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7 Things Parents Should Look For When Buying Used Cars

used cars

We buy used cars because, like most people I know, we’re not rich.

One of my cars is seven years old and the other is almost five, and although they have high mileage now because we bought them both used, one is paid off and we’ve actually saved money as opposed to buying new. However, buying used cars for the family can be tricky.

I’ve developed some criteria on which I base all my used car purchasing decisions. Some are tried and true, while other nuggets are based on having three insane boys (and until two weeks ago, a dog) to cart around. So while I’m not an automotive expert, I am definitely a parent who has been through the used car wringer and has a few pointers for the inexperienced.

So enjoy these tips. Or completely ignore them and enjoy the tales of terror involving me and my wife on four wheels.

Continue reading 7 Things Parents Should Look For When Buying Used Cars

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Now I Know Why They Call Them Rescue Dogs

Haley enjoying Cahoon Hollow Beach on Cape Cod
Haley enjoying Cahoon Hollow Beach on Cape Cod

My dog died yesterday.

It was expected because she was old and in declining health, but unexpected in that she died after being hit by a car. In full view of the kids. The end result of a still mischievous but half blind/deaf dog taking advantage of a door that didn’t quite latch.

I was on the train home from Boston when I got the call, and I immediately broke down in tears. Which is fitting, perhaps, since sadness is what led me to her in the first place.

It was 2007. I was a newlywed living on Cape Cod and working as a journalist. An investigative piece I was working on led to the revelation of some pretty severe canine abuse, and I was so disturbed by what I saw that I began volunteering at the local dog shelter.

But my disgust at the mistreatment of those dogs wasn’t the only reason I was there.

Despite having a job I liked and marrying the woman of my dreams, things had turned fairly nightmarish in a hurry. MJ was in the middle of a downward spiral we’d later find out was bipolar disease. Her manic periods had given way to crippling bouts of depression, and she had no love for herself never mind any to give to me. She was sad all the time and talked constantly of running away and never coming back. I would tell her how much I loved her, but that just seemed to make her feel guilty and she shut down.

But the dogs at the shelter were always happy to see me and pummel me with affection. That’s literally what happened the first time I saw Haley — she ran around the counter, jumped up, and hit me right in the balls.

And then she captured my heart.

Haley was brought to the shelter by a wife whose husband thought a dog would save their marriage. It didn’t. As a result, poor Haley was put on a kennel run and largely ignored for 14 hours a day. And because she loved people but was around them so little, she craved attention and closeness. She also thought any time you left the room you were never coming back, so when you did she was so happy she could barely contain herself.

She had endless affection and devotion to give, and I had a limitless need for love and companionship. The only problem? Convincing MJ.

You see, she was fairly open to the idea of a dog but she had conditions:

  1. No dogs over 50 lbs
  2. No ridiculously excitable dogs
  3. No dogs with long hair

Haley was 0 for 3. But I knew in my heart she was the one, so I made one of the only unilateral, executive decisions I’ve ever made in my marriage — I signed up to temporarily foster her. My wife was FURIOUS when I came with a 75-pound ball of excitable, long-haired, slobbery love. But that fury soon gave way to having her heart melted by our sweet girl, and then “temporary” home turned to “permanent” in a matter of days.

haley-002I bought Haley the most expensive dog bed I could find, and then let it go completely unused because she cuddled right next to me on the bed every night. We went everywhere together and walked the Cape Cod Canal, hiked local trails, and went for runs. She was a retriever in name only because she never fetched a damn thing in her life, but she was a slobbering pile of unadulterated love and I loved her right back.

She was a total beta, but if she heard a noise or thought an intruder was present, watch the hell out — her growl was deep and fierce and scared off at least one lurker I can remember. But I didn’t want an attack dog, because we wanted a pup who’d be great with kids — and Haley delivered.

WillHaley_frontHaley was so gentle with kids, even when they climbed on her, pulled her ears, and stepped on her. She really bonded with Will and she was his “sister” for 5.5 years before Sam came along. When we’d practice sharing, Will would have to share with Haley and I’ll never forget how cute the two of them would be, staring out the window every day that I got home from work.

With Sam it was a little different. The two of them got along well enough, but it was always a tempered and grudging respect. Neither of them fully embraced the other, and there was much jockeying for position in the household hierarchy.

haleytommyBut Tommy? I’m not sure what it was about Tommy, but Haley loved him immediately — and vice versa. Tommy’s favorite thing to do is crawl/walk over to Haley and place his cheek gently on her head. I don’t blame him, Haley’s ear are wonderfully soft velvet. When she slept at the foot of the bed, my toes would search for those ears and I’d immediately sleep more soundly and with much comfort.

Comfort. That’s going to be my one biggest regret — that I couldn’t comfort her at the end and pay her back for the massive amount of comfort she brought to me in the nearly 10-year long span we were together.

I knew she was at the end of the road. Her health was terrible, she had tumors everywhere, she could barely stand, she couldn’t navigate stairs, she had lost control of her bladder, and the sound she made while breathing was terrible. We were in the midst of making arrangements to put her down when this happened, I just…well, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Even last night, as my shovel dug a hole through roots and rocks in my parents’ yard where she loved to play, I couldn’t let go. I carried her from the car, wrapped her in her favorite soft blanket, and cried. I sat there for 30 minutes next to her grave, in the dark and the rain, with her head cradled in my arms, because not being able to feel the comfort of those velvety ears seems unimaginable to me. So I kept taking a few more minutes. Just a little more time. One more scratch behind the ear.

We might have given her a good life, but as corny as it sounds, the rescue rescued me. The dog who lavished us with love, slobbered sentiment all over us, and made our home a better place.

What started with her hitting me right in the nuts ended with the gut punch of loss. But in between are countless moments of comfort and peace dogs seem to bestow upon us so effortlessly, yet we take them for granted time and time again. For nearly 10 years she filled our lives with life and love and tons of slobber, and her only goal in life was to be near her people. Actual people live much longer lives and never approach a more noble and meaningful existence.

haleypregoI preferred Haley’s company to that of most people, and I’ll miss her as I would a friend. I’ll miss her frenzied and joyful leaps when I walked in the door, even if I was only gone 30 seconds. I’ll miss her ninja-like maneuvering for food, even at the end when she could barely move. I’ll miss the feel of her fur pressed against my face when I needed comfort I couldn’t find anywhere else. I’ll miss her gentleness with the kids. And I’ll never forget her constant vigilance when MJ was pregnant — resting her head on her belly, and knowing when she was going into labor even before MJ did.

We gave Haley a soft bed, lots of food, and a warm home. She gave us a decade of life, love, and unlimited slobbery kisses. We got the better end of that deal.

Dog owners, give your pups an extra squeeze today. And if you’re thinking about getting a rescue, just realize you’ll probably be the one who ends up getting saved, not the other way around.

Thanks for saving me, sweet girl.


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All You Need is Love (and Beat Bugs on Netflix)

Watch Beat Bugs and trick your kids into liking The Beatles
Watch Beat Bugs and trick your kids into liking The Beatles

It’s not always easy to know if you’re raising kids the right way, but if they know about The Beatles from a young age, then congratulations — you’re doing at least one thing very right.

But introducing young kids to old music isn’t easy. If parents say “Hey guys, I’ve got this great music you’re just going to love,” then that’s the kiss of death. So how do you get kids to stop listening to all the annoying crap and like the things you like? You trick them into it.

I admit, I had my doubts about the Netflix original, Beat Bugs, because at first glance it seems like just another obnoxious kid cartoon. Plus the sun has a face that really freaks me out. But then I realized it’s a cartoon built entirely around Beatles songs, and it quickly got really awesome up in the Daddy Files household.

My kids took to the theme song and haven’t stopped singing “All You Need Is Love” since. And let me tell you, there are few things cuter than a 3-year-old belting out “ALL YOU NEED IS WUV!” over and over again. The story is about five bug friends who live in some guy’s lawn, but that’s not really important. What you and your kids will love are the more than 25 Beatles songs that will warm your heart when sung by the next generation.

And some big stars are voicing them, too. You’ve got:

  • P!nk: “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”
  • James Corden: “I’m A Loser”
  • Aloe Blacc: “Rain”
  • Robbie Williams: “Good Day Sunshine”
  • Eddie Vedder: “Magical Mystery Tour”
  • Frances: “In My Life”
  • The Shins: “The Word”
  • Wesley Schultz (of the Lumineers): “Honey Pie”
  • Sia: “Blackbird”

When Tommy hears the opening he loses his mind. When the older two hear the familiar strains they flock to the couch. Beat Bugs has the distinction of being the only thing that can bring my three boys together on the couch for an extended period of time without killing one another. That right there is worth it.


So if you’re a fan of children singing adorably and a Beatles aficionado, you’re going to love Beat Bugs. And if you’re not a Beatles fan, then you’re clearly a cyborg and this isn’t for you.

As a Netflix StreamTeam member, I received free Netflix for a year and other products for this post. But as always, all opinions are my own.

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No Grown-ups Allowed: Why The Little Prince on Netflix Made Me Sad


Will uttered the sentence, pictured above, three short years ago when he was five. When I showed him this The Little Prince graphic Netflix sent me and told him how much I loved it, my son immediately illustrated why the movie — a cautionary tale about becoming an adult — is so important.

“Manners? That was a stupid thing to say. Oh well, I was just a kid then.”

Just a kid. My 8-year-old seems to think he’s become a full-blown adult in the three years since melting my heart with that super adorable phrase, and he looks back at his “ancient” 5-year-old self with mocking disdain.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic gets a reimagined, animated twist courtesy of Netflix, and it’s really, really good. The existing story fits within a modern framework of an overbearing Type A mother who over-schedules and overworks her young daughter until she’s an automaton with absolutely no imagination or flexibility. But when she meets the strange man next door known as The Aviator and is taken by his hand-drawn story of a celestial “Little Prince,” her imagination is set free and she embarks on an emotional adventure that is literally out of this world.

This movie moved me. Part of it is because it’s just legitimately touching and well-done, but it wasn’t all pleasant. Mainly because I realized I’ve got a fair amount of the mom in me.

I’ve always pushed Will to grow up and stop acting like such a child. I never understood the fun of “using your imagination,” and I still don’t. I chose journalism because it’s the opposite of creative writing and I liked recounting facts and actual happenings in a clear and concise way. I don’t like nonsense, tomfoolery, or whimsy. I live in the real world, and I make Will do the same.

As far as I’m concerned, when your head is in the clouds it just means you can’t see anything clearly.

The Little Prince makes a powerful argument against all that. It’s a nod to the fact that maybe the real world could use a little imagination and a little less rigidity. That there is room for silliness, innocence, and color amongst all the monotony. That growing up shouldn’t mean growing callous or losing all joy and frivolity. And it certainly doesn’t mean I should pass that along to my kids at such a young age.

Speaking of age, if you’re interested in knowing where you stand in The Little Prince’s eyes, you can take Netflix’s Grown-up Test. Here’s how Will ranked. Let’s just say I came in slightly older.

will little prince

Sometimes I watch TV to zone out because I just need something mindless to pass the time as I unwind. But occasionally you watch something that stops you in your tracks and makes you pay attention. If you’re up for it, I highly recommend it. And after you watch it, take the test with your kids and see how you rank.

As for me, I realized I need a little less adulting in my life. You never want to go “full grown-up,” and I intend to let my three little princes lead me back to some serious silliness in the near future.

*I am part of the Netflix Stream Team and received free products and Netflix for this post.

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There’s No Such Thing as Taking Too Many Pictures of Your Kids

cell phone

“Put the phone down.”
“You’re taking too many pictures of your kids.”
“Your eyes are the best camera.”

If you’re a parent with Internet access of any kind, you know how controversial a topic phones are in relation to your children. You can’t whip out a soon-to-be-outdated phablet without hitting some parenting “expert” or “guru” telling you what a materialistic and superficial jerk you are for posing your kids in a pumpkin patch or posting a selfie with the kids to Instagram during Touch-a-Truck.

I’m pretty confident in my parenting, but after reading so many of these articles talking about how I’m not actually enjoying life because I’m living it through my cell phone camera lens, I started to worry maybe they were right.

So one day I left the camera in the car.

I took Will and Sam on a hike through some local conservation land, and it was gorgeous. It was hot out, but felt 10 degrees cooler when we entered the forest and walked beneath the canopy of towering maple trees. The pine needles padded our steps and my boys bounded forward with youthful zeal, as slits of sunlight periodically found them and dotted their backs.

We explored the forest and inspected downed trees while wondering if a giant blew them over in a fit. We climbed rock formations and claimed them as newly discovered lands (Willtopia, SamLand, and Dada’s Village if you must know). We ran to the next trail map and studied it forcefully, as if it alone held the key to our ultimate survival.

And then we saw the butterfly.

A Monarch butterfly, you know the type. Wings a deep Halloween orange with jet black lines that made it look like an ornate stained glass window. Little white circles dot the tips of the wings and its head, as it rests on some grass seemingly weightless. It was totally still, and so were my boys. Enraptured. Until…

“Dada,” Sam whispered excitedly. “Take picture of butterfly!”


“Sammy, I can’t. I didn’t bring my phone with me,” I said with fear rising in my throat. “But that’s OK, wanna know why? Because we have something better than a camera — our eyes. Let’s look at the butterfly and study it really hard, and we’ll take a mental snapshot so we’ll always have the butterfly in our memory.”

I even did that thing where you make a camera out of your hands, hold it up to your eye and snap a “mental picture.” And I immediately recoiled in horror and felt an unyielding desire to kick my own ass.

He knew it was bullshit. I knew it was bullshit. Sam flipped out and started crying, because — well, that’s what almost 3-year-olds do. The unphotographed butterfly must have also sensed the bullshit level rise to dangerous levels, and with his moment of zen interrupted by shrieking, flew off for parts unknown.

In a desperate attempt to stop Sam’s meltdown, Will had a phenomenal idea. He reminded Sam about our geocaching adventures, and started talking about finding hidden treasure. This idea pleased Sam greatly as his sobs subsided and excitement took over as both boys turned to me for the coordinates to our next find.

Coordinates I didn’t have, because I didn’t have my phone with me.

Taking an excessive amount of pictures of your children and adventures is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a good thing. Committing things to memory and looking at the world absent a lens is overrated garbage, mainly because 1) taking pictures doesn’t always take you out of the moment, and 2) my memory sucks.

I’m a working dad. I’m up at 5:30 am, I work all day, I come home to parent, I do some more work, I go to bed. My mind is a ball of mush. It takes me at least two tries to get my kids’ names right, I poured my beer into a sippy cup last week, and the only things I truly remember are random ’90s song lyrics. So while it’s a noble thing to live in the moment and try to commit to memory the look on my sons’ faces when faced with the unparalleled wonder of a Monarch butterfly, I’d rather have my camera so I can have it forever and share it with the people I love who weren’t there.

Cell phone cameras are incredible and allow me to relive moments from years ago whenever I want. You’d be surprised how much I revisit them, especially now with Facebook’s “On This Day” feature that allows you to relive memories from years ago.

Excess can be a real problem in so many areas, but when it comes to pictures of the people and places I love most, there’s no such thing as too much. So have fun being “in the moment” and thinking you’re superior because you left your cell phone in the car. I’ll be busy happily recording memories and avoiding toddler meltdowns.

Just think, if I listened to the know-it-alls and didn’t have my phone with me, I’d miss moments like this.

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