5 Cheap Things To Keep Kids Busy In Winter
Unless you're fairly wealthy or too young to know any different, you've probably noticed that that the economy has been hurting. And hard economic times don't just affect how often the very poor get a square meal, or how many Faberge eggs the very rich can buy in a day. For the many in the middle, economic pressures affect the way we parent -- especially in winter, when indoor activities cost money and letting your kids freeze to death outside isn't an option.
"Aww, is the poor baby cold? Shut up and glue your extremities back on."
My recent divorce has meant two things: 1) I wanted to give my kids a fun time every other weekend when we were together, and 2) I was never more broke. (Actually, it also meant I had to learn how to date in the 21st Century, because you just can't meet chicks in a mosh pit anymore.) But over this last year, necessity has forced me to find creative, inexpensive ways to create memories with my kids, and to the extent it's helpful, I wanted to share them with you, the Cracked reader. And for those of you too young to have kids, why not use this time to have an unplanned pregnancy and bookmark this column for two years from now?
Use the Library As Your Video Store / Book Store / Other
Libraries are great, and I hope that if you're struggling financially, there's still a halfway-decent one somewhere within traveling distance. Otherwise, this entry is going to seem like a cruel tease. But many libraries today are offering broader and broader services. (Yes, it's no longer just a place to put boogers between the pages of books you don't like!) My personal library not only has books for borrowing, but video games and movies as well.
And again, not all of these books have strangers' boogers in them.
Other libraries have taken to lending fishing poles, power tools and more. But it's not just about what you can get for free at a library; it's a whole adventure. There's the time to go to the library. There's the time looking around the library. If it's a book you're borrowing, maybe you want to read one there and take one for the road. And when you get home, there's the reading, watching, playing, using whatever it is that you've borrowed. All of that takes time. All of that is productive time, spent together with your kids, and none of it costs a thing.
Get Some Complicated Recipe and Learn to Cook It
As some of you who don't have kids might not know, you have to feed them. It's like the law. You would actually go to Dad Jail if you didn't provide food for your children. I know! And people are upset about the environment. Anyway, going out to eat with three kids in New York costs somewhere in the neighborhood of a metric fuckton. If you're reading this in the UK, multiply that by 1.4 stone (I think?). So seeing as you have to buy food for your kids anyway, it's actually much more cost effective to make it yourself.
Unless you make Faberge egg omelets. Yes, two Faberge egg jokes in one column. I'm telling you, in this economy, we had to outsource the captions to the ghost of Ian Fortey.
Cooking is fun. Especially if it's a recipe with lots of steps. You can divvy up the responsibilities with your kids. "Timmy, beat those eggs." "Sally, bread those cutlets." "Henry, the cat's anus is not your plaything!" (It's important to note that cooking with your kids works even if they have different names than those above. It's also important to note that your kid Henry is clearly fucked up and needs a special test.)
It's not always fair to blame parents for their children's failings, but in this case, we here at Cracked all blame you.
And again, like the library, all the parts of this process take time. The finding of the recipe, the making a list of ingredients, the purchase at the store, the cooking, and the eating. All of that together takes hours. Hours where your kids could be zonked out in front of the TV, climbing the walls, or in the case of your sick son Henry, raping the cat. Several years ago, after I was part of a 200-person layoff that took us out of a Growing Pains kind of family and brought us into a Roseanne kind of family, we spent a whole day planning a meal, making several dishes, naming our family restaurant, and playing roles like maitre d' and waiter, and my kids still talk about it more than any meal we had when there was more money around.
Here's something weird about America. Even though so many people are struggling, an estimated 84 percent of all American homes have a computer. And these days, cameras and software equipment come standard in laptops. You know what that means, right? Yep, you can send highly-edited montages of cock pics all over the world!
"The things I've seen. Please kill me."
What is actually means is that even the average layperson can now make some rudimentary films, and that can be fun. And it sure as hell takes a lot of time. When I decided to bring back my Hate By Numbers video series on myYouTube channel, I made a decision that all the new episodes would include my kids, because it was a good, cheap way to have a lot of fun (and because my kids are far more talented than I). It was also fun to teach my oldest son, who now sometimes helps me write and edit them, some basics of filmmaking.
But you don't need a video series or high-tech editing software to make movies with your kids. I have friends who makes music videos with their kids. What does that mean? Mostly, picking a song, playing rock star by lip syncing and dressing up in front of the webcam, then adding some title cards and cheap transitions on the laptop's film editing program. Do these videos suck? Probably. But that's not the important part. Aside from the relatively cheap cost (if you already have the computer, I know), you're taking the time to build something with your kids, and you have a video proof of time well spent.
"Yes you're a good dad, but Jesus, your sound editing is AWFUL."
I love board games. Battleship, Boggle, Trivial Pursuit, you name it! (No, not Ants in the Pants, that sucks. What the fuck is wrong with you?) Lately, my kids and I have been playing a lot of Monopoly, and it's taught them a valuable lesson: that capitalism is a rigged system designed to oppress the masses.
"Socialist board games are fun, dad!"
Now, it's true that if you were to go to your local toy store and/or Amazon, you'd easily spend $100 on five shitty board games, but if you go to your local Goodwill, you can pick up Hungry Hungry Hippos for two bucks. Or maybe you're lucky enough that your mother never threw away your old shit and you have a treasure trove of '80s goodness that you can now keep in your linen closet, much to the delight of your three small children.
This scenario is more likely if you're me.
Aside from board games being cheap as shit if already owned or purchased from Goodwill, they are interactive. They can accommodate all your kids, and they take time. Another perk? In today's digital world, board games have an almost novel, retro appeal. Now, some of you may be saying, "But board games or boring!" Or, if you're incredibly comedically challenged, you're saying, "More like BORED games, amirite?" First of all, stop staying that. You sound like a moron. But more importantly, do you know what happens when you play a boring board game with your kids? You talk to each other during all that dead time. Y'know, like the way families are supposed to. And it doesn't cost a thing.
Dollar Store Arts and Crafts
Dollar stores are awesome, and I love them dearly. In my forthcoming novel, Agents of the Internet Apocalypse, the main character tells a story about a dollar store that happened to me in real life. Once when I was in college, I saw a young dad who couldn't have been older than 30 walking through an Ithaca mall with this three young daughters, ages ten through five. His clothes and accent made clear that he was scraping at lower middle class at best. But as he and his girls approached the dollar store, he proclaimed, "OK, girls, you can have anything you want," and they squealed with delight, running into the store like they'd won the lottery. And I cried, just as I'm crying now, because I can't even summon this memory without crying. This father with only three dollars to spare was able to create a magical moment for his daughters. For a moment, they felt pampered and spoiled. And for that same moment, he got to be his children's hero. So turn your nose up at dollar store ghetto, but there's magic there.
I paid a buck for this. How much did you pay for yours, loser?
Today, I use the dollar store mostly for arts and crafts. You can buy three huge pieces of oaktag and three sets of paint for six dollars. Most of these places carry some stupid craft of some sort or another -- mask making, birdhouse building, paint-by-numbers stuff. But what you buy there really doesn't matter. When you're broke, it's important to make the destination the event. You go to the store, you walk the aisles knowing your kid isn't going to be dying for you to buy any one thing you can't afford. You weigh the options of various purchases. And then you take your booty home and get to work. You make a project. It doesn't matter what. A drawing, a painting, a sculpture of your most annoying creditor getting sodomized by by goblins. It doesn't matter.
Also, Cracked.com in no way encourages sodomy-based art projects for children.
If you are a parent struggling to entertain your kids in an economical fashion when the weather keeps you indoors, I hope some of these tips are helpful. Maybe seeing them written down in list form will make them seem more legit to you. Because that's really the problem, right? That nagging voice in the back of your head that says, "Is making a game out of throwing balled-up socks into a garbage can a waste of my kid's time? Is this stupid? Shouldn't I be able to spend 50 bucks taking us all to the movies?" No. Nothing is stupid. These are real activities, but it's the doing, not the actual activity, that matters. Doing anything with your kids is the part that makes memories. It's the journey more than the destination. And even if that's not true, even a bad journey is better than sitting at home climbing the walls.
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For more from Gladstone on Cracked, check out 5 Things You Can Apparently Give Up Without Missing and 5 Things People Mistake for Being Grown-Up.
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