and itching or sick kids.
Now the rest of the list: duct tape, compass, matches with tinder, and safety pins. Let me start by saying, I don’t carry a whole roll of duct tape, and you probably don’t need to either, I pull about a foot of it off a roll, and wind it up around the pill bottle that I keep my tinder and matches in. In that same pill bottle, I have three small safety pins and a little round bulb compass pinned to the duct tape. I used to have a bigger pill bottle that it all fit in, but this is smaller and lighter, and I like that. Here is why. I am a backpacker, so are my boys. Also, we love to go outside. Often, as we travel through our day, we stop in between all the chores and thing I have scheduled just to walk in the woods. It is nothing unusual for the four of us to be driving between service calls or stops, know we have an hour to kill, pull the car over and go nature walking. To do so safely, as a backpacker, I know I have my list of essentials that we should never get out of sight of the car without, and this little pocket-sized bottle fits that need. What do I use it for? Well, the matches and tinder are for absolute emergency, lost needing rescue situations only, and so far I have never had to use it. The compass is how we orienteer away from and back to the car, so we don’t get lost. Also, the kids love to use it, learning how we navigate. This is a fun and active skill too many kids today do not have. The duct tape and the safety pins are to truss up, patch up, and hold together anything that comes loose while we are out. The toe of a sneaker splits open while hiking, a foot of duct tape will hold it together till we get back to the car. Tear the seam on a small pair of pants while trying to climb a tree, safety pins keep everything in till we make it back to the spare clothes, you get the idea.
As I have said in the past, never be afraid to take your kids out into the world with you daily. It is how they learn and grow. When you do, however, things go better for everyone if you are prepared. A small bag of extra clothes and snacks and a small, highly refined list of essentials prepared ahead of time, and all ways along for the journey make it so much easier, safer and more pleasant for everyone.
Have fun, enjoy your kids, and be prepared.
Categories: Parenting Thoughts