Monday, March 25, 2013

The Ins and Outs of Kids Shows

Top 5 Haters

1. Caillou

I don't know anyone that actually likes this stupid little annoying kid, except for my 2 year old. My theory is that the primary colors somehow lull you into some trance that prevents you from changing the channel. Many Dad Bloggers have written about him. He whines, he never uses his manners, and frankly after watching 20 minutes I want to go punch a wall. The worst is when the kids go to bed and I turn on the TV and there he is. It usually has be scrambling for the remote just to get it out of my head. There are people and other kids that like him like The Rock Father who wrote Caillou Rocks, so stop the hate. For more on Caillou's "fans" check out How To Be A Dad's Post called Caillou is French For Shut Up

2. Dora The Explorer

My theory is that her gigantic head is what makes her want to say everything as loud as possible. Would it kill you to teach my kids to say things quieter and less frequently? Like making little kids yell and repeat is a skill that haven't yet acquired. My son, who loved Dora as a three year old and is now seven frequently takes the "interactive" experience of the show to a twisted place. When my younger daughters watch Dora he responds to her questions often leading her down the path with crocodiles and snakes waiting to see if Map sets her on a three step path to the ER.

3. Yo Gabba Gabba

I think that the concept of this show is pretty cool but is one of the characters called FUPA? How about Muno? Is he not a studded dildo or is it just me? What pushed me over the edge was the LOVE episode where they are singing "Be Nice To Everyone and You Will Have More Friends" I really wish that was true but NYC, Philly, and Boston kids be careful! Check out this gem of a photo? Is the BooHoo character not a giant penis? When BooHoo and Muno hugged I just about peed my pants from laughter. I mean seriously, when someone was making this costume weren't they like "Hey, that's a giant penis!" For corroborating evidence visit Banana Hammocks and Tutus Blog called Yo Orga Orga!(sm) from Summer Len Davis. Check out her new blog called Dirty Floor Diaries too.

4. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse

Huge fan of Mickey Mouse and his gang but lots of people know that Disney movies are perverted. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse's theme song is no different. They Might Be Giants sings the theme and the Hot Dog song....yeah but, I just can't get past the "Come inside it's fun inside" line. Every time I hear that song I giggle to myself in a Beavis and Butt-head sort of way. They said come inside. He he he he.

5. Spongebob Squarepants

This show is just dumb and I think that sometimes it is borderline inappropriate for small children. It kind of harkens back to the old cartoons like Ren and Stimpy. Disgusting is funny if you are a walking, talking sponge who wears underpants and has the most annoying laugh ever. I do like Patrick however because he is so chill and he gets extra points for being a starfish because to eat they actually eject their stomachs out of their bodies to digest something. Now THAT would be cool.

Top 5 Shows My Kids Love

1. Lazytown

This is by far, my 2 year old daughter's favorite show. Maybe because it features a superhero who does gymnastics everywhere he goes. It is featured on Sprout on the Super Sproulet Show. Bean is the host of the show who looks around for little kids (Sproutlets) who are active and doing great things for the world. I wonder what Bean is like in real life. Is she super spunky or emo? Because on the show she is over the top nice and her blue ponytails are mesmerizing. Lazytown is about a girl, Stephanie, who wears nothing but pink including her hair who makes friends with the local kids. All the other kids in the show are puppets except for Stephanie, Sportacus, and the villian, Robbie Rotten who wants to stop all the kids from being active and exercising. While the puppets can be creepy and the plasticity of the supporting characters can be unnerving, at least it teaches kids to get moving. My only real beef is that they refer to fruits and vegetables as "sports candy". Why not call them sports fuel or something like that? At the very end of the show you will be awarded with a techno dance song that sounds like every Aqua song ever made...wait they only had one didn't they? The show is Icelandic and if my hunch is right Bjork just might pop up at any given moment.

2. Timmy Time

I will always be a fan of claymation. Stop motion shows are incredible feats of time and patience and when I first saw Timmy Time it reminded me of The California Raisins when I was a kid. Unfortunately, now with CGI being so prevalent, shows that used to use claymation like Fireman Sam and even Thomas the Train lost some of their appeal to me. Timmy Time is about a cute little sheep that goes off toe pre-school and all the adventures and lessons he learns along the way. By far my favorite part of the show is that all the character's "words" are only the sounds that that animal would make. Check out the Timmy Time site here. What I love about this is that the show is entirely interpretation and not tied to dialogue. I have seen my two year old laugh more at this show than any because she REALLY watches it closely.

3. Team Umizoomi

My five year old daughter likes this show more than any other and I am hoping the early influence and interest in math leads somewhere good. If you are an Umi Friend then you know that the main characters are Millie with the power of patterns, Geo with the power of shapes, and Bot, their all purpose robot friend. The show really teaches problem solving and uses counting and mathematics as its jumping point.

4. Wonder Pets

Once again, maybe it is the way it is animated but I never get tired of the Wonder Pets. They have cool little songs, they talk about teamwork, and let's face it, the characters are cute. Linny, Tuck and Ming-ming too, they are Wonder Pets and they'll hook you. The creator, Josh Selig has made other shows that are just as entertaining like Small Potatoes and 3rd and Bird, using the same technique and funny dialog. My older kids when they were three years old all loved this show. As a stay at home dad, I would try and take things they liked and turn it into playing scenarios. If your house is like mine you have an abundance of stuffed animals. I would hide the stuffed animals in precarious situations around the house and my son and I would don our capes and save the animals in trouble. I still remember him talking like a little baby saying "Theyes an aminal in twumble!"

5. Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood

Let's face it. There is no replacing Mister Rocger's Neighborhood. Quite possibly, the best children's show ever made. But, PBS does an excellent job capturing what was good about Mr. Rogers in Daniel Tiger. He talks about feelings and they visit cool places. He even dons a red sweatshirt and puts on his shoes on the front bench. While most people might be disappointed with the animation I think that seeing the world that some of us grew up in this way makes it much more interesting to the kids today.And hey, yeah, it's PBS, so it has to be good right?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Three Canvas Prints Giveaway from Printcopia

I don't know about you, but I am always taking pictures of my kids and family. Wouldn't it be great if you could upload a picture to a website and they could print it right onto a high quality canvas for you? Guess what? You can!

DadNCharge is teaming up with other mom and dad bloggers for this spectacular giveaway. All made possible by Oren Miller of A Blogger and a Father.

If you want to enter, just create your entries at the end of this post using the Rafflecopter form. It's so easy! You can earn up to 42 entries for this incredible product.

Printcopia is giving away Three Canvas Prints in this Giveaway.

You can turn your art and photographs into gallery quality canvas!

The amazing thing is, using Printcopia, you can print your pictures directly from Facebook or Instagram. How cool is that? I went to their site, pulled my pictures from Instagram and tweaked the image. Here is what my favorite prints of my daughters would look like

Never heard of Printcopia? Well, take a look at this example below.

A fellow Dad Blogger, Designer Daddy recently received a canvas from Printcopia. That's his adorable son in the photograph. Read his Review of the Canvas Prints Here.

Here is some information about the company:

Transform Your Photos

Turn your favorite photos into beautiful pieces of art. We use only the highest quality material canvases and inks to ensure that your artwork will look great and last a lifetime. If you're looking to decorate your home or office, our canvas prints offer an excellent solution to liven up any space.

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This giveaway will begin on 3/20/2013 and run for two weeks
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Saturday, March 16, 2013

10 Ways St. Patrick's Day Is Different

I'm not Irish but I was adopted into everything Gaelic on a technicality. My best friend from college, Tracy Gilbert, no that doesn't sound Irish at all, and I used to frequently attend many a night at Vaughn's Pub in Chicago. I was easily the tallest guy in there and the Irish guys off the boat would marvel at my gargantuan stature and often buy a Guinness for the "Two Meter Man". We went to Gaelic Park for Irish Fest, went to Irish Pubs, and fended off poor Irish dancers at the end of the night at Laskos. After visiting Ireland twice with Trey, I got to see first hand what the Emerald Isle was all about and not just through the eyes of Patrick, who I thought literally lived at the end of the bar.

The two times I went to Ireland I had many magical adventures and not the kind that you read about on the back of a Lucky Charms box. I went first when I graduated from college in 1996 and again in 2000. As I look back on the pictures of both trips I remember how 1) digital cameras didn't exist 2)How few pictures there were the second time and probably for good reason. Both times I managed to climb Croagh Patrick, kissed the Blarney Stone while a shady Irish man spotted me ensuring I would "mind my nut", and toured the Aran Islands on a bike. Well, that was too much work so we ended up in a pub of all places and parked our bikes outside but hey, we gave it 10 minutes!

While there was no pot of gold, there were many pints consumed and even run ins with the Garda. Guiness is good for you but can also have some influence. Clearly,a lot has changed since then. A LOT. I had hair back then and lots of it. And it made me think back to the times I had in Chicago with the Irish and how I used to celebrate St. Patrick's Day as compared to now. I will fondly remember drinking green beer while they dyed the Chicago River an even brighter green than it usually is.

So here's my list of St. Patrick's Day comparisons between BEFORE and NOW. Cue the pipers!

1) Before, I thought Leprechauns were chasing me. Now I am the one chasing little leprechauns.

2) Before I was trying to figure out ways to snare an Irish lass. Now, I am trying to figure out ways to "capture" an imaginary character for my kids.

3) Before I was drinking until the wee hours of the morning. Now I am getting up in the middle of the night to go wee.

4) Before I marched in the St. Patty's Day parade in Chicago. Now I march around the living room playing Hot Hot Hot!

5) Before, I used to go Irish bar hopping with no coat in the Windy City. Now, if my kids aren't completely covered I tell them they are going to get sick.

6) Before I used to go to Gaelic Park. Now we just go to the park.

7) Before, I used to start drinking at 10 am and go until 4 am the next day. Now, I can hardly get through the day without an afternoon nap.

8) Before, we were Patty training. Now, we are Potty training.

9) Before I was spending lots of time with pint sized things. Now I am spending time with pint sized children.

10) Before I was happy if I passed out using a pizza box as a pillow. Now, I am glad that I survived all that stuff to be where I am today.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Playskool Goes Old Skool

Playskool went old school, but this time in good way. This all started when Playskool made what parents who stay at home call a boo-boo. Their mistake is one that I would consider an online blunder; an entry on Twitter that was poorly worded that offended many dads and moms in the Twitterverse. On March 3rd they tweeted this:

As my blog and Twitter handle both aptly reflected there were many days where dad has been in charge and will continue to be, so I felt inclined to respond like this on March 4th:

The very next day,March 5th, I received an email from Playskool's PR company apologizing for the Tweet and asking for my address to be contacted. On March 8th, I received this handwritten note from Jerry Perez, GM of Playskool:

Posted by Picasa  Click on the image for a larger view

If there is one thing that my wife has taught me about etiquette, and believe me these are ongoing lessons, a handwritten note goes a long way. It could have been easy for Playskool to discount my Tweet. They could have waived it off as an oversensitive dad blogger looking for a fight. What they did instead was show how going "old school" can pay off when it comes to your customers. In the age where emails, conference calls, and communication via text runs rampant it was nice to receive an apology on paper, through the mail. Whether it was done by an intern or Jerry himself I will never know.

What I do know is that it is the thought that counts and Playskool, I appreciate the sentiment. If there is something I would want my kids to learn about this experience that is, that if you believe strongly enough about something then you should act on it and follow through.

I wasn't looking for a free PotatoHead, though I do enjoy the Star Wars variety of spud related toys, or a discount off their products but rather validation that my opinion counts to a big brand like Playskool. Jerry Perez, you are class act and Playskool you are OK in my book too. Thanks for taking us dads as consumers of your products seriously and writing to us. We accept your apology. Now, don't let it happen again or I am going to have to put you in a time out.

Friday, March 8, 2013

My 2 Year Old is Addicted to Video Games

When I was a kid, my parents didn’t follow the norm. Most of my friends had Atari. Some of them had Coleco Vision and I had a gaming system created by Bally, the same company that made pinball machines. No one I knew ever heard of the games my brothers and I played so when my friends asked me to come over and play I jumped at the chance to play Pitfall and Donkey Kong.

Before video games came along we were playing outside, inventing games and using our imaginations to keep us busy. That has all changed with video games. A game of catch is no longer the biggest time killer, it’s Minecraft of Skylanders. I still loved video games as a kid though. With three brothers and only one Electronic Football game when it was your turn to play, it was sheer joy. It’s amazing to think how little lines and dots used to keep us glued to a screen but the possibility of an unpredictable outcome with you as the quarterback was alluring.

When I was old enough to ride my bike, I would ride with my friends to the nearest pizza place or laundry mat where they had arcade video games. I even stole from my mom’s purse to regularly play at a diner in our town that my friend and I became obsessed with obtaining the high score. What was it about these games that had me so hooked? I suppose it was the escape from the everyday; the ability to become an extension of that corporal space marine trying to rid the world of evil from an alien invasion. The things you could be! You could become a Paperboy, Tony Hawk, or even a Spy Hunter. It was cool and I felt cool playing it. At the local pizza place they had the gorier games cordoned off in an 18 and over area but we still snuck in. Having it hidden away just made us want to know more why it was. This is when games become an obsession and I think it has followed me all my life.

College was an easy way for this obsession to get out of hand. What else was there to do besides study, drink, watch Tommy Boy for the 99th time, and play Nintendo? We played Tecmo bowl endlessly. I even remember two guys getting into a fight over a controversial move in the championship game.
When I met my wife, I still was playing video games. She couldn’t understand how a grown man could sit in front of a TV and play these games for hours at a time. Sometimes I played so much late at night that it started to affect our relationship. She questioned whether playing the game was more important than spending time with her in the evenings. This is when I first realized that the obsession had a real hold on me. Sometimes out in the real world I would be thinking about a certain level or a part I couldn’t get past and it drove me nuts! When online gaming came out I ignored becoming involved for fear that it would spiral out of control.
When my son was born, I would play video games while he slept on me and I couldn’t wait until I could play with him but I was also worried that too much exposure would ruin him. Would I be his pusher that got him addicted to gaming? I was excited but also afraid of what it might do to him. I was convinced that I could control it.
So why would I then introduce this to my son? It’s a double edged sword. It can be so fun, but just like anything that you enjoy; it must be done with moderation. I like to treat screen time just like anything you limit with kids like candy, juice, or ice cream. Binging on video games is not going to be healthy for anyone so I needed to have a plan about how I could successfully introduce it to my son. Introducing my son to video games started with me talking to my wife about it. She knew how it could have a hold on me so we decided on some guidelines to minimize the risk. She has always been the level headed one when it came to screen time. She denied my request to put in the DVD package in our new minivan like every other family I knew. I am glad she did because it would be too easy to put that on every time we went somewhere like some people do. How many times have you driven to the grocery store and someone has a movie on? It’s mesmerizing and scary that we rely so much on TV to keep us constantly entertained.
We started my son off on Leapster games. We felt better about it because it was more educational and interactive. Right around year five was when some of his classmates started showing up with the Nintendo DS. Portable gaming had been around with Gameboy but I was never allowed to have one. I had lots of systems growing up like Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis, and Playstation. But when the Wii came out and I heard that the games were geared more towards kids, I was pretty excited when my son became old enough to learn how to play along with me.

Our first game together was Lego: Star Wars. I previewed it before I decided, with my wife’s blessing, to try and teach my son. I felt that because there were unlimited lives and no gore that it was more appropriate for him to watch. While you still die in the game, your character breaks apart into Lego pieces; it is very ingenious. The gameplay is also great because of the way the story is told. It is told in a comedic way and has lots of funny scenes that kids enjoy as well as big kids like me.
We bonded while playing this game together. We played it when his younger sister was napping and it became “our time” to share something we both loved. He soon wanted to play other games and each time he would request it, I would so some research on the game and actually go and play it to preview it for him. If I felt it was too stressful or not appropriate I would tell him. I thought it was an important lesson to teach him about the rating system. The first time he bought a game for himself, we went to the store together. I showed him the box and he found the rating. We spent some time in the store going over which games were appropriate and which ones weren’t and he understood it right away. In fact, when he goes to friend’s houses, if he feels uncomfortable about a certain game because of the rating he will tell the adult at the playdate.
In our house we base everything around what is appropriate or inappropriate behavior for his age. We use the ratings system as a starting point. Of course, we have taught him from day one that potty talk is not appropriate and that he should treat others with respect, especially girls, which makes him very different from the other boys in his class who are playing Halo and Medal of Honor. I just don’t understand how other parents can allow this kind of exposure to young children.
I personally don’t believe that video game violence is appropriate for my son, who is seven, much in the same way I don’t allow him to watch the evening news about the shooting in the city or how an exterminator set a pediatrician on fire. I don’t think kids should see this sort of thing and the same goes for video game violence. Violent games are definitely geared towards boys. I remember when Grand Theft Auto came out and why it was so popular with the teenage boys. It has language, nudity, violence, guns, and cars. What more could a boy ask for? As a former high school teacher I can tell you that the main reason homework is not getting done is because online gaming is so fun but also addictive.

For this reason, we stress the importance of restricting screen time to one hour on the weekdays only if his homework is done for the day and the maximum time is not lenient. Since talking to my son about the rating system, he has yet to challenge me with any game that does not fall within our parameters. I think that is a testament to the clearness of our message of what is appropriate.

Personally, I really do struggle with screen time. As a blogger and someone who still plays video games I am using quite a bit. My wife would say I am addicted to interacting with my phone, computer, and iPad. In an age of social media where things are constantly happening, it is hard not to want to check it all the time and I really struggle with it. When my wife took of picture of me checking my phone during Christmas I felt guilty. The obsession is always there, hanging around.
Technology is great but my two year old is addicted to apps on the iPad. Sure, she can navigate the screens and interact, but when it is time to play together on the floor she is less interested and that scares me. When I take it, she screams. I get it. I am literally taking candy from a baby. It’s my fault. I am letting her get hooked. When my second child was born, we followed the same protocol. We let her use my son’s Leapster and ever purchased a Princess related game for her to play. She enjoyed this game but never got into it like my son. I would have to limit his time on it while she would lose interest and move onto something else.
I wanted to keep things fair between the two so when she was not napping anymore and my son was at school, I tried to teach her video games too. When my daughter turned four, I bought her a Princess game that we could play together. She would often get frustrated and would get emotional about the game when she couldn’t do the task required. I don’t know if it is just her aptitude, but she just never got into it like my son did and when she deferred to making art instead as her favorite activity, this art teacher just focused on that instead. The fact is that video games are not marketed towards girls just like Legos have just now made strides to include girls in building play. So with her and video games I gave up until my wife suggested Just Dance for the Wii. She loved the songs and dance moves and seems to be the perfect fit for her because she can play with her older brother.

When my youngest was born I realized quickly that this technology thing is going to be a challenge to control. We still have the Leapster and she can play that to some extent but what she has observed growing up is my son playing video games, my daughter playing on the iPad, me playing on my phone and sitting in front of the computer. I know exactly why this is so. I got lazy. It’s just much easier to give her the iPad so that I can clean the kitchen and not worry that she is destroying the house while I am cleaning it. It’s too easy to turn on the TV or hand her the iPad instead of giving her a puzzle which she may or may not be interested in for any amount of time.
Screen time needs to be limited because there is always someone that wants to play with me instead and this is a good thing for me and my kids. I need to focus on things that are more hands on and offer real life experiences rather than plopping down in front of the TV. We all know why they call it a “boob tube” because sitting in front of a TV for endless hours at a time is never going to be good for your well-being as being active and doing some activity that will challenge your brain.
I am determined to make sure it doesn’t become an obsession with my kids. We combat this reliance on screen time by playing outside. When I was a kid, we used to make up games and just play and I think that getting back to that is even more important with all of these screens vying for attention. My son does Boy Scouts and I am teaching him baseball as he will start on an organized team in the spring. The younger kids play tag, go on the swing set, or ride their bikes.
My wife says that my two-year old needs an iPad intervention and she is right. I am failing the youngest by not teaching her the things we taught my son before iPads and smartphones were so prevalent. I also need to show more restraint and teach her how to play or it will fail her in the future. Doing a puzzle on an iPad is not the same as doing it in real life. It’s too easy to defer to the screen to keep the younger ones occupied when all I really need to do is play with her one on one. It can be a crutch and it can lead to obsession.

The obsession definitely stems from what the kids see, so I am trying to make more of an effort to not give in to its alluring call. I don’t want the addiction to get my baby girl. So, I am making an effort to put the technology away and get back to what kids and I should be doing, playing together without distraction. I need to remember what I did as a kid before all of this was possible. We can go outside, we can create some art, and we can play together. I need to get away from screen time and get back to WE time. Yesterday, I was at my son’s karate class and every parent had some sort of tablet. No one was watching their kids. Not one, except for me. I would have missed the moment that he looked over at me to see if I was watching; I gave him a wink and he gave me a smile. I am glad that the screen didn’t keep me from it.

This post also was featured on
The Good Men Project, March 6th 2013, My 2 Year Old Is Addicted To Video Games

Monday, March 4, 2013

1983 was Mr. Mom's Year. It's 2013. Just Call Me Dad.

You wouldn’t want to carry the cell phone on the far left around with you, so why would you continue to call Stay At Home Dads, “Mr. Mom”? Back in 1983, this cell phone was the norm but so was calling a dad who stays at home a “Mr. Mom”. Look at how far we have come when it comes to current smartphones; they have evolved over time, so why would we want to regress? Times have changed and so have the roles of fathers in their children’s lives. We are no longer stuck behind desks or in jobs that we really don’t love. Sometimes, losing our job was the best thing that ever happened to us and we are closer to our kids because of it. Dads are taking an active role in raising the children and staying at home. Whether our wives are medical professionals, advancing their degrees, or climbing the corporate ladder, one thing is for sure, there is a dedicated dad at home helping to make this happen.

I wouldn’t base my knowledge of Australia based on what I have seen in Crocodile Dundee so why would I use a reference in a film that is not only dated but also sexist? Fellow blogger Chris Routly, of The Daddy Doctrines wrote on his blog that these stereotypes don’t stop there. Unfortunately, working moms are also feeling the opposite pressure from men referring to working women as “Mrs. Dad”. We are so mired in sticking to traditional values that we can’t see that these changing roles are good for our children and working for our families? We need to rewrite our expectations for a societal norm and accept that the world must evolve with our ever changing culture.

An involved father is always going to be a positive in a child’s life and studies have found that they can have a positive impact on their growth as well. Anne Karpf of The Guardian writes in an article called Let's hear it for stay-at-home fathers “There's no better lesson in egalitarianism than learning that your parents are essentially interchangeable. Children of involved fathers are more cognitively competent at six months, have higher IQs at 3, do better academically, are less likely to be obese or have behavioural problems or suffer depression, are less likely to become pregnant as a teenager, accept themselves more, are more empathetic and less likely to divorce.” Those are all amazing things yet when we see a dad caring for their kids in the very same way that moms do, we are referred to as “Mr.Mom”.

Other bloggers don’t always agree. They say we are whining and claim that we should “man up”. Isn’t taking responsibility for our children manning up? As the husband of a rising corporate star I always knew that staying at home was my destiny. I was a teacher in an elementary school and later, a high school. Clearly, I could handle other people’s kids for eight to ten hours of my day but could I do the same for my children? The answer is a resounding yes, and I know many other dads who are doing the exact same thing all over the country. I knew that I could and I chose this job because of my love for my children over everything else. Just because I don’t want to be called Mr. Mom doesn’t make me any less of a man. In fact it makes me more of a man trying to stand up against an outdated stereotype. If you want to help us get rid of the term "Mr. Mom" check out The National At Home Dad Network site and see how you can contribute. Who wants to be a stereotype anyway? It's time for the new dad.

How about instead of asking us “Are you giving mommy the day off?” or “Are you babysitting today?” ask instead what we have planned for the day. Tell us that we are doing a great job like all the other parents at the grocery store, it won’t go unnoticed. Instead, people assume that something has gone awry. As a stay at home dad for the past four years I can honestly say that I have seen an increasing number of men carting their kids around everywhere. Even if most of them don’t turn out to be SAHDs I make it a point to say “Hey, you are doing a great job with your kids”. Some of them give me an odd look, maybe because it is a nice thing to say in Philly, which may be unexpected but for that one guy out of ten, it may be his first day out with the kids and after a kind word like that he will think “Hey, maybe I got this!” You do, Dads. You got this.

Lots of good came out of 1983. The A-Team TV show made its first debut, Hulk Hogan pinned the Iron Sheik for the WWF title, Michael Jackson’s Thriller album went #1 and stayed there for 37 weeks. Is any of this relevant in today’s society? Not really. It’s in the past. I’m not one for dwelling on the past. Let’s look forward to the future; a future without Mr. Mom.