Category Archives: growing toddler

The journey to innocence

Babies are fascinating. They’re such creatures of pure, unfiltered instinct. There is nothing remotely deceptive about them. They aren’t even particularly innocent, not in the same sense that an older child is. My four-year-old believes in fairies and unicorns and magic. My four-month-old will give the same baleful stare to the garden centre Santa as she gives to most objects, furry creatures and toys crossing her line of vision, no matter how eagerly they are shoved into her face proffered. The four-year-old will give us increasingly rambling, far-fetched explanations as to why she needs two puddings despite not having finished her main dinner. The four-month-old will desperately mouth anything that comes into contact with her face. It’s a crude analogy and I apologise for it, but sometimes she really does remind me of the walkers from The Walking Dead. She responds to the purest, basest instinct to feed. We even call babies’ mealtimes “giving them a feed,” like we’re dehumanising what they’re doing because it’s so unlike what it becomes – three solid meals defined by the time of day. Babies don’t eat when they’re not hungry. They don’t graze or snack. They take in exactly what their body needs when they need it. They feed. Like animals. Like zombies.

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I’m sorry, is this not a boob?

When my eldest was a baby I remember being puzzled by this sense that she didn’t seem to have this innate innocence that little children are supposed to have. I now realise that it’s because this comes later, with the rudimentary understanding of the world that toddlers develop. Babies are only innocent in the very simplest sense of the word. Nothing much has happened to them yet. They don’t know how to be naughty or manipulative or deceitful. They also don’t know how to take you at your word when you tell them that magic is real. You look at their eyes and you find yourself wondering: what do you really know? What will you lose, as you grow? When will she realise that my bare arm isn’t food, though it’s warm and made of flesh? When will she realise that people still exist even though she can’t see them? When will she bring a toy to her mouth and not suckle?

You forget how fast they grow. The four-year-old comes out with new phrases perhaps once or twice a week and you think, “Wow, where did that level of comprehension come from? How did you piece together that logic without anyone showing you the map?” But the four-month-old changes almost daily. She studies your face and waits for you to smile before she does. Everything is a new challenge to study, from a fallen leaf to the route out of the dreaded car seat, not to mention those puzzling-but-awfully-tasty starfish things at the ends of her arms. She arches and levers her body until it moves, rolling the world into something new all over again. She hears your praise and files it away. This is a good thing. I will do this again. You put her into her cot and make it dark and she remembers that this means sleep. She wakes up alone and cries. You appear and she grins because it’s you, and you exist.

The love is the purest it will ever be. She loves absolutely and unconditionally because you keep her alive; but she also needs you absolutely and unconditionally to keep her alive. When your body is broken and your head is pounding she needs you. When you haven’t slept and your brain feels like something has crawled into your ear, curled up somewhere around your thinking parts and died, she needs you. She doesn’t care about the funny or the clever things you say. She doesn’t think you’re pretty. She doesn’t think you need a break. She doesn’t care about your great personality or that you lost 2lbs this week. She just needs you.

No one will ever need you so much as your babies. No one will ever love you quite the same way. And no one will ever be quite so fascinating.

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The sh!t jeans

These days, accidents are a fairly rare occurrence. And, when they aren’t, most of the time it’s a simple case of a little bit of wee on the carpet we’re planning to get rid of eventually, or a pair of pjs shoved in the washing machine a few days earlier than they would have been… Compared to this time last year, we’re out of the woods and frolicking in our dry, big girl knickers. However, sometimes there will come a day with an Accident. Think the park on a semi-busy weekday, toddler weeping in shame, your face radiating the heat of a thousand suns as you desperately try to mop the large puddle off the slide with three wet wipes, your own sleeve and the hopes and dreams of the several small children forming a queue. Frustrating but manageable. Brushed off with a rant. Forgiven with a strong gin. Laughable in approximately two to three days.

And then there are ACCIDENTS.

And that means several things. Firstly, the setting will be as public as public can be. Think supermarket at rush hour, the park on a warm weekend, the preschool playground at drop off time, a coffee shop chain at 10 past 1… Secondly, it will probably involve poo. Or vomit. Possibly a really huge, stinky-like-they’ve-eaten-nothing-but-asparagus-then-fermented-it-for-a-week wee. But most likely poo. And not the solid, manageable kind (if such a thing exists once nappies are a thing of the past). Thirdly, your child will be wearing a particularly nice and complicated-to-wash outfit, like a lacy dress or a suit or, in one memorable case, ballet tutu complete with extortionate ballet tights and even-more-extortionate, properly-fitted ballet shoes.

Turns out, you’re not supposed to put ballet shoes in the washing machine.

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Nope, you’re really, really not…

“How do you wash them, then?” I politely enquired of the Dance Ma’am upon buying the inevitable replacement pair.

“Wet wipes,” she replied.

Right. So the next time a ballet ACCIDENT occurs, I am expected to take the not-supposed-to-get-wet items, use an already-wet receptacle to mop up [smear around] the excess fluids, then air them out as best I can while hoping that, for the remainder of the time it takes for my child’s feet to grow another size, none of her tutu-clad chums notice the squelchy noise and the slightly pissy aroma emanating from her twinkling toes? Right.

Then there are the sh!t jeans – a strange, pungent phenomenon that I hope is not exclusive to my own household. Lara owns a pair of jeggings – fairly innocuous-looking, suitable for both park and pre-school, hard-wearing and of a denim shade that, wonderfully, goes with pretty much every top she owns.

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To top off their sheer excellence, they’re blimmin’ designer and I did not even have to pay for them as they were inherited from her older cousin. A truly winning item of sartorial achievement, no? No. For some unknown reason, nine times out of ten, when an accident, Accident or, indeed, even ACCIDENT occurs, she will be wearing these jeans. They get more rounds in the washing machine than any other item of clothing any of us owns, or have ever owned.

Why do I continue to dress her in them? Well, partly because they’re so damn convenient (and before you judge me, you try pairing a fluorescent, multi-coloured, polka-bespotted cardy with a suitable item of leg-wear). But also because they are the only item of Ted Baker apparel in the entire household and therefore must be worn in an irrational, get-your-money’s-worth vein of logic (made all the more irrational, of course, by the fact that I did not even buy them). Every time I dress her in them, I think: “Surely not. She’s just been to the toilet. This time, we’ll be fine.”

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Here we are, at the park, tempting fate…

Then, invariably, we find ourselves on the park swing, urine dripping, no spare pants to be had, not a shred of a wet wipe to our names.

Some tricks I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Always pack spare pants. Even if your child has literally just done a poo bigger than his head and peed for Britain before leaving the house, bring spare pants.
  2. Pack spare spare pants. And spare everything else. Even socks. Especially socks. Otherwise you will end up having to either give up your own socks or try and make a temporary pair out of toilet roll and napkins because even if it’s July and she’ll become allergic to them as soon as she steps through the front door, your toddler definitely, definitely needs sockies now, Mummy.
  3. Wet wipes leak. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but that is the only explanation I can give to my entire spare cache of clothes ending up wadded up into a sad, cursed little ball of saturated hopes and dreams in the bottom of my mummy bag. Best thing to do is wrap the spare clothes in a plastic bag. An extra plastic bag is NEVER A BAD THING to have. Or don’t pack wet wipes. You know, if you’re that sort of dance-with-the-devil, pee-into-the-wind type of serial lunatic.
  4. Always pack wet wipes. Because who, seriously, chooses to pee into the wind?
  5. Even if your child has been toilet trained for three years, widdles on demand to the theme-tune of Peppa Pig and has been wiping her own arse since birth – never forget ANY of the above. Ever. Only at the stage where your mummy bag has long been relegated to the back of the cupboard and the word ‘accident’ is more likely to invoke images of broken condoms and impending grandparent-hood than pungent puddles can you probably rest assured that they are at least responsible for their own spare drawers. Until then, the day you take your child’s continence for granted is the day you end up in a Sainsbury’s toilet with despair in your heart and a plastic bag wrapped around your child’s bottom.

Take it from me. Or, better yet, take it from the sh!t jeans.

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Little did they suspect the giant, rogue wave about to make a crashing appearance…


Shout out to my eggs…

Autumn 2016

The bigger house has been bought. The wedding has happened. The DVLA has been updated. We’ve been ready for, well, years. Let’s get on with it…

A few weeks later the boobs feel a bit off, the gin tastes a bit wrong, and sure enough, the second line on the fragrant stick makes a faint but unmistakable appearance. The Ragu is pregnant. The womble occupied. A bump is once more hitting the road of our lives – and my midriff – and it is time, sadly, to put. the. wine. down.

We were extremely lucky. But there’s always more to the story, and for us, this one began long before the day a week before the wedding when I put my half-finished packet of pills away for good.

Spring 2015

Lara is all cute squishy cuddles* between 12 and 18 months, tottering around but still light enough to pick up without needing to conjure memories of PE teacher instruction first (“lift with your legs, not your back, Sarah**!”), sleeping through the night, no longer breastfeeding, still napping for a good two to three hours during the day. I was writing novels, blogging semi-regularly like a boss, watching daytime TV, taking the delightful offspring for buggy walks in the woods, having play dates… Life was great. Why wouldn’t we want more of it?

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Then Gary proposed. We spent the next 24 hours discussing wedding plans, honeymoon destinations, plotting really-funny-actually-and-not-at-all-geeky-and-lame ways to tell our friends and family, and somewhere between the first and second bottles of prosecco, we realised that none of these plans fitted the next couple of years with a new baby. I didn’t want to be a pregnant bride. I wanted to get drunk, dammit, and I wanted to go on a honeymoon that wasn’t governed by leaking boobs, strict bedtimes, wailing infants and toddler-approved activities. I remembered what it was like when Lara was first born. I didn’t want to have to juggle caring for a newborn and a toddler with, well, anything, let alone planning a wedding. So we decided to wait. It was a sensible decision and, this side of what turned out not only to be a summer of wedding planning but also house moving, I can safely say it was 100% the right one. But I can’t say it didn’t sting, just a little bit. I still had this wanting feeling. It didn’t just go away because I told it no. People around me got pregnant and I swallowed the jealousy. The months began to pass. The babies came and grew. The wedding was finally booked for the following year. Life continued to tick on by. The wanting yawned and poked. I ignored it.

Winter 2016/17

So you see, it wasn’t really as simple as it first sounds. This child might not have been tried for for very long, but it’s been dreamed about for years. And it’s never as simple as wanting to have a baby = positive test = all good, lovely and fine for the next nine months. Pregnancy is bloody terrifying. There are so, so many things that can go wrong. The first 12 weeks are mostly spent terrified of spotting blood everytime*** you go to the toilet, analysing every twitch and twinge south of the equator, not to mention battling sporadic moments of nausea and dry heaving your way around the single, plain cracker that you know to be your salvation (even if your stomach does not). On top of all that, your list of people to complain to is annoyingly short because of the high risks, which brings us round full circle to the ever-present anxiety and knicker-checking. Every day is a hard-won battle. But every day also brings a little more light as you inch ever closer to the time when the risks drop and the nausea goes and it is suddenly, miraculously, OK to feel excited because suddenly everything is actually all a little bit more lovely. You know you will probably get there. You know that everything will probably be fine. But you also know that sometimes, it is not.

We were lucky. We made it out of the first trimester, saw our awkwardly-positioned infant cavorting on the ultrasound screen and smiled through the pain of a full bladder and the really-quite-hard pressure placed upon it by the sonographer’s wand thingy as Bubby Number Two refused to reveal its neck measurements… And now, here we are. The grandparents have been informed. My sister has started knitting. The bump is firmly lodged in my midriff. The anxiety is… well, it’s under control. And, yes, things are looking admittedly lovely.

I just wish I hadn’t lost those bloody scan photos.

*spot the rose-tinted mother-to-be conveniently forgetting all the tantrums and poo explosions.

**naturally my crapness at PE lost me the right to be called by my given name for the five years I took the subject

***and, when pregnant, everytime becomes a hell of a lot of times. Something I had forgotten in the interval of four years.


Why is my bathroom so filthy?

So the blog posts have fallen by the wayside of late, and it’s definitely not because I’ve been cleaning my bathroom. Here is what has been keeping me away from WordPress and the Cif…

  1. The Wedding is officially Less Than A Month away. Somehow we’ve gone from the comfortable safety cushion of  Plenty Of Time to the final countdown, complete with increasingly wild-eyed and short-tempered replies to the simplest of questions (“How’s the wedding planning going?” “Are you all organised?” and “What do you want for lunch?”). Every day has begun to herald new and surprising bills and every intake of breath has a tremulous quiver of panic at the bottom of it. There is just so much to remember, so many lists which have gone missing, so many details that rely on my ability to remember them…

    I even fell a tiny bit out of love with my beloved the other week. No, I’m not talking about Gary. Turns out a lovely, multiple-layer wedding dress, 30C heat and my thighs unfairly resorting to two large legs of ham that’ve been left out in the sun until they take on an unhealthy, perspiring stickiness do not mix well. Let’s just say the dress and I parted ways with a distinct air of resentment between us – I weak-kneed with dehydration, she needing to be “aired out” as the seamstress solicitously put it. But it’s not all been a mad stress; I get to strap on my crafty pants and inflict the (poor) fruits of my AS-Level B-grade art skills on my wedding stationery, and I went on the hen do of my dreams last weekend, complete with laser tag, an Ice Bar, penis straws, games and a LOT of mummy dancing…

    10 points for spotting the penis straw

    10 points for spotting the penis straw

  1. The Move. Let’s move next year, we said. We need more space, we said. But don’t worry, we said, we’ll time it really well so it’s after the wedding. Whatever we do and wherever we go, it MOST CERTAINLY WILL BE AFTER THE WEDDING. So, naturally, our completion date is a slim three weeks before. But, you know, last time we did a House Move it was in the weeks before, during and after the birth of our first child so really if it didn’t happen at a time fraught with ground-breaking life-changes, we probably wouldn’t know how to do it. That’s what I tell people, anyway, when they ask me if we really understand the mountain of stress we’ve put upon ourselves. There’s nothing like a bit of humour to cover up the rising impulse to punch a person in the throat.

    It's happening...

    It’s happening…

  1. I’m officially a full-time WAHM (work at home mum). That’s right, I’m working the most I have done since the days of my waddling commutes back in 2013, and I’ve managed to somehow get an editor’s role behind my name. True, it’s by default due to a close colleague’s illness and I’m not making a big deal of it or presuming for one moment that the position will continue once my contract runs out, but ironically enough my career has never flown higher. And, one of the best things about it is that I get to work from home. I knew writing those novels over my maternity leave would be useful for something – it might not have landed the publishing contract I was looking for, but it’s certainly given me a hard dose of the discipline I need to knuckle down and churn out trade news, features and interviews while everyone else frolics in their paddling pools. And sometimes, on a quiet day, I can take a little break and frolic too. Because perks.

    Perks :)

    Perks 🙂

  1. I’m still a mummy first and foremost. Yes, I’ve had to rely on help with childcare a lot more recently, but that’s ok. Maybe it’s even a good thing. Lara loves spending time with her grandparents, great-grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. She loves going to pre-school two mornings a week during term-time. The days when we can go for a walk and feed the ducks or head to the park are all the more precious. But, schmaltz aside, I do feel guilty for not having her as my sole focus anymore. And I do miss those carefree days when my only responsibility was entertaining my little girl. I know one thing for sure – if and when I have another one I certainly won’t take one moment of my maternity leave for granted.

So there you go – we’re currently living in that limbo between exchange and completion on a house move; those uncomfortable few days where the bathroom is steadily becoming more and more filthy but there’s no point cleaning it until the Big Clean of next week. Wedding prep happens in the scrambled moments when work is quiet and Lara is not paying attention (she loves her some lace and craft paper). Somehow I’m managing to edit the entire editorial contents of a fortnightly trades magazine in between all of the above… And Lara is still alive, thriving (albeit on slightly more screen time than she probably should be) and hasn’t yet climbed out of a window or stuck any of my centre-pieces to her head. But, you know, there’s still time…


The Laments of Lara W, aged two and three quarters…

LamentThe carrots I asked for were too crunchy to eat,

There was a single, dastardly crumb on my seat.

I did not grant permission for my hair to be brushed,

Nor for the contents of my potty to be flushed.

I think it’s you, not me, who’s the loon,

for not wanting to wear a bobble hat in June.

And of course a tutu is suitable attire

For splashing in puddles and swinging on tyres.

 

We’re finally at the park, but my face is still grim

There’s a child on my slide, and you won’t remove him!

That girl has an ice cream, you must get me one now

No I won’t be distrac- oh, look a moo cow!

What do you mean it’s now time to go home?

We just got here, I have every right to moan.

But if your suggestion really won’t be parried,

Well then I must insist I am carried.

I don’t care if your arms hurt, I’m quite happy here,

Rubbing my muddy boots on your rear.

 

We’re home and it’s high time my dinner was made

But I’ll scramble my eggs, and I won’t accept aid.

What? Why would I eat them? No, this sort of spread

Is only acceptable when spread on one’s head.

Oh look, there’s some honey, let’s add that in too,

And some milk and ooh, sugar! Well, what’s wrong with you?

Don’t make such a fuss, it’s just honey, eggs and sugar

See, I’ll pull it out, oh no, oh wait – Aaaaaagh!

Get it off, get it off, get it off, get it off!

Oh God, you’re not moving FAST enough!

What’s this stuff on my plate – green isn’t a food!

No cake till I eat it? Well now that’s just rude.

I don’t remember agreeing to such a decree.

Oh was there ever a life of such misery?

 

I can’t just be rational – I’m not yet even three,

And there’s so much that doesn’t make sense to me.

Some days I don’t think I’ll ever reach the prize

At the end of all the why, why, why, why, whys.

But one day you’ll look back with a nostalgic smile

When you recall my hair in this great, eggy style.

And the memory of my frowns will make you laugh,

but in the meantime I absolutely will not have a bath.

But if you insist on my undressing, you really can’t blame me

For running away… Oh look! A wee wee!

Yes it has been a while since my last random wetting

But sometimes I just can’t help forgetting.

 

It’s bedtime, so you must read me ten books, let’s go

And don’t scrimp on any of the words or I’ll know.

Daddy must read to me too now you’re done,

With all the voices and actions I like, every one.

I need water, I want doggy, I’m hungry, I must poo…

What will it take to bring me downstairs with you?

Ok, fine. I’ll stay here… but I want one last kiss,

And we can all agree, I’m not happy about this.

Because it’s really not easy to be quite so small,

No, I wont say night night… I’m not tired… at… a-….

 

PS – your earrings are in the toilet.

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Your toddler is perfectly normal. Now shut up.

Is your child a budding Michaelangelo? The next Darcey Bussell? Destined for a life of OCD-like repeated rituals? Or are they just a NORMAL TODDLER?

OMG. Better start saving for art school!!!

OMG. Better start saving for art school!!

When you’re pregnant, all you want is to meet the little passenger in your belly. You’re consumed by questions to which you have no way of knowing the answers… What will they look like? What will they be like? Will they be musical? Will they grow up to solve crimes? Will they inherit your talents for baking/DIY/remembering erroneous tidbits of celebrity trivia? They are literally swathed in fleshy, protruding mystery. And then they are born and, save perhaps the question of their appearance (and that can be temporary) you still don’t really know any of the answers…

I seem to come across so many parents who seem determined to label all their children’s quirks and preferences as early as possible. Their child likes to clap their hands to a piece of music. Destined to be a conductor. Two year old likes books with rhymes: obviously a budding poet. I’m not saying it won’t happen… Sure, it’s possible a child destined to be a mechanic or race car driver might show an early interest in cars. It’s also just as possible the child might grow up to shun all forms of motorized vehicle and insist instead upon traveling everywhere in a pony and trap.

I don’t mean to rant; I’m genuinely mystified about the clues behind who toddlers are and who they will become. The other day my daughter burst into tears because I couldn’t understand her when she kept telling me to “shut the door” as she brushed her teeth in the bathroom (the door to which was firmly shut… you see my confusion.) Turns out she wanted me to close the lid of the toothpaste. Does that mean she will grow up to be fastidious about lids and germs and tidiness? (Given her genes I am inclined to think not…) Or was she just being a demanding, frustrated toddler?

If my child throws herself down when I refuse to hand over my laptop is it just her tiny toddler brain rendering her temporarily insensible due to an excess of exhaustion? Or am I preventing the next Steve Jobs from their earliest enterprising explorations? Earlier today we took a particularly muddy walk around the lake and she insisted I carry her AND her boots which she didn’t want to wear AND her scooter bike. Because it was “too muddy to walk.” Now this is probably just her being a stubborn toddler, right? RIGHT? SHE’S NOT GOING TO DO THIS WHEN SHE’S 15, RIGHT??

And then there are the times she pulls a pair of pants over her head, catches my eye and we share a laugh. I like to think at times like these that we are in-sync, bolstering an unbreakable mother-daughter bond that will see us all the way through the dreaded terrible-music-taste tween and mother-hating teenage years. I like to think it, but I don’t really, truly believe it. Because no one can predict what a person is going to truly be like from the age of two… You could possibly hazard a guess. Maybe even a good guess. But you can’t tell for sure.

Right, must be off to baby ballet class now. Because whether she is or isn’t the next Darcey Bussell (again, the genes are sadly a precursor towards the likelihood of the negative) there are only so many years I will be able to get her into a tutu.


The Art of Peeing in a Pot in my Living Room

So you're going to let me play with your iPad and eat chocolate and all I have to do is sit here?

So you’re going to let me play with your iPad and eat chocolate and all I have to do is sit here with no pants on?!

It has begun. There’s no putting it off any longer, no excuses, no way back. Some mothers hate nappies. They long for the day when their child can piddle on demand in a toilet, the early morning cries for help wiping their fragrant bottom, the end of rank nappy bins, rash-inducing, knuckle-peeling wet wipes, the daily hoist of the legs to encounter the wonders beneath… I’m not one of those mothers. I like nappies. I don’t mind changing them. It’s 2 minutes of my time as opposed to, oh, 20 minutes chasing a wet-legginged two-year-old around the house while she insists that she does not want to get changed and she is perfectly happy being soggy-bottomed because “it smell nice, Mummy,” and as far as she’s concerned there’s absolutely no problem at all with climbing onto and rolling around your freshly-made bed. Not to mention the five hour stretches of bargaining, bribes, tears, tantrums and hard-won, foul-smelling triumphs circling the union of bare buttocks and plastic pot in the middle of the living room.

But this is it now. We are officially potty training. Or, at least, we’ve made a sizably conscious effort to start. Mainly because Lara had begun to scream whenever I told her I was going to the toilet and insist she needed to come with me to use the potty. (She didn’t, but I figured that if she was old enough to use the potty as a manipulation tool, she was old enough to be taught, you know, how to actually use it.)

We’re not yet doing the hardcore staying-in-all-day-every-day-until-she-gets-it approach, mainly because I just can’t watch Finding Nemo that many times. But we are wearing big girl pants as soon as we get up in the morning and after nap time, and we are sitting on the potty in exchange for stickers and ‘chocolate butts’ (buttons, incidentally, but I’m too delighted with the pun to correct her) and we are seeing results in the potty occasionally and on the floor often. It’s going ok. I mean, she only actually goes in the potty when she’s been plonked on it (usually only under the condition she is allowed to play with Mummy’s ‘i-dad’) and happens to need to go. And when I gleefully turned her round this morning and joyously asked her what she had done – so cleverly, so miraculously! – in the potty, she replied, in a very bored voice, “S’ juice, Mummy.” So I’m fairly sure we’ve got a way to go before she really fully understands what we’re getting at with this crazy new game, but when you consider she’s had two and a bit years of letting rip whenever and wherever, it’s not hard to see why it takes time to change such an ingrained behaviour. In fact, if I think about it in those terms the whole task tends to take on disproportionately large and looming qualities and I find myself fighting the urge to bury myself under a duvet of wipes and Pampers, so what keeps us going is the mantra of taking it all one day at a time.

In a way, it’s oddly similar to the gargantuan task of planning a wedding: one day at a time, try not to think about how much money I’m spending and hope that when the big day comes, no one is peeing on the church floor.


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