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“Hold my hand,” I say to Nate softly. It’s awkward to drive with my right arm bent backwards around the seat and my fingers clutched in his drool-slick hand, but he quiets. His mind-piercing shrieks calm to snuffling sobs and he takes a shaky, stuttering breath. In a few minutes, he is asleep and I pull my aching arm back around to the front, turn up the music, sip my coffee and place my hand back on the wheel.

A flash of memory cuts through me and it hurts.  I remember an afternoon driving Saige and Garrett and a newborn Quinn to some destination. Toddler class?  The store?  Quinn screamed in that five-alarm-fire newborn squawk that induces a fight or flight response in every mother. Garrett threw an epic fit about a shoe, I think, that he wanted off or on or backwards and Saige, ever the opportunistic tantrum thrower, sensed weakness. Or possibly safety in numbers.

I briefly lost my mind. I reached around from the front seat and swatted at my two toddlers’ feet.  Hard. And then, I pulled over and cried. This is not one of those confession posts.  “I swatted her hand and curled up into a little ball under the table and died a thousand deaths from grief and guilt and misery.”  No. I was positive that, having given up a child that I couldn’t parent a mere month before, some black-clad government official was going to leap out at me at the slightest mistake and snarl about unfit mothers while taking away the rest of my children. I was positive that losing my temper was “not okay” in the grandest of senses. In truth, it happens. It’s not the best reaction; but under normal circumstances, I think most parents repair the relationship and move on.

I don’t know when it started with Nate, this hand holding, but he must have been quite young.  I can’t remember when it didn’t work to soothe him and let me focus my (one-handed) attention to a task.  It probably began at story time when we are all tired and his demanding baby antics wreaked mayhem on my  bedtime routine.  He would plop himself in my lap, pull at the pages, block views until every single person in the room screeched manically including me.

I can’t see.  Stop it now, it’s okay.  He’s in my WAY. No, Nate.  I can’t see the pictures. No! Don’t hit him. Nate, sit beside me.  Nooooooooo. One night, I met his eyes and said, sit here, baby, hold my hand. It worked, but not because holding hands is some magical solution to parenting temper tantrums. It worked because I am a calmer mother now than I once was. I am more regulated.

“Be with your child in his emotional storm,” my favorite attachment psychologist advises.  “Be with whenever you can, take charge whenever you must.”

Being with, for me, especially for the hard emotions, anger and fear, is a skill that has grown with experience.

I have changed so much as a mother and as a person in the last six years. I am steadier. More centered. I understand (though I don’t always remember) that being with a child in an emotion is a function of staying out of the storm yourself.  Every time I handle Nate with ease and patience that I didn’t possess four years ago, I am grateful for the wisdom that comes from practice and time and heartbroken just a bit for my first babies.

I was a good mother then, but I’m a better mother now. But then again, I’m a better mother to all of them.

If you throw a fit about leaving the park, you will not get to play tomorrow. You will sit on the bench, I tell her. Saige scrunches up her mouth and chokes down the scream in her throat. Will you hold my hand to the car? she asks me.  I will.  / Quinn crumples to the ground in toddler agony over a moth that is. not. coming. inside. my. house. I’m sorry, bubba. I want to hold your hand, he sobs. / Nate shrieks for the red Candy Land man because only the red one will do, but Garrett will not give it up, possibly because he likes to see me die of pierced, bleeding eardrums.  I’m fed up, impatient and short, ready to put the entire game away. Nate, Saige coos, seated beside him on the dog-haired covered carpet. Nater, Nater, do you want to hold my hand? He takes her fingers with his sweaty little paw and lays his head in her lap while I sit at the table and cry fat, disbelieving tears into my steaming coffee cup.

I think it’s going to be okay. I think maybe I’m doing alright. After all, she never swats at his feet.

It’s scary. I’m reminded daily that one person’s story about personal growth is another person’s story about their crazy bitch of a mother.  That’s generationally required, right? Tell me it is. They have to have something to blame it all on, don’t they? How have you grown as a mother?

62 Responses to With
  1. My name is Andy.
    July 24, 2011 | 9:42 am

    Saige holding Nate's hand made me cry! I can only imagine the puddle you became.

    You are an awesome Mom and I strive to be like you.

  2. Erin
    July 24, 2011 | 12:08 pm

    Once Luke slapped me in the face, hard as I was buckling him into his carseat. As a kneejerk reaction, I smacked him back before I even realized my hand moved. Then I cried and confessed to his pediatrician that I was a monster. He laughed and kindly told me that, no, I was human.
    And I am. Somedays I'm a better human than other days.

  3. thewonderfulhappens
    July 24, 2011 | 12:17 pm

    oh, I have no doubt that Saige holding his hand made you cry. I almost did me in!
    I remember many a drive with my arm bent unnaturally when my infant son just hated the car. Replacing pacifiers or just maintaining touch. Possibly more dangerous than talking on a cell phone, but utterly necessary!

  4. Michelle
    July 24, 2011 | 12:37 pm

    Thank you for this post…the simple act of connecting with our children through touch. My least proud moments as a mommy are when I withhold that touch…a simple holding of my daughters hand…because I am mad about the behavior that caused my anger in the first place…and I withhold simple human touch. Shame on me! I like, though, what Erin said above "somedays I'm a better human than others" .. we must forgive ourselves as easily as we forgive our children!

  5. Marinka
    July 24, 2011 | 12:37 pm

    I've grown as a mother because I've given up, just a little. I don't even pretend to aim for perfection. I know that there will be days when I yell. I know that I will say ridiculous things like "BECAUSE I SAID SO, THAT'S WHY!"

    And your last paragraph killed me. There's a reason you're voice of the year, baby.

  6. That Janie Girl
    July 24, 2011 | 12:59 pm

    Okay, I need a handkerchief please.

    Beautiful story.

    Love Saige holding Nate's hand. Made me cry.

  7. Leah and Maya
    July 24, 2011 | 1:57 pm

    Maya has been in a awful stage off and on, normally such a sweet wonderful girl its crazy to think how she is sometimes. I try try try to keep my patience but I have lost it a few times, I feel awful but my god she is like a totally different person and if it goes on for days then my patience is much shorter all the time. I am trying harder each day to try and let it go. this was the perfect post for me. I made it thru the demonic three's, and 4's were blissfull until almost 4.5, it was before we had Benjamin home so I know that isn't what started it anyway.

  8. Just Words On A Page
    July 24, 2011 | 2:27 pm

    What a lovely lovely post:) I think for me growing as a mother was the day I inhaled ready to yell and then looked at my son and realized "He's just being a child" and exhaled and an actual wave of peace rolled over me like a wave.

    And instead of feeling that rush to do whatever we were doing I just sat down where I was and took him in my lap, got on his level and we went with his time table.

    And it was good.

  9. Suburban Correspondent
    July 24, 2011 | 2:28 pm

    Yes, there's nothing like experience and perspective. Sometimes I, too, weep for my poor eldest children, subjected to an inexperienced and impatient mother. But sometimes I also weep for my youngest 2 kids, stuck with an older mother who can barely stay awake through a Curious George book, whose sense of newness and discovery (so keen with those older ones!) has been worn down to almost non-existence. Yes, I'm calmer and more patient; but I'm also less fun.

  10. workout mommy
    July 24, 2011 | 2:34 pm

    i rarely comment but just want to say that your posts always hit me just when/where I need it! i too have a dislocated shoulder from the hand holding while driving and instead of letting it annoy me, i need to embrace what it really means. thank you for the reminder. I too have grown in the past 6 years but clearly have much more growing to do! PS: i'm having boy #4 very soon, please tell me I will survive this crazy roller coaster?

  11. SmartOneKym
    July 24, 2011 | 2:52 pm

    I always take it as a sure sign that I'm on the right track when I see one of the kids take on some habit of patience that I myself have had to adapt. In ten years of parenting, I think that I have improved as mother. But these kids – they grow and change so rapidly that it seems that I am on a constant learning curve. As soon as we have one stage figured out, something else sneaks up around the bend and I'm left floundering again, sure that in unknown way, I am screwing up my kids. So, it's constant learning. I am a better parent than I was, but am always acutely aware of how I need to improve again.

  12. Kelsy
    July 24, 2011 | 3:07 pm

    Stacey, you bring tears to my eyes. What lovely, crazy children you have. I think maybe even I've gotten to see some transformation, and it's beautiful. Keep trekin'!

  13. Robin
    July 24, 2011 | 4:08 pm

    beautifully honest.

  14. Just Two Chicks
    July 24, 2011 | 4:48 pm

    Oh boy, how have I grown as a mother? Good question. Just when I thought I had being a "mommy" down, the dynamics changed and I've had to start all over. They're teenagers now, and I honestly have no idea what I'm doing.

    My daughter did tell me that she's glad I'm her mother… this said after watching "16 and Pregnant," and me telling her she would be living with her crazy grandmother if she became pregnant before her time. Apparently the mothers of the girls on that show are pretty bad. I'll take the compliment without thinking about it too much!

    I guess what I've learned so far, is to "listen," and to think about things before I react.

  15. Ggirl
    July 24, 2011 | 5:22 pm

    I'm using outstretched hands to feel my way through this parenting maze. Chris leaves again tomorrow and as assurance says I'm all our baby needs, but is that truly ever enough? You trail blaze Stacey and I hope I can be half the beautiful mother you are. Come stay with me…now ;)

  16. Kimberly
    July 24, 2011 | 5:41 pm

    I do the backseat hand-holding trick, too. My toddlers also love it when I massage their feet while I'm driving.

    Saige holding Nate's hand would have had me bawling, too. My daughter (almost 2.5) has recently begun grabbing her 16-month-old brother's hand during play. She'll catch his chubby little wrist and coax, "Come on, Gabers. Go with me." I love seeing her taking him along on her adventures.

  17. Amelia
    July 24, 2011 | 7:41 pm

    Well I'm crying. This was so so beautiful.
    I don't have an instant answer to your question. My first thought was an excuse; I've only been a mom 2 years! Which is not being fair to me. So, I will look, I will pay attention, and I will acknowledge that I have grown. And maybe I'll get back to you. :)

  18. aBroad
    July 24, 2011 | 9:45 pm

    I have 2 children 4 years apart and they are now grown .. I am still not the mother you are.
    I wish I were and I wonder how much better I would have turned out if mine were like you.
    Would you come hold my hand ?
    love, C

  19. Kirsten
    July 24, 2011 | 10:39 pm

    Mine has morphed into "do you need a hug?" Because the alternative is kill them. But yes, over time, I've become more patient – even though there are days where it doesn't seem I've learned a thing. But I know I've grown in the last 10-1/2 years of motherhood. How could I not?

  20. Mom24
    July 25, 2011 | 1:07 am

    I get so sad when I see families determined to have one or two children (a tad tongue in cheek, but still), because I just want to tell them but with more you get it. You learn. You know you wait three days of fever before you run to the doctor. You learn so much. You get good at it. If you only have one or two how do you ever get to experience that quiet confidence that you know what you're doing?

  21. Alexicographer
    July 25, 2011 | 1:20 am

    I too am a "do you need a hug" -ger.

    I came to this motherhood thing as a stepmom to teenagers and while there's lots you don't have to deal with then, you also can't say (and they can't say), "Hold my hand." So, yes, much to recommend it.

  22. Lisa L
    July 25, 2011 | 3:31 am

    I was 8 years old and swore to myself, while crying after a particularly hard smacking, and being exiled to stand under the Frangipani tree outside, that I would NEVER hit/yell at my children. Psychiatrists say hitting instills rage in a child. I believe it. Because when mine acted up/out, I would feel hot, blind fury like no other. In order to break the abuse cycle, I would literally count to however many numbers it took to calm down, then in a quiet voice deal with the issue. Each and every time I spoke/speak to my kids I make sure its not a put down. This made others think I was detached from my kids, and that I didn't want to 'hurt' them. What looked like 'detachment' was me wildly counting in my white hot head, and not 'hurting' them was me forcibly calming down and measuring my words. I could have been right up there with my mum in the abuse arena. Her rage (hitting/nasty words) was instilled in me every day of the year save Xmas and birthdays. I am so fucking greatful that I stopped the cycle, despite the unwanted parenting advice that people wanted to give me. "You need to give him a good spanking," or, "Just tell him he's a spoiled little shit", and on and on. Parenting is hard, but damn….that "hold my hand" thing is awesome Stacey.

  23. MommyNamedApril
    July 25, 2011 | 4:07 am

    some days when i'm hoarse in the evening from screaming too too much at my sweet but loud and defiant preschoolers, i think i'm digressing as a parent and they're only going to learn to keep increasing the volume and temper to match my own. but it's moments like you described, when my older children lead the little one with gentle hands and soft voices that i think to myself, okay… they learned that from me too.

  24. RottenMom
    July 25, 2011 | 1:21 pm

    We too do the hand holding. Still. My kids are now 22, 18 and 14 and nothing says I'm there for you, I'll help you through this more than reaching out for their hand and giving 3 squeezes. I. Love. You. Four squeezes back…I. Love. You. Too. means that everything is going to be okay.

    You are a wonderful mom and your doing just fine.

  25. Enjoli
    July 25, 2011 | 1:54 pm

    Thank you for this wonderful idea. Hand holding. This is why I read mommy blogs and find solace in yours. My son (just turned 2) is going through that screeching, "Shut up!" at the top of his lungs phase with tears down his cheeks and boogers running races down his face and I push myself to be patient, get on my knees, encourage him to use his words but then I give up, walk off, mutter to myself, ignore him and then find myself returning to him and embracing him through his kicks and jabs till he settles in my arms with promises of cake, ice cream and balloons. Every day I try to be a better mom than I was the previous day, hour, minute. I get impatient, lose my temper, swat and then wish to take it back. I've yelled back, cried tears of frustration, even called my partner and demanded he leave class early because "I can't take it anymore." But thank you for making me feel normal. Thank you for reminding me that I get many more second chances to be the mom I wish to be. Thank you for this suggestion of holding hands. My middle child is very much into touch and emotion and I think this just might help alleviate the drama faster and easier. Thank you.

  26. Michelle G
    July 25, 2011 | 3:01 pm

    Ah…my 19 month old is SO demanding. I have to remember that he is just trying to get my attention…some days I'm too busy to remember that before I snap at him…then I feel awful.
    The other day he kept pulling my hair – seriously any of my other kids would have gotten in trouble – but I stopped what I was doing and looked at him and said "no don't pull mommy's hair!" and it was then I realized he was just trying to "pet" it – but with chubby little baby hands that he's new to controling. Sigh..tears…how many times was that what the older kiddos were doing as babies and in my "my kids never going to do that" mind set did they get time out or a swat?! It's true – we (hopefully dear God) do get better with age.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Michelle G

  27. Heather
    July 25, 2011 | 4:27 pm

    beautiful post

  28. Roxanne
    July 25, 2011 | 5:29 pm

    I like to believe I've worked on my patience, but I'm not sure I'm really there yet. I still freak out and smack T upside the head when he talks back or slaps or kicks me. It's hard to remember, in the moment, that he is only a child and doesn't understand all of his emotions just yet.

    Thank you for reminding me.

  29. Ellen
    July 25, 2011 | 5:59 pm

    Every time I say to myself "this is her best post ever" you go on ahead to top it! Beautifully written and a shout out to all the commentors on their outright honesty. I think a lot was learned here. Thank you for that.

  30. Holly
    July 25, 2011 | 8:53 pm

    Little ones loving one another is so sweet! Holding hands…. Sigh….

  31. Rachel
    July 25, 2011 | 9:18 pm

    Can you tell us the name of your favorite attachment psychologist?? I love that message and would love to read more from him/her.

  32. MegglesP
    July 25, 2011 | 11:45 pm

    Oof, the hand holding brought tears to my eyes. My nephew that I am very close to used to ask to hold my hand in the car..He would fall asleep almost instantly..It is something I'll always remember, especially when I have children of my own. Love the way you tell stories

  33. Pastor Sharon
    July 26, 2011 | 12:05 am

    This.Is.So.Beautiful. That is all I can say here. You are amazing!

  34. Beana
    July 26, 2011 | 4:54 am

    I love this. I definitely strive for this kind of relationship with my kids, but the hold holding isn't something I've done before. I am going to try though.

  35. Varda
    July 26, 2011 | 11:54 am

    Obviously, this beautiful post touched a chord in so many of us. There's the mom who we imagine ourselves to be in our own minds: endlessly patient, understanding and wise… and then there's the mom who, exhausted and at the end of her very last rope, lashes out instinctively and then recoils and tries to take it all back. Most days I fall somewhere in the middle.

    The other day I heard myself ask my nearly 9 year old son to please stop acting like a 2 year old and I thought "Wow, when did I become so mean? I HAVE to stop that." Sigh.

    Because we have so much power over them, so much. And it's so easy to abuse it with mean words that are a moment for us but can cause scars that last a lifetime for them. And self control, when you're exhausted is so hard to muster. But still, we have to, again and again, every day. (Also note to self: get more sleep! I have MUCH more patience when well slept.)

  36. Issas Crazy World
    July 26, 2011 | 4:42 pm

    Saige holding his hand made me cry. They learn the best and the worst of us. At times, i do think mine will blame me for everything too. Yet? I see the people they are becoming and I'm okay to take the blame. I get the good praises too.

    For me, I take more time on the small things. I used to rush everything and everyone. My life was one big rush. Now I try and slow down more. To know that a two year old needs to "do it mine self".

  37. Lady Jennie
    July 26, 2011 | 9:26 pm

    I'm missing some references in this post because I'm a new follower (but I'll get them all eventually).

    I tend to be fairly patient with my children but I feel guilty when I escape and neglect them – especially when I'm on the computer and I plunk them in front of a DVD.

    I can't say I'm a better mother now, but I will say it's getting easier as they get older. And I'm motivated by the fear of it all flying by too fast.

  38. Heather
    July 26, 2011 | 9:29 pm

    I think I am learning and growing every day as a mother. In small ways and in big ways. Lately, I am learning, more than I would sometimes like to, that I have to be the voice for my child. That if I don't fight for him, no one else will. And, if in 15 years he looks to me and says why did you let that happen I have to be able to tell him I fought with everything in me to keep you safe. It hasn't always been easy. I hate the termoil and the conflict but every time I see him smile and laugh I know it is worth it. That he is worth all of it.

  39. A and D
    July 26, 2011 | 11:12 pm

    Beautiful Stacey! Saige offering to hold Nate's hand was so sweet. I hold my little guy's hand while driving sometimes – probably not the best of ideas but on our long drives, it brings us back together when we both need it.

  40. Bon
    July 26, 2011 | 11:44 pm

    i am learning that i will. not. die if she gets up one more time while going to sleep. i am almost breaking through, and maybe breaking the cycle. right before we leave for a week. ha.

  41. Mary Freaking Poppins
    July 27, 2011 | 1:06 am

    As always… beautiful.

  42. Maggie May
    July 27, 2011 | 3:01 am

    I really needed this wisdom even if you don't see it that way- it's so much wisdom, and it means so much to me right now. Thank you Stacey xo

  43. Ann Imig
    July 27, 2011 | 4:22 am

    Wow. You just put a name to something my Husband does so well, that I do not do as well.

    I've never heard it that way–being with your child in their scary emotions keeps you out of the emotional firestorm. All I ever hear is 'don't get emotional.'

    This is so much more helpful to me. Thank you.

    July 27, 2011 | 4:48 am

    That was so moving!

    My growth as a mother happened suddenly, as our struggle with infertility led to adoption of an 8yo girl and then a birth of her baby sister.

    When the baby was tiny, she loved to have her hands held. We'd be driving and she'd cry, and we'd tell big sis "Hold her little hand" and the baby would stop. Now they're 3 and 12, and adore each other even more.

    I'm jealous reading about other moms who've lost it for just a moment, and received reassurance and forgiveness. My older daughter, besides being adopted, has special needs. We have constant "help" from all kinds of pros. Primarily, they are helpful, but those authorities who are ready to jump out and arrest me for being a bad mom if I slip up, even a tiny bit, seem to be ever looking over my shoulder.

  45. TMCPhoto
    July 27, 2011 | 6:23 am

    How have I grown as a Mother between the Peanut and the Bean? by cutting myself some slack. I do the best I can each day and hope to do better tomorrow. I remind myself to breathe.

    I suppose that a near 5 year break between babies helps with that but like you my heart also breaks for the Peanut who had to go through the dry run and glad that both Peanut and Bean get to reap the benefits of that first time parent experience.

  46. Gayle
    July 27, 2011 | 7:58 am

    How have I changed? In a flash of an eye I became the mother of a child with a fractured skull and partial paralysis reading my favorite blogs on the nurse's computer in his hospital room knowing how lucky we are that he is still alive and vowing that when I finally get home and see my other four kids I will never ever say "in a minute" because a minute might be too late.

    Sometimes change comes from tragedy. Some times from self-realization. I am so glad you are finding your roll in the latter way.

  47. Scary Mommy
    July 27, 2011 | 12:43 pm

    Damn, your writing gives me chills.

  48. My Bottle's Up!
    July 27, 2011 | 12:54 pm

    sigh. yes. oh yes.

  49. Jen
    July 27, 2011 | 3:48 pm

    Of course I read this after raising my voice at Chase and telling him to "just give me a damn minute". I think maybe I'll go and hold his hand for a little bit. You make me want to be a better mother too.

  50. Steph
    July 27, 2011 | 8:57 pm

    Just a beautiful post!

  51. Shannon-
    July 27, 2011 | 10:42 pm

    Oh my lordy lord. Thank you for writing this. Once again you whisper "you are not alone". Every day for a long time was either swatting or me on the verge and breathing through it like it was the hardest thing in the world. I was dreading this summer, school out- he and me 24 7. How would it damage our relationship? How many times would I beat myself up for being the crappy mom? And then… I've noticed that I have grown as a mom. Finally, lessons are seeping in and changing me, for the better. Now- please go knock on wood 3 times for reading this and jinxing it!

  52. jen
    July 28, 2011 | 2:44 am

    i can't really say how i've grown … because i just kinda know that i have. i'm a better mama. a busier crazier happier (most of the time) calmer mama. most of the time.

  53. Megan
    July 29, 2011 | 4:18 am

    How have I grown?

    I am learning to modulate my emotions. I am learning to make the difference between labeling something as a catastrophe or as irritating. I am learning to manage my emotions in the way I would like my children to learn to manage their emotions.

    And for now I can see this working in our family.

  54. tracy@sellabitmum
    July 29, 2011 | 12:08 pm

    I've read this amazing post six times this week and keep coming back to finally comment – but I have no words for it's beauty and perfection and truth.

    Just I love you.

  55. Anonymous
    July 30, 2011 | 2:20 pm

    Can I just say you are an amazing mom? Amazing. Do not doubt your decisions…any of them. I watch my dear friend struggle with her 18 year old son who also suffers from attachment disorders…she contemplated (darn near 16 years ago) making the choice you made, but her husband would not support her for fear of what others would think. I dread the day I get the call that she has been killed by him… I wish you nothing but peace in your heart…and I have incredible respect that you put HIS needs above your own.

  56. Amber and Chris
    July 31, 2011 | 4:32 pm

    Thank you for this post, and all the comments that followed. I am struggling with just 1, almost 3 year old. There are so many days when my husband and I have no patience. And for some reason we are having #2 soon! I am a pediatric nurse and thought I was so prepared for anything a child could throw at me! Oh man did I have another thing coming! All these comments have given me hope that I too will grow from these experiences. And yes, the hand holding really is a magical thing.

  57. Michelle
    August 2, 2011 | 2:47 am

    That is … so sweet. I love love love how that works for you. Awesomely done – it's all about the solutions that work for us and finding them. Go you.

    So am I missing you at BlogHer this week for the third year in a row? ;)

  58. Jessica B
    August 7, 2011 | 12:10 pm

    This post made me cry. I'm pretty new to your blog, but I keep finding myself coming back and reading more, farther back because I want to know more about your story. You have such s genuine, honest way of putting words out there, which is something that I really value in a writer. Thank you.

  59. Anonymous
    August 11, 2011 | 11:17 am

    I think you should add this to your "Get to Know Me" list on the side. It is an amazing peice of writing.

  60. Kaycee
    August 13, 2011 | 9:33 pm

    This is just gorgeous. Moved beyond beautiful and into gorgeous.

    I have had a summer of growth as a Mama, and I love who I am now so much more than I was then. I love how I am able to help my child while still teaching her with more patience than before. I still make mistakes. A lot. And that will keep happening. But I will keep trying. Always.

  61. Slow Panic
    August 23, 2011 | 1:51 pm

    Oh, I choked up reading about Saige offering Nate her hand.

  62. AmazingGreis
    August 24, 2011 | 1:01 am

    Love this.

    Also, I’m likely just really behind, but OMG, love the new layout. You’ve grown up! So proud.

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