It’s. About. Time.
Oh sure, consumer goods companies have been all about responding to the demographic changes and breakdown of gender stereotypes when it comes to women taking over traditional male roles.
Pink hammers, pink tape measures—heck, Bic went so far as to introduce a pink pen. A pen which, despite the loud and snarky protests of a certain daytime talk show host, was clearly a substantial step forward in gender equality.
But what of us men? What of the males aged 28-40 demographic (the Lost Generation, as I call us). When do we finally get to benefit from a market tailored to us?
According to Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert, our time is now.
In an interview with YMC, Lempert talked about one of the major food trends looming for 2013—man aisles, complete with “male-oriented foods and other products to make shopping and impulse buying more targeted.
"It's everything from having an aisle to barbeque meat and sauces to catering to the health needs of men," Lempert explained. "As more men are doing the shopping, these stores have to cater to them. Men are hunters and gatherers—if they can't find what they need in your store they'll go somewhere else."
Amen. Pardon me while I wipe away a tear. As a father who does the bulk of the grocery shopping for my family (Yes we can!), I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be catered to this way. So many hours wasted in the grocery store trying desperately to find BBQ sauce among those womanly condiments like red wine vinegar and mild salsa.
But why stop there, food industry? Sure, you’re serving my needs as a man but what about other overlooked and ignored parent groups?
Granted, a seismic shift in operations like the introduction of man aisles has to be all consuming for the merchandising teams in grocery chains across this nation so I’ll put my money with my mouth is and put forward a few ideas to get them started.
The Aisle of Deception
We all want our kids to eat healthy right? So let’s take all the sugary, processed crap your kids beg you for thanks to Saturday morning cartoons and put it in one aisle. Then, and here’s the key part, put the most inane, banal crap at either end. I’m talking Tupperware and disposable lasagna pans. Wheel your cart past, your kids see the boring stuff and you make it through unscathed. “Nothing down there but thermoses and pie plates. Sorry Timmy, I guess they don’t stock chocoblaster cereal at this store.” None will be the wiser.
Tempest in a Teapot Aisle
If you’re a connected parent, you know how hard it is to stay on top of all the flavor of the week boycotts we’re expected to get worked up about. I’m not talking about the actual ethical boycotts because of shady business practices or sketchy histories of labour abuses etc. No, I mean the social media shitstorms that spin up every time a CEO diddles an intern or some junior marketing person says something stupid on Twitter. You know, the boycotts we passionately observe for a day or two until we forget and move on to the next scandal? Wouldn’t it be great if there were an aisle dedicated to those products? We could just walk right past or, better yet, park at the end of said aisle and cast scorn on the uneducated who have no idea that there’s a YouTube video of that peanut butter brand’s CEO texting and driving. Ooh and there could be those squeaky saloon doors at either end like video rental stores used to use to close off the adult video section (you know, when video rental stores existed). The squeak of shame!
The Food Network Aisle
All parents like the Food Network right? So let’s cater to them! Why not have a theme aisle dedicated to some of the best programs. It could have a Chopped section full of random, obscure foods in blank packaging. Imagine the fun! Get home and start dinner, only to find you have to find a way to work Weeping Tibetan Candyfloss into your noodle caboodle casserole! Or there could be a Hell’s Kitchen section where the only things you can find are scallops, risotto and beef Wellingtons. Hell, why not go retro and have a Supermarket Sweep section? Obus Forme back rests and butcher cuts of prime meat as far as the eye can see.
And these are just the ideas I could rattle off with a few minutes and an extra large black coffee. Imagine if I had the R&D teams and demographic data that Big Grocery has at their fingertips!
Man aisles are just the start, people. The revolution in grocery shopping has begun. And I, for one, welcome it.
If there's one thing I've learned in my almost three years of parenting it's this: Someone somewhere has decided there's money to be made in children's programming. Cause MAN is there a lot of it.
Even though we've been largely successful at limiting our daughter's tube time, I've nonetheless been exposed to countless programs and characters. And let me tell you, for every ubiquitous phenomenon like Dora or Blue's Clues, there are handfuls of shows that even the most savvy of parent may not have heard of.
So whether you're a new parent dipping into the world of Treehouse and Disney Junior for the first time or if you're a season vet whose toddler is growing tired of his standard programming (spoiler alert, new parents, toddlers have short attention spans), the following guide should help you separate the wheat from the chaff. Or, at the very least, give you another option when you find yourself singing the Mail Time song while doing the dishes.
Note: We're a PVR and on-demand kind of family. I can't be sure if all of these shows are even still in production. Rest assured, though, they are all available. And kids aren't as fussy about reruns.
Dora the Explorer
Might as well get this one out of the way, right? Dora is a cultural juggernaut; my kid had a Dora backpack (but not THE backpack. Fans of the show know what I mean) even before she knew who Dora was. You can't stroll through a department or dollar store these days without seeing some sort of Dora-branded accessory. My take? Dora is LOUD, man. Elmo loud. And while I understand that repetition is important to learning, I can't believe there'd be a cognitive psychologist who would support the illogical extreme to which Dora takes that theory.
Case in point. The map song. Dora has a map. The map appears every episode. And every time the map appears, this song plays:
If, by some chance, you can't watch the video (or if you smartly opt not to), that's a 45-second song during which the words "I'm the map" are repeated 15 times. Yes, 15. I counted.
So she's loud, there's repetition and, oh yea, she speaks some Spanish. That's actually not a big deal to me, though it has made my daughter convinced that she too can speak Spanish (she can't) but it seems to come up a lot when people talk about Dora. So loud, repetitive and occasionally Spanish. Bring on the merch!
Special Agent Oso
This is a newer entry to the market, at least in our house, and it's one of the current favourites. Oso is a bear who is also a special agent in training. Every episode is a special assignment and each assignment requires Oso to complete three special steps (don't worry, there's a song that explains this).
A couple of things have made this one popular with Mom and Dad as well as the kid. Firstly, each assignment gets a name that closely mirrors a classic Bond film, complete with a theme song (Goldfeather, License to Clean, Leaf Raker etc.). Secondly? The title character is voiced by the guy that played Rudy! He even has one mission where he has to teach a kid named Rudy how to play football.
I know, right?
Finally, the three-steps-to-complete-the-mission framework has become a parenting staple for us when it comes time to get the kid moving. "Ok kiddo, special assignment get ready for bed! Step one: Put on your jammies! Step two: Brush and floss! Step three: Have your snack!" She actually gets us to rattle off the steps as we move through the routine. Score one for the unique stuffed bear.
Max and Ruby
One question: Where are the parents?
I honestly don't know a single parent that enjoys this show and, mercifully, the kid didn't seem enthralled either. This is worth a watch just once, though, if only so you can participate in the hilarious Twitter-based bitchfests about this one. Go ahead, ask where their parents are on Twitter then sit back and watch the sarcasm and conspiracy theories fly.
Toopy and Binoo
First off, let's hear it for some Canadian content, amiright? This was actually the first show my kid got hooked on and while a lot of people find Toopy's frenetic pace to be grating, my wife and I really like this one. First of all, the relationship between Toopy (an anthropomorphic mouse) and Binoo (his anthropomorphic but oddly mute stuffed bear) is awesome—Toopy may be a bit self-centred at times (read: he's a toddler) but he LOVES Binoo and takes very good care of him. Next, the two engage in all kinds of gender-bending fantasy play, which we think is pretty rad given the overwhelming amount of clearly gender targeted characters you find in this class of television.
Oh and it was originally a French program so if Dora has you yearning for a more appropriately-Canadian mix of language, you can dig up French episodes of Toupie et Binou.
Lastly, a review of Toopy and Binoo would not be complete without a nod to perhaps the greatest character on television today: Patchy-Patch, Binoo's stuffed animal. Understated (being a stuffed doll, and all) but still somehow more compelling than 90% of the characters you'll meet these days. Team Patchy-Patch for life, yo.
Last but not least, Disney's Doc McStuffins. I have nothing but good things to say about this show. Human characters who show an appropriate range of human emotion (hear that Dora? You don't have to yell ALL THE BLOODY TIME) with a mix of magic and fantasy. Doc is a young girl who runs a clinic for stuffed animals. Her mom and dad are commonly-appearing characters (looking at you, Max and Ruby) along with her brother and a variety of neighbourhood friends. The human characters are relatable, the toys are endearing and the plot isn't dumbed down or totally nonsensical (sorry Toopy). Oh and the father from Modern Family voiced a character one time. That's pretty cool
Warning. If you watch this show you will start singing the check up song. It's catchy. Don't fight it.
So there you have it. A quick field guide for discerning parents. Got other shows that are on steady rotation at your house? Let me know in the comments!
Oh sure, on the surface it seems glamourous—jetting off to the furthest reaches of the continent, riding in shiny elevators up to shiny offices, and sitting in shiny boardrooms all day long. Retiring at the end of the day to some cozy hotel room, a cocktail and room service feast to tide you over until you do it all again the next day. And to a parent, the allure can seem all the more, well, alluring. At no point in the day do you have to wipe Cheerios from your keyboard or hurriedly dab at a snot stain before it has a chance to crust over. Indeed, the first few business trips after our daughter was born did seem like something of a guilty pleasure—a small respite from the day-to-day demands of parenthood.
But the novelty has worn off.
And so, like those of our generation are so inclined to do, I turned to the internet for advice on how to cope with being a dad on the road. The advice was as wide ranging as it was well-intentioned. So wide ranging, in fact, I imagine it can be hard for new travellers to sift through the load and find the tips and tricks that really work. So, if you are among the ranks of the newly-minted travelling parents, allow me to help you bring the signal-to-noise ratio in line a bit.
Here are four tips for the travelling parent that have proven to be as ineffective as they are impractical:
1. Use FaceTime, Skype, or Google Plus to video conference with your loved ones, once a day.
This is, bar none, the most common piece of advice you'll encounter as you struggle to cope with being a parent across time zones. On the surface, it seems totally legit, too. Being able to see each other and interact as you catch up on what you missed that day—it's the next best thing to being there. Except that, for toddlers at least, seeing Daddy on the computer screen is significantly less interesting than anything else she usually sees on that screen.
Hmm, Daddy in a tie? Or Backyardigans?
And as though competing with Pablo and Tyrone wasn't challenging enough, you're also competing with everything else in her line of sight—teddy bears, dry cereal, her colouring book, the dog doing something silly . . . you don't stand a chance.
Add into this the fact that your poor spouse, on top of being a solo parent, has to make sure to be in front of the computer at a specified time. It's a great idea in theory, but so was communism.
2. Spend some one-on-one quality time together before and after your trip.
Ah, the old karma bank. This one actually does work, in as much as it does wonders for assuaging the parental guilt you might feel, but don't expect it to help make things any easier for the family you leave behind. Kids are experts at living in the now. Sure, my daughter has a blast running around the park and chasing imaginary pirates up and down the play structure ladders with Daddy, but that's largely forgotten when it's time to roll the suitcase into the driveway and wait for the taxi to the airport.
This isn't to say you shouldn't spend a little extra quality time with your kid before you head out—by all means, use any excuse you can muster to create more special one-on-one moments—but don't expect it to make it any easier when it comes time to leave.
That park trip was awesome, Daddy, but what have you done for me lately?
3. Record yourself singing her favourite songs and reading her favourite books.
The only thing more awkward than singing Snuggle Puppy and reading Love You Forever while the iMovie counter ticks along, is expecting your poor spouse to sit there holding the laptop up at bedtime while your child stares lovingly at the screen.
I have one question for the people who first suggested this—have you ever actually participated in a toddler bedtime?
My kid doesn't sit quietly while you sing or read. She interrupts. She asks questions. She turns pages back to see the picture you didn't spend enough time on. She doesn't want that song, she wants the other one.
I admit, I gave this one a crack, because bedtime is one of my favourite parts of the parental day. I love that my daughter loves books. I love that I get to sing her a lullabye as the last official act of bedtime. But I don't think my poor wife ever even tried to play the recordings and, in hindsight, I can't blame her one bit.
4. Bring home a souvenir.
This one can't fail, right? Kids love getting stuff. Positive reinforcement and all that. Sure Daddy went away, but he brought you back something.
I actually did this once. My daughter is now the proud owner of a postcard from Cleveland. At the time she was obsessed with mail (it's Blue's Clues' fault), and I thought she'd dig getting a postcard just for her. And she did. For a few minutes. Then her attention turned to something else.
This one might make more sense when she gets a bit older, but, frankly, she has enough stuff right now, she doesn't need me adding to the pile every time I go away. Furthermore, there are times when I'm travelling once a week—buying her love back would break the bank. And just how many Calgary-themed tchotchkes does one toddler need?
Special bonus: One tip that actually does work!
Ok, it's not all doom and gloom. I have found one thing that helps, at least a little. Ready?
Take care of your spouse and make for damn sure he/she knows how grateful you are.
Let's be honest, travelling is hard on the traveller. It's hard on the kid. But it is HELL on the parent that stays home. I am lucky that I married an honest-to-goodness super hero! When I'm on the road, it's my wife that keeps things on the rails. So, I try to do little things that help. Measure out and grind the coffee beans for the week; prepare a meal or two that can sit in the fridge, so she just has to pull them out and heat them up; and get the laundry done and folded before I go.
And most importantly, I talk to her every night after the kid is in bed and her duties as a parent are over for the day, and remind her that I know how lucky I am.