29 Jun 2015

Balancing Act

As weeks go, I've had a pretty sh***y one last week, one of those that you just want to get done and over with and which has really tested me and the juggling act that is being a working mummy.

Alex fell ill with some kind of virus, or possibly even several, and came down with a fever, as well as diarrhoea, epic vomiting and gallons of snot. It first started on Wednesday, when he woke up with a high temperature. It’s never a good time for your child to get ill, but that week, out of all, was a pretty bad one (probably even worse than when Becky got the chickenpox on my first day back after maternity leave!).

We’re in the middle of our busy season and it was also my print deadline for my magazine, my big relaunch issue in fact, which my team and I have been working on for months and which is a big deal for us. A trip to London for meetings the day before had left me behind on my workload, and I was super busy trying to play catch up. Stressed doesn’t even cover it.

So what do you do? I gave Alex a dose of Calpol, which seemed to perk him up a bit, stripped him down and gave him tons to drink, and after a while, when he seemed better and his temperature had gone down, I had no choice but to drive him to nursery and get back to work.

I'm not one to normally feel guilty about being a working mummy (I will cover this in a different post soon), but there isn’t much that makes you feel more like the mother from hell than bringing your child to nursery when it’s ill. It pulls on your heart strings and goes against all your maternal instincts.

At least I knew that he was just a few minutes up the road in my village – I work from home the majority of the time - and if he took a turn for the worse, I would be able to pick him up in a flash. I was half expecting a phone call from nursery all day, which – thankfully – never came, as he had been asleep most of the afternoon, but when I picked him up, he looked really rough.

We got through the night somehow, and the next morning he looked terrible still. I decided to keep him home for the morning, as he was due his nap anyway, gave him a dose of Calpol (thank heavens for Calpol!) and he slept through for nearly three hours, which allowed me to get on with work. When he woke, he seemed chirpy enough, so I drove him up to nursery. Again, he was fine for the afternoon, as he slept lots, but by the time I picked him up, he was really rough once more and I could tell instantly that his fever had shot up. I knew that he was deteriorating, and that I wouldn’t be able to – and wouldn’t want to – send him to nursery the next day. But I still had my deadline, and I was still behind with my workload!

Luckily, John was able to step in and take the day off to look after him, but when your child cries and he wants is Mummy, you still can’t switch off, can you? To top it all off, Becky had her induction lunch at school on Friday, too, so whilst I was frantically trying to finish my magazine off, as well as help John with Alex, I also had to take Becky to the lunch, as it was something that she had been looking forward to for weeks and was super excited about.

So that’s been my week – and the weekend was equally intense, in fact, with Alex only slowly recovering and being very clingy and whiny, it was equally as tough.

It’s left me really exhausted, mentally drained and full of bad conscience and guilt. Guilt not just towards my kids, but also guilt towards my work. I hate feeling like I’m letting my family down, and I hate feeling like I’m letting work down, but the reality is that my family is more vulnerable, more needy, more in need of me, and sometimes you just can’t juggle both – sometimes, something has got to give.

I work full time, but I’m also a full time mother. Being a mother is a full time job in itself, there isn’t that part time option. And sometimes being a Mum – rightfully – consumes everything.

Today, I sent Alex back to nursery. He’s better now, not hundred per cent, but better, and whilst I was typing away at my computer, tidying up loose ends on my issue, I was checking my phone all the time, listening out for that dreaded phone call from nursery – which luckily never came. Alex was fine, no more temperature, vomiting or diarrhoea.

But I still feel torn and drained and a bit of a failure. 

25 Jun 2015

Review: Nemo & Giraffe

Becky loves books, which makes me very happy. I have always been a bookworm myself, from early childhood, and I love that my daughter seems to be sharing this passion. I have been reading to her ever since she was a little baby, and every night without fail we read a bedtime story. Sometimes Daddy joins in and does all sorts of funny voices, which Becky thinks is absolutely hilarious. 

Reading is therefore a special bonding time for us. By now she has acquired a nice selection of books and stories, both in English and German as we alternate between languages, as well as those we pick in the library.

So I was very pleased when I was asked to review a delightful new children’s book, Nemo & Giraffe.

The story is based around a little cat called Nemo, an indoor kitten who is also a bit of a scaredy cat, frightened of loud noises, strangers, the barking dog next door and hissing cats outside. Nemo’s best friend, however, is Giraffe, and they are inseparable; playing together, having adventures together and always being there for each other.

Nemo & Giraffe is written by Lee Hunter, a professional childminder from Elgin, Scotland, who took inspiration from her real-life cat Nemo and her daily challenge to teach the children she looks after to be considerate of Nemo and his feelings.

In the book, which has been beautifully illustrated by Lindy Damen, vividly bringing the characters of Nemo and the little giraffe to life, the friendship between the two takes centre stage and is lovingly narrated, teaching a valuable life-lesson about friendships and camaraderie, and that best friends come in all forms, even if they seem an unlikely pairing at first, like Nemo and Giraffe.

It’s a very sweet book and Becky loved it. She adores cats, so the story really resonated with her, as it’s well written and engaging. It was sweet to see how much empathy Becky had for Nemo when he was scared of everything around him, and she completely “got” the sentiment of the story.

I can thoroughly recommend the book, as it’s not only a lovely little story, but has a great message, too. 

The book is available on Amazon as a paperback as well as Kindle Version. 

* Disclaimer: I was sent the book for the purpose of the review, but all opinions are honest and my own.

23 Jun 2015

Alex, eleven months

Alex turned eleven months over the weekend. He’s made such a huge developmental leap over the last few weeks. He’s suddenly a proper little boy and his personality is really coming through each and every day.

He’s such a content and happy little chappie, always smiling and giggling, and he LOVES attention (which we’re all more than happy to pay him, of course!).

Since he learned to crawl just over a week ago, he’s been unstoppable. He’s picking up speed every day, too, and if we’re not careful and watch him every second, he’s off! It’s so cute, that little shuffle and waddle with his little bum as he moves forward. I can’t stop marveling at how mobile he suddenly is. He’s very pleased with himself, too, being able to go wherever he wants – well, until Mummy or Daddy pick him up again and place him back where he started!

He also loves to stand up, and wants us to hold him up all the time; he clearly enjoys the change of perspective. And he’s also started cruising, a little tentatively still, holding on to the sofa or the table, but pulling himself along nonetheless.

Nothing is safe from him, literally, he pulls out drawers and picks up everything that’s lying around – he’s so nosy and curious, and so so determined. He will not give up until he has reached his item or place of interest and has at the very least given it a good lick and prod. I often wonder what he must be making of all that he sees and feels and tastes.

He is super funny, actually; he proper makes us laugh, and he knows it. He’s become very aware of what he enjoys but also what John, me and Becky find funny, and he will repeat it until we’re all falling over laughing, and he’s laughing with us. For instance, he’s started this hilarious thing where he will just headbang repeatedly and squeal in delight. It’s kind of weird, but also absolutely comical. And the more we laugh, the more he does it. I think he will be a little clown in the future.

He’s a little Mummy’s Boy (at this age that’s still allowed, right? It’s ever so cute!) and we’ve got this little routine going where he gives me sloppy kisses after his night-time bottle – he’ll be grabbing my face and pulling it towards him and just plonks these cute – but very slimy – kisses and his mouth on my cheeks. I’m not going to lie, I love it, it’s the highlight of my day!

It’s so fascinating how such a little person already knows his own mind and can communicate exactly what he wants and what he doesn’t want. Speaking of communication – he has been saying “Ma-ma” and “Da-da” for a while, and he is adding an array of super cute vowel sounds and other noises and coos all the time. I could listen to him all day. Must remember to video it sometime, as it’s just the best.

I can’t believe that the next time I will be writing his update, he will be a year old. One whole year! 

Slow down time! Please!

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19 Jun 2015

Inspiration For A First Birthday Picnic In The Park

It’s Alex’s first birthday in just over a month *sobs uncontrollably into her coffee cup* and I’ve been thinking about what we can do to mark the occasion and make it a special day for our little man.

He’s too small to warrant hiring a room in the soft play and a little too young for most party options. But we still want to bring our friends and loved ones together to celebrate our little dude.

Becky’s birthday is in the depths of winter, so we never have an option to do it outdoors, but Alex’s birthday obviously lends itself to a bit of an open air party. The most obvious choice would be a garden party, however, our garden – though a good size – is not really suitable for a bunch of kids to be crawling and running around, as we have a lot of raised flower and vegetable beds and no lawned area (this is on our future wishlist though!).

However, we live almost opposite a lovely park and playground, so I’m thinking of moving our gettogether there and doing a “First birthday picnic in the park” – lots of green space and play areas for the kids, where babies, older siblings and our friends’ kids can run around as they please, and enough space for us adults to spread out, too.

So I’ve taken to Pinterest – where else? – to get some inspiration for some lovely picnics. I love the little finger foods in picnic baskets and the rustic baguettes, the colourful blankets and lanterns, and just the whole feel and setting of these images. 

It’s highly doubtful that I will be able to pull this off to that degree of finesse and loveliness, but I will give it a good shot. I’m thinking balloons, nice finger food, a colourful rainbow cake and little treats should be doable.

And I just love that shot of that little boy in the basket with the balloons, so hopefully we’ll have a lovely backdrop to take some nice shots of Alex and also us as a whole family. Now we just need the sun to play ball and come out on the day ... we live in England after all!

Otherwise I'll need a Plan B ... 

* Picture Source: Pinterest 

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17 Jun 2015

Why I Love My Mummy Friends

Motherhood has given me many things, but right up there with some of the best bits about becoming a Mum are the great new friends I have made since having Becky and Alex - real friendships with people I wouldn’t want to miss and who are there during the ups and downs of this parent malarkey, and, without whom, quite frankly, it would be a lot harder sometimes. 

I have made Mummy friends back in the day when Becky was a baby, and also as she grows through nursery and preschool, as well as having met some wonderful women since I’ve had Alex, whom I have formed a close bond and connection with. 

These are all wonderful, clever, funny and independent ladies, and I’ve relied on their support and camaraderie more than I probably realise.

My Mummy friends are great because:

* They are totally unfazed when your house is in a mess, the dishes undone, the laundry piling up, dust gathering everywhere - because theirs is, too. They just move the pile of stained kid’s clothes from the couch, pour themselves a cuppa and get on with it.

* They understand when you look like death; pale, make-up free with greasy hair, because you’ve been up all night with the kids who have tag teamed up against you into the wee hours.

* They don’t bat an eyelid when you arrive for your mummy date frazzled, in yesterday’s clothes with puke and snot stains all over – because they are going through the same. Instead, they hand you a baby wipe, a G&T and point to the piece of dried up banana that’s sticking to their trouser leg.

* They don’t judge you because you’ve forgotten to fill out essential forms for your daughter’s school induction *ahem* because, they, too, have temporarily “misplaced” the forms. And handed them in late. Oh well.

* Instead, us Mummy friends commiserate each other over our membership in the “Bad Mums Club”, laughing off our everyday failings and little shortcomings and together making ourselves feel a whole load better.

* They listen when you just need a moan or a cry or have got the occasional wobble about, well, everything. And what’s said in the playground, stays in the playground.

* They make you laugh – a lot, because they share your sense of humour and a healthy dose of sarcasm, irony and self-deprecation.

* You can forever discuss with them every teeny tiny aspect of your kid’s lives – yes, even the frequency and consistency of their bowel movements – without ever getting bored.

* They compare notes with you and support you without competing against you. They are your allies in baby groups, play circles and during parent evenings and when everyone else seems so much more “together” than you.

* They love wine as much as you and understand that alcohol is an essential food group in any Mum’s daily diet.

* Meeting up on an evening for two hours WITHOUT THE KIDS is the height of our social life – and a night out consists of two glasses of vino down the local pub before we all go home at 9pm, knackered and tipsy, to hit the sack – of course once we’ve put the world to rights!

* They are willing to babysit your brood when you just need to get away or actually have to be somewhere important, and you do the same for them. That’s true sisterhood right there.

* Often your Mummy friends are your only bit of adult interaction all day, especially in the early weeks and months of maternity leave, and even if conversation centres around nappies, leaking boobs and stitches “down there” - it’s still an actual conversation. With adults!

* They make sense of and give perspective in the picture perfect “Insta-world” of parenting and reassure you that you’re actually doing a good job, no ifs, no buts. What more can you want?

Here’s to my lovely Mummy friends. You know who you are!

* Picture Source: @Nikitu / Dreamstime 

* Linking up with #ShareWithMe

15 Jun 2015

And ... We Have A Crawler!

So, as of this weekend, Alex has (finally!) learned to crawl *proud face*.

It’s been a long time coming, seeing that he started to launch himself onto all fours over two months ago, but never actually moved forward.

I didn’t think he was going to crawl anymore, I half expected him to just start walking, as he is pulling himself up more and more on anything he can get his hands on (the table, the blanket box, the couch, the TV unit, the cupboard, me …).

So, here’s to my little boy and another big milestone. Well done, Alex! Now there’s no stopping you (and Mummy has to have eyes everywhere).

Time to properly baby proof our house! 
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14 Jun 2015

A Christening With Hurdles

I’m currently in the process of organising Alex’s christening. I’m not overly religious, and John even less than me, but I do believe in God - or some higher spiritual being - and it’s important to me that my kids have been christened, even if they later chose not to be religious at all. It will be totally up to them, and I’m not enforcing anything on them, but I do want them to have God’s blessing, a foundation, so to speak. And besides, it’s a nice celebration of the birth of a child, whether you’re religious or not.

I have been baptised Catholic, and went to a Catholic school, but for a long time now I have disagreed with and criticised a lot about what the institution of the Catholic Church stands for, and since I have moved to the UK, I have felt more affiliated with the Church of England. One of the prime reasons being the lack of the celibacy vow, and the fact that Vicars can have their own families and children, so their sermons about family seem a lot more genuine and realistic than those of the Catholics *That’s just my personal opinion, no offence to any “worldly” Catholics and clerics*. I could go into it more, but that’s not the point of this post.

We got married in a Church of England chapel, Becky was baptised in a Church of Wales church, and I would like Alex to be baptised in a Church of England ceremony, too. So far, so good.

But this is all proving a little bit more complicated, and I’m having a bit of a mare. Firstly, we’re undecided yet where to hold the ceremony. Becky’s was in Wales so John’s father, who sadly is severely disabled following a stroke, could attend. Various things have changed since then though, and as it looks right now, it might be better to do it in our home town rather than in Wales, but we’re still unclear on that.

John and I had decided on our prospective Godparents way before Alex was born. We have asked my friend Sandra from Germany, one of my closest friends, and one of John’s childhood friends, Carl. Both are brilliant, genuine people who have a great relationship with our children and who we know would make very good Godparents.

However, this is opening up a string of problems. Sandra is Catholic, and Carl hasn’t been baptised. When I enquired in my local parish, they said that they would be happy to christen Alex, but that both godparents had to be baptised in the Church of England. Later I was told that my Catholic friend will be ok, as they are inclined to accept any Baptism, but that Carl will not be allowed to be official Godfather, though he could have a supporting role. Hmm.

This has really thrown us, me especially, as I really, maybe naively, hadn’t give this any thought. I guess in hindsight, it is somewhat understandable that the Church traditionally stipulates that only baptised Christians can be Godparents – as the original role of Godparents is to give spiritual guidance – but no one brought this up when Becky was baptised. In fact, her Godparents are a similar constellation, my best friend Meike, who is Protestant, and John’s close friend Craig, who I believe, is not baptised either, and no one questioned it first time round and we were able to proceed.

I enquired with another parish church, but they said the same thing, they were even stricter and wanted specifically two female Godparents and one male one, all having to have been baptised.

I have – just to cover all options – rung the Welsh church again, but the parish has been closed for a while due to the previous Vicar having retired. The Church warden, a lovely lady whom I know personally as she also runs the local B&B where my parents stayed last time and whose daughter is my mother-in-law’s neighbour, was very helpful, however, and promised to make some enquiries and even said that potentially they could get a Vicar out of retirement and do the ceremony. There is, however, still a question mark over Carl’s role.

This is all very complicated and is stressing me out a lot.

We picked our Godparents on the merit of their personalities and good character, as well as their relationship to our children. Surely, this should be the prime criterion? Especially in this day and age, where there are less and less church weddings and baptisms etc. going on, shouldn’t the church be more open minded?

This is a real dilemma. Neither John nor I want to change our Godparents, and John even goes as far as to say that he’s ready to cancel the Christening, but that is a no-go for me and would be a huge blow. It’s difficult to describe, but I would feel that Alex’s future is not “protected” and “blessed” – I realise this will sound silly to most – and I just can’t not do it, even if it means, we have to appoint someone else.

The problem is, most of our friends or the people whom we deem appropriate enough in character to be Godparents or are close enough to, have not been baptised either (we’re clearly surrounded by a bunch of Infidels, he he). We really have a distinct shortage of candidates, especially, as many live very far away from us, or in Germany.

I honestly don’t know what to do. I’m awaiting response from the Church of Wales, and in the meantime, I’ll be ringing round more parishes and churches and see whether we can find some more flexible and tolerant Vicars.

We had such a lovely, perfect day when Becky was christened (a little snapshot from the day below) – I really want the same for Alex and have another lovely celebration, this time of our beautiful boy. Surely that’s not too much to ask?


11 Jun 2015

Raising Kids Bilingually

I’m a German expat, so it was always a given that I would raise my kids bilingually. Firstly, because it’s a bit of a no-brainer – a “free” language that my kids can pick up as they grow, and secondly, and most pertinently, it’s important to me that Becky and Alex are able to communicate with their grandparents, who speak very little English. And then there is also an element of wanting to convey to them a bit of German culture; a piece of my roots and the traditions and customs I have grown up with, and language is a fundamental component.

I’ve always put a big emphasis on languages. At school I was never that good at maths and the sciences, but languages just came naturally to me. I speak three languages fluently, and at one point I was versed in six, though – years down the line – I have unfortunately forgotten most of those, as I no longer use them actively. I view languages as the key to everything really; they are such a gift, and I often hear from my British friends that they regret not to have had a stronger focus on foreign languages themselves.

So the idea is that Becky and Alex will speak both, English and Deutsch.

Raising kids bilingually, however, requires a lot of commitment and consistency, and it’s not always easy, especially when only one parent speaks a foreign language. John doesn’t speak German (apart from a few rude sentences *snigger/sigh* and a few random phrases he picked up when he lived with me in Germany for a while), so it’s a little trickier to integrate German into our everyday family life.

Most advice and guidelines on bi- and multilingual education at home suggest that ideally children would be exposed to the primary language – in our case English – outside of the home, such as nursery, school and their social circle, and the second, or secondary, foreign language – for us German - would be spoken at home all the time.

Well, this just doesn’t work in our case for obvious reasons. We wouldn’t be getting very far. So, pretty much from when Becky was a baby, I have resorted to speaking to her – and now Alex, of course – in German when I’m on my own with them, and when we are together as a family, I repeat everything we say in English in German, and vice versa. This means that the kids at least hear everything in German one way or another, but it also means that John understands and that our family life can function as normal and no one is excluded. It’s not strictly by the rule book, as really, I should be hardcore and speak German, no matter what, but I just don’t think it’s fair on John and I just can’t see it working for us.

Becky’s first and dominant language is therefore English. John speaks English to her, she goes to an English nursery, her friends speak English – so it’s natural that her main and active tongue is English. But she understands everything in German and always correctly answers any questions or responds to me within the right context, albeit in English. 

Increasingly though, she has been using German words in English sentences, which can result in some hilarious statements, such as: “Mummy, can I have some Erdbeeren mit Zucker in the Hello Kitty Schuessel, please” (“Mummy, can I have strawberries with sugar in my Hello Kitty bowl, please”).

She is now also very aware that she speaks / learns two different languages and the difference between German and English. She knows that Oma and Opa (grandparents) speak Deutsch and that her Nanny & Granchie, us, her friends and so on over here speak English.

Funnily enough, towards the end of our week in Germany recently, she had picked up so much German that rather than mixing individual words, she was responding to my Mum in full German sentences, which was great. I was so chuffed!

I don’t know whether Becky would be more fluent in German if I did it the “proper” way, but part of me doesn’t necessarily think so. I have a number of friends and acquaintances who are doing it by the book and consistently speak just the one language, and their children don’t seem that more advanced in German than Becky is. The same goes for a Chinese couple we are friends with, who both speak Chinese to their daughter, and she, too, is an active English speaker, and only uses her second language passively at the moment.

Either way, I’m not worrying too much about it. I have, at the very least, laid the initial foundations for Becky’s and Alex’s grasp of the German language, and we will continue to build on it at our own pace and method.

The kids, and especially Becky at this stage, will continue to be exposed to German; we read German books, we sing German songs, we regularly watch German kids programmes on Youtube and play German lingo games on the iPad, and of course, we chat, so they will always be surrounded by the language. I will also enroll Becky at German school, which is a Saturday school where other kids of German expats or those who have an interest in bilingual education come together for two hours every Saturday to learn the language. And eventually, she will hopefully pick German in secondary school, so I’m pretty sure we’ll get there.

I’m conscious of not turning learning German into a chore and that it remains playful, natural and enjoyable and eventually doesn’t just become a second language, but second nature.

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com
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8 Jun 2015

Accepting It's My Last Baby

Alex recently turned ten months. The time between his birth and now has come and gone at lightning speed. I literally cannot believe that my little baby is soon no longer a baby, but a bona fide toddler.

This time last year, I was heavily pregnant and looking forward to our new arrival. Images keep popping up on my Timehop and various other picture feeds showing me and my big baby belly, and I can’t deny that looking at them fills me with a strange and unexpected sense of melancholy and sadness.

To tell the truth, I’m struggling a little to accept that the baby stage will be over soon. 

That Alex is my last baby. 

That I will never ever hold a newborn, my newborn, in my arms, meet my new baby, smell that gorgeous unique baby smell, touch the soft flock of hair and gently stroke that delicate skin and soak up all the features and quirks of a little baby.

Maybe it’s because of this that I have become a little obsessed with babies lately – which is quite unusual for me. Anyone who has known me for a while will attest that I have never been an overly maternal kind of person. I used to coo over other peoples’ babies just like the next person, but I was always ok to hand them back and walk away again. But now, I just can’t get enough of them. I just LOVE babies.

It doesn’t help that, having immersed myself in the parent blogger scene, I am surrounded by #Babyspam (not that I mind!) and gorgeous #Instababies and other baby-dominated social media feeds: pregnant bellies on show that turn into newborn snaps; those newborn snaps becoming first milestone pics and so on, and all of this just keeps highlighting how fast time is flying and how rapidly my baby is growing up.

It’s making my heart heavy at the thought that I’ve already had this, done that, and that my baby is (too) quickly growing up. 

That Alex is indeed my last baby.

I'm not broody, it’s not that. Honestly.  I’m very happy with my lot, and very grateful to have my perfect little pair, my gorgeous little girl and boy who make our family complete. 

John and I always wanted two kids, and we are still in complete agreement over it.

And yet, I’m finding it hard to let go and to accept that with every day my children grow, this chapter of my life is closing.

I have to remind myself that what I’m really missing and mourning is “just” the baby stage. That I want to experience more babies, but not have more children, if that makes sense, and that babies will of course, eventually, grow into children.

I’m happy with our decision to stop at two. Two is the perfect number for us.

I just wish it didn’t go so darn fast. And that they could be babies for longer.

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

3 Jun 2015

From Mother to Mother

On my last evening in Germany, after I had put the kids to bed, my parents and I sat down for a farewell glass of wine when my Mum suddenly looked at me and said in earnest: “I really admire you, Isa. How you’re coping with two kids, and how you combine a family and a demanding full time job.  And how you’re travelling on your own with two little kids and everything you’re doing with them. You’re a fantastic Mum and I am so proud of you!”

This came out of nowhere. I really wasn’t expecting this, and my Mum’s words more than touched me.

My Mum’s approval, support and pride mean the world to me. Just a few, simple lines, spoken from the heart, from mother to daughter, from one mother to another, but so powerful and meaningful.

And even though I never knew that I needed to hear those words, I totally did. It’s very reassuring when your own Mother – the woman you respect and love most - tells you that you’re a good Mum and gives you that pat on the back.

I will remember that during those moments when I question myself and my abilities as a Mum, which we all have from time to time, but working Mums probably more so than others.

If I ever need some perspective again, I will remember her words. And I’ll remind myself that actually, yes, I’m probably doing ok. 

* Picture: Pinterest 
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