As peak travel season approaches, many parents may be feeling anxious about hitting the road (or skies or open seas) with the kids. Things are crazy enough at home, so you’re probably imagining how much more stressful it would be out in the great wide world — where you have even less control.
Fear not! If you’re freaking out about a looming family vacay, who better to ask for tips, hacks, and general life lessons than a bunch of travel-tested dads?
I reached out to some of my pals from all over the USofA for the very best, most comprehensive Dadvice you’ll find. And in true dad form, these nuggets of wisdom/war stories are offered up with a mixture of common sense, bad puns, and lots of heart.
Board games have been a favorite family pastime for nearly a century, purporting to bring parents and children together and teach valuable skills like colors and stuff. But as many families know, what they really do is drive deep, pie-shaped wedges between spouses, create world-conquering rivalries between siblings; and generally scare the bejesus out of the cat. Even on game nights not boiling over with incessant whining and arguing, there’s still the mind-numbing boredom.
And yet, it is our duty as involved parents — nay, as Americans — to subject ourselves and our progeny to these worlds overflowing with candy and ladders and murder weapons and New Jersey real estate.
I’ve found that a little libation makes any activity run more smoothly. Classy folks look to experts for pairings of alcohol with their cheeses, meals, or cigars. You can even find wine to go with Girl Scout cookies. So why not match up cocktails with board games?
I polled a bunch of parents to learn their most-hated games. Then I played them all with my kid while I drank a bunch of stuff to see which combos were most fun tolerable. Here are my scientific/strategic/spirited recommendations.
Want to get your craft on this Halloween, but worried you’ll slice off an appendage trying to carve a Pinterest-perfect jack-o’-lantern? Then try these frighteningly fun, eerily easy DIY Halloween t-shirts!
Movie: Pete’s Dragon (PG, 95 minutes)
Moviegoers: Daddy (47), Jon (6-3/4)
Individual Reviews: Daddy ★★★★★, Jon ★★★★★
Family Favorites: Star Wars (episodes IV-VII), Ghostbusters (all versions), Despicable Me
Plot Snapshot: For years, old wood carver Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford) has delighted local children with his tales of the fierce dragon that resides deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. To his daughter, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), who works as a forest ranger, these stories are little more than tall tales…until she meets Pete (Oakes Fegley). Pete is a mysterious 10-year-old with no family and no home who claims to live in the woods with a giant, green dragon named Elliott. Grace sets out to determine where Pete came from, where he belongs, and the truth about this dragon.
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[The remainder of this review contains mild spoilers.]
Disney’s new remake of Pete’s Dragon is a truly enchanting experience, and a welcome improvement on the rather dated original. Directed by David Lowery and filmed entirely in New Zealand, the movie is at its most magical when it’s just boy and dragon. Fuzzy, purring Elliott acts as both loyal pet and doting parent to Mowgli-esque Pete. And while I rarely think 3D is justifiable, the flight scenes alone make it well worth the extra cost.
If you’re looking for affordable family fun, look no further than Philadelphia. Our family got to spend four days with our up-the-coast neighbor; however, the first two were just me and my 6-year-old — a challenge I wasn’t sure I was prepared for. Under normal circumstances, my adventurously independent son is a handful. Now we were sans one dad, adding a train ride, a hotel stay, and a bunch of activities in a city I knew next to nothing about. Papa and I had spent an anniversary weekend years ago, focusing mainly on art museums and antiques. I knew my kiddo was having none of that, so we were in uncharted territory.
It’s also important to note that Jon was not as over the previous week’s stomach bug as I thought.
Known as the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia has plenty of affection for families and kids, too. We made it through the trip with lots of flying colors, great memories, and even learned a few things. And yes, there were lots and lots of trips to the bathroom.
Here are our five Philadelphia favorites — along with a score for the restrooms at each location, based on their ability to accommodate weary, middle-aged dads and a kindergartner whose bowels were constantly at DEFCON #2.
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5. THE FRANKLIN INSTITUTE
The initial draw of The Franklin Institute was the Art of the Brick exhibit — which did not disappoint. Yet on further exploration, the entire museum was amaze-balls, as the kids say. From the giant interactive heart, to the train factory, a planetarium, and pretty much any invention or sciencey thing you can think up — it had it all.
S’mores are just about the most perfect snack. First, there’s the simplicity of them: chocolate + marshmallows + graham crackers; heat, eat, repeat.
They’re also super easy to customize, personalize, and accessorize. Maybe you like yours with peanut butter, or Nutella instead of chocolate; or maybe once in college you experimented with s’mores made from Pop Tarts and have always fantasized about trying that again.
And finally, s’mores are always in season: they taste just as gooey and delicious whether you’re huddled around a campfire telling ghost stories or huddled on the couch binge-watching The Walking Dead.
Speaking of zombies…
A while back I made some spooky monster s’mores for my son’s class Halloween party. They were such fun to make (and a big hit with the kids), that I thought I’d revisit this snack-craft and see what other monstrosity I could come up with. Then it hit me — ZOMBIE S’MORES. What could be more fitting than a gooey, melty, drippy snack made to look like a gooey, melty, drippy reanimated corpse?!
Movie: Kung Fu Panda 3 (PG, 95 minutes)
Moviegoers: Daddy (46), Papa (48), Jon (6)
Individual Reviews: Daddy ★★★★, Papa ★★★1/2, Jon ★★★★★
Family Favorites: Star Wars (episodes IV-VII), Big Hero 6, Ghostbusters
Daddy & Papa’s Favorites: The Matrix, O Brother Where Art Thou, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Plot Snapshot: Po is living large as the hero of his village, content to “fight monsters and get high-fives from bunnies.” Two challenges soon arise to rock Po’s world: the supernatural villain Kai, who is stealing the chi of China’s kung fu masters; and the appearance of Li Shan, his long-lost biological father.
Po and Li Shan travel to a hidden village where Po meets scores of other pandas, reconnecting with his inner dumpling-eating, hill-rolling, oversleeping self. But Kai is on the hunt for our hero, so Po must train his new panda posse into fierce warriors in order to battle the otherworldly foe.
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[The remainder of this review contains plot spoilers.]
As an adoptive parent, I’ve always been interested in how movies like the Kung Fu Panda series handle the topic of adoption. I was particularly curious about Kung Fu Panda 3, as it introduces Po’s birthfather into the story. This is something more and more adoptive families can relate to, as open adoption is increasingly the norm.
I went into the film with some concerns about how they would treat the dynamic between Mr. Ping (the goose who raised Po) and his biological father. I was half-expecting a bait-and-switch, perhaps revealing Li Shan was not in fact Po’s father; or maybe Po having to choose between one family or the other.
Yet the moviemakers did a good job of resolving the family-related conflicts — which were almost entirely between the two parents, not Po.
Adoptive dad Mr. Ping seemed to struggle more with this new family dynamic — his protectiveness, mistrust, and competitiveness on full display. While I appreciated the honesty with which they portrayed these understandable (and familiar) emotions, I was glad they didn’t roost there, which might have caused some adopted kids or their parents to feel uncomfortable. However, I thought that within the confines of a 90-minute kids’ movie, they evolved the characters quite nicely.
Designer Daddy participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Influence Central for Hasbro. I received product samples to facilitate my review and a promotional item to thank me for my participation.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — one of best parts of being a dad is sharing the things I loved as a kid with my son. And with the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens looming on the horizon, we’ve had a blast experiencing anything and everything Star Wars-related.
And as if the awesome toys Hasbro sent us recently weren’t enough, they’ve hooked us up again — this time with a box of booty to have our very own Star Wars Family Game Night!
I loved playing board games with my family growing up. We had pretty much every word/trivia/brain-teaser game there was; and I’m sure this contributed significantly to my love of writing. Not to mention my competitive streak.
Game night was always fraught with fun and emotion, and everyone had their role to play. Mom, The Peacekeeper: making sure older brothers were more lenient with the younger; Dad, The Jokester: somehow managing to work a really bad pun into every answer he gave; Littlest Brother, The Ticking Time Bomb: always trying to keep up, rarely able to keep his cool. And then there was me, The Mastermind — masquerading as the mild-mannered big brother, but constantly plotting how to crush my younger siblings when they least expected it. (Cue maniacal laughter)
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As Jon is just 6, we’re still finding our roles when it comes to game night. But we did have a great time playing LOOPIN’ CHEWIE (his favorite of the bunch) with him and a friend. I’ll just post this photo as a review — you can’t fabricate a smile like this:
It’s the Monday night after our first vacation of any length in years, and the re-entry has been a trying one. My day was spent burrowing diligently and deep into the pile of work, emails, and kindergarten-related prep I put off while we were away. While the air is similarly sweltering, it’s minus the lovely Cape Cod views and sand between my toes. All that remains is a sunburn I keep absentmindedly scratching (and then regretting), remnants of sand in everything except my toes, and lots of memories.
Papa, Jon and I attended our first Family Week, an annual gathering of LGBTQ parents and their families in Provincetown, Massachusetts. It’s impossible to encapsulate everything from our week on the Cape (that’s what Instagram and Facebook are for), so I’ll just share the few images that make me smile, think, or feel the most.
The anxiety I feel over my son’s adventurous spirit is matched only by my admiration of it. Stifled at times within the context of school and home, it stretched its wings and flew, ran, splashed and jumped every chance it got.
As summer winds down, families everywhere are taking one last vacation before the rigors of the school year take back the reins. And nothing epitomizes the family vacation more than a road trip. Parents, kids, and other assorted passengers piled into the family car; crisscrossing the country in search of excitement, enjoying the togetherness, pausing for the random road side oddity. It’s an adventure like no other.
For the nights you’re not on the road (but still hoping to cram in as much family fun as possible), nothing beats family movie night! Whether you’re snuggled up on the sofa or camped out in the backyard, these films capture all the adventure, fun, and occasional misfortune of the family road trip.
So grab the popcorn — and your map, compass, flashlight or fairy dust — and settle in for a rip-roaring, vicarious vacation.
Did everyone use the bathroom? We’ve got a long trip ahead of us…