Tag Archives: geek parenting

Parent-Child Costumes

Most kids I’ve seen at cons absolutely love cosplay.  They love seeing the costumes, and they love dressing up in costumes.  It’s basically like an extra Halloween for them.  My kid is no exception – in fact, she has asked to wear a costume to the next con we go to.  She loves cosplay so much that the best way to get her to sit still through having her tangled hair brushed out in the morning is to watch youtube videos of awesome cosplay.  Current favorite is this one:


I’ve been slacking in my costume-making endeavors lately, mostly due to the lack of that one thing parents never have enough of: time.  My sewing pile has a bunch of mending items I need to get to before I can even consider finishing my Kaylee costume, and the first thing in line for the hot glue gun and spraypaint is the kiddo’s fairy wand in need of repair, not my never-finished steampunk rifle (formerly known as a super soaker).

I have a little time off coming up for wrist surgery, and I’m trying to think of some fun things I can make that are low-effort and can be done one-handed and without requiring a lot of coordination (naturally, I managed to injure my dominant hand).  I’ve seen some really awesome parent-child cosplays, and would love your input for even more ideas.  Also, this will probably end up being our Halloween costume this year – because time.

So here’s the list of possibilities, based on our interests, my limited sewing skills, and two-person costumes:

1) Kaylee/Serenity: me finally finishing my Kaylee costume (the coveralls outfit) and kiddo in a cardboard/spraypaint version of the ship

2) Steampunk Scout Leader/Girl Scout: based purely on the fact that I found a vintage scout leader uniform at Goodwill last year and we could make some really cool steampunk-ed merit badges

3) Leia/Ewok: because Ewoks.  And she’s about the right height for it.  The cool long-braid Leia hairdo would obviously require a wig.

4) Elsa/Olaf: like most of her age-mates, it’s her current favorite.  And she’s the right height for Olaf.  And because it would make me wear a dress for once…

5) Cyberman/Dalek: they’re robots, albeit super creepy ones.  She’s really into robots lately.  This one would be by far the most time-consuming/difficult, though.

What other cosplays would be good for an adult/kid combo?

Leave a comment

Filed under Geek crafts, Geek parenting resources, Geeking out

The Balancing Act

It’s no secret, if you know me or have been reading this blog for a while, that my husband and I detest the pink aisle and princess culture.  We’ve asked all along for ‘no pink frilly princess-type things’ from the relatives, a request most people  have followed.  But we also agreed that once she was older and making her own choices, we wouldn’t try to stop her from liking the pink aisle if it turned out to be something she truly wanted.

Now that my daughter is old enough to be picking up princess culture at preschool (since there are definitely no princess things in our house, unless you count Leia), she is picking it up like crazy.  Most of her pretend play these days involves her being a princess.  Second choice?  Ballerina.  She also insists on wearing a skirt or dress to school every day, which gets difficult because we just don’t have many of them, and she freaks out when I haven’t washed her favorite skirt.  And I’ll admit, I cringe every time she tells me she wants to be a princess.

She mixes it up, though.  She reminds me daily that she is both her own person, and perfectly able to balance her multiple interests.  The other day she decorated a cardboard box, and informed me it was her astronaut princess helmet.  She wore it proudly around the house.  For her Easter outfit, she picked an astronaut t-shirt, pink tutu, red leggings, and her red Chuck Taylors.  She was equally excited over the new blue dinosaur and the hot pink bouncy ball found in some of her easter eggs.

I’m glad she’s still at the age where her favorite color changes every 20 minutes, because I’m dreading her settling on one.  Even if it’s not pink, the riot of colors in her room shifting towards monochrome would be boring.  I love that her enthusiasm is for things that are new and different.

The princess culture is impossible to avoid, even if it’s not ever-present in our house.  Last Halloween, all but two of the girls in her preschool class were princesses.  The outliers?  My daughter’s Gir costume (she asked to be a robot so I went with the funniest one I know), and one other girl who was Cleopatra.

I have to remind myself every so often that in addition to trains and legos and books I also had Barbies.  And My Little Ponies, Rainbow Brite, dolls, and all the girly trappings.  I turned out ok.  Well, other than some rather serious body image issues that I still struggle with.  So maybe Barbie and teen magazines will stay out of the picture no matter how much my daughter may beg for them.

But I don’t think having girly stuff made me any less successful in life – I’m a real live rocket scientist now, after all.  I was a bit of a tomboy growing up, and have shifted much farther over on the feminist spectrum the older I get, but I clean up ok when I want to.  So I try not to panic when she wants to play princess.  After all, she has other interests as well.

For the last few months she’s wanted to be a firefighter, which I think is awesome.  It gives us openings to talk about things she’d need to do to get there, like exercise (firefighters are strong!), study hard (fighting fires is a science, after all), and work well with others (firefighters are part of a team!).  I know she’ll change her mind at least twelve hundred more times, but I’m glad she has big goals for herself already.

My goals?  To do the best I can to help her navigate growing up in a country still rife with gender issues, inequality, double standards, pay gaps, and stereotypes.  To balance what she wants with what we as her parents believe to be what she needs.  To see her grow up to be a healthy, happy, productive member of society.  To see her chasing dreams but also with her feet firmly on the ground.  I want to manage the very delicate balancing act of raising a daughter  in this crazy world without screwing any of it up too badly.

Leave a comment

Filed under Equality, Geek parenting resources, Opinion pieces

Creating a “Space” Space

If you happened to be wondering what a space-themed, gender-neutral kids’ room can look like, look no further!  I’m not going to show the whole room, because putting the detailed contents of my daughter’s room on the internet seems awfully creepy, but I will put close-ups or stock photos of as many of the items as I can.

If it’s something that can be bought online, there will be a link from the photo.  If it’s from a store, I’ll try to remember which one.  If it’s one of the wonderful homemade items, I hope you have as many talented crafty relatives and friends as I do.

Some of these items have been outgrown and are in storage for the next kid, but most are still in her room receiving loving use.

Boppy cover with stars and rockets (which I sadly could not find for sale anymore):


Light-up mobile with clear acrylic moons and stars with LED lights.  It didn’t get hung this move because it would interfere with the ceiling fans, and I couldn’t find a picture of the exact one.  It looked a little bit like this one, though:

Rocket night light (unfortunately discontinued):


Lamaze Space baby gym.  I don’t remember it being nearly that expensive.  Maybe it’s ‘rare’ now?


Space ceiling fan/light (my personal favorite!):


Rocket lamp, which we use as a giant night light so we put a red bulb in it.  Also, I definitely paid less for it than the one I found here:


Rocket pillow from Target:


Star-print crib sheets from Target:

images (1)

Framed pictures of each of the planets in the solar system – the set of prints I got one year for free for renewing either my Space Society or Planetary Society membership (can’t remember which), and the frames I bought on clearance through framesbymail.com.  I thought the yellow would provide a nice, cheery contrast to the dark prints.  Wall decals are from Target.


Rocket storage box, found at Ross, and solar system rug (the small size):


Growth Chart from Amazon (customized with her name, not shown):


Rocket rug:


Not shown: Lots and lots of glow-in-the-dark stickers.

In the homemade category:

Star blanket

photo 4

Space quilted pillow

photo 2

Cross-stitch from my amazingly talented MIL


Space pillowcases (I actually made these – they’re about the extent of my sewing skills).  Currently in use so wrinkly and taken in bad light!

photo 3

photo 1

What else would you love to see in a space-themed nursery?

What are some other good gender-neutral geek themes for kids rooms?

Leave a comment

Filed under Geek crafts, Geek parenting resources, Geeking out

Encouraging a Budding Architecht

My daughter loves to build.  I mean really loves to build.  It started with tower-building, where she would build these precariously stacked towers taller than she was – and I still have no idea how she ever managed to get them to stay up.  Even built four feet high, tilted on the edge of a rug and slanting sideways all the way up, she could get the darned things to stand.  At least until the dog came by and knocked them down, after which there would be a brief period of outraged wailing, followed shortly by a new tower.

Gradually her repertoire expanded from towers to castles, castles to cities.  Mega Bloks gave way to my old set of Duplos, and the colorful small set of Melissa & Doug wood blocks was supplemented by a set of Mad Scientist alphabet blocks and a bigger, plain wood set of Melissa & Doug blocks.  We’re just about ready to move on to regular legos, so watch out world.

Almost anything can be added to a block city - even old berry baskets and hippos!

Almost anything can be added to a block city – even old berry baskets and hippos!

It warms my heart that she loves to build so much.  She has this amazing single-minded intensity when she is building things.  So with her fourth birthday coming up, I’m very excited to see what she makes of the latest additions she’s going to get to unwrap: Lincoln Logs and Tinkertoys.  These were some of my childhood favorites that I was very pleased to discover have made a comeback.

Playing with building toys is a great way to encourage valuable skills in kids that are applicable in so many areas.  While my relatives and I joke that my daughter’s current building obsession must mean she will grow up to be an architect or construction worker someday, I’m really just happy that there’s an activity she likes so much that has many long-term benefits.  Building is great for spacial orientation, balance, hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and planning skills.  And blocks can even be dual-hatted and used for teaching counting, ordering by size, shapes, pattern-making, and geometry.

I remember building massive lego cities as a kid, and can’t wait to do that again with my daughter (yes, I may have some ulterior motives here… there could perhaps be eventual purchases of lego sets that are things I always wanted as a kid!).  It never even occurred to me as a kid, playing with my sisters and brother and friends, that legos weren’t anything but a unisex toy.  I’ll save the new “girl” legos for another post, maybe sometime when I have had a good day and a couple glasses of wine and can talk about it calmly and rationally instead of ranting.

I also like that building toys are one of the better types of toys for playing across a span of ages.  Older kids and younger kids, parents and children, crazy uncles and grandparents – everyone can play together with these toys.   Well, when you can get the kids to share, at least.  And they are definitely a more grownup-friendly form of play for me.  I can only do so much pretending to eat plastic-food meals my kid has prepared, but I’m happy to build with her for a good long while.

And a lot of adults still play with these toys – just look at Lego conventions and competitions.  But professionals use them as work tools, too.  I remember being stunned when, as an undergraduate working a summer internship at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, I discovered a drawerful of legos, k’nex, and Tinkertoys.  I needed something to demonstrate how an attachment mechanism on the space station moves, in order for someone to make a computer animation of it.  I had been attempting to make a moving model out of paper clips, erasers, and rolled up notebook paper.

Instead, my supervisor took me over to a nondescript cabinet, pulled it open, and showed me the toys inside.  He said it was common for engineers to use these things to demonstrate moving parts and play with new ideas.  That was the first time I realized that engineering was so very much more than the academic side I was so immersed in.  Engineering was about creatively making things work.  It’s also a job where no one will bat an eyelash if you play with legos at work.  I was sold – I had definitely picked the right major.

So I encourage you to encourage your kids to play with these types of toys.  They are sturdy, and can last through several generations of kids.  My parents kept our wooden blocks and Duplos and now the grandkids use them.  They are fun, simple, and good for group play across ages and generations.  And you never know when getting down on the floor to build a block tower or create a lego battle scene will give just the right spark to a budding young architect, engineer, astronaut, artist, or construction foreman.

What were your favorite building toys as a kid?  Have any recommendations on the latest and greatest, or fond memories of great building-toy achievements?

Leave a comment

Filed under Geek parenting resources, Geeking out

Pregnancy Small Talk for the Socially Impaired Geek Parent

A sidebar discussion from yesterday’s post ended up being about small talk and babies on the way.  One friend pointed out that the “boy or girl” question is, for many, the only safe thing we can think of to ask a pregnant or expecting person.  For those of us who aren’t very good at small talk to begin with, what are some topics we can safely bring up when talking to other parents and parents-to-be other than gender?

There is always advice available for what not to say to a pregnant person.  Obviously “Wow, you’re huge!” or, “I sure hope it doesn’t look like you!” or, “Gee, was it an accident?” aren’t remotely acceptable things to say.

But even seemingly innocent questions have a way of coming out wrong and getting us into trouble.  “When are you due?” can even be dangerous, since some women simply carry their weight in such a way that they look pregnant all the time – it is never safe to assume someone is pregnant unless she actually tells you she is, and it’s not really acceptable to ask.  There are also those of us who continue to look pregnant for several months after having the baby.  And “Are you excited?” can be construed as an underhanded way of asking “Did you actually want to get pregnant?” even if you don’t mean it like that.

But, given that you have absolutely solid evidence that someone is pregnant, what are some nice, non-gender related things to talk about?  Since I am one of those parents woefully untalented at small talk, this list will be on the short side.  Please help me come up with more!

The ones I know of are pretty generic, such as:

  • How exciting!
  • Congrats!
  • How are you feeling?
  • When are you due? (Really, seriously, only if you KNOW the person is pregnant!)

If the expectant parent is someone you know well enough to ask some slightly more personal questions or offer help to, you could try these:

  • What are your family’s plans for after the baby is born? (safe way to ask without making any stereotyped assumptions about childcare choices)
  • Is there anything you need to help you get ready?
  • Do you need someone on hot standby for pet-sitting (or watching the other kids) when the time comes?
  • Would you rather be left alone at first when the baby comes, or have someone come over right away for company/bringing food/assisting around the house/huffing that amazing baby smell?

Or introduce a little humor into the small-talk:

  • Have you memorized the wallpaper at your OB’s office yet?
  • So, what’s the most obnoxious unsolicited advice someone has given you so far?
  • Has a crazy stranger with no sense of personal space tried to touch you yet?

And, of course, if your friend is a fellow geek, you could try:

  • I’ll bet the force will be strong with this baby, with you as a parent
  • What age do you think is good for introducing a kid to Dr. Who?
  • If you could have any member of the Serenity crew as a godparent, who would you pick?
  • Too bad the Enterprise isn’t real, or you could take the kid to space with you!

Alright, that’s even shorter and less helpful than I feared it would be.  More socially adept people, help me out here and add more in the comments!

1 Comment

Filed under Geek parenting resources, Opinion pieces

What do Gender Reveal Parties Reveal About Us?

Ok, today I’m dipping my toe into the waters of blog posts that will probably get me hate mail.  The first big opinion piece that is likely to spark  a *ahem* lively conversation.

So… gender reveal parties.  The reveal takes many forms – cakes with blue or pink filling, blue and pink drinks, Oreos with blue or pink filling, secret envelopes with ultrasound pictures, and even moustaches vs. hair bows (this one especially gets rankles – a ‘manly’ object vs. a ‘little girl’ object is such an awful contrast).

There are usually games, secret ballots, extraordinarily creative ways to break the news, and people choose sides for “team pink” or “team blue.”  Gender reveal parties are all the rage for the pregnant/expecting crowd these days.  There are articles, pinterest sites, parenting blogs, entire websites even dedicated to these parties.

But why?  It seems that for a lot of people the gender of a baby has somehow become the single most important thing about bringing a new life into the world.  The first question someone asks expectant parents is almost always, “do you want a boy or a girl?” or, if late enough in the pregnancy to know, “is it a boy or a girl?”

Does it matter?  Shouldn’t the focus be on the fact that it’s a brand new human life you’re growing in there?  What does it say about us that the focus – earlier and earlier, now – is on pink vs. blue, boy vs. girl, dividing our kids into boxes and sets of strict expectations before they are even born.  Are we planning in advance to value one over the other, whether we do so consciously or not?

Why is gender the most important thing to know about a new baby?  Wouldn’t you rather talk about hopes and dreams for your child, or your plans for childcare and feeding, or your favorite parenting books and the best advice you have gotten?  Why is gender the single biggest focus?  It’s not like science has gotten us to the point where we get to choose in advance just yet.  And if you’re going to the trouble of having a gender reveal party, it’s fairly safe to assume you really want the baby.  Will you love the child less if the gender turns out to not be your first choice?  I know this is a reality in many parts of the world, but I have high hopes that eventually it won’t be that way, especially not in the U.S.

So help me out with some fun and more productive alternatives here – instead of a gender reveal party, how about a “guess the personality type” party or a “predict the future occupation” party – or something else that’s equally out of our control but perhaps a little less divisive.  Or you could even make it something constructive and have a “bring the book that influenced your childhood the most” party.

Please share in the comments – what are your thoughts on pink vs. blue and gender reveals?  Have you had one of these parties, hosted one, or attended one?  What is the upside?  Did you have a gender preference when you were expecting your child?


Filed under Opinion pieces

Alan Alda’s Flame Challenge: Making Science More Accessible for Both Young And Old

Today a Slate article about Alan Alda’s Flame Challenge caught my attention.  This was partly because years of watching lots of M.A.S.H. reruns on AFN as a child made me love Alan Alda, partly because it’s about getting kids more interested in science, and partly because this is one of those why on Earth didn’t anyone think of doing something like this before type of ideas.

The challenge is now a few years old and consists of coming up with a best way to explain a word or concept to an 11-year-old.  This stems from a childhood experience Alan Alda had of asking “what is flame?” and getting unsatisfying answers.  The kind of questions that at first glance seem easy, but then make you wonder how would you really explain that to a kid?  The contest aims to give a really good, scientifically accurate, easily understandable answer to a posed question once per year – and it must be an answer that an 11-year-old can understand and will accept.

Scientists submit their explanations, a panel checks them for accuracy, and then actual students judge the entries.  Answers can be in written, video, or graphic form.  The contest rules are here.

The first year (2012), the question was “What is a flame?”  Last year, it was “What is time?”  This year it is “What is color?”  The winning entries and finalists are then posted on the website – and they are simply wonderful.

Alan Alda’s Center for Communicating Science come about from his love of science and desires to make it easier for all people to communicate effectively and easily about science.  His organization works with Stony Brook University and offers courses through their journalism program.  The Flame Challenge is also sponsored by the American Chemistry Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, so it has some very well-respected scientific organizations behind it.

At this point, I’m guessing you’re dying to know what the best answers are to “What is a Flame?” and “What is Time?”  Because you never know when your kid is going to ask!  So here they are:
“What is a Flame?” Winner – Ben Ames.  If this one doesn’t do it for you, you can also check out the What is a Flame?” finalists here, for some good alternative explanations.

What is Time?  Written Winner – Nicholas Williams.

What is time?  Have you ever heard your parents say to you that it’s time to go to bed or time to get up, time to go to school, time to clean your room, time to do this, time to do that, and on and on. Our world runs on a time schedule, and the schedule is so tight that there are schedules for everything we do throughout the day and clocks that tell you what time it is so we can do those things at the correct time. Time is so obvious in our lives that no one questions it. It’s just there, we have to live with it, and so we accept it. All activity on earth is based on time, and this time is what happened a second ago, a minute ago, an hour ago, days ago, and years ago. Well, now we have an important question. What is it?  Time has a lot of definitions; like time is history or time is age. But, have we ever considered a good definition? I have. Here’s my definition. And no, I did not get this from some book or online. It’s just something that makes sense to me. I think of time as Forward Movement. Think about it! Everything moves forward, from the universe to every second of your life. And because everything moves forward, man developed a way to keep track of this Forward Movement and called it time. Man also invented clocks to keep a precise log of this Forward Movement in years, days, hours, minutes, seconds, and even parts of seconds. I’ll always continue to think of time as Forward Motion. I’ll also think of it as a Forward Motion that will never change, will never stop, and can never be reversed.

“What is Time?” Visual Category Winner – Steven Maguire

And the “What is Time” finalists can be found here.

The best answer to “What is Color?” will have to wait until the winning entry is announced in June.

Leave a comment

Filed under Geek parenting resources, STEM outreach

Kids at Cons

This is something of a polarizing topic.  Geeks love to get together with other geeks.  There are conventions for just about anything, ranging from the very broad (general sci-fi/fantasy/comic/gaming conventions) to the specific (one fandom, such as Gallifrey One for Dr. Who).  Fans tend to be passionate and extremely particular.  And they also tend to hold very strong opinions about whether kids belong at cons.

On one side is the argument that we need to raise the next generation of con-goers and con-runners.  Plus kids generally love this kind of stuff and it’s easy to get them interested when they are young.  You want to get them really into it before they get old enough to be embarrassed!  On the other side are the folks, usually childless (but not always), who want to go enjoy the con in peace and not be bothered by those ‘snot-nosed kids’.

The issue gets even more complicated when you consider content and interest level of things at the con.  Comics, movies, games, TV shows, cartoons, manga, books, anime, and graphic novels can be very kid-friendly things, but there also some extremely adult ones out there.  My daughter loves any excuse to wear a costume, and sees cons as Halloween-like opportunities to dress up, eat too much junk, and run around with other kids a lot.

One of the issues that has come up in recent years – at San Diego Comic-Con, for example – is that there isn’t any attempt to keep these apart. There can be booths for Ni Hao Kai-lan next to booths selling artwork of a fantasy warrior woman with impossible proportions fighting in scraps of leather.  If your kid is in the “why?” and “what’s that” stages, this can make for some awkward conversations you would rather have a little later.  How do we balance wanting our Spiderman-obsessed kid to get to see all the people dressed as her favorite hero with not wanting her to see someone dressed in a BDSM-Spiderman mashup outfit or a booth selling graphic Spiderman slashfic?

Another dilemma is whether or not to stay at the con hotel(s).  It’s easy on parents to be able to take a tired kid back to a hotel room for some TV or a snack and a nap, but how close a room to the party floor did the hotel give you?  Will there be naked drunk people running around the hotel hallways after midnight?  Will the midnight drum circle be in the room directly below yours?

So what is a con-going geek parent to do?  First, gauge the family-friendliness level of the particular con as well as the ‘adult’ level.  Look at the website and see what kind of programming they will have.  Ask someone who has been to that con before not only what the nightlife is like, but how far it tends so spread from the party floor.  Check with the hotel to see if you  can get a room far, far away from the party floor – preferably in a separate tower if the hotel is big enough for that.

Judge the size and focus of the con as well.  Is it a small, fan-run literary convention or a large, for-profit convention run by professionals?  Both of these can end up being family-friendly, but in different ways.

Sometimes you can tell how family friendly a con is by looking at the average age of attendees. Are there mostly folks in their twenties, or is the average age closer to fifty or beyond?  This isn’t a perfect way to tell, though. Some of the cons with mostly older attendees are making concerted efforts to attract younger people and kids to keep the con from dying out (young volunteers have more energy!). And some of the younger crowd want to have their fun without little kids around.  But in general, the cons we have attended that consisted mostly of older people were the same ones where we were frowned upon for dragging a toddler around with us.

We haven’t actually had the experience of going to a con without a child.  Other than some Star Trek conventions I went to with my dad and older siblings as a youth, my first con was BaltiCon when my daughter was about 7 weeks.  We were “that couple with the baby.”

It was surprisingly easy to attend panels and enjoy programming with a newborn, because she slept through the entire thing in the Baby Bjorn.  We alternated who got to wear the baby and be sweaty, and I’d have to find a quiet corner to nurse her every few hours, but other than that it was pretty much a non-issue.  We sat through an entire reading by our favorite author without her making so much as a peep.  We did go home each night, though, since it was a short drive.  So our first con experience was a positive one, and an easy thing to manage even as new parents.

Things have gotten more complicated as she has grown older, though.  Age two was probably the hardest period for con-going. She was a little ball of energy who couldn’t hold still and couldn’t stay quiet no matter what activity or snack we gave her.  Toddlers are a difficult age at a con, because they’re too old to just sleep and too young to really do any of the kids programming.  So what is a geek parent to do?

Not going isn’t really an option.  Cons aren’t just for fun for us – I do panels on things like Women in STEM and getting kids interested in STEM fields, spacecraft design, military sci-fi, and anything else they’ll put me on that sounds interesting and matches my skill/experience set.

My husband is a writer and takes advantage of the cons for both education and networking.  The cons with a more literary bent almost always have a writer’s workshop and several panels on things like traditional publishing vs. e-publishing, worldbuilding, what the big publishers are looking for now, etc.  There are often representatives from the major publishing houses, magazines, and agencies, as well as big-name authors and well-respected editors.

So short of not going, let’s look at the options available for attending a con with kids.  First, in terms of judging things for kids to do and places for them to go at the con, here is the range we have seen at the cons we’ve been to (which is not that wide, so please feel free to comment and add others we haven’t seen yet):

  • Family friendly room: a designated space in the hotel or convention center where parents can take kids to run around and play.  Policies vary, but normally small kids must have a parent with them at all times and older kids can often be left there unsupervised.  Sometimes there will be formal programming going on in the room, but more often it’s just a big open room with toys and craft supplies, and some heroic volunteers. These are people who deserve medals and frequently end up totally frazzled by the end of the weekend.  Be sure to thank these kind souls.
  • Kids programming: an actual track of specific programming for kids, usually a mix of some science experiments, crafts such as making your own wand or lightsaber, kid-friendly musical events (we’ve seen a harp demonstration and sing-along g-rated filk sessions), foam sword-fighting, and Arduino projects.  There’s almost always something involving legos and some sort of workshop for making costume pieces.  At the larger cons, this programming is sometimes broken up into separate tracks by age ranges. The minimum age to participate varies. At some it’s 3-and-up (if potty trained) and at others it’s 6-and-up, etc.  Young kids normally have to be signed in and out, but policies vary by each con so be sure to ask.
  • Teen programming: pretty self-explanatory.  Stuff geared towards what the teens like, in an effort to let them enjoy the con away from their horribly embarrassing parents.
  • Professional, licensed childcare service: this is usually only available at the bigger cons.  We were able to take advantage of this at WorldCon last time.  The prices are around $10-15 an hour, and they have great hours (at Chicon7, at least) – they were open late enough that we could go to the Masquerade and the Hugo Awards Ceremony.  It seemed terribly under-utilized there, though.  Our daughter was usually one of a handful of kids, sometimes the only one. The kids were sometimes outnumbered by employees and had two whole rooms to roam.  I hope it doesn’t mean they will eventually get rid of this service because not enough people are using it.  The company they used was really good, and we were very impressed by the professional caregivers.  There was a state-law-mandated limit of 10 hours per day of care, but I don’t think we ever came anywhere near using that much.

Other than the con services and programming, there are a few other options for parents going to cons with their kids.  The one we fall back on the most is the tag-team parenting.

  • Trade off: pick which panels and events you really want to attend and tag-team the kid duties.  We go through the hardcopy schedule with a highlighter and mark which ones are most important to us, then negotiate over the ones that overlap.  Handoff can happen in the hallway between panels, at the hotel room, at the family friendly room, at the restaurant for lunch, wherever.  While one parent is attending something on the program, the other can be making a run to get food, taking kiddo up to the room for a nap, strolling through the dealer’s room, or finding something else on the program that is generally more kid-friendly to do.  Sword fighting demos, LARP, movie rooms or concerts (depending on what’s playing), and quidditch games are good for this. The big drawback to this method is the adults never get to really do anything together.
  • Roll the dice and take the kid along: Do this armed with many distractions, and hope he or she cooperates.  Only in appropriate events/panels of course.  Whenever possible, my husband comes along to the panels I speak on as moral support (and as a ringer in case the audience clams up at question time, which basically never happens).   He sits in the very back with our daughter, armed to the teeth with coloring books, toys, snacks, the iPad and headphones.  If she gets noisy, they sneak out the door.  We’ve also done this together when there is a panel, reading, or event we both really want to attend  The older the kid is, the easier this one is to pull off.  There’s usually another, older kid or two at the back of the room completely engrossed in texting or playing a PSP game – while mom or dad is watching the panel, pre-teen probably isn’t even aware it’s going on.
  • Spread the load: go to the con with some other parents you know, and trade off babysitting duties.  If there are friends you trust at the con,  one adult can watch all of the kids while the rest of the adults are off doing other things.  This is easier for folks who tend to go to the same cons each year and have well-established friendships with other geek families.  For us, this hasn’t been an option yet because we move every couple of years and we don’t have an established “home town con” we go to every year.
  • Don’t bring the kids at all: this option only works, of course, if you have someone to leave them with.  Again, the older the kids are, the easier this is to achieve.  The easiest way to manage this is to go to cons where your relatives live. My parents have helped us out with daytime con-babysitting twice, and we are hoping to get to a con this summer while our daughter is spending some time visiting my in-laws.
  • Bring backup: invite your favorite babysitter or a relative to stay with you, if you know someone who would like to go to the con.  Offer to pay for the ticket and the room (or share the room if you’re cheap like us and get along well with your relatives) in exchange for them babysitting for part of the con.  We were able to do this once and killed two birds with one stone – our daughter got some quality time with an aunt she doesn’t get to see very often, and we got some babysitting time and a nice visit with my SIL.

So what are your thoughts on kids at cons?  Any suggestions for methods we haven’t tried for dividing kid duties and making sure everyone has a good time while not annoying the other con-goers?  For our family, cons are both work and play, so we want to make sure we can get the work part done while ensuring our kid has a safe, fun, and educational experience.  Do you know of some particularly kid-friendly cons?


Filed under Geek crafts, Geek parenting resources, Geeking out