Being Attached in a Detatched World Revisited

Eight years ago I wrote a post on this here blog in it’s pre-system-crashed-everything-deleted version about being invited to stand up in a close friend’s wedding halfway across the country. At the time, Alina was eight months-old and she was exclusively breastfed. Moreover, despite ultimately being the longest-standing and most committed nursling of my three children, she also was the most challenging baby with whom to establish a comfortable nursing relationship, and she was never willing or able to take breast milk that had been expressed. Never. Not once. Not even a little bit. Of course, this meant that if I was going to be flying over a thousand miles and standing up for my friend of thirty-plus years, Alina was going to be joining me.

For a variety of reasons, not the least of which being financial, Rich and Eva were staying home and I was heading out on this journey alone with my little babe. The reception was adults only, so this also meant that I would need to hire some unknown babysitter to stay in the hotel room with Alina while I shuttled back and forth between the room and the reception downstairs throughout the night (half of you are aghast at this notion, and would have told the bride, “baby or nothing!”). It probably goes without saying that this sweet baby who refused to take a bottle also had limited experience with babysitters, and by that I mean that she had none (half of you are aghast at this notion and are cursing me for coddling my child and not making adult time a priority). I was a stay-at-home mama and she was a stay-at-home baby, so we’d pretty much been a matched set up to that point.

It didn’t go well. Alina cried and cried the entire time that I was away from the room. She refused to sleep and was generally miserable. When I finally returned to the room for the night, hours ahead of the other guests, the babysitter handed her off to me sheepishly and in her broken English informed me, “She is not good baby” before making her exit. I wrestled with that declaration for a while. It really rubbed me the wrong way because she absolutely was a good baby. She was smiley and friendly, with bright shining eyes and a clear ability to communicate her needs and desires. When she was upset, she let you know why, and when you met those needs, she was mollified and content. She wanted to be with her mama. She was attached to me and it was deeply unsettling to her to be in a strange place with a strange person and without her touchstone. She was a good baby, but the idea of an eight month-old baby being so firmly attached to her mother that she could not be left home for a weekend of travel or with a babysitter for a night of adult-only celebration seemed to be generally frowned-upon and viewed as dysfunctional.


Now, I’ve mentioned here a bunch of times that I am actively trying to make self-care a higher priority in my life, basically because I am really horrible at it. Like many parents I am always so focused on my kids’ seemingly more immediate and important needs, and day after day runs out of hours before I dig out from under all of the kid stuff and remember that there is another person here with needs of her own. My cancer diagnosis four years ago was the Universe grabbing me by the shoulders and shaking me with a very stern lecture about putting on my own oxygen mask first. It was my wake-up call that I can’t habitually neglect myself in the name of good parenting because that isn’t being a good parent (or a good human) and I may never get to that “someday” list that I always put my own needs on. I keep saying that I will join a gym again or start attending yoga classes at the cancer wellness center again, or make time to spend with friends, but somehow months go by and it just doesn’t happen. So, I decided that until I get better at the routine self-care I will go for the occasional grand gesture; a carpe diem experience every now and again to give myself a shot in the arm.

In celebration of my recent birthday, I planned a grand gesture. I had seen a highly esteemed herbalist offering a small-group, four-day class on essential oil making and learning about medicinal plants of the Southwest. It would include herbal walks, wildcrafting, and hands-on workshops and demonstrations in and around a secluded hot springs campground. The class was to be held in Arizona and I would be joined by a good friend of mine who is crunchy-oriented as well. It would be an experience unlike any that I had ever had; the first “girl” trip with a friend that I have taken since college. I was amazed and excited as it started to come together as a reality.

As my reality began to come together, my children began to voice their upset about me leaving. The kids are used to Rich being out of town for work (they don’t like it, but they are used to it). The idea of me not being home is a whole different matter altogether. It just doesn’t fit with their experience of of the world, and they were really struggling.

Alina was once again shaken and insecure to know that I would not be here. We talked about the trip a lot. Rich would be taking time off of work to be home during the school days to shuttle kids to and from school and appointments, to make dinner, to tuck them into bed. My parents, with whom we currently live, would be home to help as needed. I would be leaving on a Friday morning and retuning on Tuesday afternoon, so technically there would only be three days when we would not see each other. She wasn’t moved by my efforts to comfort her. She alternated between desperate, angry, and just plain sad in the days working up to the trip. The morning I was set to go, I tiptoed into the girls’ room at 6:15 am to kiss Alina and Eva goodbye before jumping in the cab. I found Alina lying in her bed looking forlorn with tears streaming down her cheeks. She wanted to be with her mama, or at least know that her mama would be home whenever she checked in throughout her days of school and playing.

As I rode in the cab to the airport my heart was heavy having left such a sad girl behind. Alina is still a happy girl with bright, shining eyes. She is smiley and friendly, thoughtful and very kind and nurturing to others. She is generally easygoing and the first to go without so that someone else’s needs can be met, but she craves her security and at the core of it all, that is me. I must admit that although my heart ached for my tearful babe, I was aware of feelings of irritation as well. Why must it be so hard? After all, she is not eight months old any more, she’s eight years old. Why is it that the rest of the free world can seemingly go to work, or on a date, or on a trip and their children seem to take it in stride, yet mine protest for days and leave puddles of tears in their wake? I need to put on my own oxygen mask sometimes. I need to be able to get away and nurture myself once in a while. Why must it be so hard?

I kept thinking back to Ainsworth’s Attachment Styles (all of those years of psychology school keep those ideas very close in my mind). Securely attached, isn’t that what I’m wanting here? Shouldn’t we have reached the point by now in which she is secure in the the idea of knowing that her mother is a safe base in a theoretical sense? Can’t this allow for more extended explorations out into the world by now, for her and for me?

I sat and pondered and ruminated a bit. I fiddled with my phone as the cab driver brought me farther from home and closer to adventure. Then I saw it, a message from my former graduate school. The director of one of my PhD. programs was retiring. He had been my dissertation advisor, and had instructed me in several of my classes. I liked him a great deal, and he had taught me a lot. He had an easygoing nature that was comforting in the context of the stress of graduate school, and he had provided positive feedback and words of encouragement when they were very much needed. He had mentored me and helped me find direction when I was struggling with decisions about my educational and career future. He watched with baited breath along with the rest of my committee as I presented the defense of my dissertation. I was nine months pregnant with Alina at the time, and ready to burst. He had been the first to shake my hand and call me “Doctor” when it was successfully completed. His was among the first emails that I had sent in the days that followed to explain that I was a bit delayed in making the suggested edits to my dissertation because I had gone into labor that night after completing the defense. He hooded me at the commencement ceremony several months later, and I pointed out my two girls in the stadium crowd to him before ducking out to nurse my baby girl while donning my full regalia. He was leaving.

Mind you it had been many years since I had seen or spoken with my advisor, but as I read that message in the cab, it didn’t matter. There had been a security in knowing that he was there, always where I expected him to be just in case I needed him. The reality is that I still might need him. It has been highly unusual for me to have taken this career break. I suspect that it is not the traditional path to complete one’s PhD. and then opt to be a stay-at-home parent for years before entering the workforce, but that’s the road that I have traveled. When it comes time for me to revisit my career, I will need letters of recommendation from those who can speak to the quality of my work, my mind, my training, and they’re all going away. Retirement, health challenges, moving elsewhere and losing touch….my advisor was the last of the core group of faculty who really knew me and my work.

Here I was, a forty year-old woman in the back of a cab having heart palpitations because my advisor was going away and I might really miss him. I might need him and he wouldn’t be there. The irony of my situation was not lost on me. Perhaps eight years is not too old to be rattled when your security walks out the door. Maybe forty isn’t either.

I continue to struggle with finding my place and finding a place for my family in a society that seems to emphasize independence for young children and career advancement for adults as much as ours does. I am not sure that I understand how to reconcile those goals with the needs of my kids. I’m not sure which side of the independence/attachment coin to favor; when to gently push for one, and when to patiently nurture the other. I took my trip and had an amazing time. She missed me a lot. The days passed and I came home. Now I am going to write a letter expressing my gratitude to my advisor and wish him well in his retirement. I may add a request for a letter of recommendation in there too, just in case I need it someday.

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MommyCon 2016 Review & Ticket Giveaway

Crunchy Parent MommyCon 2016 Chicago natural parenting conference review & ticket giveaway

Yesterday I reviewed MommyCon’s recent Chicago stop, focusing on the overall natural parenting conference experience and speakers. Today I wanted to spend some time highlighting the expo side of MommyCon, and reviewing MommyCon’s great gifts and giveaways.

I’m also excited to jump on the giveaway bandwagon myself. MommyCon has provided me with two free tickets to give away to the upcoming MommyCon event of the winner’s choice. You can enter to win at the end of the post. You can also knock $5.00 off of any MommyCon ticket price with the discount code CRUNCHY16.

MommyCon Vendors


As much as MommyCon is appreciated as a natural parenting conference, I think that they are equally well known as an expo; bringing together great vendors whose products cater to natural families. Any time that you wanted to pry yourself away from the speakers, and all throughout the lunch hour, the exhibitor area was bustling with activity at all of the wonderful booths. For people who frequently only get to explore natural specialty products online, this was a great opportunity to see, touch, and interact with items, and to make purchases, often at promotional MommyCon discounted prices.

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Over 100 vendors were present at the show, selling baby carriers, cloth diapering supplies, teething jewelry, reusable menstrual products, natural personal care items, organic mattresses, hip advocacy and nursing wear, and more.


In addition to vendors selling their products, there were also companies promoting their products through product samples, local service providers raising awareness about their businesses, and organizations spreading the word and rallying support for their causes.


The vendor area also housed the Babywearing School stage toward the back, where babywearing topics were presented. Products were demonstrated to show different wrapping and wearing techniques to accommodate children of various ages.

Sprinkled throughout the vendor area were informational tables helping to educate conference attended about feeding techniques and cloth diapering.


Cloth Diaper Resource Center

For anyone who has ever tried to figure out the difference between a fitted, AIO, pocket, or prefold, there were displays on-hand allowing parents to touch, see, and consider which products might work best for their families.


More Cloth Diaper Resource Center

Consultants were also on-hand to help answer questions that parents might have about cloth diapering in general. I thought that these informational displays and consultation areas were great low-pressure ways to promote the use of more natural products and increase awareness.

My one regret was that I walked throughout the vendor area taking it all in without buying any products initially. I planned to wait to make my purchases at the end of the day because I didn’t want to have to carry them with me throughout the show (I was already lugging a bag, snacks, a reusable water bottle, note pad, etc.) My intention had been to take the 20 minutes in between the final big presentation of the day and the end-of-the-day product giveaway announcement to scoot back to the vendors and make my purchases. As I came to learn, that plan was flawed (more on that in a moment). As a result, although I saw many products that I would have loved to have brought home from the show, I ended up not buying anything. Fortunately, several of the vendors included special MommyCon promotion codes for savings off of online purchases in the show materials, so the chance for future orders remains. Still, had I known how the end of the day was going to shape up, I would have planned my purchasing differently.

MommyCon Giveaways & Gift Bag

If there is one thing that has earned MommyCon great word-of-mouth, it is their amazing gift bags and giveaways. Before going to the show, I learned that every attendee to the show would receive a jam-packed gift bag. In addition, MommyCon gives extra gift bags to attendees of their VIP events. All MommyCon attendees are also be entered in the end-of-the-show giveaway to receive any of a number of amazing prizes ranging from car seats and organic crib mattresses, to high chairs and baby carriers. MommyCon had also promoted some mysterious “scavenger hunt” prizes through their Facebook page with small items hidden throughout the MommyCon convention space that could be redeemed for prizes. In all, there is no doubt that MommyCon knows that people really love gifts and free goodies.

The MommyCon conference day ended with 25 minutes of giveaways, for which the winner was required to be present. What that looked like in actuality was every last man, woman, and child at the conference descending upon a central area to hear if their tag number might be called as a winner. As mentioned before, the prizes were fantastic and the giveaway was clearly a huge draw and an incentive for people to stay, learn, and shop the expo up until the very last moment. Unfortunately, this also meant that the room was filled to bursting with overtired babies and toddlers who had been troopers through almost 8 hours of the conference already, and the noise level began to climb with restless, crabby children. It also meant that as everyone filtered into the room, many gathered toward the back near the doors, making exiting and entering the room a bit of an adventure.

MommyCon Chicago 2016 giveaway crowd

The MommyCon crowd awaits the giveaways. Photo Credit: Katie Hovland

I had been seated near the front of the room during Jade Beall’s presentation that ended 20 minutes before the giveaway was scheduled to begin. As mentioned, I had intended to scoot back to the vendor room to make my purchases in those 20 minutes and return for the giveaway, but as I saw the traffic situation in the room shaping up into a major bottleneck by the doors, I gave up that idea, and stayed put in my chair.

The giveaway dragged on a bit, not helped by the restless crowd. I am sure however that the many winners were completely delighted by the items that they received, and found them well worth the wait. Once the last product had been handed out, all of the attendees poured out of the room and headed toward the elevators and parking garage. Despite the large numbers of people, I was surprised by how smoothly the transition went. It wasn’t long before I was back in my car, and ready to make the drive back home.

The gift bag that I received was for members of the Media Team, since I was attending MommyCon as part of their Blogger Collective. I’m not sure how the Media Bag differed from any of the other gift bags, but since it was in a different area than the general gift bags, I can only assume that it is unique in some way, so I wanted to provide that caveat.

I have to be honest and say that I was rather impressed when I went to pick up my gift bag and was handed a giant reusable MommyCon tote filled with goodies plus an adjunct item. I have attended many conferences and expos in my day and never have I received anything like this. I was eager to get back home and look through all of the goods.

MommyCon Media gift bag

MommyCon Media gift bag

The bag contained loads of informational and promotional materials from vendors and sponsors of the event, many of whom had included special codes for MommyCon exclusive discounts off of orders. The bag also held many great products from vendors at the conference.

If I was a mother of very young children, I would have been especially thrilled by all of the useful items, which ranged from disposable breast pads and glow-in-the-dark sippy cups to a cloth diaper wet bag and a breastmilk pumping and feeding system. As a parent of children who are past their infant, toddler, and preschool years, only a fraction of the items included were relevant for our family at our current stage of life. I felt a little guilty for being the recipient of such lovely items that we have no use for. I am sure that I will have no trouble finding a friend who will enjoy the items, but nevertheless I wish that more of the products were useful for families with children beyond the nursing, diaper, and bib stage.

The theme for MommyCon 2016 is “Growing Together” and I know that a lot of emphasis has been placed on including topics relevant to older children, families, and to parents themselves. I loved this step forward to embrace more of the natural parenting community, but the gift bag didn’t seem to hold true to this idea as well as the conference and expo on the whole. I would have been thrilled to find a reusable menstrual product, advocacy wear, un-paper household product, or other items that would have helped the overall balance of the bag to better reflect this year’s theme. I am nevertheless still blown away by the general awesomeness of the gift bag and will savor the yummy foods, household, and personal care items that were included in the bag.


Evenflo scavenger hunt prize

In addition, my eagle eyes were fortunate to find one of the “scavenger hunt” items hidden in the conference area by Evenflo. As a prize for my good fortune, I received a cute Evenflo coffee mug and a $10 Starbucks gift card, which by far was Rich’s favorite thing that I brought home.

Final Thoughts about MommyCon Chicago

I was a bit dubious about attending MommyCon as a mom of children in elementary and middle school. I wasn’t sure if there would be much for me to learn after parenting from a natural/attachment parenting perspective for over thirteen years; and with the birthing, nursing, diapering, and babywearing years behind me. I was encouraged by the “Growing Together” theme, and figured that even if I didn’t find the topics to be directly relevant to my family, the conference would still be a great chance to meet other like-minded parents in the area.

I was really pleased to find the conference experience to be completely satisfying and enriching. There was not a moment of my time that I did not feel was being spent productively; learning or discovering something new that was relevant to me and to my family. I came away from the day feeling more empowered and prepared to take on approaching milestones for my children at their current ages, and for enhancing my relationship with my husband at this point in our marriage. I reflected on myself as a woman beyond my role as either wife or mother, which I know is far too easy to loose touch with, especially when one is oriented toward a very hands-on approach to parenting.

Overall, I was very impressed with the extent to which MommyCon attempted to cater to the needs of parents and children attending the conference. From diapering, feeding, snuggling, napping, playing, and more MommyCon had given thought to what their guests would need to comfortably enjoy the day. This alone is such a juxtaposition to so many conferences and expos, where children and their needs must be “managed” by parents so that adults can attend, rather than woven into the fabric of the event as it was at MommyCon.

For any parent of young children navigating the waters of natural, gentle, crunchy, or attachment parenting, I would assert that MommyCon is a safe place to find your tribe; to learn, to discover, and to grow. For experienced crunchy parents of older children like myself, I am pleased to report that I found MommyCon to move the conversation of natural parenting forward into later phases of parenting as well. In addition, MommyCon shed light on the too-often neglected topic of parents themselves, and their needs as individuals and partners. I am already looking forward to MommyCon returning to Chicago next year.

MommyCon Ticket Giveaway

If you are still waiting for MommyCon 2016 to arrive at a location near you, you’re in luck. In addition to offering the CRUNCHY16 code for $5 off tickets, I have two tickets to give away to one of the upcoming MommyCon 2016 events*. I will select one winner who will receive 2 free ticket to the 2016 MommyCon event of their choice*, or two passes for a 1-day attendance to MommyCon’s Milk or Wear conferences.

Fine Print: The winner is responsible for any transportation or accommodations as needed. Contest will remain open through Tuesday March 29, 11:59 PM Central time. Winner will be notified by me within 24 hours via email, so please enter with an email address that you check regularly. If I do not hear back from the winner with their city of choice within 72 hours of being contacted, prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected. Crunchy Parent will make every effort to arrange and support prize distribution, however ticket giveaway and distribution are ultimately the responsibility of MommyCon. Good luck!

*The April 2nd Seattle Conference is not eligible as a prize option due to the timing parameters of the giveaway.

Win 2 tickets to MommyCon! (Please click the link to enter)

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Cancer, Self-Care, and Gratitude

AlicePopkorn / Foter / CC BY

I don’t like asking for help. It is a quality that I am afraid that I have passed along to my children. In all honesty it’s really less about asking for help that I don’t like, it’s the needing help altogether. Logically I know that it is natural to need help with things in life, both large and small. Emotionally however, I do not like to show weakness or need. I want to be able to take care of myself. My parents say that one of my favorite phrases as a child was, “Me do it!” I think that I’m still a “Me do it!” girl at heart.

When I received my cancer diagnosis four-plus years ago, I had to surrender to the idea that I was going to need help. I was going to need help for myself and I was going to need help for my family to do all of the things that I normally did for us that I would no longer be able to accomplish on my own. One of the greatest immediate challenges was being able to go for my daily radiation treatments. They would only be for a short while each morning, but I needed time to get to and from the hospital, to change into a hospital gown, and assume my contorted position on the machine to be shot full of targeted, cancer-blasting radiation. Asher was still an infant at the time and he was not invited to join me in the “mommy microwave” for my five weeks of daily treatments. I didn’t have anyone to help me with childcare. We had never had the resources for a sitter so I had nobody to call. We had used up a lot of our community goodwill less than a year prior when I had spent 166 days on bed rest trying to sustain Asher’s pregnancy. Rich worked from home a lot at that time when he wasn’t traveling for his job, but he was always on seemingly endless conference calls and otherwise working to support us. Managing the needs of a ten month-old while mama was getting zapped daily wasn’t going to be easy for him to take on during his work day. Additionally, we were concerned about the impact of our need for his time on his job security, especially so close on the heels of my extended bed rest stint. His employment was our only source of income and health insurance.

I tried to explore potential resources for child care: could the hospital provide a volunteer to meet me at the cancer center and just hang out with Asher in the waiting room while I spent my 15-20 minutes in treatment each morning? Were the hospital social workers aware of any social service agencies who could provide short-term child care to allow parents access to treatment? Was there any child care available on-site at the hospital? I explored every suggestion or lead. I even recall one conversation in which I was told that if I had breast cancer then there might be some resource available. My somewhat desperate response was, “Well, I have breasts, and I have cancer. Is there any way somebody could help hold my baby so that I can get radiation now?” It was new territory for me. I had gone from avoiding asking for help to begging for it, and I wasn’t getting very far.

I was never able to secure the childcare needed to make my radiation appointments. Instead I did my best to schedule treatments during Asher’s morning nap and Rich suspended work travel for the five weeks, working from home to help in a pinch if Asher woke up before I could scoot back. Despite my childcare assistance failing, I made a commitment that I was going to take advantage of the help that was available to me. I was going to pick up the phone and ask for what I needed, and sometimes I might get it. Specifically, I decided that during the course of my radiation treatments through my surgery date I would do at least one thing each week that would support my health and healing in a way that felt good both physically and spiritually since treatment did not feel good in either of those domains. I was acknowledging my physical and emotional vulnerability and trying to honor it.

Luckily for me, I lived within reasonably close proximity of two cancer support centers and there were additional support and wellness services offered through the hospital cancer center where I went for my daily radiation. Through these resources I was able to schedule no-cost appointments for a range of services such as massage, Reiki, Healing Touch, reflexology, and more. I really wasn’t picky. Anything that allowed me to feel nurtured or cared for helped to fortify my spirit and feel supported in my fight. In addition, these services were provided by volunteers, some of whom were cancer survivors themselves. In those difficult days of treatment when I was kissing my infant son goodbye and trying to imagine how long I could be a healthy and well mama to him and his sisters, it was very helpful for me to see and speak to survivors, especially long-term survivors.

I did a really good job of my once a week appointments through the course of my radiation and up until my surgery. Then my focus shifted to physical therapy, twice a week at first, and then once weekly for 8 months to address pain and help me regain my ability to stand, walk, and increase strength and range of motion to compensate for the quadriceps muscle that had been removed from my leg. Other family needs required my attention as well. Asher in particular needed a lot of support at the time. I had weaned him when I started treatments and quickly discovered significant problems around his ability to eat. In addition we were involved in follow-up care for a surgery that he had to address a birth defect. We were navigating the Early Intervention system, working through a lot of evaluations and home visits, scheduling therapies and trying to rally the support necessary to meet his nutrition needs. My self-care dropped off. I picked it up again later for a bit with a weekend “cancer yoga” class, but that too fell by the wayside when demands became great for me to work over the course of a year or two to renovate our home so that we could sell it and move to an area that would better meet the needs of our family. Our budget was strictly “DIY if at all possible” so I was burning the midnight oil and weekends laying flooring, sewing curtains, painting walls and ceilings, refinishing cabinetry, replacing light fixtures, combing home improvement resale shops, Craigslist, and thrift stores, and learning my way around impressive power tools that I borrowed from my father. In the triaging of our life, I moved myself down the list.

So remember back when I said that this blog is self-care for me? Well, it is in the sense that it allows me a creative outlet and keeps me in a conversation about my interests. It also lets me hear my own voice and evaluate what I am saying sometimes. I recently read myself writing “I may never get to that ‘someday’ list that I always put my own needs on. I keep saying that I will join a gym again or start attending yoga classes at the cancer wellness center again, or make time to spend with friends, but somehow months go by and it just doesn’t happen.” It didn’t sit well with me when I saw those words in black and white. It showed me that I am not having integrity with my commitments. I am committed to treating myself as important; to supporting my physical, mental, and emotional health to live a long life of wellness. I cannot take care of my children if I die an early death that I contribute to from my own neglect. I don’t want “Me do it!” attached to that outcome.

I called the cancer support center closest to where we are now living. I signed up for a weekly “cancer yoga” class. It is a uncomfortable for me. I have to work through the conversations about whether I deserve to be there (I’m not in treatment anymore and haven’t been for a long time); how do I fit in (I am always the youngest usually by decades, can I relate to these people? Can they relate to how cancer has impacted my life?); what am I not getting done while there (I should be getting groceries so that the kids have food for lunches. I need to figure out dinner for tonight. Do I need to skip out on the ending meditation to pick Asher up from school on time?, etc.) I’m doing it anyway though. I try to clear my mind. When thoughts of questioning or doubt creep in I try to picture all of the people who have donated time or money to cancer research and to cancer support agencies. They want me to be okay. They want me to live a long, healthy life and to be able to care for my children. I focus my energy and gratitude toward them. I receive their support. I honor their personal struggles and the loved ones who they may have lost to cancer; who may have inspired the generosity that allowed me to have this moment of nurturing. Lunches and dinner will work themselves out. Asher won’t be stranded at preschool. I am grateful for this day. I am grateful for this moment. I am grateful for this support. “We do it.”

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