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to division of responsibilities, career versus home decisions,
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Some of my favorite emails these days are ones from young, unmarried, childless, often completely unattached women. Women who can't imagine having children with someone who would be less than an equal partner, but who have been beaten down in their idealism for thinking they could find a man who would want this too. The discussion of ESP in the NY Times has resonated in their souls, and they have wandered over to this website in search of hope.I am here to proclaim that their dreams can rest on far more than hope. I, too, had this dream, and I'm extremely thankful I didn't settle for a partner who didn't share it. Judging from some of my previous partner-contenders, I narrowly escaped a life of traditional household burden and full childraising responsibility (however joyful children are, for those who bristle at the thought that a mother might actually say her children are burdensome). But through a combination of luck and something like "it had to be this way," I found a guy who not only shares my desire for an equal partnership, but would have refused to marry me and create children with me if I felt otherwise. I am not the luckiest woman on Earth, and Marc is not a saint. There are solid reasons why ESP appeals to both of us and is in fact the only way we can fathom to live. In a nutshell, ESP gives us two coveted possessions: Equality and Balance. More than any worldly riches, I want an equal partner to walk through life with, and Marc wants a balanced life with breathing room for fun and joy. And these qualities are what the majority of young women and men say they want, according to statistics from leading sociologists studying Generation Y and as evidenced by the many emails we've received from men and women in this age group. So, to all the young women (and men) out there hoping that their someday-partners will accept and embrace their dream of ESP, I say you are in good company. Your pool of mates is ever widening, and you are a prize catch. Hold out for someone who shares your vision, and who doesn't have to be convinced of its merits, and together you can forge the right path for you.
Not the Same Ol' Same Old
Another one of the themes among the critics of ESP is the notion of "What's so special about this? Everyone I know is already doing it." If you define ESP as an arrangement in which two parents share running their family, I would agree with this criticism. Most couples have discussions about how to divide up the tasks of running a home, even if the end result is far from equal. But we're talking about something quite different with ESP. With ESP, each parent feels neither of them does more at home and that neither of their careers is considered less important than the other's. Both say they participate equally in household management and decision-making, and in the depth of their relationship with their children.Now, no ESP couple practices perfect equality - so technically no one can claim exact 50/50 sharing. But assume that the viewpoint is more of an overall equality of ownership and involvement. The sad truth is that, today, few couples practice ESP. I can usually tell those who do because their eyes light up when I mention the topic and they can't wait to chime in with, "Wow - us too, and we've always felt different than others." That's not to say non-ESP couples aren't happy, or that they couldn't work toward equal sharing if they felt it appealed to them. We firmly believe that any couple can practice ESP if both partners want it enough, and if both are willing to traverse the barriers society and life put up to get there.The world is not a bad place because not every parenting couple operates like an ESP family. In fact, I imagine parts of the world would suffer if 'everyone does it.' Who would run for President, for example? A couple of interesting articles printed in the wake of the NY Times story on ESP have compared Marc and me to Barack and Michelle Obama. The Obamas are closer to an equal couple than any other (hopeful) presidential couple has ever been, with Michelle playing the primary breadwinner role in their past and not content to be only the woman behind the man. But I don't think the world is ready for a President who's life is in balance - who is responsible for half of the childraising and housework functions of the family (despite the high level of outsourcing afforded a President of the US). No, we want being the President to be a 24/7 job, interrupted only by the sleep required of the human body. So the Obamas can't be an ESP couple right now.To get back to the argument that equal sharing is the American norm, let me end this post by describing ESP in a bit more detail than our 'official' definition in our What is Equally Shared Parenting? essay. ESP is the equal sharing, on average, of each of four domains of family life between an intact couple with children; those domains are housework (or all the work, including one-time projects, of running the home), childraising, breadwinning and recreation (or time for self). Yes, many couples share - even equally - the daily repetitive housework. But when you share equally in each of the four domains, the rare magic of ESP comes through!
ESP for Men?
Over the last couple of years we have received numerous questions about ESP both from our personal lives and through this website. Previously, we posted answers to these questions through a now defunct section of the website called Question of the Week. We are going to revisit some of these questions in the coming weeks as a way to address a few common themes.Question:
This equal thing is all well and good, but come on...isn't it just a way to get guys to do more housework and change more diapers? I'm a very involved dad but I have no interest in more chores. What would make a guy want to subscribe to this way of life?
I expect that this question would be foremost on a guy's mind when he first hits this website, and I've even had friends jokingly say 'Shhh...don't tell my wife about this - you'll ruin it for the rest of us'. But believe me, if anything, it was ME driving the equality thing rather than Amy from the very beginning, because it is good for my own balance and happiness. For me, this is not about feminism or fairness (although I'm certainly not against those).
Trying to convince you to equally share is fruitless. I don't want to be in that business, and a man who begrudges this option will not be successful in making it work. That said, in choosing to equally share with Amy, I get a lot in return. I get:
- A happy wife
- Guilt-free recreation time for myself
- Less stress by not being the family's only breadwinner
- Even more closeness with my kids
- Being appreciated, not nagged, for the work I do around the house
So for all those guys whose gut reaction is fear that their wives will see this website, there is a huge flip side to doing more dishes or laundry. There are even big reasons why our wives wouldn't want anything to do with equal sharing - things like having to let go of full control of the kids and the house, or having to be out in the working world for decades like men. On the surface, these reactions of ours and theirs can seem justified, but the rewards for reaching equality are so much greater for both parents.
Equally Shared Parenting on NPR
Following in the wake of Lisa Belkin's NY Times Magazine story on ESP, we're happy to let you know we were guests on National Public Radio yesterday - on the Patt Morrison Show broadcasting in Southern California. Our colleagues Francine Deutsch from Mount Holyoke and Jessica DeGroot from ThirdPath Institute were also on the show, and equally shared parenting was well showcased. It was our first time on live radio and we had a blast!If you're interested in listening to the segment, click over to Patt's show and listen from your computer or download a podcast to go. The segment is about a half hour in duration. Scroll down to her 6/23/08 show and click on the 'When Mom and Dad Share It All' title. Tip: when you get to the commercial/news break, skip over the horrible news story they cover about an abused child; it made us queasy when we were forced to listen to it on hold.Enjoy!
Our Infamous Laundry
Our laundry has become a topic of national attention. For some reason, it is fascinating to many who read the NY Times Magazine article on ESP that Amy does the light laundry and I do the darks. We've been accused of running a house with all tasks split exactly down the middle - of running our marriage like a business arrangement that sucks the intimacy and love out of our relationship. The idea that our laundry sharing is so clearly defined seems somehow to mean we don't love each other. After all, if two people care about each other, won't everything just fall into place without discussion or a plan to share equally? Love conquers all, right?Well, judging from the fact that most couples don't come anywhere close to sharing the housework, either very few couples actually love each other or something else may be at play here. Yes, some lucky ESP couples come by their equal housework sharing completely naturally. They are just a perfect blend of male domesticity and female sloppiness. Many, however, have to create this equality through communication and decision-making.If a couple is motivated to share the housework fairly, they have to ask each other some questions in order to set the stage for this sharing to happen. Questions like...
Nature is a very handy housework equalizer for ESP couples who have already worked out their work and childraising schedules. It comes naturally for most to handle the housework without much communication. If I'm home, I'll cook; if she's home, she'll do it. But occasionally, a task that a couple desires to share equally gets out of whack. This is exactly what happened with our laundry. Without accusing, or silent smoldering rage, Amy simply noticed over time that she had morphed into the family laundress. She mentioned it one night, as in "I've been doing all the laundry - what's up with that?" I agreed - she had. Then we wondered why. It could have been fine that Amy did it all; perhaps I could have been doing all of several other chores and the bottom line housework time could have been about equal.
- Do we want to split a task equally or divide tasks by interest?
- For the tasks we want to share together, do we need to come up with a way to do that or will this just come naturally?
In our case, we didn't like that Amy did all the laundry because laundry was something we wanted to share. So we figured out why it had fallen to Amy: she has a much lower threshold for running the washer than I do. If the basket is full, Amy instinctively dumps it in the washing machine. I, on the other hand, am perfectly content to let a few loads pile up and do them all on the weekend. Different styles. Once we figured that out, we came up with the lights/darks solution to preserve our ability to share laundry and allow us each to maintain our own perfectly acceptable way of doing it. Now, we each go about our own laundry business without being held up or pushed by the other, and without sacrificing our laundry equality. It works well for us. And it isn't so rigid that we don't help each other out all the time.To me (and Amy), our laundry solution exemplifies our joint commitment to ESP and to each other. We are both committed to preserving our balanced lives and the best life for each other. Either is free to bring up inequalities that become bothersome, and we are dedicated to hearing each other out to come up with a solution that works for both of us. I think this speaks of love more than anything else.What interesting solutions have you come up with for sharing a specific task equally?
A Core Competency Life
Just a quick post to point you to one of my favorite media takes on the NY Times story. This one comes from Laura Vanderkam, author of Grindhopping, and appears in The Huffington Post as one of a series of articles she has written on 'Core Competency Moms.' We'd prefer 'Core Competency Parents,' of course, but her series deals with prioritizing your life and being conscious about how you are spending your time.I love Ms Vanderkam's take on ESP, and am especially fond of this sentence: "It is as much a slander to deny men's talents in [nurturing children] as to claim women can't be doctors, engineers or heads of state."And of course, who wouldn't love the ending: "...maybe, maybe, the Vachons are the leading edge of true social change." Thanks, Laura V., for a thoughtful essay.
New Real Life Story
One of the great joys of being featured in the New York Times Sunday Magazine last week has been receiving messages from many couples who reported living the ESP lifestyle as well. One couple wrote in their blog that they could have easily been a subject in the piece. In their passion for this lifestyle, they offered to share their story with all of us in the Real Life Stories section of this website.
Annie and John are two doctoral students with three children, and they have purposefully carved out more time in their lives for family. They follow the model of attachment parenting and have come to appreciate what they have created.
Check it out and let us know if you also have an ESP story to tell.
Thanks Annie and John!
Where are the Children?
It's time to tackle one of those criticisms of ESP that showed up in several NY Times article reader comments. Today, let's examine the notion that ESP must be harmful to kids. Or, at the least, that it is all about selfish parents who want what they want - without considering the needs of their children.
Here are some excerpts of choice comments from the NY Times:
You get the idea. But what about the children? First of all, the NY Times article addressed a particular parenting lifestyle - ESP. It wasn't a parenting piece, so it makes sense that it didn't include information about the kids other than as proof that yes, indeed, the profiled people were parents. The absence of a discussion on how ESP affects children doesn't translate to ESP being a lifestyle that ignores the needs of children, however, any more than mentioning you like broccoli means you don't like apples.
- From Scotto: "What I find tragic in this article is that the children are completely left out. What do the children want? Are not the real losers in all of this is [sic] the children?"
- From Joe: "What if getting from 60-40 to 50-50 meant significant amounts of time the children would have to be away from both parents, from a young age?"
- From Brian St. Pierre: "Good lord, the poor kids, raised on a schematic, mechanical, politically correct schedule."
There are no concrete data on how ESP affects children, except that ESP affects their outlook on gender. We have no proof that equal sharing leads to (or doesn't lead to) better test scores, higher college admission rates, or more beautiful or well-behaved children. There are also no data on the important things, like its effect on self-esteem or happiness. No data exist because no data have been collected. Someday, I hope we do have this information, but we don't have it today. We do know that children with involved fathers do better than those with less involved or absent fathers.
ESP actually is, for us, primarily about parents. On that point we'll agree (although many couples we know are motivated to practice ESP foremost because of their children). But it is about creating happy lives for both parents who can then be their best selves for their children - day in and day out. We're thinking happy parents make a happy home which makes for happy children. We also like to think we're modeling a happy marriage for our children to see, and showing them that adulthood is not just drudgery or sacrifice - it can be just as fun as being a kid (in a responsible way, of course).
By showing our kids that that they have a team of equal parents raising them, we hope we're diluting out the not-so-perfect parts of each of ourselves and giving them a close-up look at two very different ways of dealing with life's ups and downs. Plus we're hoping that our kids grow up to see, first hand, that men and women are equals in all aspects of home and work.
Kids raised by equal parents are not likely to be subjected to any more schedule-rigidity than children in traditional households, especially those with two working parents. They may actually have more 'down time' than some children because they often require less or no outside care. Parental care in ESP families can approach that in families where one parent stays home - only the time is divided by two parents in an ESP household. We can't imagine that seeing both their parents more often could be a negative thing for children.
Among the comments is this rare insight from someone identified as 'JP' who was raised by equally sharing parents: "Knowing that my parents were committed to balance and equality in their own relationship and seeing them work out that balance in constructive and loving ways throughout my childhood had a profoundly positive effect on how I grew up and on what I now expect and cultivate within my own relationship."
And finally there's this comment, by a poster called Ricardo: "I find the example couple, the Vachon's [sic] a really irritating model - the 21st Century all American family in which the parents' lives revolve around their children."
Guess you can't please everyone!
It's Our Day
Tomorrow is Father's Day, and rather than simply wish all you fellow dads out there a happy day by the barbeque with a beer, I'm going to wish you a happy life. You see, it used to be that being a dad was rather narrowly defined as a good provider and role model of a Man. Now, a father can be anything from this traditional figure to the sole caretaking parent. In between these extremes, we guys get to be 'involved dads' or ESP dads or stay-at-home dads. It is kind of like technicolor meets fatherhood!A few readers of Lisa Belkin's New York Times article on ESP have criticized the Times for printing something that denigrates fathers on the very day that we should be applauding them and slapping them on the back for jobs well done. Of course you might guess that I disagree, and that I feel these readers are missing the whole point of the article. Yes, the statistics about how much housework is done by men versus women are still off balance. But who's to blame here? Is it really just men? No - it takes two genders to create this inequality, and decades and decades of cultural brainwashing about our required family roles. What if instead of complaining and blaming anyone for the commonality of unequal housework, we instead celebrated the fact that we can indeed change the situation? Men no longer have to accept being saddled with primary breadwinning or being relegated to subordinates in their own homes. We can fight, alongside our partners (not against them), for our right to balanced lives, intimate and equal connections with our kids, and equal say in how often the bedsheets get changed.So, happy Father's Day to dads of all stripes and colors. It's our day, and it's our time.
Bursting at the Seams
We feel as if we could type solidly for the next month and still not get all our thoughts into the blogosphere. It's a good feeling, actually - the same one we had when we were creating our original How It Works essays.Our thoughts are coming from the comments posted on the online NY Times piece, particularly the naysayer comments. And from spin-off blog posts and news articles and personal emails/posts that are reacting to the NY Times. A lot of it is good - other ESP couples happy that this lifestyle is finally getting good exposure and not-yet-ESP couples and individuals who feel that the discussion gives them hope for the lives they want someday. It feels wonderful to hear from and read about these kindred souls.A lot of the discussion is negative too. This is expected - and actually necessary for growth and understanding. Much of the negativity is coming from male readers (hmmm....) and some of the common themes are:
- ESP is all about nitpicky, childish scorekeeping; if two people really love each other, they don't need to bicker about who is doing more and who is doing less
- ESP is nothing new; everyone is already doing it
- ESP is bad for the children, and all about selfish parents choosing the lives they want without regard to the needs of their children
- ESP is only for rich people
- ESP is about mediocrity
- ESP is about splitting every task
- ESP requires both parents to work part-time, and therefore is not possible with most jobs
The good news is that we've heard all of these concerns before, and then some - many have been addressed in our previous blog posts or essays. The excellent news is that so many people are talking about it. For people who don't practice ESP, and especially for couples who would never want to practice ESP, these are fully legitimate concerns.
Stay tuned (and join in) as we dissect each of these viewpoints and more....
Marc and I may be the hosts of record for this website, but we are hardly the only people talking about, promoting, and deeply caring about equally shared parenting. The team is much, much bigger than just the two of us. Bigger than all those who were a part of Lisa Belkin's New York Times Magazine article. Bigger than we even know. So, we would like to mention some of the other team members - ESP supporters, academic researchers, fellow parenting relationship bloggers. Together, we can get the word out: Equally shared parenting is real, and it's waiting to be claimed by those who want it.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to:
Kathleen Gerson, Barbara Risman, Scott Coltrane, Francine Deutsch, Pepper Schwartz - the giants of ESP and gender equal parenting research.
Penelope Trunk, Leslie Morgan Steiner, Maggie Jackson, Rebecca Walker, Joan Blades and of course Lisa Belkin - our mentors who gave us a nudge and a voice to share ESP with the world.
Brian Reid, Jeremy Adam Smith, Dana Glazer - fathers who believe.
Sharon Teitelbaum, Jessica DeGroot and Hanne Weedon - who pointed us in the right direction way back when.
And of course all the fantastic couples in our Real Life Stories section (may this grow and grow), and those who have written to us saying "We've found you - we're doing this too!"
Tip of the iceberg here, folks. We feel so grateful to all of you. But mostly, we want to say that bringing ESP to the collective consciousness is your achievement as much as ours. We make a great team - all of us - and we (Marc and I) can't wait to continue the journey with you all. May thousands more join in!
The World is Watching
Well, it was a fun day here at ESP.com. The media exposure has certainly generated some interest, both positive and negative. We have read the comments on the NYT website and have plenty of fodder for future blogs and look forward to continuing the discussion with any and all who wish to participate.We had visitors today from all 5 continents, 48 countries, and every state but Oklahoma! Do any of you have relatives in OK? Let's get them onboard too. We fielded a few media requests today looking for ESP couples. One of them is looking for a few local families to be subjects for an upcoming TV news magazine piece in New Zealand. Let us know if you are visiting from the land down under. We know you're out there!
Welcome NY Times Readers and Today Show Viewers!
Today is an historic day for equally shared parenting. As we hinted in our previous post, big media exposure for ESP was just around the corner - and today is the day! The cover story to this Sunday's New York Times Magazine (now available online) is about ESP - as written by Lisa Belkin. Included in online version of the article is a video of a day in the life of...us! We've had the pleasure of working with Lisa for many months as she prepared this article. Having such a world-wide forum to shout "equally shared parenting is wholly possible" is a dream come true for us.
We hope today is the beginning of a much more global discussion about ESP - benefits, challenges, questions, ideas - than has ever before happened. We're thrilled to be in the thick of the action, and invite you to join in. Comments are welcome here on this website, as well as at the NY Times Magazine site. Lisa Belkin is also launching a brand new NY Times blog called (be still our hearts!) Equal Parenting, and we couldn't be more thrilled.
If you're new to www.equallysharedparenting.com, please accept our warm welcome and have a look around. We have primer essays on various ESP topics in our How It Works section, stories from other ESP couples in our Real Life Stories section (check back for more stories soon), and tons of links and books in our Resources section.
And if you're up extremely early reading this blog post, tune in to the Today Show this morning (Thursday)! Sometime between 8:00am and 8:30am EST, Lisa Belkin will be on the show discussing her article, complete with clips from a day in the life of Marc, me and our kids.Note: The Today Show video is now online at http://today.msnbc.msn.com/. Enjoy!
Phew - what a week this will be! Glad to have you along for the journey....
An ESP Gathering
One of the reasons Amy and I came to the decision (which took months of pondering) to start this website was the desire to connect with other like-minded couples. When we were first putting our philosophies into words, we didn't know anyone else living like this. And now, we find 'our people' everywhere we look - in greetings in our email inboxes from as far away as Nepal and China to, ironically, neighbors living within blocks of our own house.
A few months ago, we had the pleasure of gathering a few of these couples in our home for a first-ever ESP dinner party. The occasion was a group interview for a news story on equally shared parenting that will be revealed later today (stay tuned). Having 9 other couples in the same room who valued equal sharing as much as we do was an honor. Each family had a twist on what was most important to them about their arrangement, how they got there, how they keep it alive, and why they choose to buck tradition so purposefully.
Amy and I loved hearing their stories. We hope this is the beginning of many ESP gatherings - here, there, everywhere. Here's a picture of the historic event:
The Good, the Bad and the Innovative
Father's Day is approaching, and you can tell from the contents of newspapers and magazines. Is it just me, or is there a higher percentage of stories on how involved fathers are with their children these days? I swear there is a turning of the tide. Or maybe I haven't scrutinized Father's Day messages so closely before.Anyway, a nice piece on involved dads comes from the June issue of the Boston Parents Paper that my son T insisted on bringing home from the free literature table at his preschool today. The article is called You've Come a Long Way, Daddy! I like that twist on the 1970s women's empowerment slogan because I tend to think that involved, competent dads are empowered too - empowered to lead full and authentic lives. The article's message is that today's dads can overcome their legacy as less-than parents and rise to the challenge of equal status with moms. Nice suggestions are included, such as bringing the kids to their doctor's appointments, buying their clothes, doing the dishes, learning the names of the children's teachers and knowing the kids prized possessions. The article ends by coining a term - the fathering 'beast' - which means a wicked involved daddy who's proud of it. Then there's this piece of fluff in Women's Health magazine. It's a perky and condescending description of why women are so much better at household chores than men, and how to get your man to do more so you can relax. Some of the tips have a small bit of merit, such as resisting the urge to supervise tasks that your spouse has agreed to handle, but the overall tone is, well, repulsive. This article tells women to manipulate their partners, while still holding onto the household management title. Buy him power tools so that he'll mow the lawn, buy him cookbooks so he'll cook and then demand he cook three nights a week, host a poker night so he'll 'beg' for more social gatherings. Allow me to at least leap forward into the 90s! No lasting equality will come of such maneuvering. If you want a true partner, treat your spouse as one. Hat tip to RebelDad for pointing me toward this piece of bad literature.And finally, a bit of interesting news from the city of Birmingham, Alabama. The new mayor has announced that all city employees will be transitioning to a 4-day work week (that's four 10-hour days, so still full-time). The impetus is saving money on gas. Imagine a whole city functioning on a work schedule that countless other managers think is too risky to offer to employees. Hooray for Birmingham!
True North ESP
I was delighted to find out that True North, a new parenting magazine published out of Central Oregon, has included an article about equally shared parenting in its latest issue - complete with links to our website and a fantastic description of ESP. Author Michelle Franco is half of an ESP couple herself. And what is so interesting is that she didn't start out that way. Michelle was the primary parent for the past 4 years, but decided together with her husband to put an ESP arrangement in place to allow her to start her own business. Her description of this purposeful change is inspiring: "...we decided this was the perfect time to implement the "someday" plan about which we often dreamed - equal care time with [our three] girls." Included in the article are the stories of several other ESP couples as well, with arrangements that show the many ways equal sharing can be created. Some couples strive for day-to-day equality of tasks, whereas others take a longer view. I give Michelle an A+ for perfectly detailing the definition of ESP, the importance of balance, and the need for communication. She even includes a sidebar of tips for successful ESP and a list of questions to evaluate the equality of a couple's current relationship. I especially like her suggestion to observe which parent handles weeding out the too-small clothes from the kids' closets - oops, that's me almost 100% of the time. Perhaps it is time to bring that up for discussion with Marc....
We're All Equal
We speak often about how ESP parents are equal partners. But really, aren't all parents who raise their kids together considered equals? Of course they are. We all are. A traditional breadwinner father is dedicated to supporting his kids, providing money for the lifestyle he feels will be best for his family while his stay-at-home wife handles the homefront. Certainly these are two equal individuals, both playing vital roles in raising their kids - they just happen to be using the 'divide and conquer' strategy. We certainly want to promote the truth that nurturing children is equally important to any career!
So what's the deal with 'equality' and 'equally shared parenting' then? When a couple chooses ESP rather than a traditional (or semi-traditional) family arrangement, they are making the decision to equally share each domain or sphere of their lives. They aim for about equal time spent on breadwinning, with neither having the more important career. They each spend about the same amount of taking care of the home, with neither directing or reminding the other of what needs to be done. They each enjoy about the same amount of 'solo parenting' time, with neither acting as the primary parent. And they each spend about the same amount of time on recreational (non-child related) activities - time for self, hobbies, friends, etc.
ESP is a relationship model. Equality, on the other hand, is a judgment. In choosing between ESP or any other family model, there is no right or wrong. We're all equally worthy as parents and humans. ESP is just the way that some of us choose to structure our lives.
Guys Buying Strollers
One of my closest friends, Bob, is quite a guy. That he's a new father who is at home with his 8-month old son at least three days a week is one thing - but that's hardly unique, right? No - the really cool thing about Bob is that he and his boy are featured in a local baby store commercial shopping for strollers. Yes, a commercial depicting a father shopping for a stroller with nary a mother in sight.How many men do you think are granted such a responsibility in real life? Not many, I'd wager (although I hope that I can say differently someday). How many women take on this job without equally involving their partners? Probably most. Why is this? Because that's just how it's been.But it doesn't have to be this way. You go, Bob!